Executive Bookshelf entered a higher gear this week with conversations with the Chairman of the Governors’ Forum Dr Kayode Fayemi.
The Governor of Ekiti State is a bibliophile, writer and visionary. He shares his reading experiences in this interview that runs in two parts.
You are what you read
Dr Kayode Fayemi: My Book World
- What are you reading currently?
I have a strange habit which I am sure you are probably familiar with from our old days. I do not read one book at a time. I am reading a couple of books right now. They are not too diverse; they are in the same genre.
I am reading a book by Paul Collier, an Oxford academic who wrote The Bottom Billion (2007). He has just come out with a book on the future of capitalism, really examining the decline of social democracy and what to do to still hold to the middle ground between populism and dogma. He argues for the need for pragmatism. And what are the pragmatic solutions to the challenges that we are confronting in the world? I am reading The Future of Capitalism (2018), which is more like the Tony Crossland book of old, The Future of Socialism.
I am also reading an exciting book by one of President Obama’s aides, Samantha Power. Samantha was the US Ambassador to the United Nations. Before then, award-winning journalist, academic at Harvard and she wrote this book, The Education of An Idealist (2019). When you go into government with a lot of idealism, and you have to confront the real issues. Here is someone who wrote about genocide in Bosnia, Herzegovina, the Serbian crisis and the Rwandan genocide and criticised America for not doing enough in responding to these issues. She now found herself as a security council official in the same US government and having to deal with the problems of Syria, Iran, diplomatic engagements across the spectrum. Even inside the progressive government and having to confront a lot of those dilemmas.
I am reading a book by the CNN White House Correspondent Jim Acosta. Inimitable reporter, continually challenging and asking the tough questions of the Trump administration and of course, President Trump hated his guts and probably still does. They threw him out of the White House, but he took them to court and won. His book is The Enemy of the People: A Dangerous Time to Tell The Truth in America (2019).
Finally, I am reading a new book, For The Record by David Cameron, former prime minister of Britain. They are all political books, autobiographical, biographical and accounts of people and where people are in their political journey.
- What informs your choice of a book to read?
I am a student of history and politics. I have a bias for books that teach specific lessons. I am interested in leadership, for example. One of the most interesting books I have read recently is Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Leadership in Turbulent Times. It is an analysis of the leadership of four US presidents. Because I am also in public office that tends to influence what I read.
Of course, I also pick up other books. I am currently reading two exciting books by two Nigerians I respect. One is The Pentecostal Republic by Ebenezer Obadare an examination of religiosity in our setting and The Burden of Office by a former Attorney General Mr Mohammed Adoke. You could say all of these books are still in the same direction.
- Which books rate as the Top Ten in your reading experience?
Wow. Which books rate as the Top Ten?
- Ibadan: The Penkelemesi Years by Wole Soyinka. I am a penkelemesi child so you can understand why that book rates highly with me.
- The Famished Road by Ben Okri.
- The Fishermen Chigozie Obioma. I found it engaging and it is also set in Akure, an area I am familiar with.
- Half of a Yellow Sun Chimamanda Adichie. I found her rendition of the civil war a lot more graphic than even the real story. Different. Palpable. A love story weaved around a tragic circumstance. It made an impression.
- What is history (1961)? -E. H. Carr.
- Farewell to Arms Ernest Hemingway.
- On War Carl von Clausewitz and The Art of War, Sun Tzu. I am a student of war.
- The Republic Plato
- North-Eastern Yoruba Districts and the Benin Kingdom by Banji Akintoye.
- Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela
- Which books would you return to again and again?
There are books that I return to again and again. Long walk to freedom by Nelson Mandela, On War, Clausewitz, The Famished Road and in terms of biographical works I will return to a book by a gentleman, he is dead now, Orientalism by Edward Said.
- Please suggest five essential books and five general interest books for young people.
That requires some careful reflection. It has to be books that teach and ones that are attractive for them to read.
a. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe, a classic that resonates across generations and age groups.
b. The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence -Martin Meredith. It is a comprehensive sweep of what has transpired in this continent. Useful for a young person to know.
c. Crippled Giant: Nigeria Since Independence (1998), Eghosa Osaghae
d. Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie
e. The God of Small Things, Arundathi Roy
f. On War, Clausewitz
g. Prebendalism, Richard Joseph
h. Nation As Grand Narrative Wale Adebanwi
- What role did being a bibliophile play in your career?
Very critical role. Even my getting into politics was informed by my childhood connection to reading. I grew up with a father who was an Information Officer in government. Newspapers were all over the place. As a child, it was a must for me to read newspapers. I then grew very much attached to it. Somebody saw me the other day who I had not seen since my secondary school days and he said, do I still carry a James Hardley Chase book around? (laughter). Apparently, I used to do this a lot when I was young. That is his abiding memory of me. Just sitting in one corner, not bothered by anything around me, totally engrossed. Reading has been a major part of my life. People find it strange when they come into my car and find loads of books there or in my office. No matter how busy I am, I cannot be too busy not to read because there are always lessons that are ingrained in what you read. You are actually what you read.
- Ekiti is known for education. What are you doing to boost knowledge production in your state?
Quite a lot. As part of this first anniversary, we had what we normally call the JKF Essay Competition. This is what has been missing from this environment for a while now. The idea of people competing in the area of knowledge production has become somewhat alien. When we were young, we took part in essays, literary and debating societies, representing our schools in Inter-House Debates and quizzes. All of that seemed to have disappeared, and we are reintroducing them in schools and public competitions.
Over and above that, a significant component of my government’s agenda is what we call the knowledge economy. How do we turn around an environment that is already known for affinity to education, but education for its sake or education for wealth creation? There is a sense in which knowledge for its own sake is not necessarily a bad idea. But we also live in a world that has become instrumentalised. So it must also serve a purpose. In our Knowledge Economy agenda, we are looking at applied knowledge. When you’ve got the knowledge, what do you do with it? How useful does it become to society? How do you apply the knowledge? How do you connect the dots between the town and the gown? What is the university, for example, doing for us in government? What sort of partnership do we have? What is the university doing for industry in our state and beyond? How do we connect the Diaspora to our local content and ensure that the partnership serves our people better? How do we pool the resources in our education quadrangle of Afe Babalola University, Ekiti State University, Federal University, Oye-Ekiti and the Federal Polytechnic? How do we make all these work better for us so that Ekiti can really and truly live up to its billing, to the name that people ascribe to the state?
So, what are you planning to do? Are you going to build e-libraries or digital creation centres?
We are doing that and more. We have this Knowledge City where we are focusing on preparing our young ones for the fourth industrial revolution. It is Agritech hub, a biomedical hub, it is an ICT Innovation hub; it is an outsourcing place. It is a city for knowledge production, dissemination, outsourcing and knowledge retention. It is all around a particular space which sits in the middle of the quadrangle about which I have just talked.
When is it taking off?
It is pretty much taking off now. We are working on the masterplan currently. We have already secured support in principle from several institutions, including the African Development Bank and Afrexim Bank. It is a PPP initiative. Government is just desirous of producing the framework, preparing the place for private sector players to take over and drive it. In doing that we want a mini-grid power; power is key to it. Broadband access is essential. Fibre optic cabling is a very critical thing that we are doing — getting anchor tenants that would then help multiply local content and ensuring that we prepare our school-age children for participation in this.
In my first term, we used to have an initiative called a laptop per child. We are not doing that now because we have learnt some lessons from it. We are focusing more now on ICT labs in schools. They will be there for many students to benefit from in years to come.