Report By Salihu Moh. Lukman
(Below is interview by Governor Fayemi highlighting the vision behind the emergence of Progressive Governors Forum (PGF) and the need to give APC clear ideological character as basis for good governance in the country. On the whole, it is a stimulant towards a deeper debate and not simplistic, pedestrian and static characterization of our polity, organization and actors).
Q: Many have been inquisitive about the essence of the Progressive Governors’ Forum (PGF), will you explain what makes it different from just an assemblage of governors outside the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP)?
Q: Many have been inquisitive about the essence of the Progressive Governors’ Forum (PGF), will you explain what makes it different from just an assemblage of governors outside the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP)?
Ans: The Progressive Governors’ Forum (PGF) provenance is traceable to the genuine concern that some of us have consistently felt within the broader Nigerian Governors' Forum for a more ideologically-driven caucus than just the peer learning, solidarity driven, experience sharing forum that the NGF represents. It was not in any way targeted at the PDP even though there is as yet no PDP Governor who is a member of the Forum but I can name a number of them who share the ideals of progressive politics. We started the PGF formally on February 5, 2013, when Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola hosted us in Lagos and at that meeting we came out with a number of core values and principles that will guide our activities: we are social democratic, people oriented, change-focused and dedicated to the promotion of selfless, responsive, and accountable leadership. While it may appear to people that we are purely opposition governors, our politics is more ideas-driven and our ideas are those that are consistent with social democratic, left of centre politics anywhere in the world. I know that the 'na ideology we go chop' school of thought will easily dismiss this and some will even say we have moved from the age of ideology; that we are now in a non-ideological world. We do not agree with that. Of course, it is true that the ordinary Nigerian may not ask if one belongs to the left or right before they vote, there is no doubt that ideas still rule the world. What we do programatically is often driven by what we believe in. We do not believe that crass individualism is a good basis for governance even as we believe and respect the dignity of the individual. We believe that we have a duty to protect the weak and the vulnerable in society and our programmes and policies generally demonstrate this. We do not believe in social darwinism - which is generally known in the local parlance as the survival of the fittest politics and we do not think the end should justify the means. So if you look at the eleven states governed by the PGF members, a number of things are consistent with us, you may say they are not uniformly implemented, you may say one does this more than the others and clearly there are lessons to learn from one another, but you will see that we all believe in social safety net and all of us are pursuing a social security benefit system for the protection of the weak and the vulnerable like the Ekiti Benefit system for the elderly. We all operate free education programme up to senior secondary school level and I believe Imo even operates this up to tertiary level, you will discover that we all have free health programme to varying degrees for the vulnerable segment of our population, the elderly, the young, pregnant women and the physically challenged. You will also see that we are passionate about our youth employment. Whether you go to Imo to see what my bother Rochas Okorocha is doing or you go to Osun and see what Rauf Aregbesola is doing, Edo, Oyo or Nassarawa, you will see that the plight of our young people is a big concern to us. You will also notice that we are very passionate about agriculture, if you go to Imo, Ogun or Osun, Borno or Yobe, you will see a consistent pattern. It is unfortunate that the menace of Boko Haram that is preventing people from seeing the giant strides being taken by Governor Kashim Shettima and Governor Ibrahim Geidam in those two states. Equally, infrastructure renewal is central to our development programme. These are governors that put people first. It is a coincidence that we also happen to be partners in the journey towards the formation of All Progressive Congress (APC). We are also very pan-African and internationalist in our orientation. Only last week, I was in Mombasa sharing experience with the newly elected Governors in Kenya. Kenya just adopted the principle of federalism and elected their first set of governors this year.
Now the question is, are we the only ones doing these things? After all, a governor like Rotimi Amaechi is also undertaking free health care, he is putting in place massive infrastructure in the state and state of the art primary school in every community, putting in place youth empowerment initiative. Yes of course, we are not saying that we are the only one doing these things. But there is a passion behind ours, but we even believe that whoever shares that passion should be a member of PGF. The Forum is not necessarily APC Governors Forum, it is for any Governor who believes in the ideology of progressivism broadly defined. We will use the opportunity of our meeting in Lafia next week to clarify and enlighten the public on our agenda. And one of the issues on the agenda is to finalise the charter of the PGF, so that people will be clear on where we stand on various issues.
This is important to us because we think it is time we started a separation of the wheat from the chaff. We believe we have a duty to challenge those who claim there is no difference between those who are forming APC and those in the PDP ideologically. We think those who say this a either being deliberately mischievous or genuinely ignorant of our antecedents and of what obtains in our various states - hence the reason for tarring every one with the same broad brush. Political parties are evolving and there are challenges that we daily confront, there are contradictions, being a progressive social democratic party does not mean that we will not have some people in our parties - members who may believe in rampant individualism, that me-me mentality that you find among conservative reactionary forces, but they cannot be the dominant tendency in our ranks the way it is in the PDP.
Q: Do you have PDP governors in PGF?
Ans: We don’t, but joining PGF is voluntary, but I can see a number of PDP members that I know that are well qualified to be members. I don't believe that PDP is a monolith but the dominant ideology in the PDP is survival of the fittest. They do not care about the weak and the vulnerable in society. But back to your question: we cannot compel or force anyone to join us, we can only promote our ideas and leave it open to eligible governors to apply. When we started PGF, we approached Governor Peter Obi because we believe what he is doing in Anambra cohere with what we believe in. Governor Mimiko was also approached; I could well see Governor Rotimi Amaechi qualified. I could see a number of other PDP governors qualified for what PGF represents.
I want you to note that we never said PDP was a monolith of reactionary elements. In certain areas, PDP is the only game in town and even progressives of long standing ideological clarity used their platform to get what they want. The situational context is apparent in many of these cases. And our politics has not been devoid of this. If you read the classic work on Nigeria's Political Parties by Dick Sklar - Power in an Emergent African Nation, we also saw this in the 1960s. My own reading of politics even outside our shores shows this situational changes. You will see a Democrat for example, representing a strong conservative area in the United States, voting with Republicans on particular issues, these are issues that resonate very well with his constituents, that does not make him any less a Democrat. We also know that politics is a game of number as well as a game of conviction. That is why you can have a man like Reagan who started his life in politics as a Democrat, not just a low level Democrat but a strong one in California ended up as a Republican president. That is why when Clinton came, you have people called Clintonian Republicans because they left their party to join the Clintonian platform in order to get a man they see as fiscally conservative but socially liberal, but who nevertheless have very serious clarity about delivering a pragmatic liberal democratic agenda. And for the first time America was able to achieve a balance budget with surplus in a long time. And many will never forget Bill Clinton for that. So there is nothing that is happening here that is not happening elsewhere. We have many people who are intellectually lazy who rubbish and attack politicians as opportunistic without having a very fundamental understanding of these situational contexts and simply describe it as crass opportunism. I do not rubbish everybody in the PDP, I believe there are people in the PDP who share a people first agenda, and committed to Nigerians, a better Nigeria that is accountable to the citizens, that is committed to a social welfare agenda but they don't drive the agenda of the party and it is for this reason that they should review their membership of the party and align with those who believe genuinely in our people.
Q: Though APC was just registered by INEC but many have been asking what is the difference between PDP and APC especially noting some characters in the new party?
Ans: A party is driven by it's constitution and manifesto, it is not driven by individual whims and caprices. The primary reason for coming together, for broadening the base is the fact that we acknowledged that we were too narrow in our individual party formations. And we wanted a broader national movement. APC is a movement, it is not just a political party, and people must note that very carefully. And when you have such a broad movement, of course there are going to be individuals in such movement, not necessarily representing the very best ideal that the broader platform represents, that is why a manifestos are written on the core principles and values that represent the collectively agreed agenda of the movement. So if there are people you can point to that would not want to make you believe that they are democrats, let us even assume that such elements are in APC, the issue for all of as Nigerians is what is the dominant reason for the party? Is it just to remove the PDP from power or is it to make a difference in the lives of Nigerians, many of us in the new party believe it is the latter. Detractors will tell you, it is just to replace the PDP. Time will tell. Our agenda will tell what we are and we don’t need any needless debate with such people now. But we want Nigerians in their various communities and platforms to own the party, there is now an opportunity to own APC in various constituencies because registration is going to start very soon, mobilisation will be on course, we will not restrain anybody, we shall listen to all Nigerians even to those who feel that we are no hopers, let them come with their superior idea and agenda. A party will always have the good, the bad and the ugly in their membership but the degree to which the bad succeeds is if they can smuggle their bad ideas into becoming the dominant idea. If you recall our first statement when the PGF endorsed the merger; we said we needed APC in order to rescue Nigeria from bad governance. It is not about replacing PDP, it is about rescuing Nigeria from bad governance, we know that there are elements even within PDP that are not happy with the way our country is being run. It is an open secret. But the reality is that we cannot rescue Nigeria from bad governance if we don't remove PDP from the centre the way we have done in the South West by giving the people an alternative that is driven by compassion, commitment, competence and character.
Q: Is there any hope for the APC to get into power 2015?
Ans: We will do everything within our powers and the limit of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to win the election in 2015. We are not in the business of seeking power for its own sake like the PDP. We are in this business of gaining power legitimately to govern and make a difference to our people. But before 2015, we still have 2014 in some states, we have the dress rehearsal in Ekiti for example.
Q:The question of citizenship and indigeneity is a thorny issue in Nigeria, what should be the right attitude in the management of this constitutional matter in a federation like this?
Ans: For me what you see is fundamentally the crux of the problem of the Nigerian nation: how to manage our diversity and difference. I have always believed and I still hold strongly to that view that residency rather than indigeneity should be the basis for citizenship. If you live in a place, for instance in Ado Ekiti, you pay your taxes in Ado Ekiti, you have your children in Ado Ekiti, they go to school in Ado Ekiti, you have lived in Ado Ekiti for forty or fifty years, I see no reason why there should be any debate whatsoever as to why you should not enjoy the privileges and rights belonging to an average Ekiti State indigenes. That is why if you look at our social security benefit law, we stated clearly that anyone who has lived in Ekiti for clearly three years qualifies to enjoy the scheme, not anyone whose parents were born in Ekiti or anyone who was born in Ekiti but anyone who has lived here for upward of three years without fail, and you have proof that you have lived here for those years, you are entitled to all benefits. Fundamentally, we are talking about common citizenship. And as leaders, we must be careful not to pander to the prejudices of our own indigenes who may not know any better.
I know that these have been thorny issues in Nigeria, the basis of the crisis that we are witnessing in Plateau State for example, I think the constitution of Nigeria, we need to bite the bullet; we need to deal with this problem because migration is a reality of our environment. There will be pressure but there should be equitable mechanism when we take a principle like that in a federal environment because you cannot build a Chinese walls via artificial boundaries? We are all Nigerians, and we do have a duty as leaders to create mechanisms for ensuring common citizenship. If you are not a good citizen and you are a threat to your environment, if you do not live amicably with your neighbours, then the law must take care of that. But we cannot say we are all Nigerians and deprive some Nigerians of the privileges and responsibilities of common citizenship.
Q: In 2011 Abia state government sent packing non indigenes from its civil service and recently Lagos was reported to have returned about 14 back to Anambra state, how do you juxtapose this with your view on this matter?
Ans: I don’t have the details of what happened in Abia and why it happened but I do know a bit of that of Lagos because I spoke to some of their officials on this issue in the last week. The truth is that Lagos is the most welcoming, the most receptive of all states in Nigeria. You have Nigerians of all states in Lagos and they are not discriminated against. Indeed, one of the most important Ministries in Lagos is headed by a gentleman from Anambra State, most of the successful businesses in Lagos are owned by people who are not even from the South West, let alone Lagos. I think Lagos has a long and qualitative track record in accommodation of Nigerians irrespective of their state of origin. The recent relocation saga ought not to have generated the kind of noise it did because these inter-state transfer of citizens occur regularly particularly in cases of the impaired who are better cared for in their own natural environment and with their own loved ones. Clearly, we all should agree that some people are better cared for in their natural, local environment, where they can get better care rather than being dumped in Lagos where they have no relation. That is the reality. I know that Lagos has written to EKiti in the past and returned some people to us in this context. So, it is not an anti-Igbo thing as it is being portrayed. Now, I agree that even this could be managed within the context of the state if the notion of common citizenship is entrenched. There is no doubt that this in itself is a case of the social services in Lagos being stretched to the limit and looking for an escape route. One would have thought that the debate rally ought to be about how the central government could devise a means with states to address these peculiar circumstances rather than engage in this pointless finger-pointing that is going on. Besides, I would have expected my brother Peter to call his colleague and try to resolve this. Peter is a Lagosian in very many respects too because he would then have found out that this was a case in which his own officials had been in communication with Lagos State officials on the matter.
Q: Don’t you think that the internal crisis of Ekiti APC will affect its fortune in 2014 governorship election?
Ans: Crisis, what crisis? What do you mean by internal crisis? We do not have any internal crisis in Ekiti APC. To the best of my knowledge, we have a united party and I should know. I don’t think people should equate ambition with crisis, if that is what you are referring to. Ambition is legitimate, if you choose to run for any office for which you are constitutionally qualified, you are well within your right to do so, but people should not equate that with crisis. The party has its mechanism, we have processes for dealing with that and at an appropriate time, when the whistle is blown - you will see that process unfold. But that process is not on the pages of newspapers, it is on the ground in Ekiti. So, if anyone chooses to hug the media, to create impression that there is crisis or he is not being allowed to exercise his right, then good luck to the person. Those who know me and know my little part in the democratic struggle that got us to where we are in Nigeria will know that such unfounded claims would not apply to me. As far as I am aware, we have a solid APC in Ekiti. The leadership has just gone round the state once again, to talk to our people in tgradations communities and the feedback we get is very positive about what the government is doing. I will rather concentrate on that, than distracting myself with the notion of newspaper induced crisis or crying wolf where there is none.
Q: Do you think you can break the jinx that nobody won governorship election twice in Ekiti State?
Ans: I don’t think I should answer the question because it should be directed to ordinary Ekiti people who have watched, who have seen what this government has done in the last two years and eight months that we have been in office. I believe our people are very discerning and they know a government that is serving them from a dishonest government dedicated to self aggrandizement. But I don’t want to be seen avoiding your question. I will take some of the issues. What was the promise we made to our people whilst campaigning and has the promise been kept? Luckily, this was the party and a candidate that campaigned on a very clear, measurable agenda known as ‘Roadmap to Ekiti Recovery: 8-point agenda’. So you can only view this government from the prism of this agenda because it is what I promised the people that I believed I have to be judged on. I can tell you without any fear of equivocation that nobody has ever done what this government has done, not one government, in terms of education, in terms of infrastructure, in terms of agriculture, in terms of transparency and accountability, in terms of health care, not one government in Ekiti comes anywhere near what we have achieved. This is one government that has taken governance closest to the people. We don’t do budget without people’s input, this government started self help project, community determined projects, community implemented projects. And since we came into office, Ekiti has actually recovered from its abhorrent, irresponsible ways of the past and that is also why peace has reigned in this state. In almost three years that we have been in the saddle of governance you cannot refer to any violence, brigandage in this state, Ekiti has remained the most peaceful, the most stable state in the entire federation. And it is because we do not promote violence. In a state where you have incessant brigandage, you will also notice that the people responsible, sometimes, have connection to those in charge of the state, but here, go and do your independent analysis, it is the opposition that daily engage in violent acts of brigandage as you noticed recently for instance while PDP was meeting in their party headquarters in Ado Ekiti. I can say, I have done reasonably well without being immodest, but you can do your independent investigation. But everybody comes to Ekiti and say the place is remarkably different from what it used to look like.
Q: Many believe Ekiti people are difficult to satisfy, do you think you can change that?
Ans: I don’t believe so, I think there are those who would like to sow seeds of discord and confusion and they always bank on the gullibility of the ordinary people in order to succeed. Our duty is to elevate the thinking of our people, to insist that our people do not belong to the floor level, that whatever happens in other places, Ekiti are not just qualified but should be at the forefront of civilisation in Nigeria because of our core competencies of knowledge, character, integrity, hardwork, and compassion. And knowledge in my view will forever govern ignorance. We have not started campaign but it is evident in every community, when we get to that point and we go to each and every community, we will point to what we have done, we will point to what we have jointly achieved with the community and we will also challenge those contesting our claim to point at alternatives they put in place in seven and half years of running the state. It is going to be a market place of ideas and concrete deliverables. This is a government of 'eye-marking' not the government of 'earmarking' There is nothing I promised to do that I have not done including those they thought not possible such as social security for the elderly, jobs for the young people, free health care, free education, rehabilitation of the moribund institutions like the Ikogosi Warm Spring Resort, Ire Bricks Factory, solar laptops for secondary school students, all these they said are not possible in this state, but they are now available to our people and their own children are also enjoying these things without discrimination.