By Chido Nwakanma On Nov 20, 2019. Ekiti State Governor Kayode Fayemi recently sat down with Businessday.ng
Editorial Board member, Chido Nwakanma, to speak on various issues in the economic management of the state, including the philosophy and practices.
Let me start with Akure-Ado Road. What is the challenge of fixing it?
There is really no challenge in fixing it. We have secured support from the African Development Bank to fix the Ado-Akure Road. We have had difficulties in getting the approval of the owner. It is a road that belongs to the federal government. So, when we got a nod from the African Development Bank that they would support us to build the road and dualise it, I approached the president. He, of course, asked the minister for advice. The minister advised that they were not opposed as long as we were not going to seek a refund for reconstructing and dualising the road. We found it awkward because it is their road. If we are fixing it for you, I cannot use Ekiti funds without justification. Yes, my people would really like this road to be fixed, but they would also like me to account for it by getting a refund for the expenditure incurred. What we are getting from the African Development Bank is a loan; a long-term loan that would be relatively easier for us to manage in terms of repayment, but it is still a loan.
Where we are at right now is that we have said, okay, we are ready to foreclose the option of securing a refund. What we would like is for the minister to give us the right to toll the road. And I got my colleague on the other side, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State, to also subscribe to my original request and he did. He has said we are with Ekiti on this. We are ready to manage it. Give the road to us. Unfortunately, people will not know this back and forth. All they know is that the road is terrible.
What is the next step?
This is going on now. We are still at it. The African Development Bank cannot move unless we get a clear approval from the federal government. We are not a sovereign. I think it is a matter for discussion over the longer term, the structure of the federation. The fact that we could even engage in this kind of conversation is unfortunate and problematic for me. And this is happening across the board. Ekiti is not unique.
My people are abusing me that I have not fixed the road, but they do not know what I am going through. They say, did he not go to school? He passes that road more than most of us. He should do something. Most people who get into public office want to do something. But when they get there, they are overwhelmed by the gridlock. And some give up because they can’t fight this battle.
What is the update on the collaboration between the Ekiti State government and Promasidor?
We are doing very well with that. We have formed a joint venture company with Promasidor to manage the moribund Ikun Dairy Factory. It is a factory that has been there since 1987 but was not put to use. The equipment has gone bad. Now we are clearing the land. Promasidor has shown a lot of enthusiasm. We believe that this is going to be a model of the kind of partnerships that states and private sector operators should get into. Credit must also go to the Central Bank for encouraging Promasidor through policy initiatives to support companies that want to improve on local content rather than bringing in imported materials. The estimation that Promasidor has given us is that within the next 18-24 months, they would be producing 9000 litres of milk from the factory.
What is the name of the joint venture company?
Ikun Dairy Farms. Majority of the shareholding belongs to Promasidor because we think it should be private sector-driven. Promasidor has 76 percent of the shares and Ekiti State Government 24 percent. We are using our land as equity and some of the other things that we are putting on the table.
Which other projects would you consider concessions? Is privatisation a strategic fit for the economic philosophy of the state?
It is, but not privatisation for its own sake. We have also learnt lessons. In my first term in office, I spent a lot of resources putting in place the Ikogosi Warm Spring Retreat to work. It became a popular destination. Equally, the Gossy Water Works was thriving. But I left office, and these things went belly up. The lesson I have drawn from that is not so much that the government has no business in business but that there are just some businesses that are better off in the hands of private owners so that regardless of whatever happens in office the risk is limited.
We have put in place a transition law in Ekiti that speaks to our belief in continuity and treating government as a continuum. We know that it is only the citizens that can make that happen by putting pressure on the government not to abandon projects that were already in place by the predecessors of an incoming administration only because they were not the ones who put the project in place. There has to be a better and stronger justification for that to happen.
What we are doing now is looking for core investors. You would have seen an advert for transaction advisers from Ekiti looking at the possibility of having a core investor that can then help look for the best fit in the private sector for some of these facilities. We have successfully worked with the private sector to revive Gossy Water which also collapsed under the previous administration but has now come back to life and is doing relatively well. We have our responsibility to ensure that the access road is reconstructed so that the products can be taken out. Our burnt bricks factory that we revived during my last time in office is also an example of a firm that requires a core investor from the private sector.
We have also seen many other players that are desirous of coming into the state. We have seen interest expressed to establish a rice mill by Dangote Farms. We have seen the same thing from the Vaswani guys. Increasingly that is the way we should go.
Is this model like the NLNG model?
Absolutely. The NLNG model. The private sector has the majority shareholding and management. We provide the enabling environment, and we have a token representation on the board and equity for the state.
Marx says the economic conditions of man affect other conditions. What are your plans for boosting the economy of the state, direct and indirect?
For me, that is an area where we need to do a significant amount of work. If you go by the National Bureau of Statistics records, almost one in two of our people in Ekiti State lives below the poverty line. Whether that figure is accurate or not is neither here nor there. The critical point is that people have been poorly served before now. Before you get them to start thinking about entrepreneurial activity, you have to secure their immediate expectations not only for thriving but for surviving. Which is why we are doing a lot of social investments; social security benefits for the elderly, school feeding programme for the young ones, support for pregnant and vulnerable women. We have all of these initiatives.
As a social democratic party ideologically speaking, even though Nigerians will tell you there is no ideology in our politics, I do believe we need a pragmatic ideology, an interventionist strategy that enables deployment of the creativity and energies of our people. Get people to a sufficient condition of living that can then allow them to start exploring opportunities and providing them with the tools to engage.
Let me use Promasidor as an example. We are clearing 600 hectares of land that Promasidor would use for planting what becomes feed for the animals. We have also worked with them to develop an out-grower scheme which is local and belongs to our people. That way you don’t just have an oasis of success in the middle of a poverty-stricken environment. If you have an out-grower scheme and Promasidor is an off-taker, with minimum pricing that has been agreed, the people keep producing as they know there is a market. Inevitably there is a thriving industry in that local environment that is bound to percolate down. The money is circulating locally.
That is a model that we think can work across the board. As Dangote and others come on stream, we don’t want just to have a big farm that has no ancillary out-grower scheme that can support our people. We would have an ecosystem supporting the central unit. It is a wealth creation strategy.
Your Ministry of Justice has codified many laws in the area of sexual offenses and other areas such as palace laws. What did you do to have such an activist justice bureaucracy?
I think there is a place for establishing procedures, processes and rules if you are going to deepen democracy. You cannot have a democracy without the rule of law. If you do not have a very clearly defined and legislated enactment of laws, then it becomes a problem. From the outset, we were very clear that we would run a government driven by a very clearly defined set of rules. Then we would sensitise our people while also working with the traditional sector concerning access to justice. We believe in legal dualism. The customary. That is where the people are.
The people are not bringing the cases, the majority of them, to this prim and proper British Common Law system that we practice. If access is the critical component of the rule of law, then it cannot just be access to the High Court where the ordinary people do not go and cannot afford it. It is why we are promoting the Palace Court judgments. The penalty coming out of those palace courts may not be what we are familiar with, but the sanctions are more enduring because in the community they know how to hold you accountable without necessarily sentencing you to jail in a manner that your family will feel the impact.
We have borrowed from some of that as part of our gender-based violence prohibition and sex offenders register. We concluded that it is not just enough to establish a registry. We had to extend it to naming and shaming. That is what we have done. Before we did that we sought the buy-in of our traditional rulers; they, too, said we would work with you on this. Once it is done, in our traditional society, if you are known to have committed a sacrilege, you become a pariah in that community. The pariah status is not just limited to you. Even generations in your family that come after you will still carry the stigma.
Social sanctions. It is a combination that we are looking at because we have a fragile criminal justice system and pending the time we can strengthen it, we will do the combination.
I have a very activist Attorney General who is also from the human rights sector as I am. I don’t have to do complicated explanations. He gets it and is putting in place a robust regime of laws to help drive our agenda in these areas.
Could you explain the transition law?
Based on our experiences when we came into office, we had difficulty with the departing administration in even understanding the basics. What is on the ground? What information should we have from you to prepare ourselves? This is important in Nigeria, where we have a long transition period of at least three months between the departing administration and the incoming winner of an election. In most places, such as the United States, Kenya or South Africa, there is a transition process where it is institutionalised. They have laws that codify transition arrangements, but we don’t have any such system in place. You could argue that we are testing the waters. The expectation is that this will catch on even at the national level. What it does is to outline the terms and conditions for disengagement and engagement in the aftermath of elections. It is not everyone that will be reasonable. We want to provide a legal basis for the transition. We want to take this away from the realm of personal initiative to the field of law and sanctions if need be. It is the first transition law in the country.
It is one year of your second term. What has been your experience with the Ekiti people?
In the first instance, even though I conceded the election in 2014, I do not want to blame our people. In fairness to them, they voted in the way they wanted the election to go, my way. But we had an overwhelming federal force in place at the time. There was also an element of some resentment; this man was too fast for us. He had set ideas on where he wanted to take Ekiti. Whether we were carried along or not, he wasn’t budging. They probably wanted a slower pace of development. There was that sense.
Four years down the line, with a governor who saw things from a different perspective; policies on the hoof; gut-feeling governance; I hate to say the words “stomach infrastructure” handouts to people, not institutionalised social security and empowerment schemes. The people have tasted two different worlds, and they have come to certain conclusions about it.
Given the suffering that accompanied that, particularly lack of salary payment in a local service-oriented state, it was a particularly painful experience for our people. I think that was something that worked in my favour when I expressed an interest in coming back to the office. They said we had tested these two. At least we know that whatever resources are available, the people will be prioritised over every other thing even if we had different ideas that they do not necessarily share. The fact that salary is regular today is a big deal. I may say it is not a big deal, and indeed I am on record as saying so. This is not really what we should celebrate; people worked, and so they should be paid. But then, if you have not been paid for ten months in your experience and somebody pays you on the dot of a particular day, you know your money is coming, you can plan your life. There may be other things you want, but at least in the immediate, you don’t have to worry about some things. To the average worker in Ekiti, that is a big deal.
I also think some people are coming round to the idea that maybe Governor Fayemi is right. The bulk of our population is youthful. Some of the things he is talking about -digital economy, entrepreneurial spirit, focusing on broadening the opportunities available in tourism, agriculture, education – is not such a bad idea. Change is something that we all resist, but there is a sense in which I think a lot more people are receptive to these ideas.
You still have a debate about what does Ekiti State need an airport for, what is this smart city/knowledge city idea? We want to eat three square meals. Such pedestrian arguments are always going to be there. A lot of people also believe that governance is not just about now. It is also about the future. We have to prepare for the future now so that we don’t get caught up in a mess later on in life.
For the benefit of citizens and stakeholders, what is the rationale for the Ekiti Airport project?
Thank you for this question. The proposed Ekiti Cargo airport initiative is a project that has been in gestation for at least twelve years. Initially, I was a sceptic, but I became convinced of its necessity after the Committee that I set up to examine its viability submitted their report and gave an options appraisal. I then took it to the African Development Bank, and they saw the strategic fit with our other initiatives and this led to their keen interest in the project. The airport is a critical component of our growth strategy to make Ekiti a knowledge hub, a medical tourism destination, an agro cargo vehicle and an Infotech hub as well as a regional hub serving neighbouring states like Kogi, Osun, the southern part of Kwara and Akoko part of Ondo State. While taking on board the concerns of those who think this is a prestige project, I want to assure them that it forms part of an integrated plan for accelerated development.
Very few people know, for example, that Ekiti has the most modern, state of the art hospital in Nigeria where open-heart surgery and kidney transplant have become routine. With an airport, it’s far easier and cheaper to bring a patient to Ekiti than to go to India. Two, we are working hard on our Agric Processing Zone and already attracting companies like Dangote and Stallion to put rice mills in Ekiti. Promasidor is also making progress with Ikun Dairy Farm. Many more are coming on stream. Air and Rail transportation will be central to evacuating products to markets outside our shores. Third, we are planning a knowledge city right next to the airport, and we are convinced that all of these initiatives make a case for the airport a viable one. Finally, it’s also important to stress that it’s not a trade-off with other critical projects on road infrastructure, social investments, and rural development. If anything, it is complementary. The challenge of leadership is always to see beyond the present and work for the future.