Fayemi Interview Independent September 2005
December 28, 2006 | posted by Nigerian Muse (Archives)


 

Daily Independent

Friday 16th September, 2005

 


 

I'm on a rescue mission in Ekiti -Fayemi

 

Dr. Kayode Fayemi is one of the few Nigerians in exile who made the government of General Sani Abacha uncomfortable in the dark days of military dictatorship.  Living in exile, he was behind the pirate radio station - Radio Kudirat -that exposed some of the atrocities of the government.  About six years after he returned to Nigeria, Fayemi has documented his experience in exile in a book - Out of the Shadows - to be presented to the public very soon. In this interview with Sakibu Olokojobi, he gives an insight into the book.  He also speaks about his ambition to be the governor of Ekiti State in 2007.  According to him, Ekiti State had groped in the dark for too long and there is a need for a change for the better.  Excerpts:

 

Your book Out of the Shadows will be launched on September 22 this year.  Can you give an insight into the book?  What is it all about?

 

Out of the Shadows is a political memoir; it is the story of my own personal development, particularly, it is a story about the exile movement and the struggle for freedom and democracy in Nigeria in the last one decade.  It really developed from who I am as a person, how I grew up in Ekiti, the values that I imbibed as a young person growing up in a political environment and how that influenced what I did in the exile years.  It tells the story of my role in the opposition movement to military rule, it tells the story of my activities as a shuttle diplomat for the opposition movement.  It tells the story of my role as the driving force behind the management of Radio Kudirat.  And it really tells the story about how we got to this point in our political development in Nigeria.  It also reflects on the future of democracy in Nigeria.  So, it is a mixture of a personal story and a political memoir.

 

What key issues or things would you say compelled you to writing the book? 

 

A couple of things.  One, I believe it is right for those involved in the struggle to speak for themselves.  There is no doubt that there have been a series of books that have been written about the Nigerian struggle against the military - several.  But very few have been written about the exile years.  You can talk about Wale Oshun's Open Grave, which detailed some aspects of the NADECO struggle abroad; you can talk about Chief Cornelius Adebayo's book on his life in exile. But none has really taken a comprehensive look on what actually transpired in exile.  As an observer-participant, who was involved in central roles in all of those years, I felt I owe it a duty to Nigerians to tell the story as much as I could on what actually happened, the processes we took, the quarrels we had in the movement, the division we had in the movement, the relationship between the exile movement and the internal democratic forces, our relationship with the military itself, our relationship with foreign powers that were interested in helping Nigeria; our relationship with inter-governmental bodies - the Commonwealth, the United Nations, the European Union, the African states caught in between relating to a dictatorship that was quite powerful and influential in Africa and an opposition movement that was on the side of the truth.  It was all those complexities that I felt it was time to really talk about them, partly because some of the stories had been distorted by the media, some of them had been distorted by those who played marginal roles in the processes but now claim central roles in what actually transpired.  I felt I needed to set the records straight and speak for myself essentially. 

 

Why informed the title Out of the Shadows?

 

The title is borne out of the fact that most of what I did in exile personally, and most of what we did as a movement, the bulk of that story has never been told, partly because the people involved were either few in terms of planning and the strategic development of many of those activities.  For example, the setting up of Radio Kudirat.  There have been many stories, anecdotal tales about Radio Kudirat.  There are people who have claimed credit for setting up Radio Kudirat, who didn't even have an idea of how this thing was conceived and the processes leading to its implementations.  I felt it was time to come out of the shadows and explain to Nigerians what we did, how we did it, our intention behind doing it and the challenges we faced in doing it.

 

For someone who had always operated in the shadows, I actually struggled with writing this book because it would compromise my life in the shadows - it would expose me in a way and manner that I would ordinarily will be uncomfortable with. But having weighed it carefully and balanced the pros and cons, I decided that it was time for me to come out of the shadows. 

 

I know one of the major accounts in the book is on the setting up of a pirate radio station - Radio Kudirat - and its activities.  But why did you go into it considering the risk you run in the hands of the draconian government of General Abacha?  Was it mere love for adventure or what?

 

It wasn't an aimless boldness.  The radio is a very powerful tool, and anybody who knows Nigeria knows that the radio is one instrument that Nigerians hold very dearly.  If you go to the Northern part of this country, you will see even the farmer, the village head and others clutching to a radio.  It is like a part of the furniture in the house.  In Southern Nigeria, it is the same thing. We came to the conclusion that given the repression that the print media was facing during the dark years of military dictatorship, we needed an alternative voice of democracy; we needed a voice that will not be harassed by dictatorship.  We felt the only way we could do that was to secure a radio that will broadcast and beam it live to Nigeria.  It was in that context that we settled for a radio.  That was within our own little group, the New Nigeria Forum.  But without us knowing, around the same time other groups were reaching the same conclusion that a radio was needed.  It was just that when the task was to be done I was assigned the role of finding the radio partly because I had been involved in community activities in my part of London and pirate radios were operating in my part of London and I had relationship with some of the people operating pirate radios at the time. I was just a strategic planner of the activities.  You had several other people.  You had Chief (Anthony) Enahoro, you had Professor (Wole) Soyinka, you had General Alani Akinrinade, you had Olaokun Soyinka. several of them, and I detailed the roles that these people played. 

 

Let us move to another terrain.  How true is the news making the rounds that you are planning to contest for the governorship post of your state, Ekiti, in 2007?

 

Well, let me put it this way.  One of the things many of us are indicted for was the fact that we did all the work that we did in the democratic struggle and we then left space for those who we arrived at this point to occupy the position.  Inevitably, they couldn't appreciate, in a genuine manner, the work that went into creating this free space, and they have not been able to deepen the process as a result of that lack of knowledge and commitment to true democratic spirit.  And over the last six to seven years, I have played key roles, both behind the scene and quite openly, in constitutional reform, in dealing with questions of human rights violations that occurred in the military era, in working with the security sectors on restoring their professionalism; in working on poverty alleviation and eradication project with the Federal Government; in key areas like NEPAD and I come to the conclusion that the position that we took then that the transition of 1999 was a mere reconfiguration of the state rather than a comprehensive deepening of the democratic process, was not completely correct, and that we are not going to get a perfect space in which genuine players could interact.  It has to be work in progress, incremental and gradual as long as it is a deepening of the progress and not its reversal.

 

It is in the context of the above that I reached the conclusion that I could not stay on the fringe in order to influence the system.  I've done that enough.  I've been quite active in policy formulation, policy development, in advocacy, in training the officials in the new democratic dispensation.  But is that enough?  I believe I could contribute a lot more.  And I believe that the place to contribute that quota and the qualities that I have imbibed in the struggle years and prior to the struggle years should really be at the local stage.  For me, all politics is local. If I cannot influence what happens in my local community, in my neighbourhood, I have no business influencing what goes on in Abuja, which is the space in which I've operated. 

 

I've been very concerned about the crudeness of political power usage in my state.  I come from Ekiti, Ekiti has a certain traditional reputation in this country.  We are known to be forthright, we are known to be honest, we are known to be hardworking and industrious.  But that is not the image we have now.  We have the image of a state in breach of all those moral values.  We have an image of a political leadership that is beholden to brigandage; we have an image of a state in crisis.  I believe that we have a responsibility too to begin to correct that.  So, throwing my hat into the gubernatorial ring in Ekiti State is for me a service to my people.  It is heeding a long-term commitment to deepening democratic change and affecting the lives of the people more positively.  So, the news is not wrong. It is true.  I am seriously considering running for the gubernatorial seat in Ekiti State, and I believe I have all that it takes.  Intellectually, politically, I can make a difference and that is really why I'm in it.

 

How prepared are you for the challenges considering that there is a marked difference between human rights activism and politics?

 

I don't agree that there is a marked difference.  I believe that politics should be really driven by the commitment to make a difference in the lives of the people.  That's what human rights activism is all about.  It is about promoting core values, it is about ensuring integrity and development; it is about ensuring integrity and development; it is about affecting the life of the people concretely.  So, for someone like me who had played a role in policy making and played a role in activism, I believe I will bring a wealth of experience into the field.  I believe that integrity will put me in good stead because we need to change the language of politics in Nigeria.  We need to change the motive and the motivation for getting into politics.  We need to ensure that our people have a different notion of what a politician is.  I believe it is possible.  It was in this country that we had the Ahmadu Bello, the Tafawa Balewa, the Obafemi Awolowo and the Nnamdi Azikiwe.  They had integrity, they had intellectual depth, they had a commitment to their people and they were respected.  I believe it is time to return to the politics of meaning and politics of accountability. That's why I'm there.  I don`t have any problem with what people say about politics.  I'm in the terrain.  I go to my state.  In the last three months, I've visited 155 towns and villages in Ekiti, and they really want a change; they are desperate for transformation.  They want all to come and be part of this rescue mission, and it is the responsibility that I have to lead that process and I don't want to shirk that responsibility.

 

There are so many aspirants coming out in Ekiti State for the governorship position in 2007 with majority of them saying if Fayose can do it, then I can do it better.  How do you see yourself emerging the choice candidate from the number of aspirants?

 

First, I think it is a good thing that a lot of our distinguished and not so distinguished citizens are showing interests in the number one position in the state.  I think it is partly a reflection that what we have there is not good enough.  It is also a reflection that they feel they can do a lot better than what correctly exists.  And when you combine both, there is only one vacancy in this place.  It is something that I believe that all that have come out should campaign for in a non-violent manner; and it is one that I believe all Ekiti should have the opportunity, both at the party political level, and collectively, to decide on the qualities they want from whoever emerges into that position.  As long as it is done freely and fairly, I don't see any reason why we shouldn't allow a thousand flowers to bloom.  We need all hands on deck - we need people who believe they have what it takes to come out.  Ultimately, Ekiti people will decide - both at the party level and at the state level.  And I have no doubt that when they eventually have the opportunity to decide at the party level and at the state level, the distinction will be very clear as to what is wheat and what is the chaff.  But for me, it is not just about Government House in 2007, it is about the collective transformation of our state that should go beyond 2007.  We need to have minimum irreducible benchmark that all gubernatorial aspirants, including the incumbent, must subscribe to.  We need to subscribe to a code of ethics on election; we need to subscribe to a code of ethics on non-violence; we need to subscribe to a code of ethics in ensuring that we have a win-win situation rather than a win-lose situation, in a way that even those who lose in this contest can still see a role for themselves in Ekiti.  So, inclusion, accountability, accessibility, legitimacy, transparency, and ultimately, openness, should be the core value we will promote in the quest to getting to the Government House, and beyond.  And to me, that is how to restore the integrity of Ekiti people.

 

Some believe that elections are not won through election in Nigeria.  How are you going to overcome this problem?

 

I think election should be treated as working progress.  I'm a student of politics and I know that in situations where transition has emerged from prolonged authoritarian rule, you are not going to have a change overnight.  It's going to be gradual, it is going to be incremental.  It is true that both the 1999 and 2003 elections in Nigeria left a lot to be desired.  We at the Centre for Democracy and Development monitored those elections in all the zones, and the reports that we wrote were very clear as to the inadequacies of the election. But I also believe that those gaps have been collectively noticed.  Even the Vice President, the other day, actually confessed that elections in this country have been less than perfect, to put it mildly, and we all owe it a duty and responsibility to watch our votes as citizens in this country.  And I thing, for me, I want us to work with the civil society.  I'm an active member of the civil society and I know the steps that the civil society groups are intent on taking about the 2007 elections.  There is a process in place to form a national coalition on election.  We already have a transition monitoring group that monitors elections before now.  If we raise the level of consciousness in our communities and constituencies and if we understand the electoral geography of this country a lot more than we currently do, and we give our people extensive voters education, it will be difficult for anybody to rig an election in which I'm involved in.  That much I can let you know.  If I become the candidate in my party, my election cannot be rigged.  It is not possible.  I will take every step necessary to ensure they don't rig me out.  If you win an election against me, fairly, legitimately, I will congratulate you.  But I can be quoted:  An election cannot be rigged against me. 

 

So, when you ask how I'm going to survive in the stormy waters of Nigerian politics, I should tell you that I'm a student of politics.  I'm not just a student of activism.  I understand the terrain in which I am operating.  I keep learning everyday the dynamics of that terrain.  People are already seeing it.  Those who felt this is a green horn coming into the terrain of politics are beginning to notice the change.  There are steps that have been taken by this campaign since I started that is making it clear to people that this guy is not just an intellectual afterall, who is used to undertaking gorilla activities in exile.  Whatever it takes, we shall give it.  All that we will not do is violence.  I do not subscribe to violence in winning election, and I hope that those who are in competition for this position will also not see this as a murderous competition.

 

You're planning to contest on the platform of the Alliance for Democracy and at the same time, you are close to the Presidency.  Is there not going to be a conflict?

 

This is a question I've had to respond to repeatedly.  Let me just say that this in itself should the hallmark of the kind of politics that we should be playing in Nigeria.  It should not be a do or die affair. First and foremost I see myself as a bridge builder.  I have very close friends in the government of President Olusegun Obasanjo, and I have had cause to work for the government of President Obasanjo.  I serve in at least three presidential committees set up by President Obasanjo. And whenever my advice or assistance are required I do offer them willingly because for me, it is about working for Nigeria and working for a president that I have a lot of respect for.  Yet, there are people that I was in the struggle with:  Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, we were in the trenches together; Senator Tokunbo Afikuyomi was my colleague and friend way back from the university.  There are several other people.  For me, I think what is important is, how do we transform the Nigerian state to become the cynosure of all eyes?  It is not a party politics thing.  Because really if you ask me, the parties are not there yet. They are all inadequate in their own ways.  It is just that at this point in time, the party that I am most ideologically comfortable with is the Alliance for Democracy.  Yes, it's a minority party. It's an opposition party.  But I believe that we need organic growth in our political party development.  And if we do not take it as a central responsibility to grow these organisations themselves, we are not going to have political parties that actually represent a vision of where we want to be 10 or 20 years down the line, or how we want to get there.  This is partly the damage that militarisation has done to our country.  But it is something that we can begin to rebuild.

 

Money politics has become a phenomenon in Nigeria.  What is your attitude to this?

 

Money is important, but money is not the most important thing.  At least, in the state where I come from. I am happy that there is a high degree of awareness.  And people have always seen the impact that money politics can play.  We have somebody in office now who believes that it was his money that got him into office.  And the person is behaving true to type.  We will use money for the purposes of having an effective and efficient campaign machinery.  We will use money for the purposes of ensuring that we do not get rigged out by having people in places - paying polling agents, organising the party in a way that it is strong enough to resist the onslaught of the opposing forces.  We will use money intelligently.  But for me, it is the policy that we come up with, it is the principles that we promote; it is the commitment that we demonstrate to our people that we are genuinely interested in their well being that will ultimately define the political realm.  This is going to be different.  The swan song of my campaign in Ekiti is Eyi yato (this is different).  I'm not saying that money is not going to play a role.  But money is not going to play a role in the manner we have seen in other places.  The only godfather I have in this project is Almighty God. 

 

I must stress that Ekiti needs a change.  The people of the state are ashamed of what is going on in Ekiti State.  Two years ago, Ekiti State had a change, but we had a change for the worst.  There is no way we can compare what we are currently suffering in Ekiti State with what the government of Otunba Niyi Adebayo did.  For one, Ekiti was peaceful when Otunba Niyi Adebayo was there.  People were not being assassinated, people were not being harassed by the state.  Even the current state governor was operating freely in Ekiti State throughout the time Otunba Niyi Adebayo was in government.  Not to mention concrete things that that administration did in spite of the inadequacies that people saw at the time as well.  But right now, Ekiti State is in crisis.  Everyday you read about Ekiti and it is mostly negative things that you read about it.  Beyond those  are the rent a page stories that you find in some newspapers.  The most important thing people want to see in Ekiti is peace; it is progress; it is justice; it is concrete development.  And ultimately, it is who can provide these things that will carry the day. It is not going to be a party driven thing; it is going to be a collective rescue mission in which all Ekiti will have a critical role to play. 

 

What should the people of Ekiti be expecting from you if you become the governor?

 

For me, I've always said that I still see key things that we need to overcome in Ekiti - poverty; ignorance; disease.  We cannot handle them independently, we have to handle them in an integrated development framework.  I believe coming into office, I'm going to tackle them in a comprehensive manner.  I promise the Ekiti people a state in which education has a pride of place so that we tackle ignorance head on. I don't see why Ekiti cannot use the huge human capital that we have in the state as a major outsourcing network for Nigeria.  I believe that we can have an Ekiti State in which the 521 schools function in an adequate, well-resourced manner and produce the best that we've always been in Nigeria. 

 

I believe that we can have an Ekiti State in which not just free health, but qualitative medical agenda is available for the people, in which we can tackle the major challenge in Ekiti State now, which is malaria.  Malaria is not a disease of the rich.  We can deal with that by tackling the poverty situation in Ekiti.  When you tackle the poverty situation, you enhance the self-esteem and self-dignity of the citizens of Ekiti.  For me, these things are important, and Ekiti is well positioned both in terms of education and rural development, to become a huge food basket.  It is not that people are not producing food, but what are we doing about the storage facility?  What are we doing in promoting the co-operative of farmers in Ekiti?

 

If you go around Ekiti, you will be shocked that all the things that we used to have are disappearing in front of us.  I'm not going to be a governor that talks about tarring roads; I'm not going to be a governor that talks about paying salaries.  Quite frankly, for me, that is not the job of the governor.  It goes without saying that I will pay salaries.  People have worked, why shouldn't I pay them?  Why should I claim that as a credit?  If it is just to collect money from the federal government and distribute among workers. that is not a job.  You don't need a governor to do that.  Ditto road construction. 

 

In a number of places that I know around the world, local governments construct roads.  Feeder roads, rural roads are not the job of a governor.  A governor should be more interested in adding value.  You can see what Bukola Saraki is doing in the agricultural sector in Kwara State; you can see what Donald Duke is doing in the tourism and development sector in Cross River State, you can see what the gentleman in Jigawa is doing in Information Technology.  That is adding value.  Not tarring roads, not paying salaries because those are not the job of a governor.  I want to add value in areas where my people have not seen governance over the last eight or nine years of Ekiti State creation.  I believe that we can do it.  We are lucky.  Ekiti is the only state in Nigeria without a minority.  We are all Ekiti.  We speak the same language, have the same disposition about life.  It ought to be easy to get a state like that working because you can get everybody onboard the train of development. 

 

We should be talking about a state that does not have to depend on federal allocation. This business of going cap in hand at the end of every month to Abuja is really disturbing the creativity of our people.  I think we need to restore the creativity of our people.  I don't have anything against federal allocation.  We can take it, but we should not be dependent on it.  We should be able to run our state without federal allocation.  I'm particularly in an advantage position.  I have the network internationally; I'm in touch with Ekiti in Diaspora, and other groups.  I'm talking to them, and they are coming up with beautiful ideas. I want to take ideas from as many angles as possible and synthesize them because I don't believe I have all the solutions. Let's get the train moving!


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