FEATURE ARTICLE

Femi AwoniyiThursday, January 2, 2014
f.awoniyi@theafricancourier.de
Speyer, Germany

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WHAT FAYEMI PROVES IN EKITI

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was in Lagos, visiting from my base in Germany, on 15 October 2010 when the Federal Court of Appeal declared Dr Kayode Fayemi the lawfully elected governor of Ekiti State as a result of the rerun election of 25 April 2009. I was elated like the overwhelming majority of Ekiti people that justice at last had been done. I was also happy for two other reasons.

First, the tortuous route Fayemi had to take to recover the mandate the people gave him at the 14 April 2007 election had, of course, endeared him to many even beyond our borders. And all through the struggle to recover his mandate, he made it clear that he was going to use only peaceful means to wage the battle.

For example, after the result of the rerun polls was openly manipulated by election officials before the full glare of the world, Fayemi appealed to his supporters at a public rally in Ado-Ekiti to eschew violence because, in his own words, the office of governor was not worth the life of a single one of them.

That act, which qualifies him for political sainthood if there were one, attracted the sympathy of many to this politician who placed the lives of his people over and above his political ambition. This act of selflessness in a country plagued with political violence, whose victims are usually poor people, especially drew attention to him as a new breed of politician ready to change the culture of do-or-die partisan politics in the country.

As a journalist and activist, I had also been conversant with the activities of Fayemi, who worked with such great patriots as Wole Soyinka to build an international constituency for the restoration of democracy in Nigeria during the struggle against the Abacha dictatorship.

In fact, Fayemi was very popular in the African Diaspora both in Europe and North America where he regularly spoke at events especially on the need for international support for democratic forces in our land. His sheer brilliance and ardent commitment were always a source of pride and inspiration to all of us.

I celebrated Fayemi's victory with a few friends on the evening of 15 October 2010 in Lagos but the next day, my mood turned pensive. I was gripped by fear that this renowned activist for democracy and development could fail to fulfil the yearnings of Ekiti people, whom I know could be very difficult to satisfy.

Not that I doubted Fayemi's competence to deliver on his campaign promises, but I was worried if our political system would allow him to carry out his good intentions for Ekiti people. Those who fought with him during the struggle to reclaim his mandate, those who contributed to his election campaign and those who funded his legal battles were all there to be compensated. Would much still remain for the common people? And Ekiti is known to be among the states that receive the least allocations from the federal purse. I began to fear for Fayemi's reputation.

As a result of my apprehensions, I became a close watcher of the Fayemi administration right from its inception. I kept my hears to the ground to know what Ekiti people would say about him, fearing that my worst fears could become true which would be a big blow to the progressive movement in the country.

The first year went and nothing untoward was peddled about the administration; yet I was not assured. The second came and suddenly instead of criticisms which I had feared, the comments I often heard were that "Fayemi is working" and "things are beginning to change". It was in his second year that Fayemi launched his revolutionary Social Security Scheme for the Elderly, which will go down in history as one of the boldest policies ever made to confront this harsh, human dignity-denying poverty in rural Africa.

Massive road construction embarked by the government had also started yielding fruits as roads were becoming more motorable across the state.

The deluge of positive testimonials about the Fayemi administration that I observed early this year finally defeated my fears and made me to decide to carry out an assessment of my own. The eulogies sounded too good to be true.

I toured Ekiti for about two weeks recently - from end to end and back.

Touring the state, I could not but be amazed at the tremendous impact the government has made in the lives of the people within such a short period of time in office. The most impressive and visible success of the Fayemi administration is in the improvements in the condition of roads in the state.

All the nooks and crannies of Ekiti are connected by well-tarred roads. In fact, towns and villages are now so well connected that it takes less than one hour to travel to any part of the state from the capital Ado-Ekiti.

I became emotional driving on the Ikogosi-Ipole-Effon Alaaye road at a point between Ipole and Effon - after Iwaji. My father was from Ipole. I stopped and got out of the car and walked around and savoured the magnificent Effon hills that dot the horizon and remembered how my father and his generation fought so hard to make government pay attention to the road - to no avail.

Since we lived in Ibadan, the shortest route to Ipole for my father, when visiting home which he did every fortnight, would be to travel to Ipole through Effon. But the last time he did that was in 1977 after which he gave up on the route due to the terrible state of the road. Until his death in 1995, he had to go through Aramoko, Erinjiyan and Ikogosi to get to Ipole. What an Israelite detour! And these other roads were also not good. Today, it takes less than 15 minutes to get to Ipole from Effon on the road built by Fayemi that will compete with any rural road in Germany.

The ease of road transportation has indeed had the greatest impact on the state's economy as it has triggered a renewed interest in agriculture. From my conversations with citizens - in Ikerre, Ilawe, Ado, Aramoko, Effon etc people are now returning to the farms confident that they can evacuate their harvest to the markets anywhere in the state and beyond.

Another notable achievement of the state is in education. For a state known for the love of its people for education, what the Fayemi administration met on the ground was a sector in a parlous state - schools had become dilapidated as a result of long years of abject neglect, the morale of teachers was low and understandably the performance of students poor. I learnt that the pass rate of the secondary school leavers was a scandalously woeful 27 per cent in 2010.

The governor has meanwhile carried out a renovation of all schools in the state and improved the welfare of teachers by bringing back such perks as car loan, housing loan, rural teacher allowance etc. He has also introduced new training schemes for teachers, putting in place a system of regular assessment of their work.

More than 70 per cent of school leavers passed this year - what a tremendous improvement in only 3 years! And the government is still hard at work to fully restore the state's lost glory in education.

Another area in which the Fayemi administration has made a notable achievement is in tourism. Whoever had visited Ikogosi before Fayemi came to office would marvel at how the tourist site looks today.

The huge work done already, including the construction of 100-room chalets, meeting halls, walkways and a swimming pool in addition to the beautiful landscaping of the whole resort, is said to constitute only the first phase of the Ikogosi Redevelopment Plan of the government. The second phase will include a 3-start hotel, a golf course, a games reserve and other facilities. I can't wait for the realisation of the laudable plan. Already hundreds of tourists are to be seen daily at the Ikogosi Warm Spring enjoying the unique ambient of this pristine location.

Similar progress has been made in other areas such as agriculture, water supply, health services, women empowerment and youth employment.

For this writer, who knew how the state used to look like before Fayemi became governor, touring Ekiti was an inspiring experience. The optimism of the ordinary people for a better future was really infectious. People now talk of how they personally plan to key into the opportunities unleashed by the developments in the state. A young man I met in Ipole Iloro talked enthusiastically about how he hopes to qualify as a tour guide and take people to the spectacular water fall in the small town. What an experience for someone like me who was used to the endless complaints of dispirited citizens crying for positive change whenever I come home!

Dr Kayode Fayemi has proved that an activist can govern well. An activist need not be a perpetual phrase-monger or armchair ideologue. He can also roll up his sleeves and get involved in the people's work.

Fayemi has also proved that rapid progress is possible even in the most difficult environment where politics is chiefly business and many politicians are, in fact, entrepreneurs only seeking profit.

It is no exaggerated optimism to say that by the time the Fayemi administration completes all the projects and programmes it has earmarked for the next 5 years, Ekiti would have been changed for the better for good.

Femi Awoniyi, a Germany-based journalist, is the publisher of The African Courier magazine

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