Ayodele Fayose: The controversial gadfly

The Governor of Ekiti State, Mr. Peter Ayodele Fayose, relishes controversy, instead of running away from it. He courts the limelight and coverts the eye of the storm of public debate. If position on the centre stage of the political space will afford him maximum vantage, the stomach infrastructure advocate will enthusiastically volunteer for it.

Undoubtedly, the renegade governor is accepted as gadfly by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). His notoriety for run-ins with the Presidency, including the unfulfilled promise of pictures of the president on life support in a London hospital. Nigerians recall the rocking drama of Fayose’s trip to Beijing to warn Chinese authorities against granting loan to visiting President Muhammadu Buhari.

Unlike biblical Peter who reaped fame from harvesting multitudes for Jesus Christ, Fayose is an unrepentant controversy-freak who repeatedly and consciously steers his fishing boat into stormy and ferocious currents. Perhaps, that explains his jaw-dropping decision to contest the 2019 presidential election, not minding that his decision clashes with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that has zoned the office to the North.

The Ekiti State governor says that he has no apology for taking privilege of the constitutional guarantee for every citizen the democratic right to aspire to any office in the country. He also describes the party’s zoning arrangement as a gentleman’s agreement that would not bar any interested citizen from participating in the process.

According to him, his ambition to contest the 2019 presidential election is without prejudice to the party’s position. He acknowledged and challenged politicians from the North to demonstrate such interest in the presidential race by stepping forward and declaring such interest, instead of succumbing to fear of “antagonizing the president”. According to him, Nigerians are no longer interested in a “packaged president”.

The revised guidelines released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), fixed the presidential election for February 16, 2019. The commission has not yet reacted to Fayose’s declaration; whether he breached the electoral law by “jump-starting” declarations of intention to run for the presidency.

Only Fayose can explain his political assault against his party’s zoning arrangement for the 2019 presidency. He is aware that the party zoned the position to the North, and the chairmanship to the South. The National Publicity Secretary of the National Caretaker Committee, Mr. Dayo Adeyeye, however, dismissed the governor as wasting his time; that the zoning arrangement approved at the National Convention of the party supersedes any personal wish.

If Fayose is impressed, he has not shown it: “I am a supporter of competence and capacity, especially now that this country needs young and able leaders that can take it out of hopelessness. Most importantly, despite that the party zoned the presidency to the North, it may interest you that no one has come out …to show interest and our party should not wait or beg anyone to fly its flag.

Apparently referring to the Chairman of the National Caretaker Committee, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, who is believed to be nursing presidential ambition, Fayose declared: “To most of them in the current party executive, I want to challenge all of them to the field. Most of you were governors at different time; you want us to work for you and you come and chop it, no way..” The governor said PDP needs to field a strong candidate with right disposition to win the 2019 presidential election

Given Adeyeye’s explanation of the position of the party as binding on every loyal member, will Fayose’s declaration for the presidency eventually justify his popular characterization as rabble-rouser? This impression gained mass appeal after he failed to produce pictures of the president on life support machine, contrary to his extravagant claims.

Adeyeye is not a lone political foe in the South-West who is pitched in robust opposition to the Ekiti State governor’s politics. The senator representing Ogun East Senatorial District, Buruji Kashamu is another foe in the governor’s primary constituency.. Former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, whom Fayose is yet to forgive for his removal during his first tenure as governor, also belongs in this category.

Fayose’s compulsive outbursts on issues has cost him many admirers and reinforced the impression of a loose political canon and a rabble-rouser. While the President was away in London during his 105-day medical vacation, Fayose issued a statement claiming that Buhari was on life support. He promised to make the pictures public but the promise remained open-ended and helped to undermine public confidence in him.

Days after his allegation, a team led by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed visited the president and released pictures confirming a recuperated Buhari. The governor’s public rating suffered severe bashing in the process and is likely to be further bruised by the confrontation with his party over the presidency that is zoned to the North.

The opposition party is emphatic on its zoning policy as adopted at the National Convention of the party, which is the supreme organ. According to Adeyeye, “the decision cannot be changed or queried and is binding on every party member. No matter your position in the party, you are expected to comply. That is the position.”

Other zones have equally and unconditionally endorsed the zoning policy of the opposition party. The South-East zone, for example, met and declared support for a northern candidate as adopted by the party at its last national convention.

The face-off, once again, upgrades Gov. Fayose in the eye of the storm, which is where he loves best. When his aides issued a statement that he would officially declare his presidential ambition in Abuja, many concluded that the Ekiti State Governor was again in his elements. Just like the political drama about “stomach infrastructure” that was updated by the ruling party and appropriated as the public school feeding programme.

Characteristically, the governor went ahead and declared his ambition even when his party warned him not to do so. Earlier, he wrote a letter to some PDP leaders who advised him to respect the decision of the party at its last national convention where the presidential slot was zoned to the north and the national chairmanship position to the South-West.

Hate or like him, his capacity to command an endearing style to mobilize the grass roots cannot be dismissed. When he taunted former President Obasanjo that he would return as governor, many laughed off the claim. His immediate predecessor and Minister of Solid Minerals Development, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, also underestimated Fayose’s grassroots appeal and lost election even with his incumbency advantage.

If President Buhari were to name his darkest political demons, the Ekiti State governor would make the list. When his colleagues were afraid to respond to atrocities by rogue Fulani herdsmen across the country, for fear of antagonizing the president, the Ekiti State governor secured his exasperation with the menace with the anti-open grazing bill that has been adopted by other states as solution to the menace posed by indiscriminate grazing.

Before the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra was eventually proscribed as a terrorist organization, Gov Fayose expressed solidarity and urged the Federal Government to employ dialogue, rather than stick, to resolve the agitation for Biafra. The Ekiti State governor is also among one of the most vocal critics of the war against corruption- the signature programme of the APC-controlled administration that critics dismiss as vendetta against opponents.

According to him and others in his school of political thought, including the former Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode, the war is pretext to hound political enemies. They claim that in addition to reported cases of corruption against some stake-holders in the current dispensation that have allegedly been glossed over, other corrupt politicians who support the administration are also denied harassment by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

His critics allege that Fayose deliberately pitched his ambition to hide or stall possible harassment after exit as governor in 2018. They allege that he is on the list of governors targeted for arrest by the EFCC as soon as they leave office and, to play safe, he deployed presidential ambition to secure soft landing; that the strategy is to appeal to public sympathy in lieu of arrest of a presidential aspirant. Fayose, according to critics, is indirectly selling the idea of persecution rather than prosecution to the members of the public.

The controversy-addicted governor disagrees. He fancies himself as a giant killer with a knack for defeating incumbents. He vowed to defeat President Buhari in 2019 if the PDP gives him the unlikely opportunity. Fayose said he has penchant for defeating incumbents, and will therefore defeat Buhari. At his declaration in Abuja, he urged Nigerians to reject politicians who are not bold enough to declare their ambition early enough for people to access their capability for such office.

Political enemies, including the APC in Ekiti State have accused the governor of insincerity by declaring presidential ambition while owing workers in the state salaries and allowances ranging from six to eight months.

The party said the governor’s action amounted to insensitivity and deliberate attempt to divert attention from alleged mismanagement.

In a statement in Ado-Ekiti, the State Publicity Secretary of the APC, Mr Taiwo Olatunbosun, criticised the governor for “being blind to the sufferings of workers while pursuing self-promoting presidential ambition. The presidential declaration is a distraction to keep Ekiti busy from keeping attention to his illegality in the application of Ekiti money for selfish purposes and a ploy to embark on whipping up sentiments to escape justice in his misapplication of Ekiti money.

Despite claims by critics, Gov Fayose is emphatic that his presidential ambition is not misguided. According to him, when he contested the Ekiti governorship, there were about 22 aspirants, but he defeated them all, including the incumbent, to become governor.

The unconfirmed gadfly in Nigerian politics, by now, would have accepted the collateral damage in his self-imposed bid for the country’s presidency. On the same day as Fayose was declaring his interest in the presidency, the EFCC arrested the Ekiti State Commissioner of Finance and Accountant-General, Chief Toyin Ojo and Mrs Yemisi Owolabi for alleged diversion of funds.

Characteristically defiant in his reaction, he said the EFCC action was a fearful response by people around President Buhari to his declaration for the presidency. A statement by the Special Assistant to Gov. Fayose on Public Communications and New Media, Lere Olayinka, said the governor cannot be intimidated.

Nigerians eagerly anticipate the 2019 presidential race as opportunity for President Buhari to eventually snarl at this Peter that continually drones from controversy to another, instead of harvesting men.