Another Bailout for Bello

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Lekan Fatodu

How Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State handles the great opportunity accorded him by the Supreme Court of Nigeria to continue to direct the affairs of the Kogi people will determine how the youthful governor’s name will appear in Nigeria’s political history.

On Tuesday 20th September 2016, the country’s apex court validated Bello’s mandate as the democratically elected governor of Kogi State after protracted legal battles between Bello, a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC) party and the former deputy governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the November 2015 gubernatorial election, James Faleke, on one hand, and a former governor of Kogi State, Idris Wada on the other.

While Faleke had approached the court to challenge the legality of the nomination and eventual election of Bello as the All Progressives Congress’ (APC) candidate for the governorship election in the state, Wada, the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) flag-bearer had sought the court to contest primarily the validity of Bello as a substitute to the former governorship flag-bearer of the APC, Abubakar Audu, who unfortunately died before the conclusion of the elections in which he had taken an early lead.

Faleke had argued that his name should have been submitted naturally and legally as the replacement for Audu being the deputy governorship candidate to the deceased while Wada submitted that he should have been declared winner of the election given that the 21 days period allowed for the substitution of a new candidate had elapsed before Audu’s death. Wada added that Bello was ineligible as the new governorship candidate of the APC in the December 2015 rerun election on the grounds that Bello did not satisfy the requirements of the electoral law.

But all these arguments, having gone through the electoral tribunals and appellant courts, have finally been dismissed by the apex court for lacking in merit and insufficient to invalidate Bello’s election as the duly elected governor of Kogi State. This I believe must have come as a massive reprieve to governor Bello. Because an opposite judgment from the Supreme Court would have significantly altered Bello’s political hopes and the socio-economic condition of Kogi State which is most paramount.

But the questions in the mouths of many are: how well has Bello really fared since he took over saddle of leadership in the state? And now that the highest court in the land has given him the ultimate assurance that he can comfortably occupy his exalted seat without apprehensions over any legal oppositions to his emergence as governor, will there be any improvements in his performance?

Going by what has been observed and the words emanating from many concerned individuals in Kogi State and beyond, there is no assurance that Bello will not handle this coveted legal reprieve in the same manner he has been widely reported to have mismanaged the financial bailout given to his state by the federal government.

Following the hardship and outrage caused by non-payment of workers’ salaries in the state and other states of the federation, the federal government had approved a 20 billion naira bailout to Kogi State, being the first tranche of N50 billion applied for by the state government to clear salary arrears of the state and local government workers. Yet the signs of poverty and deprivation amongst the workers of the state are as apparent as they were before the federal government’s financial intervention.

Workers owed salaries which range from two and six months have not ceased to groan. This, according to some of the affected individuals, have hindered them from meeting their financial obligations to their various families, with some of them compelled to a single meal a day instead of the minimum conventional three-square meals.

And in all of this Bello’s government seems to have found outrageous acquisition of official cars as more vital than the welfare of the people of the state.

Or how would one describe the use of a whopping $12 million, as widely reported, for the purchase of vehicles for a retinue of aides, commissioners and other political appointees of the governor by the state government? In a state where majority of the populace are struggling to live on less than $1.25 a day, it is an outlandish misplacement of priorities.

Here is a state that can favourably compete with the top states in the country considering its location on the map of Nigeria. Kogi’s relative proximity to the seat of power, Abuja, makes it a potential economic and commercial hub in Nigeria. With good governance and focus on infrastructural development, urban regeneration and modern agricultural pursuit, Kogi can be a model for development in the 21st Century.

But, as it were, that state, ravished with poverty, hunger, infrastructural decay and official profligacy remains an example of all that is wrong in this modern age.

It is however not too late for Bello to buck the trend. The validation of his gubernatorial mandate by the Supreme Court should be a solid bailout for him to re-cast his approach to governance and lead his people to enviable heights. Bello, 41, is expected to show creativity and vigour synonymous with youthfulness as seen in young leaders in other democracies.

Now is the time for value-driven governance so his time in government will not be documented as that of an opportunist who got to power on a silver platter only to smash the platter and purpose.