It was a warm afternoon at the OR Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg, South Africa sometimes in March 2013. Dr. Kayode Fayemi and I were returning to Lagos after receiving the Samsung award for Best State Government in ICT Education at an impressive ceremony in Cape Town. Mr. Governor, as he is fondly called, had sought to spend some time at the business class lounge of the South African Airline and because we were engrossed in a discussion, together with another official of the administration, Muyiwa Ogunmilade, he had urged me to come along.
After going through my boarding pass and discovering that I was billed to fly the economy class, the female SAA official politely stopped me from entering the lounge. JKF’s attempt to convince her to allow me in order for us to conclude our discussion was met with a straight face by the official. The waitress however said I could be allowed in if the Governor and Ogunmilade could present their gold cards. Pronto, they both brought out their gold cards. Having confirmed the cards, the official was about giving another condition when the activist in JKF came out. He politely asked that his card be returned to him and told the officials that he would rather take a walk around the airport with me rather than being denied my company at the lounge. I made a futile protest against his decision to abandon the lounge because of me, knowing he needed to catch some rest. Alas, it was too late. “No, Yinka, it not worth it. What is the big deal about the lounge? Don’t worry, let’s just take a walk around before boarding time.” Thus, we left the lounge and spent about half an hour buying books at a particular books store at the airport and the remaining time was spent strolling around before boarding time.
That South African experience was for me perhaps the most humbling experience I have had as an adult. It was a lesson in simplicity and leadership taught in the simplest manner imaginable. It also typifies the experiences of many who have come in contact with Dr Fayemi whether in the classroom, newsroom, lecture room, political rallies, in the trenches or in the hallowed chambers of the Ekiti State Executive Council where he presided over the affairs of the state, together with his carefully selected team for four impactful years.
Fayemi in and out of office believes in two things: service and justice. He believes life is worthless without service: service to mankind. On justice, Fayemi is a firm believer in that timeless Latin legal phrase: Fiat justitia ruat caelum (Let justice be done though the heavens fall). He remains today one of the few Nigerian politicians that have really tested the country’s legal system in the bid to determine some knotty issues. It is no longer news how he fought from one court to another for three and a half years to retrieve his mandate, which he eventually got via the declaration of the Court of Appeal sitting in Ilorin, Kwara State on October 15, 2010. It is also on record that his administration lost some cases in the state courts and that put paid to some actions of the government, including the conduct of the local government election, which the Peoples Democratic Party stopped through an injunction from the state high court in January 2012.
JKF believes that political participation as well as seeking elective office should be motivated by service. He believes that commitment to service and its delivery remains the vital tonic that energises and motivates a public office holder to forge ahead and remain focused even in the midst of competing and conflicting interests. He believes that service does not end with the completion of one’s tenure in office. To him, service continues for as long as one still has his breath. He was recently asked how he has been coping with life after service during a lecture he delivered at the Afenifere Renewal Group annual lecture in Abeokuta, Ogun State last month. His response: “I am still in service. My idea of service does not end with occupying an executive position. Even attending party meetings, executing some assignments on behalf of my party, or town’s union amount to service.”
Many believe that JKF’s headship of the hugely successful national convention and presidential primaries of the All Progressives Congress in December last year and his current assignment as the head of Policy, Research and Strategy Directorate of the party’s presidential campaign organisation have kept him even busier than his former assignment as governor of Ekiti State. Perhaps what they do not know is that such excellent organisational touch he brought to bear on the APC convention, regarded as the best organised in the country’s history, is simply the JKF signature that distinguishes his four-year tenure in Ekiti State and makes it a reference point in developmental circle. He believes that when a leader provides the right leadership, the followers would embrace excellence and make it an habit.
For those who have followed his trajectory right from his students activism days through pro democracy agitation and the current political participation, JKF is guided by the social democratic principle of lifting the weak and vulnerable in the society. His four years stint as governor of Ekiti State witnessed a sincere and consistent effort at banishing poverty and sickness. This was because he knows too well that a poor society is a sick and sickly one. His genuine concern include how transactional politics can be replaced with transformational leadership. How institutions of state can be strengthened in order to ensure effective service delivery. Whereas his critics would readily fault these ideas, describing them as lacking in immediate political gains. Yet, JKF earns their respect for his commitment to these ideals.
His penchant for development and insatiable desire to get the government to provide for the weak and vulnerable in the society led to some policies including the social security scheme which pays 5,000 monthly stipends to elderly indigent citizens above 65 years; free and compulsory primary and secondary education; computer per child initiative in the public secondary schools; comprehensive renovation of all public schools and hospitals; free health for the physically challenged, children under five, pregnant women and elderly citizens among others. The need to spread development across the nooks and crannies of the state also led to the introduction of five kilometres road project implemented yearly in all the council areas. And when you add this to the structured empowerment programmes for the youths and women, you have a government that had something for everybody under the JKF administration.
As Fayemi attains the golden age today, it is obvious that the energy and wisdom to run even a more impactful race in the second half of the century are bubbling in him like an hyper-active volcano.
Born on February 9, 1965 into the family of the late Chief and Mrs. Francis Falade Fayemi, a native of Isan-Ekiti in Oye Local Government Area, he had his elementary education in Ibadan in Oyo State before attending Christ’s School, Ado-Ekiti for his secondary education between 1975 and 1980.
John Kayode Fayemi received his first degree in History from the University of Lagos in 1985, a Master’s degree in International Relations from the University of Ife, Ile-Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) in 1987 and a doctorate in War Studies from the King’s College, University of London, England in 1993, specializing in civilian-military relations and defence planning. Prior to joining partisan politics, Dr. Fayemi was the pioneer Director of the Centre for Democracy and Development. He was a Georgetown University Leadership Fellow in 2000 and a Senior Visiting Fellow in African Studies, North Western University, Evanston, USA in 2004. He is also an Associate Fellow of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Ibadan and was on the Adjunct Faculty of the African Centre for Strategic Studies, National Defence University, USA, between 2001 and 2005. He was a member of the Governing Board of the Open Society Justice Institute, New York and African Security Sector Network.
Fayemi has written and lectured extensively on governance and democratization. He is also a recipient of several awards, fellowships and grants including the Ford Foundation grant on Special Initiative on Africa and the Macarthur Foundation research grant. His tenure as Governor of Ekiti State witnessed many reforms and earned the state a number of first positions in the areas of education, agriculture, health, rural development and social empowerment. This was attested to by local and international organisations leading to special recognitions including: Leadership Newspaper’s Governor of the year award, 2012; the Zik’s Prize in Leadership (Good Governance) Award in 2013; Champion Newspapers Governor of the Year award in 2014.
Even with what some might consider as his foibles, there is no doubt that in JKF the researcher, the teacher, the activist, administrator and strategist come together with all the ideas that can help us change the way we think and act about leadership, scholarship, political tolerance, social justice and human capital development.
From the four corners of the country and beyond come 50 gbosas for this innovator, democrat and change agent- above all, an Omoluabi – as he joins the golden club today.
• Oyebode, a journalist, is a former Chief Press Secretary to Fayemi as governor of Ekiti State.