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The Africa Confidential Interview

Africa Confidential interviewed Kayode Fayemi on 13 May 2009

In the wake of the election crisis in Ekiti State in south-west Nigeria, Africa Confidential's Oladipo Salimonu spoke to Kayode Fayemi, the Action Congress's governorship candidate who is at the centre of the crisis in the Ekiti elections. Amid widespread claims that intimidation and electoral fraud has been used to secure victory in the 2007 governorship elections for Segun Oni of the People's Democratic Party (PDP), the defeated candidate in 2007, Fayemi embarked on a campaign appealing through the election tribunal and high courts to overturn the declared election result.

The High Court ruled in Fayemi's favour this year and ordered a limited rerun of the governorship elections in Ekiti State. However, the rerun has proved as controversial as the original vote in 2007 with Fayemi and his supporters accusing Oni and the PDP of using intimidation, fraud and collusion with corrupt officials in the Independent National Electoral Commission to produce another victory for Oni. In this extended interview Fayemi sets out his case.

Africa Confidential: What is your next move?

Kayode Fayemi: The next move is the legal challenge. You go to an elections petitions tribunal to challenge the result. Depending on the verdict of the tribunal, it will go to an appeal court, and an appeal court is the final point in the battle to retrieve the mandate.

AC: Is your appeal going to focus on this one local government area, Ido-Osi, where election observers have raised the most questions?

KF: That’s correct. The lawyers are examining all the fields but it seems to be as if that is the one that they are going to focus on, unlike our challenge in 2007 which the ten local governments were nullified. Now we are just going to have one. That’s the important one where all the results were manufactured.

AC: The difference in this one of 12,146 votes is the largest.

KF: If you look at it statistically it doesn’t rhyme with the pattern of voting in the other local governments.

AC: What was the distribution of votes in that local government in 2007?

KF: In 2007 they had a vote of 32,000 manufactured for the People's Democratic Party in that local government area, which was why we challenged it.

AC: How exactly do you think the rigging occurred and what evidence do you have?

KF: It’s not what we think, it’s what we know and that’s why what happened in Ido-Osi happened. They prepared multiple thumb-printed ballots. In the last case, we brought in forensic experts from the United Kingdom to verify this. Prior to the vote, they had obtained from Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) the ballot papers used for the election and they had thumb-printed them in advance. That’s what they were trying to bring into the INEC collation centre: that led to the violence there. Since they were in cahoots with INEC they managed to get it out of the collation centre and took their ballots to a police station to count.

AC: Were there officials of the Action Congress at that count?

KF: There was no representative of any party. No party signed the document that they produced. So that’s where it came from. Everybody knew where it came from. And that’s why the INEC official Olusola Adebayo resigned.

AC: Did she give any indication that that’s why she was resigning?

KF: She did. She said it publicly. She said, ‘Look, they brought results that were not fine, that were not signed by any of the parties to me. And they were not collated in a designated INEC centre.’

AC: Why do you think that Adebayo changed her mind and came to announce other results?

KF: This is the Nigerian condition. Everybody in Nigeria will tell you what happened to her. She was intimidated. Some explanation must be given, as to why she disappeared and was declared wanted by the PDP.

AC: What do you think this whole process suggests about support for the PDP in the South-West or nationally?

KF: The PDP has no support in this country. All you need to do is hear public opinion and read newspapers. PDP has zero support. Well, there may be places where they have support. What you have is a Chomsky-ian version of 'manufactured consent'. I'm talking about [Noam] Chomsky's book ‘Manufacturing Consent’ – that is what you are seeing in Nigeria, support is being manufactured, being manipulated, it is being organised. Even without any evidence in fact. Anybody who knows the south-western part of Nigeria knows that it is a bastion of progressive politics and that it would not be associated in any way with the PDP.

AC: Is it part of the Action Congress strategy to capture the south west?

KF: It is not a strategy of the Action Congress to capture the south-west but the Action Congress has the south-west in its kitty. The reason why Ekiti, which is one of the smallest states in the country, has been catapulted onto the front burner is the indication that the south-west is going back to its roots. Once Edo was lost by the PDP they became desperate that Ekiti was going to go. Everybody knows that Ekiti people are difficult to cheat and that is why this has become the cause celebre. It’s not the first rerun by the way. There have been six reruns before now but this is the most embarrassing nationally. I had academic colleagues here, I had the Financial Times here, I had the BBC here in Ado-Ekiti and they were shocked by what they saw.

AC: Ido-Osi results were the last to come in, correct?

KF: Of course, because they were working on it. They knew the real results so they needed to manufacture numbers.

AC: Because Ekiti was a flash point of the violence that led to the downfall of the Second Republic, do you have fears about the national repercussions of this?

KF: The PDP is a violent party. I have spent the better part of the past week appealing to people not to resort to retaliation. Understandably, they are angry and annoyed. I know enough of Nigeria’s history to know that this could be a trigger for the whole of the nation. Given the modest role that I played in resisting military dictatorship I am not going to sit idly by and allow myself to be manipulated into inviting the military back. Regardless of my problems I think it would be irresponsible on my part.

AC: So you’ve been counselling restraint to your supporters?

KF: Don’t let’s forget that the judiciary got us to this point. I wouldn’t have had a chance in hell for a rerun if the judiciary had not nullified the fraudulent election that produced Segun Oni as Governor in 2007. So I have to have faith that the judiciary can do its work – once we are able to marshall our evidence and our arguments.

AC: What about protests, sit-ins or demonstrations?

KF: There are protests, Ekiti people are demonstrating daily. But the PDP are the ones visiting violence on our people. That’s where the danger lies. The palace of my king has been burnt down by these elements. They even attempted to burn down my home last week.

AC: Who do you think tried to burn it down?

KF: It is not a question of thinking. People have been arrested. They are elements associated with the PDP.

AC: Have they disclosed an association with the PDP?

KF: They don’t even have to divulge, it’s obvious. One of them was a PDP consultant. They are sufficiently embarrassed nationally that the President [Umaru Musa Yar'Adua] was forced to come out yesterday on the TV and say that he is embarrassed and wants to set up a committee headed by the National Security Advisor to investigate bribery and all that. We would have preferred a judicial enquiry headed by a judge, not a party apparatchik or someone serving in his government.

AC: What’s your relationship with the former PDP Governor of Ekiti, Ayodele Fayose?

KF: I don’t have any relationship with Fayose. Fayose is a former Governor in the State, he is one of my supporters, but all the former governors in Etiki support me so that is a non-issue. I mean the vote of the ordinary people is more important to me than that.

AC: Where does the Action Congress go from here – regionally and nationally?

KF: The Action Congress is bound to wax stronger. What will enable us to stay in the minds of the people is our performance in government. We have two Action Congress state governments in the country today. One is too early to assess, that is the Edo government, but the one government that is celebrated both by opposition and national development specialists and ordinary citizens is the Action Congress government in Lagos State. That tells you why Action Congress is popular in the south-west. [The Action Congress Governor in Lagos State Babatunde Raji.] Fashola is performing beyond expectation.

AC: Who will be the Action Congress candidate for the national presidency in 2011?

KF: We are not at that stage yet. We are not even sure that there will be one party running then. It depends on the alignment of forces. Action Congress is the most organised and vociferous opposition in the country today. Many of the others have collapsed into PDP either because they are part of the government of unity or concerned about the crumbs they are eating from the table of the masters. Action Congress is the only party that is outside of the fold. What that calls for on our part is to organise with other parties that are more determined to ensure that there is freedom for all and a life more abundant.

AC: Have you identified any of those parties?

KF: It is an open secret that we are very close to the Labour Party which is in power in Ondo state today. It’s an open secret that we are close to Pat Utomi’s African Democratic Congress. It is an open secret that we are close to a majority of the progressive parties in the centre left in Nigeria. That’s where we belong ideologically and we don’t make any bones about it.

AC: So are there plans for an alliance with more of those parties under a united front?

KF: There are serious discussions going on. The PDP cannot be left alone to ride roughshod over Nigerians. Everyone knows that this is not a popular party. This is party of brigandage and criminality. We either make progress as a nation or revert to our sordid past of corruption. The choice is clear. We must make up our minds what we want to do in this country.

AC: Do you have any idea who Oni’s backers are within the People's Democratic Party?

KF: All the criminals in the south-west – [former Ogun State Governors Gbenga] Daniel and [Governor of Ogun State Olagunsoye] Oyinlola, [impeached Deputy Governor of Osun State Iyiola] Omisore – these are the people responsible with blood on their hands.

AC: There’s a perception that one of the leaders of your party, Bola Tinubu, is not trusted. What do you think of that?

KF: We should separate propaganda from fact. The only political leader that I know in the south-west who has managed to produce a successor that every Nigerian is proud of is Senator Bola Tinubu. [Lagos State Governor] Fashola was an unknown quantity as far as politics was concerned, he was a hard worker, a brilliant mind but very few people knew him apart from those of us who were in the centre of things. So for the senator to have gone out of his way and backed someone who was not the most politically suited for the position – it is about the statesmanship. So when people tell you that Tinubu is not trusted I don’t know what they mean by that. He has shown boldness, he has shown a greater interest in developmental politics than many of those going around and saying that he is not trusted. And you must ask yourself, why are they so worried about this one person? What is responsible for this fear?

AC: I think some of it derives from a disturbing relationship that Tinubu has with the Chagoury brothers who worked a lot with [former military leader General Sani] Abacha to take money out of Nigeria and a lot of people think that they [the Chagourys] should be prosecuted.

KF: If the Chagourys are culpable, it is the Nigerian state that should charge them.

AC: What about the reports that there is a strained relationship between Tinubu and Fashola?

KF: I am fairly close to both. They have a relationship that is working: Fashola focuses on the state government and Tinubu focuses on politics. Fashola is a continuation of Tinubu, his developmental agenda, the same ten-point agenda that Fashola is implementing. That is the agenda that Tinubu started; he never denied that. Former Governor Tinubu has afforded Fashola the opportunity to concentrate on government, which has been lacking in Nigeria. It has been all politics and no governance. This is worth studying for those who are interested in seeing what works in politics and governance. I think that this relationship should be studied rather than derided because it is a relationship that is based on mutual respect, clear separation . If you go to Fashola’s house now, you will not see anybody hanging around unless you have business with the government. Tinubu knew what he suffered when he was Governor and that is why he is helping out someone who he helped put in office so that he can concentrate on his job.

AC: Is that healthy though? If a governor is allowed to focus just on government and a surrogate on politics on his behalf, that would mean that there is an umbilical cord between the two, because government exists within the framework of politics. If the cord is cut, isn’t the person in government at the mercy of the person in politics? Isn’t it a dependency relationship?

KF: That is precisely the point. You have said it. Why should the cord be cut? Provided that there is no institutional framework for it. Let’s be clear. There’s a cord between the Labour Party in government and the trades unions. Tony Blair tried to reduce the relationship but he knew the challenges that he faced in doing that. It is not to the detriment of the British state that a similar relationship existed between business and the Conservative Party.

AC: What about Atiku Abubakar? What is the relationship between Atiku and the Action Congress right now?

KF: Atiku is a leading figure in the Action Congress. He was our presidential candidate in the last election and he was my active backer: he gave me money, political support – he did everything to make sure that I won my election.

AC: He gave you personal funds or party funds?

KF: He did so personally and the party also supported me.

AC: What about the fallout from his visit from [former President Olusegun] Obasanjo in January? Is that still a factor?

KF: Let’s not lose sight of the fact that Atiku Abubakar is a full fledged member of the Action Congress as I speak to you. He is not a member of the People's Democratic Party.

AC: Has former President Obasanjo come out on either side of the dispute?

KF: Of course, he put Segun Oni there illegally in 2007 and continues to work for him.


Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (Noam Chomsky with Edward Herman), New York: Pantheon Books, 1988.