Nigeria 2023: Will Kayode Fayemi take a shot at the presidency?

By Akin Irede
Posted on Monday, 24 January 2022 08:40

Ekiti State Governor Kayode Fayemi.
Ekiti State Governor Kayode Fayemi. Picture taken October 11, 2016. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde - D1AEUGNQILAA

The name of Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi, has been constantly mentioned among those seeking to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari. However, his refusal to confirm or deny rumours circulating poses the question: is he a contender or a pretender? 

The next month is going to be critical for Governor Fayemi’s presidential ambitions. On 27 January the ruling All Progressives’ Congres holds its primary election to choose Fayemi’s successor as governor to contest in his state’s gubernatorial elections in June. If Fayemi’s chosen candidate gets the APC nomination, that will enhance his political clout. His next priority is to ensure that his candidate prevails against the contender for the opposition People’s Democratic Party.

Then on 26 February, the APC holds it national convention which will elect the party’s top office holders, agree a schedule to choose its presidential candidate and the voting system it will use. All three decisions will affect Fayemi’s chances and, of course, those of Bola Tinubu who announced his determination to run at the beginning.

It looks like Fayemi’s presidential campaign will be low-key, at least for the next six months. That might disadvantage Fayemi, compared to his two main rivals, Tinubu and Vice President ‘Yemi Osinbajo.

Fayemi will pursue his ambitions more discreetly than others in the field. He’ll working on his campaign behind the scenes but his supporters had expected much more of a splash by now.

When on March 11, 2021 the Ekiti State House of Assembly endorsed Governor Fayemi for the 2023 Presidential election, many assumed that his Presidential campaign would kick off immediately. It was also assumed that Fayemi, who is the Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum – an informal association of all 36 governors of Nigeria – would use his position to lobby his colleagues to support him and give him an easy pathway to the Presidency.

But almost a year to the Presidential election, Fayemi still gives mixed signals about his rumoured ambition. In an interview with local media last year, the gap-toothed governor, when asked if he would be contesting, stated that he was still busy running the affairs of Ekiti State.

He, however, hinted of his desire to contest, saying, “I don’t know any serious-minded politician who will have the opportunity to govern a country with the blessings that we have – in spite of the challenges – that will not give it a shot, but we are not there yet.”

Ever since, he has refused to respond to questions about his ambition.

The cunning politician

While many of his supporters continue to grow frustrated with his silence, this has always been Fayemi’s style. In 2018, while serving as the Minister of Solid Mineral Development in President Buhari’s cabinet, several rumours had it that he would be contesting the governorship of Ekiti State but Fayemi refused to confirm or deny the reports, insisting that he was busy with his duties as minister.

On April 14, 2018, barely three weeks to the governorship primary, Fayemi declared his intention to contest out of the blues and went on to win the APC governorship primary based on the support he received from a powerful cabal at the Presidency and huge funds he was able to raise.

“Fayemi is as crafty as a fox. You never know what he is up to until he strikes. Many people had joined the APC governorship primary in Ekiti State in 2018 because Fayemi had told them that he was not interested in contesting. Then from nowhere, he joined the race, outsmarted all 31 other contestants and won,” an associate of the governor told The Africa Report.

With his tenure expiring on October 16, 2022, Fayemi is now busy with the task of ensuring that his preferred candidate succeeds him as this would not only cement his stance as a political godfather, it could also provide a launching pad for his Presidential ambition. To achieve this, the governor is making some deft moves ahead of the Ekiti APC governorship primary on January 27.

Of the seven people aspiring to succeed the governor, it is widely believed that Fayemi favours his former appointee, Biodun Oyebanji. Should Oyebanji emerge as the APC candidate and next governor of Ekiti State, this could give Fayemi the impetus to run for President from a position of strength.

Complicated relationship with Tinubu

Fayemi and Tinubu’s relationship dates back to the mid 90s during the struggle for democracy in Nigeria. In 2007 Fayemi was Tinubu’s anointed candidate for the governorship election. However, Fayemi lost the election to Governor Segun Oni of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) amid widespread reports of vote-rigging.

Fayemi challenged the result in court, backed by a legal team, supported by  Osinbajo and Tinubu. Fayemi eventually became governor in 2010 but his relationship with Tinubu began to deteriorate a few years later.

In 2021, he was among the governors accused of masterminding the sacking of APC chairman, Adams Oshiomole, seen as being subservient to Tinubu and backing the his Presidential ambitions.

Fayemi  also barred pro-Tinubu groups from campaigning in the state. This degenerated to the extent that the pro-Tinubu group, which includes Tinubu’s son-in-law, has now sued Fayemi and formed a parallel faction of the party in the state.

Tinubu’s supporters have never forgiven Fayemi for his actions and they continue to sponsor social media campaigns against him for working against the political interest of a man who once supported him.

Angered by the incessant attacks, Fayemi’s spokesman, Yinka Oyebode, issued a statement accusing some persons of planning a smear campaign against him. “The plot, as uncovered, is to use some faceless political groups and political jobbers from different parts of the country to defame the Ekiti State governor.

“Specifically, the plan is to use the faceless groups to discredit Governor Fayemi and portray him as unacceptable to the generality of the people across the six geo-political zones of the country. This plot is part of their game plan for the 2023 presidential contest. Some entrenched interests within the APC seem uncomfortable with his rising profile and have resorted to cheap blackmail aimed at de-marketing him,” the statement read in part.

So many were stunned when Fayemi visited Tinubu at his Abuja home this month just after the Lagos godfather had declared his intention to contest. Local media quoted sources as saying that Fayemi may have decided to support Tinubu’s ambition. They were also reports that both of them were negotiating ahead of the governorship primary slated for next week.

The news was well received by Tinubu’s supporters but Fayemi’s spokesman quickly issued a statement, saying his boss had not agreed to step down. He added that his boss had not yet decided whether to contest for the Presidency or not.

“If and when Dr Fayemi chooses to declare his interest in running for the 2023 presidential ticket, he would not be embarking on an ego trip that would warrant going into unhealthy contest with Asiwaju Tinubu or anyone else. Fayemi sees Tinubu as his leader in politics and reserves respect for him as a national leader of his party. Neither will he run the race with the intention of using it to negotiate with anyone. Rather he will run because he is convinced it is desirable for him to do so,” the statement read in part.

Fayemi’s chances

Fayemi is fighting a battle on two fronts. First, he needs to ensure that his preferred candidate wins the primary. Secondly, he must make sure that the PDP in Ekiti State does not win the poll in June. At the same time, he must defeat his estranged godfather at the APC Presidential primary. Ekiti State, which Fayemi governors, is also among the smallest in terms of voting population and funds. Thus, Fayemi is already at a disadvantage compared to Tinubu.

He has not launched a colourful proxy campaign like Tinubu and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo neither has he received any public endorsement from any major politician. He also doesn’t have the kind of money to match a political titan like Tinubu. So what does Fayemi have up his sleeves? Would he declare at the last minute or support another aspirant in exchange for a powerful position in the next government?

A former Deputy Governor of Ekiti State, Abiodun Aluko, told The Africa Report that Fayemi is preoccupied with the forthcoming Ekiti governorship election hence his delay in declaring his Presidential ambition.

Aluko, who is an associate and close friend of the Ekiti governor, said Fayemi had what it takes to win a Presidential election.

“He is my man for the Presidency. Right now, we are preparing for a governorship election so he is busy trying to put things in order. He is also busy with the APC convention. I am sure that after things are sorted out, Fayemi’s campaign will kickoff. He has been silently building support across the 36 states,” Aluko said.

Aluko told The Africa Report that everyone had the right to contest: “Tinubu has an ambition, Fayemi has an ambition let each of them go and woo Nigerians and let the electorate choose who they prefer,” he added.

But Dr. Aminu Hayatu, a lecturer at the Political Science Department at the Bayero University, Kano, believes that Tinubu’s Presidential ambition is hampering the campaign of not just Fayemi but others in the southwest that see Tinubu as their leader.

He told The Africa Report that strategies of politicians differ and the fact that Fayemi had not yet begun a colourful campaign like Tinubu doesn’t mean he will not contest.

“Osinbajo and Fayemi and some others actually want to contest but they cannot come out directly now because they know Tinubu is their boss and they understand the consequences of contesting against him because of the power interplay in the southwest.

“So, they are playing their cards carefully. So, they are using proxies to campaign while they wait to see what will happen. It will be difficult for them to contest against Tinubu because of the nature of politics in the southwest. Tinubu is still the superpower in the southwest,” Hayatu said.

Bottom line

These are early days in Nigeria’s presidential election campaigners. Although Bola Tinubu’s war chest, political network and ownership of a national newspaper have boosted his campaign. But he has plenty of enemies, some of whom are in the top hierarchy of the government and could yet derail the Tinubu campaign.

For Fayemi and Osinbajo, the substantive campaign for the presidency is yet to begin.

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options