Nseobong Okon-Ekong discusses the re-election bid of Governor Yahaya Bello with his chief strategist, Senator Smart Adeyemi, who is also preparing himself for a decisive senatorial contest in Kogi State
The impression outside is that the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Kogi State is going into the 2019 governorship with a disadvantage by giving its ticket to Governor Yahaya Bello. Is this a correct assumption?
As far as this election is concerned, more than ever before, a good percentage of the opposition are decamping daily to APC. These are card carrying members; former councillors and former chairman of local governments. They are decamping to the APC. When the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had its governorship primary, crisis engulfed the party (PDP), 28 of them are in court against their candidate. I will not even say that they have a candidate. The candidate is still subject to court ruling. All their foot soldiers are decamping to our party. It will be a miracle if they have 25% of the votes. The PDP is in a mess in Kogi and it emanated from the primary election they had, when armed men suddenly came and started shooting. I have heard them blame it on the All Progressive Congress. If they want to know those who committed that crime I can identify them. Let them go to the Nigerian Police and tell the police to give them a profile of each of those guys that contested that primary election. You will have an idea of people who have criminal tendencies and all that, it’s just logical. The fact of the matter today is that more than ever before in Nigeria, politics is now synonymous with integrity. People want to ask, where’s that person coming from? What’s his background? That will give you a better idea on what to expect from that candidate before you give him your mandate. When they had that primary election, they didn’t collate on the spot. If my experience from election cases is anything to go by, I can tell you that when election is contested and you didn’t do collation and announce results right there on the spot; you waited till the next day, then you had an inconclusive primary election. There’s no other way about it, legally speaking. There was no official announcement from them saying they are going to collate in a particular place. But that is the headache of the PDP. Look at the margin with which the governor won in the primary election. Some people say the result would have been different if every card carrying member of the party was allowed to vote. That means they don’t even know the politics of Kogi State. The majority is APC and they are solidly behind Bello. Whether direct or indirect primary, Bello would still have won convincingly.
A candidate goes for re-election, usually on the strength of what he did in the first tenure, but the impression about Governor Yahaya Bello is that he has not done much?
That is not true. In this era of social media, it’s possible for somebody to look for 20 unemployed people and put them on social media and they will have about 10 different lines to malign anybody or pull anybody down. You will reading so much and may be convinced that it’s an army. When Bello came on board, he did what others didn’t do. He came out with a determination to reposition the state. He did that by looking at the problems confronting Kogi, and one of them was institutionalized corruption. Under the past PDP administrations, anybody that’s said to be a stakeholder was placed on monthly allocation, they do nothing, they contribute nothing. I wasn’t part of that, I refused to be part of it. Bello came and said all these must stop. Successive heads of local government, wrote names of their relations on the payroll. The workforce of Kogi was permanently on increase without a corresponding productivity. Bello stepped on toes and these persons made efforts to frustrate him. They started castigating him. Under Bello’s administration, we are more united than ever before. Even in siting of projects, under Bello it’s a different ball game. Bello is trying to put in place political economy structures that will move the state to the next level. We have a dam there constructed 40 years ago, it was Bello that went there and said this is good for investment and put up a rice mill there. It will produce about 1000 bags of rice every day and employ about five thousand people. Why won’t I support that kind of a person? They say he didn’t do anything, it’s not true. Those governors from East and Central senatorial districts, Ibrahim Idris, Wada were in power for 13 years, they could not bring electricity to their communities. Yahaya Bello is the one electrifying their communities. As for roads, there are so many roads in different communities that he’s building. He’s not able to communicate all these because they had a problem, a misconception of Nigeria. I will confess to you he made some mistakes. You cannot tell me as a politician that you don’t want to make much noise, democracy is all about noise making. Kogi state government has a Bureau of Information, but not a Ministry of Information. There’s no Commissioner of Information. That accounted for the huge blackmail against the governor. He believes in, ‘let my people be satisfied with what I’m doing, I don’t have to do propaganda.’ He was fighting corruption and corruption was fighting him back. Most of this publicity you are seeing is just bad publicity from people who feel that’s the only way to attack him.
You have been with him for long, why didn’t you call his attention?
At first, people were sceptical of me, because I left the PDP to join APC. They needed to take their time to study me. I was equally being careful so it won’t look like I had an agenda. But I did mention all these things when I came on board, I said, ‘look propaganda is part of the job.’ It’s part of a democratic system of government. It’s a two way thing. You must do the talking. Apart from Abubakar Audu, I don’t think any past governor has done half of the projects Bello has done. I’m not saying we have done extremely well, because we are not perfect, all I’m saying is that this government is far better than all the previous governments in Kogi state, except for Abubakar Audu who came to lay the foundation.
Why do you allow yourself to be associated with a man who has been painted black and much scandalized?
I discovered that all that has been written about him were not true. When people talk from the angle of their opinion which they are entitled to, you don’t need to fight them. Whatever you say will have to be investigated. When you take that into consideration and you appreciate that this is a democracy, you can say anything you want to say as long as you’re not defamed. You know what they are saying is not true, you don’t bother much. I have read about the killer squads. How will he sponsor a killer squad to kill the people he governs? That’s how weak the opposition is. You don’t break a clay pot with an AK47.
If the governor wins his re-election, you will have to deal with accusation of rigging against the APC and INEC. How will you deal with that?
There is a billion naira rice mill project located, within that location they cultivated 800,000 hectares of rice plantation and built a five ton per day rice mill, which provides 3000 direct jobs. If sold at the minimum price of N15000 per bag, it will give the Kogi State government N30 million daily. Bello has procured 100,000 hectares of land for youths who are interested in large scale farming. When you’re building the economic base of a state like Kogi, it makes sense to start with agro allied projects. Kogi is the only state in the country that has nine states bordering it. When crime is committed in any part of Kogi, you don’t even know where the criminals have taken off to. This government has demolished many hideout of criminals in the state. There’s no where they can hibernate.
The court has ruled in your favour that fresh election should be held in Kogi West senatorial district. You also have the task of supervising the re-election campaign of Governor Yahaya Bello, is your attention not divided?
No. It’s an assignment that’s interwoven and complements each other. It’s the same party and don’t forget that the governorship election covers the entire state. My own is just one third of the state. I was appointed the DG because they came to a conclusion that I have a large followership, more than anybody in Kogi West. When I was in the senate, I touched so many lives, more than anybody that has served Kogi as a senator.
Why were you rejected in the first place?
I wasn’t rejected. I felt we should obey the law. In this country when you want to be honest people want you to look foolish. Some people are inherently dubious. How do explain a situation where an aspirant goes to the court before the election and demanded that collation should be done at the senatorial headquarters. After the election, while we were winning with over 30,000 votes, we went to meet at the headquarters which was the order given by the federal high court that Dino Melaye went to. He was the one that sought the judgement. It was handed over to him. Will anybody go against a decision in federal high court? In Nigeria, anything is possible. While we were waiting, they took the back route, stopped in a bush and changed the results, then went to Lokoja and announced. As a law student, I thought I was following the law, but they never showed up that day. The unfortunate thing is that Nigeria has been so embedded with corruption that it’s assumed everybody is corrupt and when you try to do what is right, you will stand alone and you start asking yourself if you’re normal. That’s why people like Dino could become a senator in Nigeria. In many nations of the world before you come to the upper chamber, you must have an antecedent. You must have excelled in your career but toda,y boys from the street who never worked anywhere are the people you see representing us. Dino doesn’t have a record of service anywhere or excelled in any chosen career. But this is a society where anything goes. People of questionable character occupy positions of trust. It’s really unfortunate.
Has INEC fixed a time for the fresh election in Kogi West?
Very soon, it depends on INEC. They can ask you to go the field next week. They can announce the date anytime. The people know the candidates. I have served them for eight years. I have built markets, executed boreholes in my community. I built between 20 and 50 lock-up stores for women free of charge. I built the township stadium in Kabba that can sit about 50000 people.
What do you think your opponent is likely to use against you in this election?
There’s nothing to use. When you have performed well no one needs to tell you. I gave out over 400 vehicles so that they can have a means of livelihood. The joy of being in politics is to touch the lives of people. I don’t know whatever any politician wants to use against me, apart from me being blackmailed that my investment are not in Kogi but in Kwara. I have no regrets for that. That’s where I started life. When I put up my hotels there I never knew I was going to be a senator. I’m satisfied I served my people well and I’m not in doubt they will return me. It’s good to experience two persons; then you can compare. The people can’t compare me to Dino. Is it in how we carry ourselves or our language of communication? Very few Nigerians will say they are proud of Dino as a senator.
He’s not able to communicate all these because they had a problem, a misconception of Nigeria. I will confess to you he made some mistakes. You cannot tell me as a politician that you don’t want to make much noise, democracy is all about noise making. Kogi state government has a Bureau of Information, but not a Ministry of Information. There’s no Commissioner of Information. That accounted for the huge blackmail against the governor. He believes in, ‘let my people be satisfied with what I’m doing, I don’t have to do propaganda.’ He was fighting corruption and corruption was fighting him back. Most of this publicity you are seeing is just bad publicity from people who feel that’s the only way to attack him