“Seeth thou a man diligent in his business? He shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men”
It is often argued that there are three routes by which someone can climb the ladder of greatness. You can have your palm kernel cracked by benevolent gods, you can have your hand held and taken up by some bigger hands who believe in you, or, you can slug it out with fate, chart the most pronounced but torturous route of self-effort. If by benevolence, these three forces combine to give you a raise, then you are surefooted.
That exactly is what seems to have played out for Dr. John Kayode Fayemi, the 10th and 12th Governor of Ekiti State. Fayemi is not just counting years, but has also made the years to count for him.
Ever since he jumped into the turbulent and shark-infested political water of the state, culminating in his attempt at the governorship of the state in 2006, Dr. Fayemi has remained in the spotlight of Nigerian politics. He has lived an extraordinary life of struggle and success, and he has remained an enigma of sort in the nation’s political firmament.
How has Fayemi been surviving the turbulent waters of Ekiti politics, even when unprotected? Two words summarize the answer: Commitment and Passion. His decision-making capabilities are also eclectic. Add to this, the fact that he did not jump into the fray unprepared. Like the biblical David, Fayemi had overcome the lions and the bears along the way, before he was dragged into the local politics by those three forces earlier mentioned. Contrary to the erroneous belief in some quarters that he came from nowhere and simply took a dive, Fayemi was not an uncircumcised Philistine after all.
For Fayemi, leadership is not just a popularity contest. It is a serious responsibility that primarily involves developing and guiding one’s potential to the fullest. It is about thrusting oneself enough to take action, even when it is the least convenient. Leadership, to this man of fate, is about anticipating the unexpected. An important part of his conduct as a leader is knowing how to see conflict, when to seize the opportunity within the conflict before healthy tension turns into overly disruptive tension, and doing so with such an ecumenical mien. The leadership style he has adopted is a combination of democratic, strategic and transformational.
Before ever venturing into Ekiti politics, Fayemi had taken some academic and political trainings. He was a former Director of the Centre for Democracy and Development, a research and training institution dedicated to the study and promotion of democratic development, peace-building and human security in Africa. Prior to his establishment of the Centre, he had worked as a lecturer, journalist, researcher and Strategy Development adviser in Nigeria and the United Kingdom. He was Strategy Development Adviser at London’s City Challenge; research fellow at the African Research and Information Bureau in London, UK, reporter with the newspapers, The Guardian and City Tempo, editor of the political monthly, Nigeria-Now, management consultant at Development and Management Consultants and lecturer at the Police College in Sokoto, Nigeria.
Fayemi had lectured in Africa, Europe, the America and Asia. He had also served as an adviser on transitional justice, regional integration, constitutionalism, security sector reform and civil-military relations issues to various governments, inter-governmental institutions and development agencies. He was the main technical adviser to Nigeria’s Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission (Oputa Panel), which investigated past abuses and currently serves on the Presidential Implementation Committees on Security Sector Reform, NEPAD and the Millennium Development Goals.
He was technical expert to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on small arms and light weapons and United Nations Economic Commission of Africa on governance issues. He is also a member, Africa Policy Advisory Panel of the British Government. At other times, he had served as a consultant to the OECD on Security Sector Reform and chaired the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative’s Committee of Experts on developing guiding principles and mechanisms of constitution making in Commonwealth Africa.
Fayemi is a Fellow of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Ibadan, Adjunct Professor of Security Studies at the African Centre for Strategic Studies, National Defense University, Fort McNair, Washington, D.C., USA. He was also a Visiting Professor in the African Studies Programme at Northwestern University, Evanston, USA in 2004. Dr. Fayemi serves on numerous Boards including the Governing Board of the Open Society Justice Institute, Baobab for Women’s Human Rights, African Security Sector Network, and on the Advisory Board of the Global Facilitation Network on Security Sector Reform and on the Management Culture Board of the ECOWAS Secretariat.
These are the initiatives that taught Fayemi how to deal with situations. One of the lessons he learnt, perhaps, is right timing. Those who know him well would confirm that once he is convinced about a move, he never loses momentum until he has seen it to a logical conclusion. He understands perfectly well that leadership is not a tea party, but about taking action and confronting the issues before it’s too late. Neither age nor experience had ever limited him and he has never left anyone in doubt of his maturity to act as a leader.
Fayemi’s candour often belies his capability to act decisively whenever there is tension. Many leaders would rather avoid tension to create the appearance of harmony. What they don’t realize is that by avoiding tension all together they are unknowingly creating silos and internal disruption amongst their followers. A leader must be expected to neutralize or minimize conflict, not allow it to grow and run rampant. That is Fayemi for you.
Family, friends, folks, aides and even foes agree that Fayemi has a very strong and exemplary character. But like the proverbial elephant, they see him differently, depending on the positions from which they view him. His wife and lead cheerleader, Erelu Bisi Fayemi, who is also a very strong personality in her own class, is always quick to describe him as both intelligent and a workaholic. “He hardly rests,” she would tell you. His political associates will quickly tell that you he is a social democrat. His aides see him as a master-strategist, a change agent and an empathic leader. Yet his foes fret at his fighting spirit. They will tell you confidently that he is too strong-willed for their liking.
Fayemi does everything with the people in mind. Little wonder you are likely to get some descriptions from his associates, such as “value driven,” “industrious,” “calm but strategic,” “highly cerebral,” “compassionate,” among others. Steering a state like Ekiti can be quite challenging, especially when one has mounted the saddle after a rough rider like his predecessor-in-office. But not for a Fayemi.
Fayemi is a leader in the true sense of it. As John Quincy Adams puts it, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” He is that kind of leader you can work through tough times with. He is not proud, he is not afraid to be vulnerable, neither is he overwhelmed by any insecurities to acknowledge the tension. More often than not, he would work through any tension unscathed.
Surely, such a man is not being celebrated, just because he is clocking 54 years. He is being celebrated because of who he is, as a gentleman -respectful and respectable. He is responsive and faithful to his people, he has integrity, he is honest, he is mature and he is committed to passion.
Above all, quoting the 34th President of United States, Dwight. D. Eisenhower, “The supreme quality of leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.” Fayemi’s integrity in his relationship with his people, is unquestionable.
Happy Birthday to this man of worth, Dr. John Kayode Folorunsho Fayemi, CON. The indefatigable 10th and 12th Governor of Ekiti State.
_Segun Dipe is the Senior Special Assistant to Ekiti State Governor on Public Communications._