By Debo Alabi
Sunday March 14, 2021, marked the first anniversary of Hope Uzodinma, of the All Peoples’ Congress, APC, as governor of Imo State. Exactly a year before this date, the Supreme Court of Nigeria had invalidated the ticket of Emeka Ihedioha of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP, who was Uzodinma’s predecessor.
As is customary in Nigeria’s wasteful political culture, the Uzodinma administration rolled out the drums in commemoration of the event. Nigeria’s Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo; Ekiti State Governor and Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, Kayode Fayemi and the Caretaker Chairman of the APC, Mai Mala Buni, Governor of Yobe State, were in attendance. Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi and his Kogi State counterpart, Yahaya Bello, equally made it to the event.
From the Dan Anyiam Stadium where the event was held, through the Government House Owerri Banquet Hall where guests were feted, the programme dragged till the wee hours of the next day.
At 3am in the morning of Monday March 15, 2021, the convoy was still on the road to Lokoja. We have not been availed his official itinerary for that Monday morning to know why it was so compelling, so important for him to travel at that time of the night.
There was no consideration for the fact that drivers who drove in the governor’s convoy from Lokoja to Owerri the previous day, logging about 500 kilometres on Nigeria’s deathly roads; policemen and operatives of the Department of State Services who kept vigil on the road trip and through the various programmes in Owerri, are humans. There was no thought that these people could do with a little rest, even a shower to refresh and reinvigorate themselves. They couldn’t as much as advise their principal, Yahaya Bello, that night driving, irrespective of the security architecture, particularly in a country like ours, comes with its peculiar challenges.
And so, the homeward trip from Owerri to Lokoja proceeded. Drivers, eyes reddened from cumulative stress, yawning at every turn; security personnel, dozing off intermittently even as they tried to focus on the road, went through this harrowing journey between the South East and North Central in the dead of night.
All through this trip, a police outrider rode ahead of Bello’s convoy first from Lokoja to Owerri, and now from Owerri to Lokoja. He was a regular fixture on Bello’s trips. He entertained the excitable young governor with stunts and acrobatics on these movements. He has featured in video clips on the social media, standing full length on the seat of the power-bike, while the motorcycle cruised on autopilot. He has been seen dancing, swaying and swinging on the motorbike at various times.
Neither Mai Mala Buni nor Kayode Fayemi, governors of Yobe and Ekiti States, came with outriders from Damaturu and Ado-Ekiti. Not even Dave Umahi who came in from across the road in Abakaliki, needed one to complete his gubernatorial apparachik. Yahaya Bello, who fancies himself as President, Commander-in-Chief in-waiting, was the only visiting governor, who came to Owerri with an outrider.
Aminu Salisu was a favourite of Bello. It has been suggested that Salisu was attached to the presidential escort in Abuja, but had an arrangement which made him feature regularly on Bello’s trips. Indeed, Bello’s entourage was incomplete without this official entertainer who was regularly rewarded with handouts. Reports indicate Aminu Salisu was a police inspector.
On this fateful night, the deep-in-the-night trip from Owerri, began to catch up with Salisu on the homeward stretch. Fatigued, with bloodshot eyes, he tried to keep a brave face as much as possible. He was said to have switched his bike to the “autopilot” mode, in Ajaokuta, host community of Nigeria’s moribund steel complex. Reportedly, nature got the best of him at the last roundabout in Ajaokuta, leading to Lokoja. It was too late for him to switch to manual mode, as the bike somersaulted several times, inflicting him with severe injuries.
The convoy was compelled to stop. People on the entourage rushed to recover him even as he was rushed to the Kogi State Specialist Hospital, Lokoja. Sadly, Aminu Salisu didn’t make it.
Hopefully, Governor Bello will send a delegation to visit his family. He is too busy with his presidential quest to make out time to empathise with the family of a young man who died helping to feather his exuberance and oversized ego. The family will be given an envelope bearing N1millon for immediate needs. The delegation will dust their dresses as they depart. And that may be the last they will hear from Bello.
Sources in the police high command, rate Salisu quite highly. He is described as one of the very best outriders in the force. He loved the job. He loved the uniform of the service. His loss is described as very painful for a young man with a promising career.
Aminu Salisu may not be as lucky as Ali Gomina, a police inspector who died in March 2020, on the Abuja airport road, while escorting the convoy of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. Gomina rode in broad daylight, by the way, but died, unfortunately. Osinbajo compensated his community, Gui, in Abuja, with a six-room classroom block and his family, with a three-bedroom bungalow.
Those who understand the workings of the intelligence and security services, know that the wellbeing of personnel is crucial. Those familiar with institutional history and have followed developments in the state over the years, recall that Colonel Paul Omeruo, was military administrator of Kogi State, from November 1993 to August 1996. As a senior army officer and a member of the Artillery Corps for that matter, he had a formidable escort team of soldiers and personnel of the State Security Services, SSS. Omeruo served at a time in our recent history, when the country was very secure. General Sani Abacha was Head of State and the uncompromising dictator that he was, internal security was paramount on his agenda. You were not likely to find Omeruo’s official convoy on the road anywhere, beyond 9pm.
It was not out of fear, but out of commonsense. As a battle-tested soldier, Omeruo knew the inherent dangers which lurk by nightfall. Again, he wanted everyone around him to catch requisite rest and wake up with a clear head and be refreshed and set for the next day. If he had to visit Lagos or Maiduguri or Sokoto, it had to be by air. The advance party to receive him at the other end, must have left at least a day before him so they are settled in and rejuvenated. His successor, Colonel Bzigu Afakirya was not any different. He cared about the wellbeing of his staff. Afakirya was of the Armoured Corps of the Nigerian Army.
Abubakar Audu who had two stints as democratically elected governor, but who unfortunately, passed away on the cusp of a third odyssey, never compromised the security of his aides as well. He knew the quality of his output and performance as chief executive, was predicated on the wellbeing of those around him.
Between Governors Ibrahim Idris and Idris Wada, safety was the watchword in the course of their trips during their stints in office. Did Wada for instance need any prompting to be extra careful after incidents of near fatal mishaps in his official convoy, one of which kept him in hospital for several weeks?
Intelligence and security agencies which provide personnel to serve state chief executives and similar very important personalities must take more than a passing interest in what their employees do and what they are subjected to in the name of service to these principals. The Nigeria Police Force, NPF, once upon a time, withdrew some of its men deployed to serve the high and mighty, for reducing themselves to virtual serfs in the employ of these people. Some policemen had been further redeployed from their original principals, to serve their wives and concubines, bearing their bags for them and scrambling to open car doors. Some security personnel have been drawn into squabbles between their “Ogas” and other political a dversaries, such that they are deployed to intimidate and terrorise such opponents. This is gross abuse which must not be tolerated in any way.
There is no explanation whatsoever, for a governor or whoever, who is privileged to be provided security by the state, to endanger or imperil the lives and wellbeing of those assigned to work with them, in whatever guise. Such operatives and personnel must be able to face their bosses and tell them home truths.
Why didn’t the aide-de-camp, ADC, or chief security officer, CSO to Governor Yahaya Bello walk up to him to tell him about the dangers of night travel? Are they just “yes men” who are incapable of speaking up? I’m told some people who function in these capacities are there for the crumbs from the tables of their masters, who cannot be talking while eating. Why couldn’t the governor request for accommodation for his entourage, so they could catch a little rest ahead of the outward trip?
This is the same Yahaya Bello who wants to be President over and above nearly 200 million Nigerians. Is he already giving us a hint about how unfeeling, how insensitive and how inconsiderate his regime will be, if he ever catches a whiff of the cologne of that office? When was the last time he heard that President Muhammadu Buhari was on the road at 3 a.m. for any reason? Who is he trying to impress by this murderous bravado?
People in positions of authority must be made to understand that they are working with human beings, with blood flowing in their veins, and not robots or zombies who are to be controlled at the touch of a button. This way, we will avert more fatalities like that of Aminu Salisu, who went ahead of his time.
* Alabi, an indigene of Kogi State, lives in Lagos
Kogi: And Aminu Salisu died
By Debo Alabi