By Olayinka Adebisi
Governance will take a back seat in Nigeria after 31 December, 2017. This is not a ‘message’ received after days of fasting and praying on any ‘holy mountain.’ On the contrary, it is a statement of fact derived from observable cycle of politicking in Nigeria. For most public officers, Governors especially, a four-year tenure typically consists of two halves: the first two years is devoted to ‘service’, howsoever, it is defined and the latter two to seeking re-election to ‘consolidate’ the dividends of democracy. The ‘vision’ of the office holder usually determines which of the halves is more important.
Power and, as it were, easy avenue to wealth make Government House quite alluring. Not surprisingly, only a handful of former Governors, amongst them Niyi Adebayo of Ekiti State, have so far been able to resist the temptation of staging a return to Government House, if defeated after the first term. Fewer still can resist the attraction of anointing their successors in office for the sake of ‘continuity’ or preserving ‘legacy’. Of the first group, the question is always asked: ‘What did you forget in Government House?’ For the second, ‘What are you trying to hide through a crony? These questions almost always make the face-off between a former governor and an incumbent very interesting to follow in an election year.
The upcoming 2018 gubernatorial elections in Ekiti State will provide more than enough drama in this regard. Picture this: in one corner is the former Governor of the State and current Minister of Mineral Resources, Dr. Kayode Fayemi. In the other corner is his Nemesis and incumbent Governor, Ayo Fayose. One appears to be counting on the might of The Presidency to return to the seat of power that he built but did not enjoy at Oke Ayoba in Ado Ekiti; the other on his popularity as the friend of the masses and former beneficiary of the proverbial Federal ‘Might’. Whilst the former is still testing the waters to gauge the mood of the people and determine the right time to make appropriate noises regarding his aspiration, the other, typically, has continued to forge on by taking a position on who succeeds him. An epic fight looms in the horizon. But let’s first set the stage.
Incumbent Governor, Ayo Fayose, is constitutionally out of contention for office having been twice sworn-in as Governor of the State. But he is not a disinterested party, as he has anointed his deputy, Prof. Olusola Eleka, as the one fit to succeed him, even as he (Fayose) is waiting on the ‘Lord’ (read Mrs. Fayose’) for revelation on Eleka’s running mate. A faction of the Ekiti State Chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), however, believes that Fayose is deceiving himself. Like Fayose did in 2014, members of this school of thought would rather all candidates put their claim to popularity to the test at the party’s yet-to-be-announced primaries. They have reasons to be hopeful they can upturn Fayose’s anointing of Eleka, one of which is Fayose’s ‘presidential’ ambition.
Truth told: Fayose is in a political quandary. On the one hand, he is aiming, even if half-heartedly, at the presidency to escape ‘punishment’ for several real or imagined infractions after leaving office as Governor and, on the other hand, is pursuing rear-guard ambition to bolt the gate against the ambition of the All Peoples Congress (APC) to reclaim Ekiti State. He cannot win both fights. Fayose’s candidate will win the primaries because he controls the lever of power in PDP Ekiti State. It, however, remains to be seen how he hopes to sustain his presidential ambition from within a thoroughly divided house. But, then, he really does not need the party since his sight is set on the outcome of the governorship race, not the smokescreen of inhabiting Aso Villa. But can his crony win the election proper? Yes and no, both answers depending, interestingly, on what the APC does to itself.
As of the last count, more than 25 lightweight and heavyweight aspirants have indicated interest in the governorship ticket on the APC platform. After the hurricane of horse-trading and critical self-appraisal blows, only about five aspirants will remain standing, notably, former Governors Segun Oni and Kayode Fayemi; Special Adviser to the President on Political Matters, Sen. Babafemi Ojudu; former members of the House of Representatives, Opeyemi Bamidele aka MOB and Bimbo Daramola. Oni is a gentleman with some degree of statewide goodwill; Fayemi carries a lot of political baggage; Ojudu in 2006 led the push that impeached Fayose and defeated him to win the Ekiti Central senatorial ticket in 2011 and is confident he can do it again at the gubernatorial level; MOB is a mobiliser with significant following, even if on paper while Daramola might just benefit from his association with the Senate leadership, if that would count for anything. Of the lot, Fayemi is APC’s weakest link and the one Fayose would most likely pray is picked as candidate.
If anything, Fayose would be most happy to repeat the magical 16 – 0 trouncing of Fayemi in all the local government areas of Ekiti State in the 2014 gubernatorial election. The results were resounding repudiation of Fayemi’s claim to having served the people. No matter how hard one argues that Fayose’s victory owed to a combination of military harassment and money power, it must be admitted, granting Nigeria’s power configuration, that a sitting Governor has to be grossly weak to have been so soundly trounced by an ‘outsider’ even in his own local government where being a ‘son of the soil’ should have brought in significant face-saving votes. You cannot rig where you are not popular. Niyi Adebayo did not perform that poorly against Fayose in 2003. Clearly, Fayose’s victory drove home the fact that Fayemi lacked any effective political structure in Ekiti State. This fact cannot be sugar-coated. It still is not clear if he has any solid structure in place, so another round of defeat is a very strong possibility.
In a contact sport such as politics, Fayemi pulls short as imperially stand-offish. He just ‘Duro S’oke,’ as music star, Olamide, sang during his electioneering in 2014. What manner of politician is that aloof he considers it too demeaning to wave to ‘ordinary’ market women who warm up to him at public functions? Who would want to match a hands-in-pocket Fayemi with an okada-riding Fayose who will pull in popular votes for Eleka? For sure, Fayemi appears to revel in his crowning as a ‘King-maker’ who dispenses juicy appointments to his cronies by virtue of being a member of the Federal Executive Council (FEC). But, then, Abuja is not Ekiti. His greatest undoing would be his new found love for some powerful people in power corridor. Perhaps, he needs to re-read his history books very well. If he does, he will discover that one of the many reasons the late Premier of Western Region, Samuel Ladoke Akintola, came to grief was that his people and even the Northern oligarchs felt he tried far too hard to ingratiate himself to the Sardauna. Very true, the Federal might helped to put Arakunrin Akeredolu in Government House but that was possible only because Akeredolu also commanded considerable following in Ondo State where the people wanted every trace of his predecessor in office, Olusegun Mimiko, removed. It will take more than a Python Dance to put Fayemi in Government House in Ekiti,
In 2014, the people of Ekiti wanted anyone but Fayemi. Between then and now, Fayose has done a demolition job at Government House and has completely eroded the values of integrity, hard work and all-round excellence in Ekiti State. The people now have seen through the veneers of deceit by Fayose and now yearn for change so that Ekiti State can press forward. In effect, APC is now better positioned to win the race to Oke Ayoba in 2018 but the party will ‘play penalty to throw-in’ with candidate Kayode Fayemi. If this happens, one need not be clairvoyant to say that the anticipated ‘rematch’ against Fayose will, again, be a no-contest.
Chief Adebisi is a retired journalist from Ekiti.