By Feyi Agbetuyi
As the countdown to the 2014 gubernatorial election in Ekiti commences, it is becoming apparent that the incumbent governor and candidate of the All Progressive Congress,(APC)Dr Kayode Fayemi is favoured by the critical success factors in the election.
The comparative turnout at the campaign rallies of the three leading contenders in the race, Hon. Opeyemi Bamidele, former governor Ayo Fayose and Governor Fayemi and the expression of support by the critical stakeholders in the electoral politics of the state indicate that in spite of the hullaballoo of the contest, suggest that Fayemi is set for an easy ride back to the Government House. The race has actually turned out to be a clear race between Fayemi and Fayose. The expectations that Bamidele will be a major contender in the election had evaporated when it turned out that not a single prominent member of his former party, APC, -not even a councillor at the ward level- decamped with him to Labour Party, a non-major player in the politics of the state.
Perhaps the most important advantage Fayemi has over the other contenders is the peace he has brought back to the state since assumption of office especially in comparison to the experience of the state while Fayose held sway as the governor between 2003 and 2006.Fayode had emerged against all odds as the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) against the respected Chief S.K. Babalola who was perceived as the preferred candidate of the then president, Olusegun Obasanjo. He rode on to a more surprising victory over the incumbent governor and candidate of the Alliance for Democracy, Chief Adeniyi Adebayo.
Fayode brought government to the street, demystifying officialdom as he rode on Okada bicycle across the state capital, walk in the market to buy foodstuff, stop official governor’s convoy to buy roast plantain and maize by the roadside to the admiration of the common man. He is also credited with improvement in road infrastructure in the state. However, due to what he recently admitted to be youthful exuberance (he became governor at 42), Fayose’s administration was characterised by too many fights ,many of them against critical and powerful power broker in the state. He had a running battle with the Chairman of the state Council of Obas, the Ewi of Ado Ekiti in a contest that pitched him against the cream of the traditional political institutions in the state. He also had a running battle with the lugal luminary and icon of Ekiti State, Chief Afe Babalola, who unarguable is the most influential Ekiti leader alive. His fierce battle and eventual removal of the widely respected Professor Oye Oyebode as the Vice Chancellor of the Ekiti State University, also pitched him against the elite academic community of the state .This is a major albatross in a state regarded as having the largest concentration of professors in the country. Many of these squabbles degenerated into street fights and Fayose’s government soon became characterised by street fights, violence an brigandage. His image was not helped by a number of assassinations which many of his opponents put at his doorstep although he denies this to date.
Fayose, who is not oblivious of the drawback of this history constitute to his chances in the election have repeatedly announced that he is now born again. Fayemi has given the state a new lease of life in the last three and half years. Street fights, violence and brigandage are no longer signposts of Ekiti State and the highly educated electorate in the State are not ready to return to the bestial experience of the Fayose’s years.
Fayemi has also been able to exceed the performance of Fayose in the area of infrastructure development in the state, possibly because his administration has not been distracted like the Fayose administration by street fights. He has expanded road infrastructure beyond the level achieved by Fayose and former governor Olusegun Oni. Many of his programmes have also targeted critical grounds to build loyal pools of vote. This includes the Old People Social Security programme in which 25,000 indigenes who are above 65 years in age receive a stipend of N5, 000. The oldies also enjoy free medical services. This is the first of such a policy in Nigeria. He also scored a first in the passage of the women protective law against domestic violence, the economic empowerment of women and the adequate representation of women in the government. He introduced the Young Commercial Farmers programme to encourage youths in to farming and embarked on the distribution of free seedlings and granting of loans to farmers. This has brought in the large population of farmers in the largely agrarian economy of the state on board of his support base. The Youth empowerment programme through which 10,000 unemployed youths are engaged for two years and paid a stipend of N10, 000 each to engage in vocational training have also established a large pool of youths in support of his return to office.
Fayemi has also secured the support of the highly influential Ekiti elites through the acknowledgement of their contributions to the creation and development of Ekiti State. He introduced the annual Ekiti Honours Award through which icons of the state irrespective of party affiliations or political tendencies are granted state awards. This probably explains why while Fayemi receives daily endorsements by the icons and elders of Ekiti state, even those among the elders who are members of the PDP have maintained a deafening silence on the candidacy of Fayose.
This silence of the graveyard from elders in the PDP is also noticeable among the leading lights of the party in the Fayose campaign. Although he has extended the olive branch to fellow contestants for the ticket of the party, most of the 22 aspirants who indicated interest in the PDP ticket have been lukewarm to the Fayose campaign. Even those among them like Senator Ayo Arise and Chief Adeyeye who have openly accepted Fayose’s nomination have not been active in his campaign. This has raised widespread questions if Fayose will enjoy the support of his party structure in the June 21 election.
A critical factor that is also playing a major issue in the election is the personality of the two leading candidates. Ekiti is regarded as one of the states with the highest literacy levels in the country. It has also created a niche for itself as having the largest concentration of professors in the country. Such a state is better disposed to a candidate that reflects the people’s reference of education. This factor weighs heavily against Fayose. Fayose holds a Higher National Diploma from the Polytechnic, Ibadan. Fayemi, on the other hand, holds a doctorate degree in War Studies from the University of London. In addition he has been a visible face in the civil society clan of Nigeria, playing a critical role in the establishment and operations of Radio Kudirat, a major player in the struggle for the validation of the June 12, 1993 election of Bashorun MKO Abiola and the return of the country to democracy in the 1990s. Fayose work experience is largely unknown and clearly incomparable to the pro-democracy and pro-people engagements of Fayemi.
Until lately, the major threats to Fayemi’s votes came from teachers and workers in the local government service. He however, played a masterstroke when he approved the 27.5 percent pecuniary allowance which the teachers have been agitating for. He also won over many adversaries when he returned some workers in the local government service to work, as agitated for by the council workers union in the state.
It is against this background that any political observer of the contest in Ekiti State will not be surprised that the high expectations that predated Fayose’s entrance into the race fizzled out almost immediately he embarked on rallies across the state. It is a reminder that less than four years ago, the same Fayose had lost the election to be senator representing Ekiti Senatorial zone, a third of the state at the National Assembly.
*Agbetuyi, a political analyst writes from Ado Ekiti, Ekiti State.