ENTER, PRESIDENT YAHAYA BELLO

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Abdulazeez Momoh raises questions on Bello’s quest for the Presidency

After reading Eniola Bello’s typically brilliant and virtually exhaustive treatise: “Yahaya Bello: The Ugly Face Of APC” in THISDAY of Monday March 8, 2021, you feel there’s little to add to the very illuminating discourse. This is one write-up which should be read and read again by lovers of Kogi State and followers of this geo-polity. This is one state which keeps failing to realise the dreams of its people and the expectations of watchers of sociopolitical developments in the state.

You probably also read Idowu Akinlotan’s “They Too Want To Be President” on the backpage of The Nation on Sunday, of March 7, 2021. The piece so succinctly x-rays early aspirants to President Muhammadu Buhari’s job, including Yahaya Bello, governor of Kogi State, who Akinlotan notes, has comically elected himself a son of Buhari, to underscore his desperation to succeed his “father.” Nigeria hasn’t yet become Equatorial Guinea, where the father, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo is President, while his son, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mangue, is the Vice President, by the way.

Giant billboards bearing Bello’s image with payoff lines conveying his presidential bid, flash past your face as you commute on highways abutting the confluence state. In the estimation of his aides and associates, he either has transmuted from Government House, Lokoja to Aso Villa, Abuja, or he is waiting in the wings. And so they churn out billboard after billboard.

From whichever part of the trans-national highway you access Lokoja, the state capital, your sensibilities will most likely be assaulted by the naked putrefaction that confronts you in the name of urbanisation.

If you are coming in from above the Niger River, the Kaduna-Abuja road, you drive past the naval formation, NNS Lugard in the sleepy village Banda, and thenceforth to the main approach into the state capital. The area is known by residents as “Nataco,” and it welcomes you with “Oshodi-style” bedlam. You navigate man-sized potholes, striving with every turn of your car wheels, to avoid collision with oncoming vehicles. On either side of the road, trailers are parked with reckless abandon; restaurants and bukaterias, watering holes for commuters, spill into the highway; retailers of all manner of wares, man their wooden stalls constraining the road, either side of the North-South highway.

Should you be unfortunate to be on the road on a “market day,” your pace and timing will be further impeded by the buying and selling at the self-styled “International Market,” as you progress to the intersection which takes you southward towards Okene or Obajana, or left ward into Lokoja.

If you are driving northwards from the Okene-Osara or Kabba-Obajana sections of the country, into Lokoja town through the famous “Barracks Road,” you will most likely drive through an earth road, long-designed as a dual carriageway, but which remains a monument of neglect and dereliction.

Perchance your route takes you through the Ajaokuta-Ganaja-Lokoja road, popular with commuters from the South-South and South East of the country, you will have to endure a pitiably dilapidated road, further ravaged by the last rains which virtually severed the road from Lokoja on your route.

And from which ever of these three accesses you traverse Lokoja, you will be confronted by the same overwhelming spectre of abandonment; assailed by the rancid stench of decay; numbed by pervading stasis; disturbed by the prevailing despondency in a city which once hosted the seat of Nigeria’s administration, during the colonial era.

Lokoja is one sprawling dung hill, dirty, decrepit, decadent, unkempt, unplanned and a relic from only God knows where. You see evidence that this is a state that has been serially bled in those miniature traffic lights and stitched-together street lights, for which billions of naira have been voted and pillaged from state coffers.

Civil servants are perennially owed their salaries, retirees are deprived of their post-service entitlements. Once upon a time, Kogi State held the national record for the number of suicides by the depressed and despondent, who had had it to their necks with suffering and chronic lack. Yet, photographs of state-of-the-art automobiles some of which are not even available on Buhari’s fleet in Abuja, regularly pop from the car garage of Yahaya Bello.

The state indeed gained national notoriety for state-sponsored brigandage in the run up to the general elections of 2019. Kogi was the only state, where hooded armed hoodlums, strolled out of a Government House, and besieged the residence of a former governor of the state who was hosting a meeting with leaders of the opposition party, Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), on the eve of the presidential election. Dispersed by officers and men of the Nigerian Army, the brigands simply left the property they held hostage and walked leisurely back into Government House, unchallenged.

Umar Fintiri and Seyi Makinde, governors of Adamawa and Oyo States, respectively, had a taste of the thuggish bestiality which has characterised governance in Kogi State, in the past few years. Fintiri who was in Lokoja to oversee the gubernatorial primaries of the PDP in September 2019, had to be ferried to safety as snipers stormed Confluence Stadium, venue of the programme, after midnight. The votes of the primaries were being tallied at the time and an otherwise peaceful event ended in chaos. Makinde’s security aides on the other hand, had to return fire when a hotel in Lokoja where Makinde, in his capacity as leader of the PDP governorship campaign organisation in Kogi State, was having a meeting with party faithfuls, was invaded by masked characters. This was on the eve of the 2019 governorship election.

Mrs Salome Abuh, a woman politician in Ochadamu, Ofu local government area of the state was not as fortunate. For working for the success of a particular political party in her ward during the November 2019 governorship contest, her house was incinerated while she was asleep. All exits from the house were sealed by her assailants to prevent her from escaping the fire. The PDP leadership in the state, lay the crime squarely at the feet of loyalists of Bello’s APC. Such bestiality.

If the world was in any doubt about the new regime of violence and bloodletting in Kogi State under the incumbent dispensation, nothing captures the situation any better, than the viral video of young ladies simulating a chorus to the chorus of “ta-ta-ta-ta,” mimicking the rattle of bullets, immediately after the 2019 governorship polls. Put simply, the song said the election was secured by the barrel of the gun and anyone who stood in the way, was felled by the gun.

Governance today is on an extended holiday in Kogi State. Yahaya Adoza Bello on whose laps the leadership of the state fell in circumstances which have continued to confound legality and rationality, is a visiting governor in Lokoja. It wouldn’t really matter where he operates from though. The president conducts most of his official programmes these days, virtually.

Two months into the sixth year of his tenure in office, the state, gripping ineptitude, glaring lack of capacity, blatant inexperience and classic lack of vision, have continued to hall-mark statecraft.

Bello resides more in his house in Wuse District, Abuja and in the presidential suites of preferred hotels in the capital city, where he is strategizing and stridently working towards taking over the mantle of the nation’s leadership from President Muhammadu Buhari, come 2023. He has been on an extensive road show, marketing himself as the best thing to happen to Nigeria. There was a report in December 2020, that he hosted APC chairmen of all the 36 states and the federal capital territory to unveil his presidential desire and to seek their support.

The chairmen, according to a source privy to the meeting, smiled home with “Ghana Must Go” bags courtesy of the treasury of Kogi State, as Christmas hampers. If the gamble of 2015 when he came second in the gubernatorial primaries of his party, eventually threw him up following the demise of the winner on election day, who says there cannot be a reenactment of the same scenario in the march to Aso Rock?

Bello brokered a meeting between Femi Fani Kayode, a former spokesman for the presidential campaign organisation of former President Goodluck Jonathan, and the acting National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Yobe State Governor, Mai Mala Buni, in Abuja, the other day. You wonder why Fani Kayode chose to route his bid to join the APC through Bello and not Gboyega Oyetola, governor of his home state, Osun.

The presidential hopeful visited (or received in audience?), former President Olusegun Obasanjo, not too long ago. He also appointed himself peace broker between the leadership of Northern Foodsellers Association and Government, in the wake of a strike by the former, which denied the South, needed food supplies. Such is the level of media visibility Bello has garnered since he cranked the engine of his presidential quest.

In a video which trended a few days back, Bello was seen without a cap on his head, holding the microphone, during a church service, playing out a part of the campaign booklet handed over to him by his campaign team. He must be seen to be a president who respects faiths and denominations, other than his.

He granted an interview to newsmen a few days back in Abuja. He told them he has his eyes focused on the presidential ball, willy-nilly. According to him, he is under tremendous, deafening and irresistible pressure to run for the presidency. Youths, market women, the less privileged, are the motivators of his intent. According to him, Nigerians in this broad spectrum, believe he is the right person to steer the ship of state, after the incumbent. Asked if his ambition could not be impacted in the event of the zoning of the presidential ticket to a particular section of the country, he retorted that there is no going back on his presidential aspiration.

Government departments and offices in Lokoja are on vacation. The Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Mathew Kolawole has visited his colleagues in a few states, requesting their support for the aspiration of his principal. Various strata and segments of the political chain in the state have been pledging their support and loyalty, to Bello’s cause. In a state where the cheapest of stationeries for official work are difficult to come by, government appointees now know, that the easiest way to fat cash, is to arrange programmes targeted at boosting Bello’s presidential dream. Which is why former Nigerian footballers led by Austin “Jay Jay” Okocha, would be guests of Bello, not to flag off the construction of a stadium or the inauguration of a soccer academy, but to bolster the public perception of Bello.

If capacity, performance and tangible achievements are planks on which aspiration for high office should be predicated, you cannot but wonder what it is that is fuelling Bello’s aspiration. In nearly six years as governor, Kogi State fails to make the Top 20 bracket of all Human Development Indices (HDI), of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The state ranks 23rd out of 36, in healthcare services. In literacy and education, it sits at the 21st position. Kogi is at number 20, in the hierarchy of states with the highest internally generated revenue (IGR). Surprisingly, Kogi is far behind Kwara State which has fewer local government areas (16), and sits at the Number 10 spot.

In an August 2016 security advisory by the United States Embassy in Nigeria, Kogi State was ranked Number 15 of the most dangerous states in Nigeria. In an updated report by another group in December 2020, Kogi State had ascended the rungs of ignominy to the eighth position in security. These are the sterling achievements Bello will be tabling in his quest to be president.

But Nigeria is a country of possibilities. Just when you think something is unworkable, things unravel and there is an 360 degrees turn. I listened to Reuben Abati, the celebrated media personality and erstwhile communications adviser to former President Goodluck Jonathan, airing his impressions about Bello, during a recent interview on “Arise TV.” His words: “I will not vote for him. In terms of his performance so far, as the governor of Kogi State, I don’t think the argument is about age. The argument is about capacity. And the way he has conducted himself with regard to public health particularly the COVID-19 pandemic, he has not shown enough capacity or enough intelligence in my estimation.”

Abati continues: “I think we should get to a point here in Nigeria whereby we pay close attention to the leadership recruitment process. We do not just vote for people because they have ambition. We have to look for the best, our “First Eleven” should be the ones that we should encourage. I will advise Governor Yahaya Bello, yes he can put up all the posters, his posters have been sighted as faraway as Port Harcourt I’m told. And the issue is that “Oh, we need a young man, generational change in 2023.”

Concluding, he notes: “Nigeria is in crisis. We should not elect a person based on sentiments. If he has the resources, he is welcome to spend his money and to show excitement. We are told that he’s been going round visiting people. Well he has to realise that he has one major assignment which is to be governor of Kogi State. Leaving Lokoja and going to Transcorp Hilton to meet President Obasanjo or going round the country like small pox. No he should sit down and do the job for which he was elected.”

Abati has spoken as objectively and as bluntly as he usually would. His views will be shared by many who are discerning and rational, very much like Enibee and Akinlotan. Professional politicians, political contractors and operatives in the octopidal political industry, however, will set these admonitions aside, as they wait for their President Yahaya Bello.

Momoh, a Lagos-based solicitor, hails from Okene, Kogi State