By Julius Ogunro
There are many presidential aspirants in this election cycle that it is pretty much a waste of time and energy to write or talk about. That is not because these politicians lack vision, gravitas or pedigree for the job. It is just that their chances of winning, or even mounting an impactful campaign, is closer to zero than one.
There is nothing abnormal though in paperweight politicians or political parties throwing their hats into the presidential ring. It is the norm in Europe and most of the developed world. Nigerians are only familiar with the two big political parties in the United States and United Kingdom, for instance. But there are many small ones, mainly with ridiculous names such as the Black Riders Liberation Party of the US, or the Pirate Party in the UK.
These minor parties are often single-issue or protest oriented and their presidential candidates use the opportunity offered by the presidential run to draw attention to one central idea, such as women rights, abortion or any other subject dear to them.
In Nigeria, however, the candidates of these minor parties delude themselves that they can actually win, and so embark on expensive campaigns which they can ill afford, and, in the end, are left clutching at straws. Wasted is the opportunity to canvass any meaningful idea or push an agenda that could be beneficial to the society.
Realistically, the next President of Nigeria will come from one of the two major political parties, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) or the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In both parties, the field is a bit crowded with many aspirants currently auditioning for the role of the President. In fact, this is perhaps the highest number of presidential aspirants in the history of democracy in Nigeria, despite this cycle being the costliest in terms of entry fee.
This overflow of presidential hopefuls has allowed only a small wiggle room for the aspirants to make their pitch heard. The impostors are getting as much air time as the serious contenders; the aspirant whose only interest in the race is to update his CV is talking louder than the man with a genuine chance of winning the ticket.
Of the lot though, one aspirant has made a difference with his superb declaration ceremony speech, highlighting plans and solutions to Nigeria’s ills and the general style of his campaign. That person is the Governor of Ekiti State, Dr Kayode Fayemi, who is also Chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF).
Fayemi has a reasonable chance of winning the APC presidential ticket, being a chum of many of the APC Governors who call the shots in their respective states, as well as a quiet operative who apparently has been working the political system for long. You underestimate Fayemi at your peril!
The Governor of Ekiti State is perhaps the only aspirant that one can clearly locate his ideological preferences and philosophical base. His over two decades’ experience in public service as well as books, speeches and articles on various subjects provide insight into his mind and thinking.
As Governor, Fayemi has pushed a lot of progressive ideas such as the monthly stipends and food bank for old and disadvantaged people, as well as the Child Rights Law that protects children against child labour. To boot, Ekiti is perhaps the only state in Nigeria where nursing mothers get six-month maternity leave. Basic education is also free, even as the state pays WAEC fees for students in public schools to write their senior school exit exams.
With the above, you may think Fayemi is a wide –eyed socialist or a populist who believes in big government handouts. Surprisingly, that is not the case. His economic ideology is market oriented and nothing gives indication of this more than his views as Chairman of the NGF.
As the leader of the Governors’ Club, he has pushed for the liberalisation of the Nigerian economic system, reduction in the number of public agencies and, even more significantly, the deregulation of the downstream petroleum sector. In essence, he believes that for economic growth to be sustainable, it has to be private-sector driven.
And economists agree with him, and add that while these propositions may be painful in the short term, they are necessary to accelerate economic growth and development.
So, in terms of economic philosophy, one can deduce that Fayemi is conservative and an apostle of small government, while he leans more to the left on social causes. In my view, this is the best fit for Nigeria, where people want the economy to work for them and somewhat contradictorily also want free handouts in the form of government subsidies, which inhibit economic growth.
I believe this makes it essential that we elect a centrist like Fayemi as President. A person who understands the economy and yet can feel the pulse of the people and offer them some cushion.
But one question that is often asked about Fayemi, and rightly too, is that, why has he not tested these economic ideas in Ekiti, a state he has now governed for two terms? For a start, Ekiti is a small agrarian state which lacks a large private sector base compared to places like Lagos, Kano and Rivers States.
That said, however, there are a number of regulatory interventions intended to incentivise economic growth and development in the state, such as the reduction of Right of Way charges per metre from N4,500 to N145 to ease broadband penetration in Ekiti State. There is also an ongoing airport project to boost business penetration as well as the several interventions in agriculture, the most notable being the partnership between the state and Promasidor on the Ikun Dairy farm, which now produces 80,000 litres of milk monthly.
One challenge a place like Ekiti State has is that it is not a media hub where the klieg lights of the press shine brightly on. So short of the Governor eating amala or roasted corn on the street, government interventions rarely get sufficient mentions in the mainstream press.
Fayemi’s leadership style also ticks the box for me. Although he is non-confrontational as much as possible, people who work closely with him say he has got the grit to do the difficult task. And beneath that gentle mien is a man of steel. For one, his government is very tough on crime in Ekiti State, a place where rapists are not only jailed for life but shamed publicly.
And even though Nigeria is far more complex and complicated than Ekiti State, Fayemi’s resume and pedigree offer hope that he can manage the ship of state well. As he has done with the NGF where, for once, the rancor and bitterness that characterised the group is absent, which speaks to its Chairman’s bipartisan capabilities and inclusive nature.
Governor Fayemi is easily the best man with a reasonable chance of winning that is currently running for President.