BY SHAKA MOMODU
An enfant terrible dwells in the Lugard House and Kogites are in big trouble. His name is Yahaya Bello. He is exercising the mandate of a dead man. In reality, he didn’t win an election but became the governor by some judicial sleight of hand. Those of us who thought that the circumstances of his rise to power would humble and motivate him to achieve positive progress have been bitterly disappointed. It appears those circumstances have only served to motivate him to underperform and to sting anyone who crosses his path or criticises him for his poor leadership.
Again, for those of us who are staunch advocates of a generational power shift to bring energy, dynamism, innovation and fresh ideas to governance, the likes of Bello being in position of leadership should have been a notch up for our struggle. But what do we get? Bello has become the mocking reference of that struggle, and for good reason, by those who want the status quo to remain. Irrespective of how he rose to power, many were willing to give the young lad a chance to turn the page for Kogi people. But three years down the line, the daily stream of news coming out of Kogi State leaves one with a sense of melancholy and bewilderment.
One can only watch, mouth agape, with incredulity at how a 43-year-old man can be so utterly bereft of ideas, manifestly irresponsible, wholly incompetent, and unbelievably callous and insensitive to the plight of his people. His performance as the governor since he was sworn into office in January 2016 is to say the least underwhelming which is in direct contrast to his advertised high-flying resume bristling with success and charity. It sadly undercuts the argument of advocates of a generational power shift. For Kogi people, it seems there is no endearing distinctiveness from previous administrations. Bello is showing no urgent desire to break with past mismanagement of the state and write a new positive chapter for Kogi people.
He has a promising mien, but it merely hides a lurking dark menace. He has a contemptuous manner and a style of governance that riles your senses; a frightening lack of tact and consideration that holds traditional good governance values in contempt. He loathes the people and workers he governs. His vision and mission, it now appears, is not to develop the mineral-rich state and leave a lasting positive legacy, but to wreck the state and inflict lasting damage on the psyche of his people. From his missteps so far, it is clear that he is on track to achieving his narcissistic desires at the expense of the people. While he is busy building opulent grandiose castles in Abuja and Kogi for himself, his workers are committing suicide daily because they can’t afford to feed their families.
Many of us were taken aback when Bello declared a public holiday to mark President Muhammadu Buhari’s return from his 103-day medical stay in a London hospital about two years ago. That action was beyond comprehension. It was the height of irresponsibility and a monument to foolish sycophancy. That the enfant terrible of the generational power shift closed down the economy of the state just to mark the president’s return from abroad amounted to grand lunacy.
He has embraced all the dangerous proposals from Aso Rock, from cattle colony, to Ruga, etc. just to please the powers that be. He once called on Fulani herdsmen to head down to Kogi that he would provide land for their colony project. It didn’t take long after for them to visit their reign of terror on Kogites.
In January 2018, a day after Benue State buried 73 of its citizens massacred by Fulani herdsmen, Yahaya Bello alongside some other governors in total contempt of the mood of the country went to Aso Rock to plead with Buhari to seek a second term. It was one of the most insensitive moments that heralded Buhari’s ultimate declaration to seek another term.
On substance, it is difficult to see what this young man has achieved in the last three years plus in office. Bello is deliberately unwilling to meet the most basic obligation to workers in the state. At the moment he owes state civil servants several months’ salary arrears. He got a N48 billion bailout to pay the salaries of workers but instead of paying them, he diverted the money to other purposes, according to a group by the name Egalitarian Mission for Africa (EMA), which wants the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to probe the governor. The group had alleged that N912 million was paid from the Kogi State’s infrastructure account to AG Vision Construction Nigeria Limited “as part payment for the construction of Agasa-Ukpogoro road, a fictitious non-existent project”.
Bello’s reluctance to pay workers is evidenced by the several committees he set up to carry out endless verifications and audit of workers in the state’s payroll and another committee to review the reports over a prolonged period. About four verification exercises have been carried out since Bello assumed power, and yet, he has failed to pay workers their entitlements. There is confusion about the classification of civil servants in the state at moment. There is the ‘cleared list’ and the ‘uncleared list’. Then of course there is the ghost workers’ list which Bello uses for political purposes. While he is auditing workers whom he pays peanuts, no one is auditing his massive and wasteful expenditure to run government alone.
Again, as Kogi civil servants and retirees wallow in pain and hunger, Governor Bello is displaying nauseating opulence. Back in August 2017, the story was about his newly-completed Abuja mansion. The arrest of a state civil servant, Johnson Musa, for exposing the Abuja house is still fresh in our memory. Musa was later dragged before a Chief Magistrate’s Court in Lokoja for allegedly threatening Bello and revealing his Abuja castle. This bold civil servant took the aerial pictures of the massive residence and posted them on social media, with the caption, “This building is owned by an individual in Kogi, where hunger is the first name, in less than one year.” Musa was arrested by men of the Department of State Services on the prompting of the state’s Ministry of Justice. The prosecuting counsel, Mohammed Abaji from the state Ministry of Justice, alluded to this. This young man stood against corruption. I hope genuine patriots and human rights lawyers were able to save citizen Musa from the governor.
In December 2017, Bello launched another state-of-the-art mansion, this time, in his home town of Okene. The posh building was inaugurated with pomp and circumstance, during the Ekwechi festival in the town. The Ohinoyi of Ebiraland, Alhaji Ado Ibrahim, was around to personally inaugurate Bello’s latest castle situated along Mahmoud Atta Street, GRA, Okene. This talk about this governor being a successful businessman before his foray into politics is nonsensical. The pertinent question is: Why display so much opulence amid poverty?
In this state, civil servants have been seething for almost two years over huge unpaid salaries. Many retirees have lost their lives waiting for gratuity and pension. Some died on their way to multiple screening – huddles placed before them by Bello just to earn their legitimate pay. Kogi has repeatedly been in the news for all the wrong reasons since the emergence of Bello as governor. This young man is just NOT getting things right in Kogi, mainly because of his specious exuberance. I doubt if any governor has inflicted this much pain on civil servants in particular and the people of the state in general. His endless staff audit has become a convenient alibi for owing salaries and pensions.
The disbursements of bailout funds by this governor have also not been transparent. The instruction of the federal government was that 50 per cent of the funds should be used to pay salaries, pensions and gratuities. This has not been the case in Kogi. Instructively, the state chapter of the Nigeria Labour Congress led by Onu Edoka has refused to allow Bello’s impunity to go unchallenged. Edoka remarked in recent reports: “Workers in this state have suffered total hardship since the coming of the present administration. Over 70 per cent of workers cleared during the staff audit are yet to get salaries of between 17 and 20 months. Despite the huge money collected by the state government in the last 20 months, it is a pity that workers are not being paid by Bello.” He also wants Bello to explain to the people of the state how he spent N38 billion, comprising bailout funds, the first tranche of Paris Club refund (N12 billion) and the second tranche (N6 billion).
If the state’s wage bill is about N2.9 billion, as confirmed by this governor, then N38 billion is more than enough to pay the salaries of these workers for 12 months. This is aside Kogi’s monthly allocation from the federation account. Bello has a lot of questions to answer about the state’s finances. The NLC must continue to pile pressure on him until he yields. Bello has just announced that his administration has received a fresh N30.8 billion bailout from the Federal Government. NLC should not relent, and keep an eagle eye on the money and ensure it is judiciously used to the benefit of the people.
I am particularly pained by the persistent mess in Kogi because Bello ought to be representing the youth who are “Not Too Young to Run”. At 43, Bello is the youngest governor in Nigeria. I was expecting him to prove to cynics that Nigerian youths are capable of managing sensitive political positions. But the reverse has been the case. This young man in Kogi State has not fared well. Today, I am urging youthful Bello to deeply reflect on the numerous crises bedeviling his state and strive to change his style of leadership. If he is genuinely interested in the progress of the state, he must prioritise the welfare of civil servants and pensioners, because this is a “civil service” state.
It is a shame that the huge bailouts and Paris Club refunds were not transparently utilised by Bello to ameliorate the sufferings of civil servants. This governor must urgently make amends to reduce tension in the state. The peace-loving people of this state must stand up and be counted in the battle to checkmate Bello. This is clearly not the change Nigerians voted for. They should not be under the illusion that the debacle in the state will simply vanish with time. It will be a risky and criminally-negligent presumption.