Fayemi: 57 garlands for a bridge builder – By Olayinka Oyebode

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*Photo: Fayemi *

Jos, the capital of Plateau State played host to an unusual gathering of top government functionaries and frontline religious and community leaders on September 6, last year.

These include the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, Co-chairmen of Nigeria Inter-Religious Council, Sultan Sa’ad Abubakar, and Rev Samson Ayokunle; Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, Governor Waziri Tambuwal of Sokoto, Governor Sani Bello of Niger and Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State, who was the host of the peace building meeting convened to resolve the ethno religious crisis that had threatened the peace in the North Central State.

The meeting was frank and decisive as the SGF who represented President Mohammad Buhari at the parley hinted on the Federal Government’s commitment to resolving the crisis. The second half of the meeting featured presentations by leaders of the various religious and ethnic groups.

An octogenarian Islamic cleric, Imam Abdulahi Abubakar from Barkin Ladi Local Government, spiced up his presentation by recapping how Governor Kayode Fayemi awarded him a honourary doctorate degree of the Ekiti State University in recognition of his peace initiatives in the northern state some years ago. The celebrated cleric who is a chief Imam in his mosque had saved the lives of over 200 Tivs who were Christians by hiding them in his mosque and feeding them throughout the period of the crisis.

Imam Abubakar told the cheering audience to appreciate the Governor for his gesture: “I have never met the Governor before. I was invited by the University for the award, I hope I can use this opportunity to thank the Governor for recognising my little effort”, the octogenarian cleric said as he made his way to the high table to have a hand shake with Dr Fayemi.

Instances abound of Dr Fayemi’s bridge building and peace -making efforts aimed at ensuring amicable resolution of knotty issues of socio-political, economic and ethno religious significance and in the process stabilising the Nigerian society and giving peace a chance to take a firm root. Indeed, effort at building bridges and salvaging situations remains a familiar pastime of Kayode Fayemi, Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, who has his signature in many fence mending efforts across the length and breadth of the country and beyond.

Fayemi’s penchant for peaceful resolution of conflict as a precursor to development made him come up with policies that addressed some inequalities and lop-sidedness in the mining sector during his stint as Minister of Mines and Steel Development between 2015 and 2018. Key among these was the win-win approach he engineered to address the contentious issue of land ownership. Through the right mix of policy, advocacy and consultation with critical stakeholders the exclusive right of the Federal Government on minerals and mining was retained, but a creative to enable the 36 states benefit from the resources in their domain was charted, while the host communities also get their deserved compensation.

It is generally believed that the Nigeria Governors’ Forum under Governor Fayemi’s chairmanship has become a vehicle for bridge building and peace initiatives. What with many interventions on issues bordering on workers welfare, women and children, sharing formula of the commonwealth as well as ethno-religious crisis. Back home in Ekiti where he holds sway as the “Ilufemiloye”, (the people’s governor), his bridge-building efforts has made the adherents of the various religion live together in harmony. Opposition parties are also able to ventilate divergent views on state matters and hold political activities without any fear of molestation. His administration is reputable for effective handling of knotty traditional and chieftaincy issues through alternative conflict resolution methods. His annual meeting with communities for their input into the state’s annual budget preparation has been applauded by development partners and international donor agencies as a good model for development.

The Collins English Dictionary defines a Bridge builder as a person who attempts to connect or reconcile opposing parties. Fayemi, in his bridge building efforts, creates relationships that cut across the lines of conflict, helps to forge ties across borders, cultures, religions, power bloc. He establishes relationships, improve communication, and build trust between conflicting people and groups which helps opposing groups of people to understand each other or behave well towards each other.

Former External Affairs Minister, Prof Bolaji Akinyemi, remarked on Fayemi’s bridge building efforts during a lecture marking the 60th anniversary of the Nigeria Institute for International Affairs (NIIA) in Lagos recently, and urged him not to relent. “The country needs this type of interventions at this critical period. And I am happy you are one of the respected voices preaching peace.”

And like Ralph Waldo Emerson, American essayist, lecturer, philosopher, and poet who led the transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century, said: “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” For Fayemi, going where there seems to be no path is a familiar pastime. And leaving a trail- an impact, a legacy comes to him naturally.

He combines integrity, creativity and sincerity with passion for excellence and development. JKF stated this much in one of his books: “Reclaiming The Trust”. He admits that what he has brought into governance is the kind of trust that is based on and compels competence, openness, concern and reliability. “Trust is a public good; we cannot do great things collectively without trust. But trust has to be earned” he stresses.

The Ekiti State Governor had emerged on the peace building scene at the beginning of the Fourth Republic when he served as Technical Adviser to the Justice Chukwudifu Oputa- led Human Rights Violation Investigation Commission Panel that looked into cases of human rights abuses under the then military regime. Prior to that time, he had joined forces with an army of pro-democracy agitators outside the shores of the land, working for the revalidation of the June 12, 1993 Presidential election won by the late Chief Moshood Abiola.

As Dr Fayemi turns 57 today, the question is no longer about what he is capable of doing as a leader, peace maker and bridge builder. He has been able to demonstrate his capability as an imaginative, innovative and exemplary leader. Instead, the question will be about what he would not do as a leader as many have come to believe that his past adequately prepared him for the present and the future.

Born on February 9, 1965, John Kayode Fayemi received his first degree in History and Politics 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, UK in 1993.

His research and policy development interests include: Natural Resource Governance, Democratisation, Constitutionalism, Security Sector Governance, Civil-Military Relations and Regionalism in the Global Context. Dr. Fayemi was the founding director of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), a research and training institute dedicated to the study and promotion of democratisation, peace-building and human security in Africa. As a central figure in the coalition of civil society actors that resisted oppressive military rule in Nigeria in the early 1990s, he was central to the founding and running of opposition radio stations while in exile.

Dr. Fayemi is a prominent member of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) and chaired the party’s National Convention Planning Committee that produced the Presidential Candidate for the 2015 general election and now President. He also served as the Director, Policy Research and Strategy of the APC Presidential Campaign Council. He was inaugurated as Governor of Ekiti State on October 16, 2010 and was named Minister of Mines and Steel Development in 2015.

During his tenure as minister, he also chaired the governing board of the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. However, he resigned his ministerial position in 2018 to contest the governorship of Ekiti State. He won and was inaugurated as governor for the second term on October 16, 2018. His colleagues unanimously elected him Chairman of the NGF in May 2019.

Dr Fayemi is married to Erelu Bisi Fayemi, the renowned women’s and children’s rights advocate, international development specialist, writer and social entrepreneur; and they are blessed with a son. In the words of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo “It is not life that matters but the courage you bring to it.”

Dr Fayemi, as a firm believer in the philosophy of the great leader, brings courage, resilience and tact to bear on every task the same way he drives his public service with great vision, working with imagination, insight, and boldness, his eyes fixed on the horizon, not just on the near at hand but the big picture and thinking strategically.

Regarded as a consummate intellectual in government, Fayemi’s strength lies in his ability to initiate and pursue peace processes to logical conclusion and finding creative ways to ensure every peaceful step taken yields dividends in form of sustainable development.

Today, I join millions of admirers to present 57 garlands to this exceptional leader, reliable mediator, bridge builder, change agent, thinker and innovator as he takes the fifty-seventh step in his untiring service to our dear state and country. The journey is just about to begin.

• Oyebode is Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Ekiti State.

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