Public endorsement of candidates for election is a cherished tradition in civilised democracies, where the freedoms of choice, expression, and association thrive and are cherished. In the United States, for example, notable columnists and major newspapers typically endorse particular candidates for specific political offices. It is a tradition our fledgling democracy has to imbibe as it aspires towards maturity.
Today, I follow this tradition in endorsing Dr. Kayode Fayemi, currently Minister of Solid Minerals, as the next governor of Ekiti State and I enjoin Ekiti kete to take another look at him in the light of this endorsement.
True, I berated Fayemi four years ago for losing the governorship election as an incumbent (see Why and how Fayose won the Ekiti election, The PUNCH, Tuesday, June 24, 2014). I have since learned a lot more about that election and why his loss might not be as total as it then appeared. I have also learned more about Fayemi himself from various sources, including a friend of mine who serves in a mentoring/advisory role to him as well as Fayemi’s wife, with whom I sit on a Board. What I now know about Fayemi highlights a dissonance between the man and public perception about him.
To the extent that the negative perception still lingers, I must hasten to add that my endorsement this time round comes with two conditions, which I shall elaborate upon shortly.
The major factor behind my endorsement is the combination of his intellectual and democratic credentials. Of all the candidates vying for the office of governor in Ekiti in the July 14 governorship election, Fayemi is the most prepared and has the best credentials for the office. Four aspects of the credentials are worth special notice. First, he had previously served the state as governor (2010-2014), and he performed well. He lost re-election in 2014 for political reasons, rather than for the record of his performance in office.
Besides, his efforts at revamping education in the state were grossly misconstrued, partly because he was not diplomatic enough in his approach and partly because he was a victim of negative perception. Given what we now know about the 2014 election and its aftermath, the question lingers as to whether he truly lost in the polls or in the “magical” computation of the results.
Second, none of his current competitors has the depth of his intellectual and democratic credentials. One of the reasons many of us supported him for the governorship position in 2007 was his twin background in intellectual engagement and pro-democracy activism, including his role in the founding and management of opposition radios and in the opposition’s diplomatic engagements in exile during the dark days of Sani Abacha’s military dictatorship. He also founded and managed the Centre for Democracy and Development and has provided consultancy services to various national and international organisations on democracy, governance, and security management.
Third, his book, Out of the Shadows: Exile and the Struggle for Freedom and Democracy in Nigeria, published in 2005, solidified his democratic credentials, while also chronicling his background and participation in the pro-democracy struggles. When the book is viewed along his doctoral thesis and his other notable publications, his intellectual capabilities accentuate the slogan of Ekiti State as the Fountain of Knowledge. That’s why many observers considered it a great irony that such a candidate could be pushed aside in 2014.
Fourth, it was Fayemi who first brought to our notice a crucial aspect of democratic renewal through elections. While enduring the agony of unexpected defeat, he gave a gracious concession speech after losing re-election in 2014: “I have just spoken with my brother, Mr. Peter Ayodele Fayose, congratulating him on his victory. In a few hours from now, I would be meeting the Governor-elect to discuss the future of our dear state and how we would work together to institute a smooth transition programme.” Fayemi took the path of honour, by keeping his promise. How his successor decided to pay him back is a different question.
Fifth, his current national service as Minister has given him access to the inner workings of the federal cabinet. He will be in a better position than other contenders to deploy that knowledge to Ekiti’s advantage.
Another major factor behind my endorsement is Fayemi’s acknowledgement of his mistakes in the past and his promise to make amends as necessary. As Socrates demonstrated, knowledge begins with the acknowledgement of our ignorance. Similarly, redemption begins with the acknowledgement of our mistakes.
Although Fayemi’s apology for “errors of omission or commission” was specifically tied to his first term as governor and directed to the people of Ekiti in his acceptance speech, after winning the governorship primary on May 12, 2018, it is well-known in political circles that those “errors” have spread beyond Ekiti State.
This leads to the first condition attached to this endorsement. Just as Fayemi seeks to appease Ekiti people for their votes, he must link up with his roots in the leadership of his party in the South-West. No politician endures who forgets about their starting point or seeks alignment with the centre without solidifying their base.
The second condition has to do with image branding. A lot of negative campaigning has been going on about Fayemi that I found incongruous with my personal knowledge of him. However, when I tried to place such negative perceptions with Fayemi’s unnecessary distance from those who had worked with him on his rise to power, I had to pause and re-examine the evidence before me.
The truth is that Fayemi has a carriage, which gives the impression that he is galloping on “power” springs. There is a certain air of authority about him that easily could be misconstrued as condescension. When I told someone else that I never experienced that negative aspect about him, his response was highly instructive: “He won’t t do it to you or me because he knows we are one up on him. We could have been his lecturer when he was in the university”.
I raise this issue in order to show how deep this negative perception has penetrated the public psyche. Unfortunately, he still has holes to patch in his relationship with those who could rise to his defence, especially his political defence. I mean those who worked with him on his rise to power. He must patch those holes as soon as possible.