Magazine article New African

Coming in from the Cold

Magazine article New African

Coming in from the Cold

Article excerpt

A lot can happen in a man's life over 20 years, the accepted timespan for a generation. And that is certainly the case for John Kayode Fayemi, Nigeria's current Minister of Solid Minerals (pictured below), as Osasu Obayiuwana explains.

Officially a member of Nigeria's political elite, as the immediate past governor of Ekiti State, and current Minister for Solid Minerals in the cabinet of President Muhammadu Buhari, Fayemi was once an avowed enemy of the very institution of which he is now a key part.

With Sani Abacha at the head of Nigeria's brutal military junta in 19%, after playing a behind-the-scenes role in successfully truncating the June 1993 election of the late Moshood Abiola as president, in a poll generally acknowledged as the best conducted in the country's history, Fayemi was an important member of the London-based Nigerian opposition that fought the dictator s government in the following years.

In conjunction with Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka and other leading political figures in exile, with financial support from the Norwegian government--who were particularly supportive of the cause to restore democracy to Nigeria in the 1990s--Fayemi was one of the brains behind Radio Kudirat.

Named after one of the wives of Moshood Abiola, brutally gunned down by Abacha's goons in broad daylight in Lagos, as a result of her firm public support for her husband's cause, the station's "guerilla broadcasts" infuriated Abacha, who put a price on the heads of all those behind the station.

Those were extremely dangerous times for Fayemi the rebel, who had to look over his shoulder, as he was on the assassination list of the security services.

These are the same institutions that have been duty-bound to protect him since October 2010, when he was sworn in as Ekiti State governor, after a protracted legal battle. The irony is certainly not lost on him.

Expected to easily win a second term in office, as he was generally acknowledged as one of the country's forward-thinking, progressive governors, Fayemi's defeat to Ayo Fayose in 2014 was a huge shock.

Now charged with the responsibility of reviving the country's mining industry, Fayemi admits that the journey from being the chief executive of a state, on whose table the buck stops, to being a cabinet minister, who works at the pleasure of the president, has been a sharp change.

"As a minister, you are bound by the principle of collective responsibility. As a state governor, you are actually an authority on your own ... By virtue of the Nigerian constitution, the state is a coordinate body, rather than a subordinate body to the central government.

"All of the powers that the central government has are replicated at the state level. It's far more complicated, you're dealing with people at the front end, you're addressing a range of issues, mining inclusive ...

"But in a federal cabinet, you have a specific portfolio. You might be given additional responsibilities by the president, but your primary responsibility is for that portfolio which you have been given, which, in my case, is reviving the mining sector that has been comatose in Nigeria for a very long time."

With a PhD in War Studies from London University's King's College and a long career in good governance advocacy for Africa, which was the focus of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), the think-tank he set up and ran for several years, the 51-year-old's appointment to the Solid Minerals portfolio was a bit of a surprise.

"Yes, my background is in security and international relations but politics is about management of human resources ... It's about ensuring that you make a fundamental difference in the lives of people.

"I actually think, stepping back, that mining is a portfolio I'm quite comfortable with.

"Originally, I didn't think so myself. But getting into it and seeing the attention that the president has decided to vest in mining and its associated activities, it's an enormous responsibility I have been given . …

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