BY ODUNAYO OGUNMOLA
Field Marshal is the highest rank in the Army; it is a rank of prestige, honour, gallantry, valour and conquest of battles. It is the peak of the peak of the military career.
In the history of the Nigerian Army, no officer had succeeded in attaining the rank of Field Marshal; the highest rank reached in the Nigerian Army is the rank of General, which is usually reserved for Heads of State during the military administrations and Chiefs of Defence Staff since the return to civil rule in 1999.
In the Army, you enter the club of the generals when you reach the rank of Brigadier (later changed to Brigadier General to drive home the status of the rank during the Ibrahim Babangida junta).
When you attain the rank of Brigadier, you are referred to as one-star general; when you are promoted to the next higher rank, Major General, you are addressed as two-star general and a promotion to the next rank, Lieutenant General, earns you the sobriquet of three-star general.
From Lieutenant General, the next rank is General, which is also referred to as four-star general. Any officer who reaches the zenith attains the rank of Field Marshal, the highest rank. Field Marshal, is also known as five-star general.
The equivalents of Field Marshal in the Air Force is the Marshal of the Air Force while that of the Navy is Admiral of the Fleet. No officer in the Nigerian Armed Forces had reached these highest ranks in the other two Services (the Air Force and the Navy).
The highest ranks reached in the two Services in Nigeria are Air Chief Marshal (Air Force) and Admiral (Navy) for some officers of those services who had been privileged to be appointed to the position of Chief of Defence Staff by the President who also doubles as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.
Like military warfares, elections in Nigeria and by extension, Africa are regarded as battles that are won with strategies. Like military battles, political battles thrive on intelligence, espionage, reconnaissance, ambush, surprise and vigilance, among other tactics until battles are won.
Like in the military, when battles are won, the glory is shared by the field commanders and all members of the winning troops. But you will agree with me that the largest chunk of the glory is attributed to the commander of the victorious army.
Exactly one month ago on 18th June, 2022 drum beats of election battle reverberated across Ekiti land; battlecry was sounded in all the polling units, wards, local governments and senatorial districts and political commanders deployed their troops to the field to ensure victory for their parties.
Stakes were higher at the last governorship election in Ekiti State with sixteen political parties struggling for the votes of the electorate which would translate to winning the highest office in the state, the governorship for the term 2022 to 2026.
The ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) was seeking to retain its tenancy in the Government House while the main opposition party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), was plotting to unseat the APC from power. The Social Democratic Party (SDP), regarded by many as the third force, was angling to spring a surprise by upstaging the two bigger parties assume the status of the ruling party.
Thirteen other political parties, which many people believed, were there to make up the number (with due respect to them), also participated in the Ekiti governorship election with their candidates. It was a crowded field so to say but the voters had the last say on which party deserved the crown.
It was a battle fiercely fought after an energy-sapping electioneering campaigns round the state and deployment of strategies the participating political parties believed would swing the pendulum of victory to their sides.
Like in every battle or contest, a winner must emerge. The APC and its candidate, Mr. Biodun Oyebanji, have been declared winners by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the body constitutionally charged with the responsibility of conducting the election of such magnitude.
On the face value of the election, Oyebanji might be seen as the ultimate beneficiary of the election but the biggest winner of the poll appears to be the incumbent Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi. With sense of fulfillment and pride, Fayemi alongside Governors Atiku Bagudu (Kebbi) who served as the Chairman of the APC National Campaign Council for the Ekiti poll and Abubakar Badaru (Jigawa) who was the Chairman of the APC Governorship Primary Election Panel in Ekiti, presented the official result of the election to Oyebanji in his Ikogosi Ekiti country home, a day after the election.
Although Fayemi had witnessed the vicissitudes, ups and downs and tasted the bitter and sweet sides of politics since his emergence in the Ekiti political landscape like the northern star, the last governorship election was a crowning glory to a chequered trajectory in the murky waters of Nigerian politics.
Approaching the last Ekiti governorship poll, Fayemi had a date with history, he had a date with fate and burning with the desire to achieve for his party the feat no political leader had managed to achieve since the state was created almost twenty six years ago.
Winning a second term in office is no mean feat in Nigerian politics but it pales into insignificance when you fail to mastermind a victory for your preferred successor or a member of the same political family or party like you.
Since Ekiti State was created in 1996 and the first general elections held in the state in 1999, no outgoing governor had been privileged to attend the inauguration of his successor because the governorship seat used to change hands between political parties and exit and entry into power are usually dogged by toxic and acrimonious circumstances.
But Ekiti State would witness a paradigm shift for the first time on October 16, 2022 when an outgoing governor (Fayemi) is expected to be present to personally hand over the sceptre of power to the incoming governor (Oyebanji). This will come to light because a ruling party, for the first time in the state’s political history, has succeeded in winning the governorship poll back-to-back or two times consecutively.
For the first time in Ekiti, the state is witnessing a smooth transition process devoid of bitter disagreements between the teams of the departing governor and the incoming governor. This time around, Ekiti has been spared the ugly drama in which a governor-elect will be giving counter orders or directives contrary to the position of a sitting governor whose party had just lost an election.
Since the June 18 victory he led his party to achieve in the governorship poll, Fayemi has been given various nicknames and aliases some of which include “the Jinx Breaker of the succession curse,” “the Grandmaster of Progressives Politics in Ekiti,” “Koseleri of Ekiti Political Kingdom,” among others but he has been humble in his reaction to all these adulations. He has since shifted his focus on the completion of key legacy projects and ensuring their inauguration as his administration heads for the homestretch.
But in the opinion of this writer, it will be safe, just and apposite to refer to Fayemi as the “Five-Star General of Ekiti Politics” and reasons will be adduced for this adulation later in this write-up. At the risk of sounding immodest, Fayemi, with the succession ice finally broken in Ekiti, is the Field Marshal of Ekiti Politics.
Much credit should go to the first civilian Governor of Ekiti State and currently the Honourable Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Otunba Adeniyi Adebayo, who played a pivotal role in the battle to ensure that Oyebanji, who first came to limelight during his stewardship, won the last governorship poll.
Although Adebayo may not appear so much in the open, Fayemi always respect his voice, counsel and opinion and hardly takes any crucial decision without the inputs of the first democratically elected governor of the state. The most senior civilian governor in Ekiti State saw the Oyebanji project as his own and worked hard to ensure that it came into fruition.
Adebayo, had at an APC stakeholders’ meeting last year described Fayemi’s first term (2010-2014) as his own (Adebayo’s) second term, Fayemi’s second term (2018-2022) as his own third term. It is safe (and apposite) to say that Oyebanji’s incoming tenure (2022-2026) will be Adebayo’s fourth term having been a political leader to the duo (Fayemi and Oyebanji).
What are those five stars on Fayemi’s political epaulettes which qualified him as the five-star general (otherwise known as the Field Marshal) of Ekiti State politics. These, in the opinion of this writer, are the defining moments and landmarks of the Isan Ekiti-born scholar-turned politician.
1. Fayemi won election the April 14, 2007 but robbed by federal powers only to be installed by courts which held that he was the validly elected governor in the 2007 governorship election and the 2009 court-ordered rerun governorship poll. The Court of Appeal actually affirmed with its judicial imprimatur in the landmark judgment delivered on October 15, 2010 in Ilorin, Kwara State that Fayemi actually won both the April 14, 2007 governorship election and the April 25, 2009 and May 5, 2009 rerun/supplementary elections.
2. Fayemi was appointed Honourable Minister as Ekiti State Representative in August 2015 into the Federal Executive Council (federal cabinet) and was handed the portfolio of Mines and Steel Development (initially christened as Solid Minerals). He emerged as the first former governor Ekiti governor to be appointed into the federal cabinet during which he attracted investors to the sector with the Federal Government raking in more revenue. Fayemi ensured proper registration of miners all over the country which ensured coordination of the sector and made a hitherto dormant sector become active and attractive under Fayemi’s watch.
3. Fayemi won a second term in office in the the July 14, 2018 governorship election against all odds in a hard-fought contest against an incumbent Governor, Mr. Ayo Fayose and his preferred successor, Prof. Kolapo Olusola who was the Deputy Governor. By the time he finishes his tenure in October 2022, Fayemi would be the first governor in Ekiti State to conclude two full terms of four years each as all his predecessors in office were not that fortunate. Adebayo was in office for four years (May 29, 1999 to May 29, 2003), Fayose spent three years and five months during his first term (May 29, 2003 to October 16, 2006) which was cut short by impeachment by the House of Assembly while Oni’s four-year term was interrupted two times as he was away from office between February and May 2009 to make way for an acting governor to pave the way for rerun election, his tenure was finally terminated in October 2010 cumulatively spending three-and-half years in office between May 29, 2007 and October 15, 2010.
4. Fayemi was unanimously elected by his colleagues as the Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) in 2019, the first governor from Southwest Nigeria to be so privileged. He brought vibrancy, verve, panache, aplomb and competence to the chairmanship of the NGF earning the confidence of his colleagues who belong to at least three different political parties. He used the trust and confidence he enjoys from President Muhammadu Buhari to secure financial relief for states from the Federal Government to enable them meet their obligations to their citizens, firmed up peer review among states in various sectors including health, education, security, social services, intervention during the COVID-19 scourge, ensuring that the states get what belong to them in the Nigerian federation, among others.
5. The crown of Fayemi’s political accomplishments was his becoming the first governor in Ekiti State to break the jinx of a party not producing a successor governor to an outgoing governor and the first governor to lead his political party to back-to-back governorship victories in the annals of the state. He had begun to prepare for this enviable record immediately after coming back to office by rebuilding the state from turning it from a site of abandoned projects to completed ones, attracting more development partners and investors, stabilising the ship of the state during an acute economic and financial crisis imposed by COVID-19 and working hard to ensure unity in the local APC which ensured that the party never went into the last election as a divided house. Fayemi, who has a knack for spotting talents and enlisting competent individuals in governmental positions, also threw his weight behind Oyebanji, famed as a homeboy who combines experience as a humble, accessible and competent politician and a technocrat who had been prepared for the top job with long years of tutelage under two former governors (Adebayo and Fayemi). Various testimonies, actions and gestures so far put up by Oyebanji have justified his choice and given the people of the state an assurance of a better tomorrow and stability in governance.