Ekiti: The End Of The Beginning

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Ekiti: The End Of The Beginning
 

By

 

Reuben Abati

 

"The world today is ruled by harassed politicians absorbed in getting into office or turning out the other man so that not much room is left for debating great issues on their merits...Politics are almost as exciting as war, and quite as dangerous. In war, you can only be killed once, but in politics many times" - Winston Churchill, 1920.

 

 

culled from GUARDIAN, October 23, 2006

 

 

Winston Churchill, the legendary British Prime Minister (1940-45, 1951- 55), orator, and self-conscious wit was right. The situation in Nigeria today is no less different; Nigerian politics is war; it is dominated by harassed politicians who are either trying to get into office, or are being pushed out or are on the run, in order to avoid being killed "many times". In Ekiti, we have just witnessed the end of one such war, which now marks a new beginning in the lives of the people, with the declaration of a state of emergency in that state, and the effective dissolution of democratic governance. The present situation in Ekiti was foreseeable: tension had risen beyond record levels on account of (a) the impeachment of the former Governor, Ayo Fayose, (b) the emergence of an illegal successor, and what seemed like two parallel governments in the state, (c) the brazen advertisement of the law as an ass, and (d) the uncertainty that was imposed on the people's lives. It is democracy that has suffered a major setback.

 

Ekiti now goes into the record books as a state where democracy has failed, another illustration of the tentative, inchoate nature of Nigerian democracy. Each time a state implodes and a state of emergency is declared as in Plateau before now, the impression is further burnished that civilians are unable to govern themselves, they lack the discipline to organise their own affairs. It does not help that in both Plateau and Ekiti states, retired military officers had to be called in to rescue the situation. President Obasanjo may have been faced with an inevitable course of action in Ekiti, but his choice of a retired Army General, a former commander of ECOMOG, as sole administrator, sends a message that further reduces the value of Nigerian politics.

The issue is about signaling and public perception, not about the qualities of the persons that have been so selected for emergency service. What stops an average soldier still in service, from thinking that the military is in charge and that civilians are useless people? What we are running in terms of style and symbols is a military-styled democracy, with the military now in civilian garb calling the shots. Whenever civilian rule is discredited, soldiers will be encouraged to assume that they are best suited for political leadership. This is the danger that we face.

 

But I don't want to cry over split milk. General Tunji Olurin has been drafted to clear the Ekiti war zone and hold the peace after the storm. If there is any Ekiti man who is not happy about this, let him hold his unhappiness to himself or herself. The Ekiti people have earned what they deserve, precisely what they asked for. The anti-Fayose group has lost something in winning. The Fayose group has also won something in losing. What is important is for all affected stakeholders to learn their lessons. The people of Ekiti must now begin to prepare for the next elections. They must put their house in order by ensuring that whoever shows up as a candidate for the next elections is interested only in the common good. The electorate in Ekiti must be re-educated about democracy: to use the power of the vote wisely, to select leaders not because they have privileged backgrounds, not because they are willing to distribute money and bags of rice, but because they have something to offer.

Since 1999, the impression had been created in Ekiti that the people are more interested in choosing their leaders on the grounds of mere sentiments. Ekiti politics is driven by too much emotion, rather than reason. Fayose is in retrospect the people's nemesis. His presence and exploits exposed the shortcomings of Ekiti politics. In 1999, the people voted for Otunba Niyi Adebayo because he had been selected by the elders of the Alliance for Democracy. At the time, any one the ruling elite of Afenifere anointed as a candidate was bound to win an election on the platform of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) in the South West. Niyi Adebayo had the added luck of being the son of Major-General Adeyinka Adebayo who is very well-loved among the Yoruba people.

 

In 2003, President Olusegun Obasanjo needed to win the elections in the South West to prove that he had a political constituency, and to discredit the likes of Vice President Atiku who were already boasting then that without their support, Obasanjo could never have been President. Obasanjo's credibility as a political figure was at stake. He moved from one state in the South West to the other, and launched a coup against the Afenifere and the Alliance for Democracy. In Ekiti, he raised Fayose's hands. Fayose followed this up by identifying with the people. He offered the people the common touch that Niyi Adebayo lacked.

 

He danced with the people, ate with them and gave them gifts. He spoke their language; their dialect. He visited them in their homes. He was not the son of a big man; but a commoner like the majority of the people. If anyone had any doubts about him, that was eliminated by the announcement that Baba had anointed him. So, he won, and nobody protested. The Ekiti situation is a loud comment on the risk of politics by anointment or what the Yorubas call "Baba so pe", that is the politics of Godfatherism, politics by negotiated arrangement. For Nigerian politics to grow, for the population of harassed politicians to be reduced, for us to move from the politics of personalities to the politics of ideas, this syndrome must end. There lies the lesson for the rest of us.

Ekiti is incidentally a state of educated and enlightened persons; that enlightenment must now be allowed to reflect in the politics of that state. Fayose infuriated the educated Ekiti elite so much that they were forced as individuals and as a collective to take an interest in how their state was run. They can legitimately claim victory for the present turn of events even if they did not imagine that it would lead to the declaration of a state of emergency. But Fayose's exit must become an opportunity for ensuring that the quality of leadership candidates in Ekiti politics is upgraded. Fayose is gone. The lawmakers are out. Ekiti must move on...However, the Ekiti elite must guard against the evil of individual ambitions. Fayose provided a rallying point for their collective anger. The elite must now find another source of common unity. If they do not share the spoils of war carefully, they could end up turning against each other, and thus, unwittingly, work against the interests of the state.

 

No one should be surprised that the Olurin administration in Ekiti state is already putting its hands to the plough. General Olurin is promising better salaries. He is asking the Permanent Secretaries to take charge of their ministries. And the Head of Service speaking on behalf of all civil servants in the state, has betrayed a feeling of relief. He sounded at a reported meeting with the Sole Administrator as if he is truly glad that the politicians have been sent away with their troubles. Human nature is interesting. Civil servants are particularly good at adapting to all weather and seasons. But General Olurin should not under-estimate the nature and depth of his assignment. The first task before him is to call all the warring factions in Ekiti to the negotiating table including the traditional rulers who during Fayose's rule, spewed forth curses with the speed of saliva. They must be made to realise that the war is over. It is not impossible that certain groups in the state would have also acquired arms and ammunition in readiness for the outbreak of an imagined confrontation with the Fayose forces. If such groups exist, they must be identified and disarmed.

 

The second task for the sole administrator is to carry out a full audit of the Fayose era. There have been allegations of corrupt practices. Olurin is an outsider; he is a Yewa man, from Ogun state, so he has the benefit of emotional distance, and he must use that to carry out a detailed probe which will unmask all persons who may have mismanaged the resources of the state. That probe must cover civil servants, the displaced lawmakers and the Executive. Now is the appropriate time to subject Fayose and everyone involved in his government to intense scrutiny and to ensure that the law takes its course where guilt can be proven. Both the police and the EFCC must move to Ekiti to go through the files and all corners of the state: the police to investigate unresolved cases afresh, the EFCC to seek, now that there is less partisanship in the air, true evidence to support its old claims.

Olurin must maintain his neutrality. He must refuse all attempts to drag him into the politics of sentiments. And he must not be carried away by the title, "sole administrator". Let him put a team together that can provide whatever assistance he may need. General Olurin is said to be a member of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party. His name has been mentioned in the politics of Ogun state, as someone who in years to come, may be in a position to help redress years of political injustice against the people of the Yewa division. Olurin's assignment in Ekiti, is thus for him also a test. I hope he knows.

 

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