With the inauguration of Biodun Abayomi Oyebanji as the governor of Ekiti State on October 16, 2022, Dr. John Kayode Fayemi has become the latest ex-governor who is succeeded by his handpicked favorite. But how long will the honeymoon between him and his successor last? Will Fayemi join the already long list of past governors who are at war with the successors they helped to climb to power?
I don’t know much about Fayemi, have never related with him, and don’t know enough about his tenure as Ekiti State governor to have an opinion of it, but he came on my radar when he became the first Nigerian politician to not only voluntarily concede after his electoral defeat in June 2014 but to congratulate his opponent.
I had thought that given this history, he would also let the internal processes for the emergence of his successor in his party to be democratic and unmediated by his teleguidance. That didn’t happen.
Seven APC governorship aspirants in Ekiti State, who withdrew from the party’s primary contest in protest, wrote on January 27, 2022, that “It is on record that the government of Governor Kayode Fayemi has given its unwavering support to the candidacy of Biodun Oyebanji, it is common knowledge that the Governor and most appointees of the governor are openly rooting for and supporting Biodun Oyebanji’s aspiration to become the flag bearer of our great party.”
Will Fayemi go the way of almost all so-called political godfathers in Nigeria who ultimately fall out with the political godsons they put in power, usually in a matter of months? Or will he join the short list of exceptions to the norm?
The only exceptions I know of former governors who haven’t openly fallen out with their handpicked successors are Kashim Shettima and Bukola Saraki. When I wrote about this last year, I invited my Facebook friends and followers to suggest other examples of exceptions to the norm. They couldn’t.
Both Shettima and Saraki favored former commissioners in their governments to succeed them. But unlike others who quickly fall out with their handpicked successors in often bitter recriminations, they seem to get along well with their successors.
The reasons for the apparent cordiality between Bukola Saraki and Abdulfatah Ahmed on the one hand and between Kashim Shettima and Babagana Zulum on the other hand are wildly different. While the relationship between Shettima and Zulum seems to be defined by an unusually heightened mutual respect, that of Saraki and Ahmed appeared to be sustained by and anchored in a subservient, patron-client dynamic.
Zulum obviously understands the psychology of populism and mediated image management in more ways than Shettima does. Using dexterous mind managers and propagandists, he has carefully cultivated a media image as a hardworking, conscientious, compassionate, and over-performing governor even when the reality is far from this image. Fighting such a person would be counterproductive.
More than that, though, it seems to me that Shettima genuinely respects Zulum and has no desire to micromanage and teleguide him— like political godfathers like to do. The respect seems to be reciprocal.
Shettima also appears to be a good enough student of politics and human psychology to understand that power is obsessively jealous and brooks no challenge or dictation to it from anybody, including from the people who facilitated its emergence. So, he apparently makes no demands, imposes no appointees on Zulum, keeps a self-respecting distance from the government, observes the protocols of deference that wielders of power demand, and there has been peace and amity between them these past three-plus years.
That’s what Fayemi should learn from Shettima. Power empowers. It emboldens and lionizes even the most abjectly diffident, previously slavish, bootlicking subordinates. It is particularly self-conscious in the presence of people who enabled it and who feel entitled to pull its strings. That’s why the first acts handpicked successors who fear teleguidance from their benefactors do is to demonstrate their independence by undoing what their predecessors did.
Even Sir Ahmadu Bello, the first and only premier of the Northern Region, knew this. Chief Joseph Aderibigbe whom Bello appointed as the Provincial Secretary of the Sokoto Province in the First Republic told me more than 20 years ago that Bello, who doubled as a councilor in Sokoto, respected him in ways he didn’t expect or deserve.
He said each time Bello visited Sokoto from Kaduna, he often comported himself as a subordinate and would tell fellow Sokoto councilors who wanted him to compel Aderibigbe to accede to demands that he had rejected that Aderibigbe was his “boss” in Sokoto and that he couldn’t make him do anything he didn’t consent to. That flattered Aderibigbe who recognized that Bello was only being polite and sensitive to the psychology of power.
Saraki’s tactic for having a firm hold on his successor was different. Saraki is a cold, calculating, arrogant, wily, self-important personage who demands worshipful loyalty from his subordinates. He strategically chose a successor that had no political tentacles and that was compelled to depend on him almost entirely for political survival.
Abdulfatah Ahmed is from a part of Kwara South that shares cultural and geographic boundaries with Kwara North. His hometown of Share (in Ifelodun LGA) is divided between Yoruba and Nupe people. The Nupe part of the town is called Tsaragi (and is in Edu LGA). I once passed through the town and, for the life of me, couldn’t tell Share and Tsaragi apart. Although Ahmed is Yoruba, he is indistinguishable from the Nupe of Tsaragi.
So, in the politics of emotional affiliations, which lubricates Nigerian politics, Ahmed is neither here nor there. He isn’t from the geographic and cultural nucleus of Kwara South and is on the desolate fringe of Kwara North. He was also politically like fish out of water in Ilorin, and Saraki exploited his political vulnerability to maximum advantage.
In an October 24, 2015, column I wrote for Daily Trust titled “Who Will Save Kwara COE Lecturers from Saraki’s Deadly Grip?” I wrote: “Senate President Bukola Saraki is called Kwara State’s ‘Governor- General’ for a reason: He is, for all practical purposes, the state’s de facto governor, and Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed is merely his impotent, obsequious caretaker. Ahmed must dutifully take orders from Saraki or risk losing his cushy surrogate governorship. This isn’t a flippant, ill-natured putdown of Governor Ahmed, who seems like a nice person; it’s an uncomfortable truth that many Kwarans know only too well.”
I doubt that Governor Oyebanji is as politically endangered as Ahmed was, which would preclude Fayemi from deploying the Saraki template on him. But I think it’s basic decency to steer clear of power once you bring it about.
Meddling with power while out of its orbit never ends well. No one knows this better than former President Olusegun Obasanjo who has bitterly fallen out with three administrations—Yar’adua’s, Jonathan’s, and Buhari’s—that he helped to bring about precisely because he wanted to be in power while out of it.