The Mekunu Revolution

I sent someone to a barber shop nearby just to hear what they are saying about my governor there. He said the barber was just complaining about how the governor is not giving them money. When they now pointed to a big school opposite his shop that the governor is building, he said ‘is it the school that we will eat?

That was a friend of mine who works in one of the South West states in Nigeria in the wake of Fayemi’s loss in Ekiti.

It is hard to escape the feeling that Fayemi’s loss has left a lot of incumbents feeling uneasy because they fear that the issues which toppled him are not unique to Ekiti. There is a Mekunu Revolution afoot and it threatens to consume any politician who stands in its way. But what is it all about? The answer likely lies in the way politicians have been reacting to whatever it is.

Fayemi himself kicked things off a month to the election which removed him from office by reversing his own reforms:

Ado Ekiti — Ekiti State Governor Kayode Fayemi yesterday went back on the decision of government to organise the controversial Teachers Development Needs Assessment (TDNA)for teachers in the state. Fayemi also announced the decision of his administration to commence payment of the 27.5 per cent Teachers’ pecuniary allowance.

Because it worked so well for Fayemi, Edo state has now decided to do the exact same thing:

Edo State Government has reversed the planned competency test for teachers in the state  and  recalled the 936 teachers whose names were deleted from the payroll over certificate discrepancies and age falsification.

This is depressing stuff. Presumably, the teacher who couldn’t read her own certificate last year when questioned by Oshiomole himself is part of the 936 teachers recalled:

Not to be left out, Governor Amosun in Ogun State has declared a ‘naira rain’ for civil servants who now have the bit between their teeth and are threatening to do him a Fayemi:

OGUN State governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, has approved car and housing loans for civil servants as a way of boosting their morale and efficiency at work. Amosun also  promised to implement 27.5 per cent Peculiar Allowance for teachers, as well as payment of outstanding allowances.

As anyone knows, this is as good as a gift to the workers. To further boost the productivity of these amazing civil servants who produce so much, Ogun State went ahead to build a dedicated market for them where they can shop in peace and quiet away from the Great Unwashed Masses:

‘Oja Irorun,’ a farm produce market for public servants constructed by the Ogun State government, has been established at the state secretariat, Oke-Mosan, Abeokuta.

The Head of Service, Mrs Modupe Adekunle, while declaring the market open, said it was an avenue for civil servants to shop with ease.  Mrs Adekunle noted that the market would be opened every Friday and would enable workers to purchase fresh farm produce, which would improve their healthy living.

In addition to all these there are the well worn complaints from Ekiti that Fayemi gave contracts to ‘outsiders’. This is now reverberating in Osun State where Ogbeni Rauf is being accused of hiring the ‘foreign’ Sam & Sara to set up the Omoluabi Garment Factory in Oshogbo to produce school uniforms. Sam & Sara, the complaint goes further, then went on to perpetrate the dastardly crime of hiring Igbos (who are not Nigerians) to staff the factory. To make matters worse, Ogbeni’s opponent, Senator Iyiola Omisore, unencumbered by any morals, scruples or underpants, has been playing up his ‘man of the people’ credentials by making sure he is photographed riding shotgun on a motorcycle, eating roasted corn and guguru (a derivative of corn, it must be noted).

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Does it matter that the man is wearing what looks very much like an Audemars Piguet watch on his wrist? Afterall, the watches have a starting price of a mere £12,500.

What does this all mean for our democracy? I fear things are not looking good. For starters, the electorate seem to be sharply dividing into ‘the masses’ and ‘the elitists’ who cannot drink their coke without a dash of lime in it. The whole point of running for office is quickly boiling down to the question – na who grassroots pass?

Yet, and for personal reasons, I feel this is all sadly very wrong. I am by no means a rich man today (infact if you were to offer me some money today, I will happily relive you of it) but only a few years ago, I experienced what it felt like to be desperately poor. I was raised by my mother, almost single-handedly, and anyone who grew up in the same shoes will know how difficult, and often impossible, that task is. While I was in University in Nigeria, my Mother went through a terribly difficult financial period where my ability to continue going to school was under serious threat. In the end, an Uncle came to our rescue and the evil day was averted. Perhaps you might not be reading this blog post if things had turned out differently.

Yet, what I remember vividly from that whole period was how that desperate financial situation turned my mother and I against each other. I felt she wasn’t doing enough to find the money and she of course felt I wasn’t appreciative enough of her efforts. And on and on it went until a resolution was found. This is what I know poverty does to you – it turns you against whoever is near you and stops you from thinking properly. Come with me to the book of Proverbs, the 15th verse of the 15th chapter [Amplified], the first part:

15 All the days of the desponding and afflicted are made evil [by anxious thoughts and forebodings]

The emphasis is mine because ‘foreboding’ is exactly the word to use to describe the kind of poverty I knew. If it goes on for too long, people begin to think it is permanent state of affairs and cease to think about tomorrow. I recall reading a story some years ago which tried to explain why the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti killed 220,000 people. One of the reasons given was that there was so much foreboding in the country long before the earthquake that people could not be bothered to put basic fortification in their homes. Something was bound to come and kill them anyway so why not spend the money on something else?

When you begin to hear people asking if they are to eat the roads and schools provided for them, you are seeing a dangerous sense of foreboding. In our case as a nation, this foreboding has been caused by years and years of mindless theft and squander of our commonwealth by people who pretend to be our leaders. What the ‘common man’ sees is a system awash with naira and dollars and he cant seem to find a way to lay his hands on any of it. The people no longer want schools; they want money in their pocket. They do not really care if a school or road is built properly – they want it to be built by a local contractor who will ensure they get some of the money. All this requires is for a politician to promise to do these things and he will get a hearing.

Predictably, where leadership is required, our politicians, who had no convictions to begin with and have spines made of chocolate, have utterly capitulated. Was there no reason in the first place why construction contracts were given to reputable (the other name for ‘outsiders’) firms? A bad contractor is a bad contractor, period. This is an opportunity for governments to crackdown on those who do terrible jobs and use that as justification for the decisions they make. Is there no cost to bad teaching? Why were the reforms instituted in the first place? Is there any more evidence required for teaching reform than looking at the shambolic state of our education which does not equip anyone to solve the problems facing us as a nation. And surely, there are people who have benefitted from these reforms – where are they to act as cheerleaders for it?

It is not that ‘the masses’ are stupid and do not know what they are doing. Far from it. I think that those who exchange their votes for money know exactly what they are doing. There is a foreboding and the people want to take their payment upfront or perhaps ‘eat their seed corn’. Why be patient with a politician who promises reform when chances are that he is lying and stealing anyway? There will be no tomorrow.

Where is this Mekunu Revolution leading us? I do not know for certain but I doubt it’s a very good place.

But the biggest message in all of this is that we now have a pretty good idea of how the vast majority of the population are against any kind of meaningful reform even if they all have different reasons for their opposition. Once upon a time, Baptists and Bootleggers in America were on the same side supporting alcohol prohibition too, as implausible as it sounds.

We can remain like this as a country for many many years to come.




22 thoughts on “The Mekunu Revolution

  1. And that, my man, is the reason why after many years of trials and hesitancy I have at last decided to sharpen my visa 🙂

  2. It is obvious that the Ekiti Democratic Revolution is fast spreading but the result may be continued mediocrity in the quality of public service.

    The big question should be: how do we reform the public service yet win elections? The answer can be found in the difference in approach of Former Gov. and Gov-elect of Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose and the approach of the incumbent Governor Dr. Kayode Fayemi.

    Fayemi demotivated the public servants by sacking LG workers on the basis of a competency test which result he refused to make public. When he proposed the same test to teachers, they rejected it outrightly. The result? Ekiti slipped to 34th position in WAEC results across the country.

    Fayose on the other hand motivated teachers by turning Teachers’ Day to a carnival in Ado-Ekiti, rewarding the best teachers across the Local Governments with car gifts, creating and appointing Tutors-General in each senatorial district – the result? Ekiti from 30-something position in 2003 when he took over climbed to 4th position in WAEC results across the country.

    A governor elected for four years has a duty to reform the public service but that reform must be preceded by a show of good faith if it will not be taken in bad faith – reward the good ones before even contemplating sacking the bad ones. As a matter of fact, rewarding the good ones leads to better performance from the so-called ‘bad ones’ – that’s how motivation works. Sacking the bad ones on the other hand leads to a demotivated work force.

    Fayemi will perform excellently well as a CEO of Cadbury or any private corporation and even Lagos where most public servants have alternative income channels but as the governor of a civil service state? He’ll never last more than four years. Public leadership is a more delicate matter than managing a company – you cannot be elected to serve a four year term and come in sacking people who have served the state for more than ten years to prove that you are a reformer.

    The response to public service mediocrity is this: show good faith by rewarding them as public servants especially the good ones, organise seminars and workshops to make them better, remove the extremely bad eggs – only few at a time and the criteria used must be made as transparent as possible.

  3. We all have roles to play in order to stop or reduce this so called ‘mekunu revolution ‘. Let’s start from our circle of influence.

  4. As much as I like the “Mekunu Revolution” idea and want it to “distrupt” the faux reform posturing our politicians have been exhibiting -Opposition included. I can’t help but ask if this isn’t some massive totori – a pretend revolution.

    While it was obvious that Fayemi’s reforms did not resonate well with a huge portion of his people, I still find it difficult to ascribe credibility to an electoral process conducted by an INEC that effectively answers to the FG, appointed by the FG, a police and military totally dependent on the FG secured the votes without bias?

    An election where a large population of *voters card* carrying Mekunus stayed home, either because the electoral process disenfranchised them or the security heavy handedness scared them off. An election where the opponent did not win a single LG and maybe lost in his town.

    It is all too clean to be a revolution.

    Maybe I’m jaded and just plain pessimistic, but I lived in Nigeria too long, been a Nigerian for too long to believe that desperate politicians will leave their political fates in the hands of a multitude of disgruntled Mekunus.

    Remember the old Omo detergent commercial?

    This Mekunu Awakening is like that advert where somebody is ‘washing’ our great unwashed while applying the usual self-help. Yes detergents work, but not that well, not this quick.

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  6. I think Feyi and others have missed the point. Human beings need money to survive. They can only earn that money if they are employed or paid by the State (i.e social security benefits). Fayemi had lofty ideas of what society should be but the problem is, he failed to meet people at their point of need. The contract awarded to an outsider has deprived residents of jobs. Wasn’t there a means to ensure that foreign contractors partnered with their local counterparts? Instead of sacking teachers, wasn’t there a means to send them for intensive skills training? Even in the UK, you will be voted out if you cannot create Jobs. So Fayemi’s focus should have been Jobs, Jobs, Jobs. Reforms without job creation will result in you being voted out.

    The lesson, I would take from Fayemi’s experience is, before I introduce any policies I will ask myself: will this lead to job growth?

    1. “They can only earn that money if they are employed or paid by the State (i.e social security benefits)”

      This is one of the weirdest statements I have ever read. What is it based on? Or is it just to justify Fayemi’s loss?
      He didnt just sack teachers. The vast majority of teachers in Ekiti were in subjects like PE. Less than 5% were science or maths.
      So the idea that that is a situation that should have been allowed to continue is rather bizarre.
      The clue is in the name of the reform – Teacher DEVELOPMENT NEEDS Assesment. It was not a sacking exercise…sacking was an inevitable by product of the exercise.
      Some people were asked to go back to teaching based on their scores in the test.
      I know a very distinguished Professor who worked on putting the TDNA together…it was not a flippant thing and he said the exercise allowed them to discover many teachers who were actually good but were languishing somewhere undiscovered by the old system.
      In a system where promotion had been decoupled from merit, people will always resist ANY reform no matter how sensible it is.

      That is the issue we should face…a very dangerous trend…not make it look like Fayemi was some kind of idiot who didnt have a clue what he was doing.

  7. Feyi, well done. Good article trying to understand Nigeria’s electorate and the possible consequences of their actions. Now we have Feyi’s ‘foreboding hypothesis’. My only argument against it is that it may not necessarily be foreboding because it appears people just never developed any sense of good followership including asking questions of their leaders about how public money was spent or how local economies could be improved. They have always wanted rice and groundnut oil especially around festival periods. I have heard stories from politicians about these. The days when the community asked for schools was when there weren’t many around and each community wanted one. Once they had one, they didn’t bother asking for continuous improvement.

    I think what Fayemi lost in the election, he has gained for himself in maintenance and possibly promotion of his good reputation. He is a politician who was voted out because he tried to improve the lot of his people who unfortunately were not ready to suffer short term before the long term benefits to themselves and future generations. He hasn’t been accused of pillaging his State but rather that he built roads to open up hitherto locked villages (with potential economic benefits); that he wanted to assess the quality of teachers (on whom State funds were being spent so he could design a policy for improvement and also to re-assure the public someone was ensuring public money was well spent); and that he wasn’t joining the other kids in the play-ground (because he was busy thinking about how to improve their lot). We can compare this with what has been said of some ex-governors. A comedian once joked about a gang of robbers who had stopped motorists on one of the many “expressways” and robbing from vehicle to vehicle. When the gang-leader was questioned by his peers why he allowed a seemingly jackpot vehicle (black SUV with tinted screens) to go, he replied “esprit de corps, he’s a former governor”.

    Some would ask why he reversed some of the policies close to the elections or why he allowed his party distribute rice and money. My answer is he probably backed down at the negotiation table with other party members to improve the chances of his party’s victory at the polls. If the only way to retain the position to be able to do the good he wishes to is by being a party man then he had to be realistic.

  8. We’re in for a serious problem now that the peasant(permit my use of that word) to dictate the tune. Civil servants from time immemorial are a bunch of self centered entity. They’re never satisfied,always crave for more even if the entire state’s budget is used to gratifying them at the detriment of other citizens. But if I were to be a reform minded governor I would rather lose than change a lofty policy because of some unenlightened cum selfish mekunu. At least we still have over 120k reasonable and. appreciative voters. We shall wait on posterity to judge!By the way,does character still matter even for a pretentious leader ?

  9. This ‘Mekunu Revolution’ creates poignant feelings. If it is now being said about Ekiti people detesting building of schools..
    I am equally sad that Governor Fayemi suspended his own initiatives on the platter of winning elections…it reminds me of the story of ‘ Akogbatugbaka’ (A farmer that went early to the farm and made 200 heaps to plant yam. Afterwards, he wanted to smoke and scattered all the heaps while searching for his pipe.)
    We have not had it so good in our ‘nascent ‘ democracy, we acknowledge the need for reforms. We equally need leaders that will stay true to the desired actions to birth this reform while equally improving on getting their narratives understood by the common man.
    A good way to remove some of the ‘forebodings’ of the common man about the need for schools will be availability of jobs for graduates of such schools.

  10. As long as poverty remains a major issue in the country, peoples votes will always be for sale. We can criticize all we want, but a man who barely eats a healthy meal a day will respond to any event that relieves him of the seemingly unending hunger, even if it is just for a day.

    Nigerian politicians interested in developing their states have one big problem, and that is the failure to carry the constituents along. You can’t make a decision on behalf of the people, and fail to inform them about the process leading up to that decision, the pros and cons, as well as the overall goal. That is why we see things like the recall of over 900 incompetent teachers happening, despite evidence to the fact that they are indeed not fit for those positions.

    Nigeria seems to be on a path that leads to destruction. I hope that we can reverse this downward spiral and begin to rebuild the nation for good.

  11. Those are the kinds of teachers we have teaching our kids – the future of this country. Left to this crop of teachers who cannot properly read their certificates, these kids inadvertently become the new breed of ‘mekunus’ and here we are punishing those who dare to challenge and sanitize that system. A system fraught with incompetence and fraud.

    Personally, I think one of our biggest problem as Nigerians is our inability to analyse issues without sentiments. We almost never see things objectively and those who are capable of such are “bad/wicked people”, hence they get punished for it as was the case of Fayemi.

    Albeit bad, it is a step in the right direction. At least now, we are almost sure we have a situation of “one man, one vote”. Now we wait and see how Osun and the subsequent elections unfold to take a solid position on that. If we are able to fully surmount the menace of politicians imposing themselves on us, I believe we are well on our way to a greater Nigeria.

  12. The masses are not stupid? I’m sorry but the truth is that we are an extremely dumb population. I live in Ekiti. I shouted myself hoarse everywhere I went as I tried to explain to people the foolishness of the so called mekunu revolution. Nothing doing. At a point, some believed I was being paid. Is the civil service the only interest in a state? Is there not enough ground to sack a civil servant whose competence is demonstrably questionable? We will be in this sorry state for a long time to come. No be curse.

  13. Think Maslow’s Pyramid here. Too many people are at the bottom, and can’t be expected to reason logically/strategically until those fundamental needs are met. I think that poverty levels need to be reduced FIRST, and then we can begin to have a followership at the grassroots that can think beyond their hunger.

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  15. Very informative piece, thank you. Whao! just listening to the clip…the whole exercise was intimidating! God, why was the poor woman subjected to a public test such as this in front of many that are not any better than her?

    I wholeheartedly support the exercise as we needed education reform badly in the country but I disagree with this public intimidation of it.

    1. The flip side of the ‘intimidation’ is that she also had the opportunity of a lifetime to show she could read well. Wonder what would have happened if she had been asked questions in the subject she teaches. In any case, it was also an opportunity for the government and the teaching professionals (including their trade union leaders) to realize the need to establish structures and systems which support teachers to be the best they can. Regular supervisory support and in-service training are forms of incentives that should be explored and not just the prevalent cash rewards system.

      1. You are right. The system has no solid foundation. I went through it and it was set up so the whole institution – both teachers and students could fail. You are right, regular support system in the form of training is the key.

  16. Is there a possibility that the APC lost the elections because it was just the governor contesting? Would the results have been the same if the elections were to include the legislators since those positions are closer to the ‘mekunus’? Would all or nearly all APC candidates have been voted out?

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