June 28, 2014
ONE of Nigeria’s most reform-minded and articulate governors has been ousted in an election in Ekiti, a south-western state, by a populist who was once impeached following charges, albeit unproven, of embezzling public money. The vote was deemed generally free and fair. The result highlights public resistance to political reform.
The incumbent governor, Kayode Fayemi, a member of the All Progressives Congress, Nigeria’s main opposition, was trounced by Ayo Fayose (pictured) of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the party that rules Nigeria at the federal level and is backed by the president, Goodluck Jonathan. It was a big win for the government, which hitherto controlled none of Nigeria’s six south-western states and has been struggling with internal divisions; several PDP governors have defected to the opposition. By gaining a gubernatorial foothold in Ekiti the PDP’s chance of victory in next year’s presidential election looks brighter.
In dismissing a forward-thinker, the voters sent out a loud message. After coming to power in 2010, Mr Fayemi laid new roads, improved the university system, presented a plan to get more young people into jobs, created a social-security scheme for the elderly, and cut corrupt wage payments to government workers. But such reforms upset people with a vested interest in the old political system. Unqualified teachers who have been told to take tests as part of Mr Fayemi’s education reforms probably voted against him. So did civil servants upset by his more meritocratic hiring practices. Such people plainly prefer the old “politics of the belly”, which keeps them comfortably on the state payroll and hands out cash in return for their votes. “We felt we had the people on our side, but the people themselves made this decision,” an aide to Mr Fayemi mournfully admits. “It is worrisome just how much enlightenment the electorate needs.”
Indeed, the election was a clash between appeals to good governance on the one hand and the lure of old-school clientelism and populism on the other. Despite Ekiti having a relatively well-educated electorate, the old ways prevailed. This does not bode well for political reform across the country.