Saturday 2 July 2016

#MustRead: Fayose And The Lore Of An Old Song

Governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose
by: Dare Babarinsa

The current storm that is embroiling the controversial Governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose, may not blow over very soon. It was kicked off when the governor revealed that three of his accounts with Zenith Bank have been blocked, including one belonging to Spotless Hotel, Ado, owned by the governor, on the order of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.

The three accounts were said to have about N1.2 billion deposits. We don’t know whether the governor has accounts in other banks with few billions also lying idle. The EFCC may reveal that in due course. We need to note at this point that His Excellency is not related to Alhaji Aliko Dangote and his late father was a Christian clergyman.

The step of blocking a serving governor’s account in Nigeria on the order of the EFCC is unprecedented. Hitherto, serving governors, their deputies, the President and the Vice-President are granted immunity from prosecution or overt investigations. I am sure the legality of this step by the EFCC would soon be tested in the courts. The Fayose saga is a new dimension in the EFCC attempts to combat corruption in Nigeria. This new twist would keep most of the governors on their toes. It is Fayose today. Who is next?

Fayose already made some startling disclosures. First, he admitted that indeed he is the beneficiary of the huge sum (left-over) deposited in his accounts. Second, he said the money was part of the donation to him by Zenith Bank and some of his friends for his campaign in 2014. He denied that the money was from the war chest of former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan kept and generously distributed by the former National Security Adviser, NSA, retired Colonel Sambo Dasuki, a Sokoto prince. In that scenario, about N5 billion was said to have been spent for the elections in Ekiti and Osun. The PDP governorship candidate in Osun in 2014, Senator Iyiola Omisore, is also under EFCC investigations.

There are laws governing election funding in Nigeria. The Fayose saga would allow these laws to be tested in court. The dragging in of Zenith Bank, a private institution of prominence and integrity, into the scenario creates new frontiers of investigations. What does the bank intends to gain in Ekiti that it would invest so much in the Fayose candidacy? After the election, the left over is still so huge that it attracted the attention of the EFCC. If this is the case, we can just then imagine the total amount that Fayose harvested during the campaign and elections. We can then extrapolate how much our republic invested (or wasted) on elections in the entire 36 states.

There are many other questions begging for answers. When billions of naira is left in the account of a candidate, does the public not deserve disclosure after the election? The left over, does it belong to the candidate, his party or the public? Should election funding not be opened to public scrutiny and auditing? We have seen now that election funding has revealed a lot of weaknesses in our body politics. How can public coffers be a safe investment for the electorate if public offices are so openly purchased?

The Ekiti State governor has had a charmed political life and since his first coming in 2003 has remained the subject of our continuous fascination. Since his return to power in 2014, Fayose has remained true to type, an attractive imp who is ready to take on all comers. He is courageous enough to jab at the hypocrisy of the Nigerian corrupt and mostly incompetent political elite. His current imbroglio must draw our attention to the snowballing cost of political offices. If a candidate spent so much money to get into political office that would last for only four years, how do we expect him to recoup his money if not by corrupt means? We know that in Nigeria, election is not a missionary journey.

It was not always like that. In 1978, when Chief Adekunle Ajasin won the nomination to fly the flag of the nascent Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, the total number of delegates who voted was only 52. They represented the then 18 local government areas of old Ondo State. To hold a similar governorship primary today, you will need to use the stadium and the delegates would expect to be properly persuaded before they can vote. To our collective shame, power has become a commodity traded outside the Stock Exchange. I hope the Fayose saga would grant us the opportunity to look at the running of our parties, especially the expensive process of party nominations and seek amend. All parties are guilty but most especially the PDP and the APC.

I agree with Femi Falana that it is in the interest of the republic that suspicious fund, no matter in whose custody should be within the reach of the law and the EFCC. There were demonstrations in Ado last week by people calling for the impeachment of Fayose over the billions left-over fund in his account when the state workers were on strike over unpaid salaries. In good measure, supporters of Fayose, said to be students of some higher institutions, also retaliated last Monday, demonstrating in support of Fayose. They want him to continue his good job.

Those who are trying to get Fayose out of the Government House would find him a formidable foe and a redoubtable political strategist. After his years in the wilderness, including more than 100 days in Ikoyi Prisons, he re-emerged in Ekiti politics as a force to reckon with. As a governorship candidate of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, Dr Kayode Fayemi courted Fayose in his epic battles to topple Governor Segun Oni. Secured in the saddle after the Appeal Court judgment of 2010, Fayemi would not help Fayose to secure a Senate seat and Fayose moved on to the Labour Party as a senatorial candidate. He was defeated by the ACN candidate, Babafemi Ojudu, a famous journalist, during the elections of 2011.

His return to power in 2015 shows that Fayose is a cat with nine lives. Now the cat is trading with one of his lives. Like many of his colleagues, one would have expected that faced with a challenge from the EFCC, Fayose would have dispatched an army of SANs into the battle. Instead, he decided to take on President Muhammadu Buhari at the home front, accusing his wife of alleged involvement in the Halliburton corruption saga. Said Fayose: “Even the President cannot claim to be an angel. His wife was indicted over the Halliburton scandal.”

In the past, Fayose has traded in profitable mendacity, but I am not sure he truly weighted the cost of this one. Whatever President Buhari may be doing wrong, fighting corruption is certainly not one of them. In making this wild allegation, Fayose may have decided to beard the lion in its own den and damn the consequences.

The last time Fayose had a serious face-off with a President was 2006 when Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was the tenant of Aso Rock Villa. Then he was at odds with the leadership of his party, the PDP, over the Ekiti poultry project for which he was accused of stealing almost N1.5 billion. When Ayo Daramola, a consultant with the World Bank, believed to have been anointed by the leadership of the PDP to take over from Fayose, was assassinated, his opponents suspected it was Fayose’s handiwork. He denied it vehemently.

But Fayose, despite his hair-raising brinkmanship is also a shrewd strategist. He knew at that time that Obasanjo was not in the mood to take prisoners. As the Obasanjo train bore down on him in 2006, he fled the Ekiti State Government House in the trunk of a car.

Now the story is getting too familiar and the song with the echoes of old battles and the resounding dins of recurring nightmares seem to come from an afterlife. Fayose believes that his story from prison to power has the ring of a miracle of biblical proportion. He is the Anointed One by Providence. On the day of his inauguration in 2014, exactly eight years after he fled, he said he has forgiven the penitent people of Ekiti State who have returned him to power. Now he is dancing to the beating of old drums, getting ensnared by the sirens of old music and the lore of familiar spirits. Fayose needs to be wary of new temptations and persistent old ghosts so that his grand epic would not end up as a tale of triumphant futility.

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