In this first part of a no-holds-barred interview with PREMIUM TIMES’ Josiah Oluwole in Ado-Ekiti, the Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele Fayose, speaks about his administration, President Muhammadu Buhari, and other matters.
PT: You have been in office for over one year now? How has it been? What difference have you made in the lives of Ekiti people?
Fayose: You will recall that I am a second term governor and I must have come with some level of experience otherwise we will be in a very serious and a very terrible situation as a government. This is beside the fact that the economy of the state under the last administration was not impressive. The handling of the economy and other things that happened created a lot of challenges for this administration. I employed a strategy to be transparent and took time to engage the people. When you engage the people in the running of your government, it would leave no room for stories and fifth columnists. You will have the people defend you in the event of any misinformation. The other issue that we cannot ignore is the financial inabilities facing my government as a result of the borrowings of the last administration. One, Ekiti earns about the least in Nigeria. Again, Ekiti has low level internally-generated revenue. When you put all this together, it is not an easy run for the government.
The last administration took two sets of loans – the loan from commercial bank and the bond. The bond was for N25billion and the commercial loan was for N31billion, aside from unpaid salaries. These, put together, have handicapped the government from functioning. But it is not enough to tell stories because we told the Ekiti people that we have answers to these problems, so we have to face it. After explaining the cause of the situation to the people, we still have to find solution to the problems. We reduced the size of government. We had about 34 permanent secretaries heading MDAs. We had to cut it down to 25. Of the 25, we have statutory boards like the Teaching Service Commission, Local Government Service Commission, the Civil Service Commission, etc. They are boards you cannot run like the regular ministries. Cutting the size of government and being realistic is important. Before you do that, you have to be an example. You have to run government like your personal business in terms of the fact you have to feel the pains as an individual in order to win the trust of the people.
We ensured the blockage of all wastages. Even at that, the nose-diving of the allocation that comes to the state is another challenge. Between January to October 2014 when (former governor) Fayemi was here and January to October 2015, we had a shortfall of about N11billion of what accrued to the state within the space of 10 months. That made it uneasy for us to run the government. Within the ambit of this, we need to maintain the payment of salaries. One of the things that can cause the downfall of any government is when you cannot pay the wages of your workers or issues that tend to mortgage the future of workers.
PT: Are the Ekiti people following you in the austere measures you are introducing at the moment?
Fayose: The working class is the pulse of the people because the political class is seen as political heads. When you pay salaries it goes down to the commoners. The man that get his wages will have to get his food in the market, he will have to buy pepper, he will buy fuel and all that and in turn the economy expands and the people are reached. One of my strategies is to bring the workers together and declare the earnings of government every month. There is a document from Abuja that says this is your earnings. I give it to them. The state wage bill is supposed to be N2.6 billion but what we got was N1.375 billion.
That is about half. They know that this government is transparent. I make public announcement. I declare the assets of government. The standing committee of the labour, the NUJ, and all that, come together and I ask them to look into the balance and see how we can pay wages. Actually, if they see that what you earn is not up to what you will pay, they know that it is not the fault of the governor. But what we try to do is to ensure that whatever comes is used judiciously for the benefit of everybody. So communication is important. Many people do not know the purpose of the austere measures. They don’t know the price of oil. They only know the status of their stomachs and so you have to educate them. My style is a government that is in tune with everybody. I am a governor that goes to everywhere and every home. I call the different segments of the society and intimate them. They are happy and they know I am giving my best.
PT: What differences can you spot between your first tenure in office and now?
Fayose: Let me tell you this that it is on record that I took over government in 2003 when the economy was at its lowest ebb. Workers were owed salaries. I recall that I paid all the salaries. At my departure I left over N10billion in the coffers of government. We spent N1.14billion as part of contribution for the recapitalization of Wema Bank, among the states of Oodua. And in the entire tenure, I did not borrow a dime to run the state. Far reaching projects that touched the lives of the Ekiti people were carried out under my government. Forget about politics of blackmail and all the noise. There was no road in Ekiti that was dualised before my coming in 2003. I had to summon courage to demolish houses and pay compensation. I did Ikere to Ado-Ekiti, from Ado-Ekiti up till the state hospital. I did Irona, that is, Mathew Street junction up to Ilawe. I was the one that did Adebowo to the police headquarters. I built the Governor’s Office, the fire station. I built the popular Ayo Fayose Market. Even if you don’t like my face, you have to call that market. I built the road from Ikere to Igbara-Odo, from Igbara-Odo to Ikogosi, from Ikogosi to Aramoko, from Aramoko to Efun-Alaye, and from Ado to Afao. I recall that I built the road from Afao to Ire, and so on. I did a lot you cannot forget so soon.
PT: Why are you not able to do the same now?
Fayose: We are doing our best within available resources. We just dualised Awodele and we are doing many more. But it is more challenging now because of the debt profile of our state. We are going to continue to service it until the year 2036. It is more challenging. They have committed the state so badly. If I come here and tell you that it is not challenging I will be deceiving you. The difference is that we are carrying the people along so they can understand where we have found ourselves. Up till the time the bailout (funds) provided the leeway, it was not easy at all.
PT: Your brand of politics is that of controversy. You cut an impression of a very controversial personality. You raised a lot of controversies in your first tenure leading to your impeachment and now it is almost the same, why is it so?
Fayose: I am like that. Everybody is peculiar. You become an issue when you are not a conformist. I am a very clear person. The style in Nigeria and the world over is to lie. It is to do a make- belief. It is to deceive the people. It is to promise change, when you know it is only a “one chance” promise. I am not a man like that. I am not a perfect man, but the path of a righteous man is always a challenge. They know that l represent light. Let me explain to you – have you ever seen in Nigeria where any man will leave office in those challenging situations and will come back again, eight years exactly. I was forced out of government at gunpoint under the Obasanjo administration on the 16th of October 2006. I came back on the 16th of October 2014, exactly eight years. Analysts told me that I took oath of office at exactly the same minute. Let me tell you the truth. There is a way truth catches up with people and there is a way posterity judges you right. Posterity is judging me right because I have dominated the politics of Ekiti State in the last 15 years. Nobody can controvert that. The denominator in politics is the people, not propaganda. If the people can say this man come back in a falling state…I am the issue in Ekiti politics and by extension Nigerian politics. I am the longest serving Nigerian governor. I served in the Obasanjo administration. I was in the same tenure with (Bola) Tinubu, with (Adamu) Mu’azu and others. I was in the same administration with former President Goodluck Jonathan and am now in Buhari administration. I am a major force, I am a factor; you cannot ignore me. If you ignore me, it is at your own peril.
PT: You just mentioned that you were forced out of office under the Obasanjo administration…..
Fayose: (Cuts in) I don’t want you to ask that question yet. I just want to round this one off. I want you to take note. I am the first Nigerian governor to defeat two incumbent governors at two different attempts, landslide. I did not only defeat them, I defeated them in their homes, in their wives’ bedrooms, in their sitting room, everywhere. They were badly defeated. They have all the forces, they have all the money, and they have the contacts. It shows with all the noise, all the controversies, I am the issue there. I served in the south west 12 years ago, and with all due respect to all my former colleagues, I am still a factor and a force they cannot forget in Nigerian history. All politics are local. Without this fact that I am strong at home, nobody will remember me today. I defeated Adeniyi Adebayo; I defeated Kayode Fayemi and they all came together to face me and by the grace of God, I defeated them. That shows you that this man has a backing beyond normal. Let me tell you – it is not easy. They cannot come out to say why is my “wife” beating me all the time? They can only come out to cover their tracks. They are not on ground here. In Nigerian politics I only say the truth. They took me to EFCC for eight years. I was detained in Ikoyi prison for 45 days. My wife was detained for 33 days and I won all litigations against them. They went to harass my wife at home and I got judgment against them for N10 million. They went to the Court of Appeal, I defeated them. They went to Supreme Court, I defeated them. I am waiting to collect my money from them now. You see you cannot get it more right than I am getting it. Whether you like me or you don’t like me, it is either you like or you hate. I too I don’t like you if you don’t like me. I am not sorry for you. I told Nigerians that they should not vote for Buhari and that Buhari will not do well. My name is Ayo Fayose. He will not do well. The attitude of a man can only be corrected when you are still young. The older you get….
PT: Your Excellency let me guide you….
Fayose: (Cuts in again) Don’t guide me…the older you get, you will continue to exhibit your traits. That is why I told you Buhari is a dictator; he can never lead a people or a government without being dictatorial. Ask another question.
PT: Why have you been frontal in your attacks on President Muhammadu Buhari and the Federal Government?
Fayose: You see, the power of Buhari is not more than to kill somebody. He can send soldiers to you to come and kill you but people will know that the killing is not normal. It must be a high-wired killing. I am not afraid of him. The power of Buhari is not more than you go and lock somebody up. I am not afraid of him. I am not in the calibre of politicians who are saying, ‘ah don’t let me die o! Don’t let my mother die o,! You don’t take the inheritance of your father if you are not sure you are ready to take it. I am not in that category. Most noble men today have gone underground for fear of the unknown. And in times like this, when you train a lion, when you keep a lion in your family house, those of you promoting that lion will end up in his stomach one day. The same thing we were telling Obasanjo that time. We said Obasanjo was a dictator. Obasanjo consumed most of them who were promoting him that time. I have never minced words, before the campaign…I am not a sycophant to say that it was after Buhari became president that I started praising or talking against him.. I started from day one.
I was 24 years old when Buhari was head of state of Nigeria. We were daily being beaten in Ibadan when we queued up for essential commodities. I remembered how he stopped import duties and did a lot of things damaging to the economy, the same way he is still doing it today. God raised Joseph at a given time. God raised Moses to warn Pharaoh of the consequences of his leadership, until he perished. I have said it clearly that any attempt to confront me and attack my government will bring Buhari’s government down. My name is Ayo Fayose, I mean every word I am saying. As powerful as God has made the snail, he warned the snail to beware of salt. God gave the snail a protected shield behind him and told him to crawl all over the world, but warned him to be mindful of salt. I am salt. He should be mindful of me. It doesn’t matter his might, we have seen presidents before. We were here when Obasanjo was here. We were here when other presidents came and we will still be here when he will leave. I am not a coward. Call me controversial if you like. Men that will make history will be very controversial. Courageous people will be controversial. The bible makes it very clear that the righteous will be as bold as a lion.
PT: You talked very courageously and when men do that they always have some backbone or alternative power support, what is yours?
Fayose: Let me tell you the truth, the bible says before we were born, we were known by God even in the womb of our mother. Today this is the way God has made me. Anybody can trace my background, my father and the kind of family I come from. I have God’s backing, and above all, I have a wonderful wife, a woman of God. Aside that those who put their faith in the Lord, they can never be denied. We cannot all be in the same party. We cannot all be afraid. There must be one or two of us who will be very conscious in very bad weather. So I don’t have alternative medicine. I only have God.
PT: So having said much about the Buhari’s person, what is your assessment of the administration in the last seven months?
Fayose: I am not impressed. I am not impressed. Buhari administration has shown the hallmark of a very vindictive leader. Let us reflect carefully on Jonathan. A leader needs all the peace to run a country. Part of the hallmark of a good leader is to be able to rally everybody in times like this. Look back. Jonathan was magnanimous. He could have said I am a sitting president and cause the country headache, but he did not do that. He willingly relinquished power because of the overall interest of the country. Instead of Buhari coming…….you begin to vilify everybody. You begin to do factional pursuance of the fight against corruption. It doesn’t work like that. Go and look at Buhari’s antecedent. I stand to be corrected. It doesn’t matter how many people are feeding under him now, I can always tell you that those who are rearing this lion will end up in his stomach. There is nothing new in governance. We were young here before. We were kids, we became boys, we became men and we became average aged men now. We know that the rate at which Buhari is going, he is going to destroy this country.
There is no hiding place for dictators. The only thing binding us together in this country is the constitution. How can the president begin to incarcerate and take away people’s rights because you are president today? It’s not right. That era is gone. I was listening to the president on the television. He said somebody stole and some people are somewhere suffering. Is the president now a law unto himself? Is he a judge in his own matter? For every matter you in the executive find wrong, you present it to the judiciary? Why would you judge them on the television? That’s not right. Let me give you an instance, this young man in South Africa that was said to have killed his girlfriend. He was granted bail. He killed. Everything the law says you are entitled to bail. If you say no, you are a dictator. Imagine somebody that you locked up, gave several charges, the court gave conditions for bail, he met the conditions, he came out, and you rearrested him. Those who are promoting this lion will end up in his stomach.
PT: You have recalled your forceful removal from office through the use of federal might. You have also described Buhari as a vindictive person. Don’t you envisage a repeat of the 2006 experience where the president organized your removal if you continue your attacks?
Fayose: If nobody had done anything against me at that time, maybe I would not be as visible as I am now. Everything works together for good. You may have power, you may use power, but there is a certain beginning for a man and there is a certain end. Again as I told you, the worst of situation is death, I am not afraid of that. The more you pursue me, the more you will run into trouble. Don’t forget that after nine years my removal was upturned by the tongue-lashing of the justices of the Supreme Court against my adversaries. It doesn’t matter what you suffer today because you are saying the truth. Those who stood by the truth in the bible excelled in the long run. The story of Joseph is fresh in our memories. The story of Daniel is fresh in our memories. Nothing lasts forever, I am not afraid of Buhari.
PT: You have consistently criticized Buhari for his lopsided fight against corruption. Does the recent arrest of his associate, Jafaru Isa by the EFCC not change your opinion on his anti-corruption fight?
Fayose: That is cosmetic. They should tell us the account where he paid that money. I read in papers today that they will not release Olisa Metuh until he pays. So if the man says I have a right to be heard in court to defend myself, you will force me to go and pay. It was in the days of Obasanjo that you believe you can incarcerate people for as long as you want because you want them to even lie against themselves. That Jafaru or Kafaru or whatever you call his name…you can’t cover your tracks. The fact that he returned N100million – does that mean he cannot be charged to court. Everybody is still in the face of the law, innocent. You know, they will be searching for my name now to find out whether Fayose’s name is in that scandal. I am here, I can’t go anywhere. This country is our home, our father’s land. God has produced me at this time for his purpose and I am telling them to do whatever they like but I am going higher.
This is not my stopping point. No matter the persecution, I will remain resolute. You fight corruption within the ambits of the law. You don’t take away human rights. Taking away human rights and trampling on the constitution and the rights of people is worse than corruption. If you look very closely at what the law says. The law says it is better for nine bad people to be set free than for one innocent person to suffer. People should be given the benefit of the doubt. When you were reading my story in the papers those days with headlines like ‘Ayo Fayose stole N1.3billion’ ‘Ayo Fayose carted away poultry project money’…… I am the one still sitting down here as governor of Ekiti State without apologies to them. I’m still alive when the Supreme Court gave this judgment. It is fair to give people fair hearing. Most of the people that fought against me that time are now my friends. They have seen the light. They have realized that what they did to me was most unnecessary. God fights the battle of the man that believes in the truth.