By Tunde Olusunle .
Yahaya Bello, the governor of Kogi State, loves to make issues of everything. Just everything.
When he became governor in very controversial circumstances in January 2016, he prided himself as the youngest governor ever in Nigeria’s political history. His publicists, uninformed as their principal, joined in blowing the flute of falsehood.
As if this same country didn’t once produce an Ali Sa’ad Birnin-Kudu as governor of Jigawa State, way back in 1992. Birnin-Kudu was barely 30 years old when he was democratically elected on the platform of the erstwhile Social Democratic Party, SDP, in December 1991. He was in office between January 1992 and November 1993, when Gen Sani Abacha, sacked that dispensation and installed himself Head of State.
Debonair, suave and brilliant Donald Duke was less than 38 when he became governor of Cross River State in 1999. By the time he left office in 2007 after two eventful terms, Duke was just 46!
Yet the young Donald Duke laid the bedrock for the contemporary renaissance of Cross River State. He repositioned agriculture; rediscovered tourism; rejuvenated urban development and made Cross River the cleanest state in Nigeria. He built the Tinapa Resort to boost commerce and investment in the state. The annual Calabar Carnival and the Obudu Mountain Race which have become international brands were products of the young and visionary Donald Duke. It is a measure of his statesmanship, that Duke, on behalf of the federal government, hosted the erstwhile Liberian President, the tempestuous Charles Ghankey Taylor, between August 2003 and March 2006, in the aftermath of his ouster from office as President.
The British Broadcasting Corporation, BBC, reported nearly a decade ago, that Duke was one of the very few Nigerian serving and erstwhile governors, not under any form of investigation by Nigeria’s anti-graft agencies.
Like everything contentious and controversial about him, Yahaya Bello claimed different ages when he became governor. First, he was 40, which was no big deal, especially since younger people had held such office elsewhere and excelled. When he was interviewed during the 57th independence celebrations a few months back, he said he was ‘twelve years younger than Nigeria.’ So he confirmed he had been lying about his true age all along.
Recently, Yahaya Bello has been telling Nigerians how he visits Aso Villa every day, notepad in hand, to take lessons in leadership, from President Muhammadu Buhari. He says aside from the President’s immediate family, he can wake the man up from siesta, whether or not his doctors advise to the contrary, to ask questions about what next he should be doing in managing Kogi State.
You wonder whether the lessons he has been taking include that of inflicting untold pain and hardship on the people he should be governing in Kogi State, where people have not been paid salaries for over a year now.
You wonder if the lessons he has been receiving, include freewheeling, unaccountable spending, just the way the various tranches of the Paris Club Refund and the regular monthly statutory allocation to Kogi State, have been swept away by the harmattan waves of River Niger.
You wonder if his regular tutorials encapsulate absolute insensitivity to the plight of the talakawa, the vulnerable mass on whose back his mentor rode to victory in the March 28, 2015 presidential election.
Give it to this President, he has demonstrated tolerance and accomodation, unknown to the pre-2015 Gen Muhammadu Buhari. Irrespective of the invectives thrown in his face by his critics, notably Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State and his media adviser, Lere Adeyinka, President Buhari has not attempted to remove Fayose or any governor critical of his administration from office.
But here we are in Kogi State and the state government is orchestrating the ouster of the senator representing Kogi West Senatorial zone, Dino Melaye. Even if his constituents have their issues with him, it is not the responsibility of the state government to initiate his removal on behalf of those who voted him in, in the first place.
You actually wonder if Mr President has been teaching him how to dodge missiles and satchet water which are regularly hurled at him at every other public appearance in various parts of Kogi State, because of the seething global resentment for him and his style of governance.
He surely has taken a vital lesson though, from President Buhari, in ensuring that Kogi State becomes a free-range grazing ground for cattle, in a milieu when other states are enacting anti-open grazing laws. And he has assured dissenting traditional rulers that they risk losing their royal stools.
Did you notice just how low and despondent Kogi State has degenerated under the regime of Gov Yahaya Bello?
The highest rate of kidnapping in Nigeria, takes place within Kogi State territory. Either on the Abuja-Lokoja stretch of the federal highway; the Okene-Lokoja; the Okene-Kabba; the Lokoja-Obajana; the Lokoja-Ajaokuta; the Ajaokuta-Ejule; the Ejule-Ankpa, or other routes in the state, the story is the same.
You must have heard that Kogi State under Bello is a functional police state. You disagree with government and you are hurled into the Government House gulag, superintended over by the Chief of Staff to the Governor. Ask Austin Okai, the social activist, among others. There has been a suggestion that the administration actually funds a hit squad which takes care of perceived antagonists of the government.
Under Yahaya Bello, Kogi State is not in a hurry to shed its toga of Nigeria’s most constrained and dirtiest state capital. The place is just not growing, the vision of the founding fathers, eternally stymied. It is a contemporary testimonial of arrested development.
Lawlessness has been elevated to an executive pastime under Bello’s watch. Whenever the governor feels ignored by his constituents who seem to have developed a thick skin to his juvenile tantrums, he tests his gubernatorial powers on the federal highways. You don’t want to be on the road, driving by Lokoja, on a day Yahaya Bello has business in Okene or Kabba. The two sides of the expressway, from the Abuja approach and the Okene end, are blocked and barricaded by outriders and security vehicles, to allow his majesty, the emperor, drive through in royal splendour. If you ever thought the late Abubakar Audu was a bully on the highways, don’t pray to be on the road at the same time with Yahaya Bello.
President Muhammadu Buhari presents his budget to the National Assembly and recognising the seriousness and formalness of the occasion, a major state event, something of a ‘State of the Union’ address or an appearance before the United Nations General Assembly, his aide-de-camp is decked in his ceremonial dress. Not the regular work-day dress or military fatigue.
About the same time Yahaya Bello is presenting the 2018 budget to the State House of Assembly on Thursday December 22, 2017, Governor Simon Lalong is undergoing the same ritual next door to Kogi in the North Central State of Plateau. His ADC, a police officer, is adorned in his ceremonial dress.
In Kogi State, however, the business of governance which has typically been reduced to a job-for-the-boys preoccupation for jesters. So Mr Yahaya Bello strolls into the State Assembly and because of the levity and unseriousness with which everything is handled under this government, the ADC equally comes behind him in plain clothes! Please get a playback of the video… To an event that is perhaps the single most serious annual function, which commands the presence of all arms of government in the hallowed chambers of the parliament! I hope the police authorities have sanctions for such misconduct.
Are these the kind of lessons Yahaya Bello is taking from President Muhammadu Buhari? What manner of student is he?
Under Yahaya Bello, the rule books have been holistically rewritten. The Office of the Deputy Governor has been bifurcated. There is Deputy Governor I, a position occupied by the self-styled, all-powerful Chief of Staff to the Governor, the erstwhile young bank staff with minimum working experience, Edward Onoja. He is in direct competition for power and authority with Yahaya Bello, cruises around in a convoy of exotic cars, ever accompanied by a retinue of gun-wielding, trigger-happy goons. His word is law and he tells anybody who cares to listen, that he is ‘a twin brother’ to Yahaya Bello. When Bello is commissioning his palatial mansion which pops up like an oddity in the rural, indigent, aesthetically depraved landscape of Okene in Kogi Central, Onoja is equally performing tape-cutting rituals in Kogi East, as the de facto Deputy Governor that he is.
The constitutionally recognized Deputy Governor, who is Deputy Governor II, Simon Achuba, is consigned to poring over newspapers and following national and global events on satellite television in his office, a shouting distance from the Governor’s. He’s rarely seen, perhaps in his local church on select occasions, never heard, because he cannot be seen to be in competition with the recognized ‘twin brother’ to his principal. He has absolutely no view on any issue and is never consulted by the Governor.
If the supposed substantive Deputy Governor is so relegated in the scheme in Kogi State, you can imagine the trauma and perpetual humiliation of the Secretary to the State Government, Dr Arike Ayoola. If Gov Bello is attending a function and the Chief of Staff is expected at the same function, protocol officers in the new dispensation reserve a place on the high table for the Chief of Staff, while a backrow seat, in the same sitting area with aides of the Governor, is kept for the SSG!
And Yahaya Bello has been taking lessons from President Buhari. He watches the snippets from the federal executive council meetings every other Wednesday on television and sees the sitting arrangement: Mr President at the head of the conference circumference; flanked to his immediate right by the Vice President, who in turn is flanked by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation; before the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation; before the National Security Adviser; before the Chief of Staff to the President. I hope I’m correct. The first three positions are recognized by law, while the Chief of Staff is personal to the Chief Executive.
But in Yahaya Bello’s Kogi State, disorder is order; order is disorder.
This is what we get when Nigeria’s electoral laws are interpreted to instal someone who never canvassed for votes, as governor of a state. Kogi State is the first example in contemporary political history of an appointed Governor of a State as socioculturally diverse as Kogi State.
And what does he bring to the table with quantum inexperience?
That will be talk for another day.
●●Olusunle is a Member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE; the Association of Nigerian Authors, ANA and the Association of Communication Scholars and Practitioners of Nigeria, ACSPN.