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Fayose declares presidential ambition, likens himself to Trump

On Tuesday Ekiti State governor Ayo Fayose put himself forward as a candidate for president under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).  Many see him as a rabble rouser with no chance of moving into the presidential mansion at Aso Rock in Abuja.

Fayose may lack the intellectual capacity for the job, he may lack any discernible achievements in his two terms as governor (still owing state employees months of back pay), he may even lack enough support within his party to win the nomination, but he is not lacking in confidence.  Remind you of anyone?

The man himself reminded Nigerians on Twitter of another presidential candidate that was dismissed by the establishment and the punditocracy.

At least Fayose has some experience in government, which Trump didn’t have when he ran.  But there are many similarities between the two.  They both sharply divide opinion.  They know how to fire up their base and know how to play the populist game.  There is also little substance to their bluster.  They also have history of trouble staying on the right side of the law.  Fayose’s finance commissioner was arrested on Thursday by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) allegedly for misuse of bailout funds.  Lawyer and activist Femi Falana said recently that the EFCC “is already waiting” to arrest Fayose once he finishes his term next year.

Trump was alleged to have links with the mafia, who helped him make billions in the construction and casino industries.  There are reports that investigations into the Trump campaign’s links with Russia will reveal how Russian mobsters used Trump’s real estate business and casinos for money laundering.  Trump famously refused to release his tax returns when he was a candidate.

But the smell of corruption didn’t stop him.  Fayose is banking on the same Teflon-like qualities.  Conventional wisdom states that Fayose’s bid shouldn’t be taken seriously and this may well be part of a grand plan to avoid the long arm of the law.

But very few banked on a Trump victory.  Very few also expected Muhammadu Buhari to defeat incumbent Goodluck Jonathan for the Nigerian presidency two years ago.  An election is usually a referendum on the ruling party.  Trump played on disaffection with the neoliberalism of the Barack Obama eight years, that saw jobs shipped abroad and living standards plummet, to defeat an apostle of neoliberalism in Hillary Clinton.

Fayose is borrowing from the same playbook of disaffection.  And he is tweeting furiously like Trump.

The Ekiti governor knows how to play the game in Nigeria, from the buying of voters with “stomach infrastructure”, to rigging, to using photo-ops to burnish his man of  the people credentials.

“Stomach infrastructure” for Ekiti voters and it works

He has already made much play of the fact that his children study in Nigerian universities  – unlike much of the Nigerian ruling class, including the incumbent president. Someone who worked on Kayode Fayemi’s failed reelection campaign against Fayose in Ekiti State told that Fayose won fair and square. He said the Fayemi camp underestimated Fayose’s appeal to “the masses and the grassroots”. Many Nigerians and most especially Buhari and his handlers shouldn’t make the same mistake.  The man is already warning of what he is capable of.

A “President Ayo Fayose” may be very unlikely, but stranger things have happened.  Controversial boxing promoter Don King was fond of saying that his rise to prominence was possible “only in America”.  Many think similarly that a Trump becoming president could only happen in America.  Fayose could pull off a comparable feat in a free vote in Nigeria, regardless of his own dodgy record in office.


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