Ekiti: The morning after

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In Nigeria
Jun 23rd, 2014
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It is all over now in Ekiti, bar the wailing and the gnashing of teeth in Governor Kayode Fayemi’s camp, and the exuberant rejoicing in Governor-elect Ayo Fayose’s circle.

There is no way to finesse or spin this one:  Fayemi and the All Progressives Congress (APC) took a comprehensive shellacking.

No major public affairs analyst, among whom I number myself, saw this coming. This will therefore have to be accounted one of the most egregious failures of perception in the annals of political journalism in Nigeria.

When we placed Fayemi and Fayose on the scale, we saw in the one an incumbent whose record spoke eloquently for a second term, as did his overall approach to the business of governance:  deliberative, steeped in the detail and nuance of policy, goal-oriented, and unobtrusive for the most part.

In the other we saw a challenger who had had his chance as governor and blown it spectacularly, a showboat and a con-artist whose idea of governance consists in stagingstunt after tawdry stunt, given to cheap populism and not a little demagoguery, and withal not foresworn to violence as a means of winning and retaining support.

When we surveyed the field, we saw an electorate populated for the most part by sophisticated and discerning men and women of much learning – several holders of university degrees in every home, plus a formidable array holders of doctorates in every specialism under the sun, to say nothing of professors, of whom, household by household, Ekiti probably boasts the largest number in Nigeria.

Given a choice between Fayemi and Fayose, surely, the learned, sophisticated and discriminating people of the “Fountain of Knowledge”, who know only too well the antecedents of the twain, would heartily renew the mandate of the one and indignantly reject the advances of the other.

The only problem was that we analysts attended for the most part to people like ourselves; we read for the most part what they wrote and heard for the most part what they said.  So that, for all practical purposes, we did not see what was out there; instead, we saw only what we wanted to see, heard only what we wanted to hear and believed only what we wanted to believe about the candidates and the electorate.

We were not “on ground,” to employ a peculiarly Nigerian coinage.

That feeling first struck me when I saw the picture of the mammoth crowd at Fayose’s campaign rally with President Goodluck Jonathan and the PDP’s grandees. Given Fayose’s reputation for pulling all manner of stunts, it was tempting to dismiss the throng as a rented crowd.  But if it was indeed a rented crowd, it must have taken a great deal of organisation and resources to put it together. And the people behind it could not be dismissed as inconsequential.

As I drove through Ekiti en route Kogi six days to the election, the feeling that we analysts might have misread the Ekiti political terrain stirred somewhat. Many campaign billboards with pictures of the candidates had been vandalised. But billboards bearing Fayemi’s pictures seem to have been marked for special treatment. Was this the work of commissioned thugs, or an indication of public feeling toward him?

But perhaps the clearest indication of the situation “on ground” came from a resident of Ekiti in the early stage of the vote count.  Fayose was going to win and win big, he said with the utmost confidence.

What of his less-than-savoury first coming, especially the scandal-plagued Integrated Poultry Project that gulped billions of Naira without producing an egg, and the rusted remains of which are strewn over the countryside?

“The people have forgotten,” he said.  “Those who haven’t forgotten don’t care.”

By “the people,” he obviously meant the okada bikers, artisans, street vendors, shopkeepers, motor-part touts, unemployed persons who don’t know where the next meal will come from, or when, and of course rural dwellers.

But Fayemi has transformed Ekiti through building new infrastructures and rehabilitating the old ones.

“The people are yearning for infrastructure of the stomach,” he rejoined.

What of the murder rap he is facing, arising from the killing of two political opponents?

“Even if Fayose were to kill off one-half of the population, the other half would still vote for him,” he said.  “They love him.  They adore him.”

Fayose himself would confirm this mysterious hold on “the people” when he said at his post-election interview that if he raised his hand high, they would cheer vehemently; if he lowered  the hand, the cheering would subside. And if he pointed in one direction, they would go in that direction.

Is this what they call charisma?

By whatever name, it is at once fascinating and disturbing. It was missing entirely from our analyses. And now, we have mud on our faces.

We should be prepared for the taunts and the jeers of the other side, given the triumphalism arising from the Ekiti verdict and the vindictiveness that is their trademark.

One of their standard responses is to dismiss whatever I write as the bidding of a “paymaster,” by which they obviously mean Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, feigning ignorance of the well-advertised fact that I earn my living as a university professor in the United States and need no “paymaster,” real or imagined, to practise my art and craft.

Personally, I will not be surprised if, henceforth, they reflexively dismissed those of us who got Ekiti wrong as “failed analysts,” or even more damnably as “failed and discredited analysts.”  Some of them may pivot on the build-up to my 70th birthday to excoriate those “spent old men who should have long ago left the serious and exacting business of journalism to younger and fresher minds.”

I hear you all.

If there is any redeeming grace in this matter, it lies in recognising that the right to comment on public issues – indeed, freedom of speech itself – implies the right to be wrong, so long as one is not deliberately and irresponsibly wrong.

I do not believe that those of us who called Ekiti for Fayemi were deliberately and irresponsibly wrong. We were wrong all the same; flat-out wrong.

The Ekiti people have spoken. Those who do not like what they said must in the spirit of democracy respect their will, as must those who regard it as the triumph of style over substance.

Fayose’s return to power eight years after he was disgraced out of office is one of the most amazing political comebacks not just in Nigeria but anywhere.  He deserves to be congratulated.

His challenge is to prove as adroit in governing as he has been in vote harvesting.

With Ekiti now back under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) umbrella, President Jonathan should for once redeem his pledge and unleash the Federal Might on the state, its transformational magic to work.

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