KOGI, BELLO AND CHRISTMAS CAROL

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Kogi State disabused the minds of many by building a chapel of Christ in Government House, writes Phrank Shaibu

“Go and say to My servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Are you the one who should build Me a house to dwell in? ‘‘ 2 Samuel 7:5

No doubt, the celebration of Christmas Carol at the Kogi State Government House in Lokoja on Saturday, December 21, 2019 came as a surprise to many. This is because some persons had tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to portray Kogi as a Muslim state. There are also those who had tried to wear the toga of a Muslim fundamentalist on the incumbent Governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, especially as the last election was approaching. But, the false narratives crumbled with the carol.

The Kogi State Government, on that Saturday night held its maiden Christmas carol service at the new Chapel of Peace and Unity built by the Bello administration. Before then, the Government House only had a mosque, thereby sustaining the false narrative that Kogi was a Muslim state.
Interestingly, GYB, as Bello is popularly called, is the eight chief executive to preside over the state since its creation 28 years ago. Four of the CEOs were Christians, while the current governor is the fourth in a string of Muslims to rule the state in successive order. Yet, none of the predecessors considered it appropriate to erect a chapel or even organise a Christian activity like the carol within the precincts of the government house.

So, Saturday’s event was undoubtedly very significant as it was the first time the event was held since the state was carved out of the old Kwara and Benue States on August 27, 1991.

In his goodwill message, Governor Yahaya Bello thanked God for the privilege to build a house of worship for God, saying he welcomed the worshippers with “overwhelming joy and a deep sense of satisfaction.” Represented by his deputy, Edward Onoja, the governor noted that the significance of the chapel was not only in its purpose as a place of worship for Christians, but also as a symbol of “unity, access and inclusion”.

“When we did the ground breaking ceremony for this lovely edifice on 22, July, 2019, we promised to finish the work in December. Thank God for His help, it was not only finished, but in use.

“I thank the Christian Association of Nigeria in Kogi and at the national level for standing solidly with us in the actualisation of this project. It is my prayer that God will bless CAN and continue to increase its capacity to positively influence good governance, peace and righteousness in Nigeria.

“We are grateful to God Almighty for His gift of Jesus Christ, which is the reason for the Christmas season; and we thank Him for His help and presence, which we are celebrating tonight,” Bello said.

The governor solicited the prayers, intercession and support from the Christian community and, indeed, the entire people of Kogi.

“We promise to deepen these virtues, in our second term, until Kogites will be known as Kogites first, before tribe or tongue or social class come to mind. Once again, I welcome us to this first ever service in this beautiful edifice.

“It is also double honours for us as tonight is a Christmas carol service in honour of the birth of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, the One Who made the ultimate sacrifice to save mankind”.

The state’s CAN chairman, Dr. John Ibenu, commended the governor for the gesture, adding that the message of Christmas was that of the love of God to mankind. Ibenu said God gave Jesus “to take away our sins,” while emphasising that the current happenings around the world were indications and assurances that Jesus was coming again and about to come.

The pioneer chaplain of the chapel, Pastor Henry Asarapo, lauded the governor for the gesture, saying the building of the edifice could only have been by the hand of God. He prayed for the Next Level manifestation of good and greater things to come to Kogi. Dignitaries at the occasion include: Speaker of Kogi House of Assembly, Mr. Matthew Kolawole; Secretary to the State Government, Dr. Folashade Ayoade; and Head of Service, Mrs. Deborah Ogunmola, among others.

This is the first time a chief executive of the state will be openly admitting and embracing the multi-religious status of the state. His predecessors merely lived in self-denial. GYB, on the other hand, displayed uncommon courage by going all the way, in a bold move to solidify the peace and religious harmony that the state has enjoyed during his tenure.

However, we must not fail to place in proper perspective, the supportive role played by the Deputy Governor, David Onoja in conceptualizing and seeing the project to its conclusion. Indeed, many have postulated that it is the love that Bello has for his deputy, formerly his Chief of Staff that led to this noble initiative.

First, as friends, and now as governor and deputy, the love tango between Bello and Onoja is unparalleled in Kogi and Nigeria’s political history. Not even the threat from some Igala leaders for Onoja to disown Bello before the recent second -term election could separate the two gladiators. Instead, the deputy governor has continued to be unflinchingly loyal to his boss, who in turn has reciprocated with unblemished affection.

Ultimately, it is the resolve by Bello and Onoja to accept their religious differences and instead forge a common friendship, brotherhood and solidarity that resulted in the building of the chapel and organization of the first carol. Both men have a rich lesson to teach Kogi people and indeed Nigeria at large!

Shaibu wrote from Abuja