This is a time for reflection for those convinced that there is an art to leadership and governance. That a man of Fayose’s infamous antecedents can beat a man of Fayemi’s sterling pedigree is incredulous. Not just because of what we think we know about the generally accepted qualities of a leader but because of the belief that the incumbent was developing Ekiti.
Many went into the elections knowing that Fayemi would not win re-election. One oft-repeated sentiment was that no Ekiti governor had ever won a second term. At least 3 polls predicted his loss in the run up to the elections and even from those polls some of the reasons he would lose were clear. The snaking queues of stoic and determined voters evoked battle formations – these were people with something to say and their voices would carry their issues through the ballot.
One issue was wide spread unhappiness with some of Fayemi’s policies: testing teachers, refusing to hold local government elections and no local content provision for government contracts which were all allegedly handled by Lagosians. Now we know why some politicians flip-flop on election promises or campaign vows. Sometimes, the cost of implementing is too high and some things are better left for the second and final term.
Another big issue was accessibility between Fayemi and the people – the recurring elite versus masses struggle. The people of Ekiti, allegedly with the most PhDs per capita in Nigeria, want a back-slapping, roasted-corn-chomping-buddy – someone they would have fun drinking a tepid beer with (who needs electricity when the governor or president is a friend). Connecting with voters on a personal level is crucial and matters more in some cultures than others and Fayose connected better.
Then there was the issue of the stomach; the perceived generosity of Fayose, a cheerful giver to people unconcerned with the source of funds. Not for them smooth roads opening up their state to commerce, they are more concerned with stomach infrastructure. There were a lot of complaints about money not being circulated locally and the paltry tips and handouts from members of the Fayemi administration. There are at least two insights here to the issue of voter incentives that traditionally come in the form of food – channeling hunger from impoverishment. It is beyond ironic that people occupied with what to put in their mouths, think the style of governance that caused their hunger and keeps them in perpetual poverty is the preferred one. It is clear from the comments of voters on Saturday that transactional incentives alone are not enough. When the Fayemi campaign realized how badly it was going to go, they did try to reach the people with incentives but it was too late because the voters took the money but voted Fayose anyway.
As the results were announced at polling units across Ado-Ekiti, people jubilated with songs while okada riders displayed acrobatic skills. Elsewhere, thinkers stared into the bottom of their glasses with glazed eyes. How did we come to this gap in understanding what governance is supposed to be about? Not everything was Fayemi’s fault.
Years of corrupt manipulative governments who have played up our insecurities and gotten us hooked on immediate gratification of the most basic temporary kind have taken a toll. Maybe people think the best way to govern is to take the budget every month and distribute it arbitrarily. Maybe after years of kleptomaniac megalomaniacs in authority, who fear being tainted with decency, people no longer want leadership they can look up to, they want leadership they can look down on.
It is clear now that change advocates must embrace effective communications around policy changes to ensure the buy-in of the people and must be content with a slower pace of development. They must be prepared to balance advancement with spending part of the budget on those things voters understand as governance. It is only with time and a deliberate policy that we can ensure the next generation of Nigerians are weaned from government patronage.
Finally, the dynamics within APC also played a role in Ekiti. Just how much though, is something we will only learn in time. There were snide references to ‘Bourdillon’ by celebrating voters on Saturday that indicate growing resentment with the Godfather. How much of a liability did Tinubu become in the run up to the elections? This too we will learn in time. But the fact is, the time has come for those whose stranglehold is killing what they have nurtured to read the poster signs and take a leaf from Fayemi’s graceful concession speech.
For some it is hard to understand the victory of Fayose while for others the defeat of Fayemi is simple. Whatever the case, it is clear that democracy is messy and imperfect and in Nigeria we are still struggling to appreciate the responsibilities that come with it.