By Abiodun Nejo:
The year 2017 Christmas celebration was a difference for children in Ekiti State. The Oke Bareke Government House Grounds, Ado Ekiti, was a Mecca of sorts when children from nooks and crannies of the capital city alongside their parents, particularly mothers, besieged it to receive free Christmas clothes which the Governor, Ayodele Fayose, had provided for the kids.
It was at the occasion of the official flag off of the Children’s Christmas Clothing Programme which no fewer than 20,000 kids from different parts of the state are to benefit from free of charge as part of the governor’s effort to celebrate the Yuletide with them.
Since that day, Governor Fayose’s Children’s Christmas Clothing Distribution team which Fayose, the Apostle of Stomach Infrastructure, himself leads has been moving from one community to the other to share the clothes to the younger ones amid fanfare.
For fabric traders, tailors and petty traders dealing in tailoring materials, it is brisk business as their trade boomed suddenly seeing them smile to the banks. While the fabrics were bought from local traders, 250 tailors engaged for the sewing were busy with the business at designated centres across the state. However, the governor did not mince words in telling the benefitting children the need for them to impress it on their parents to vote for his deputy and preferred Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate for next year’s governorship election, Prof Kolapo Olusola, for continuity of the programme and excellent education policies among others. When Fayose first hinted on a television programme in Lagos that he would extend his “Stomach Infrastructures programme” to children in Ekiti State in a special way this Christmas by clothing no fewer than 10,000 of them, the promise was received with mixed feelings. While some people who believed the governor was only “fond of dignifying poverty” and could not give beyond “tokenism” was only playing to the gallery since words are cheap, others were desirous of seeing how he would do it as a man of his words at least he had during Christmas last year showered gifts on children in Ado Ekiti.
Speaking further on the Christmas clothing, Fayose had initially said 10,000 indigent children between the ages of one to 10 years would benefit from the dress made from Ankara, Guinea brocade and kampala fabrics and that it would be on first come first served basis, but later increased the figure of beneficiaries to 20,000 children on seeing the excitement on the part of the children and their parents.
The governor had during a meeting with tailors in Ado-Ekiti, said 250 of them would engage in the sewing and distribution of the clothes (buba and sokoto for males and gowns for females), promising that he would buy 100 sewing machines to complement those to be used by volunteer tailors during the exercise, adding that the 100 sewing machines would later be given out to tailors through a transparent balloting process.
Fayose reminisced: “When we were young, we always looked forward to the Christmas and New Year festivities that at least our parents would buy clothes for us. But with the prevailing economic situation in the country, some parents may not be able to do that and we feel we can help to bridge such gap.
“The exercise is part of our Stomach Infrastructure Programme and we have to take care of the needs of our people and make them happy. Also, it is a kind of financial empowerment for our people as we are buying all the materials here. We are also going to give the volunteer tailors some stipends during the exercise. At the end of the exercise, some of the tailors will go home with sewing machines,” he said.
But the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state said the programme was an alleged plot to defraud the state, saying the Christmas Cloth Project, like the Fayose administration’s failed stomach infrastructure, “is another deceit to siphon public funds to his private pocket at the expense of Ekiti people, particularly the workers, pensioners and the children that are now being taxed by the administration”.
APC State Publicity Secretary, Taiwo Olatunbosun, said: “It is sheer greed, wickedness and callous insensitivity to Ekiti people’s plights for Fayose to refuse to address doctors’ strike in the public hospitals over unpaid salaries while other workers remain unpaid for between six and nine months but he is planning and talking of buying Christmas clothes for 10,000 Ekiti children just because he wants to make money”.
Olatunbosun, who lamented that “tens of hundreds of Ekiti indigenes, old and young, are dying in Ekiti hospitals for lack of medical services as a result of the governor’s insensitivity to the immediate needs of our people over non-payment of doctors and civil servants’ salaries and pensioners,” said “it is high time Ekiti people, workers and labour leaders opened their eyes and minds to Fayose’s deliberate deceits before majority of our people end in their early graves.
“Fayose should pay the salaries, pensions and gratuities of the parents of those children he is planning to buy Christmas cloths for to allow them perform their parental roles instead of the governor buying cheap cloths at exorbitant costs, more than half of which will end up in private pocket as we had during NULGE and Teachers’ Day celebrations”.
Muslim youths in the state under the aegis of National Council of Muslim Youth Organisations (NACOMYO) corroborated the APC, saying: “Ekiti State Government should be more concerned about fulfilling her duty under the law, which includes that of prompt and adequate payment of staff salaries. In this way, parents will be able to make adequate care and provision for their children”. NACOMYO State Coordinator, Alhaji Tajudeen Olutope Ahmed, in a statement, took a swipe at the governor over the kids’ Christmas clothes, saying: “The resources of our commonwealth should not be made for the patronage of only a section or religion, we posit that the duty of providing dresses for children is fundamentally that of parents and not government”.
Ahmed, who viewed the Christmas clothing project as elevation of Christianity religion, said elevation of one religion over another was “unacceptable and a breach of Section 10 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) which stipulates that “the Government of the Federation or of a state shall not adopt any religion as state religion”. The NACOMYO leader, who said the group was not opposed to any form of child welfare or development, contended that as Christians look forward to Christmas and New Year, Muslims also look forward to id-el-maulud or id-el-fitri, hence “as the governor of all, he is expected to patronize both Christians and Muslims in equal measure.
“It is on the basis of the above that we hereby call on Governor Fayose to suspend his planned celebration of Christians and Christianity during the forthcoming Yuletide period.
“In the alternative, if the governor is determined to go ahead with his planned provision of Christmas dresses, he should disclose the budget to the public and be ready to expend the same amount during the forthcoming Muslim festival. This is the justice of the matter”, NACOMYO stated.
But Fayose was quick to tell opposition of the programme that the children Christmas clothing was targeted at giving the kids particularly less privileged the sense of belonging during the festive period.
According to the Governor: “As a government, we must be seen to be caring, not by mere saying it but by practice. Part of our duty is to give our kids a sense of belonging. We are bound to provide some happiness for them at a yuletide such as this.
“We are providing Christmas clothing for over 20,000 of our kids now. We will raise it to 100,000 by next year as I am very sure the next governor will come from my party, PDP,” Fayose said.
He seized the opportunity to advocate inclusion of children’s welfare into the management of government at all levels, saying that every tier of government must endeavour to concretely cater for the needs of children, especially children of the less privileged.
Some of the kids and parents of those who benefited from the gesture, are quie appreciative with the governor for being concerned for their needs, saying that it was the first time ever a governor would be so concerned about the children of the less privileged as to provide Christmas clothing for them.
Parents, including Mrs Omolola Adewale and Mrs Rashidat Ogunleyefrom Ado Ekiti, expressed happiness at the gesture which they described as “very good and heart-warming,” praying that Fayose intent to become President would come to fruition “so that he can cater for more Nigerian kids this way.” Similarly, Mr Samson Adio, one of the tailors engaged by the government for the exercise, who said he had realised N16,000 from the numbers of clothes he sewed in the last two days, praised the Governor as the exercise provided him money to buy food stuff.
Mrs Idayat Ajewole, a textile material dealer, thanked Governor for buying the materials from the traders in Ekiti instead of going to Ibadan or Lagos, saying: “This is our own governor, who cares for our well being”.The Patron of tailors in Ado-Ekiti, Mrs Omodele Famuyibo, lauded the governor for the initiative, saying: “With the economic crunch in the country, many parents are incapable of buying clothes for their children during the Yuletide season and this is a helping hand from the governor. May God bless our governor and take him to higher heights.”
Also, the Chairman of the Tailors Association, Mr Aderemi Jimoh, was full of praises, saying: “Fayose is not only helping the children, he is empowering and helping us too. How many people come to sew clothes nowadays? We are happy that we won’t just sit down idle during the festive period as we will have work to do too”.
However, as Christmas is around the corner, the benefiting children are looking forward to it so they can don the clothes while their parents cannot wait to see their wards in the governor’s gift.