Yahaya Bello and the Perils of Power

Olusegun Adeniyi

It doesn’t surprise me that the former Governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello, is now a fugitive from the law. Any discerning person would know that the man who bullied the people of his state for eight years is simply a coward. Four years ago, I wrote the following words after Bello was re-elected for his second and final term in office. “While the body bags are still being counted in Kogi State, with fresh killings even after the results have been declared, Yahaya Bello is back as I predicted,” I stated in the opening paragraph to my November 2019 column, following his re-election marred by several killings. “I watched him (Bello) on television yesterday and he couldn’t even spare a word to condole the families of those who died. So, to the people of Kogi who will have to endure another four years of purposeless government, please accept my commiserations.” 

An Association of National Accountants of Nigeria (ANAN)-certified accountant, Bello worked with the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) from 2001 (after his mandatory NYSC) until he retired into transport business and politics. He joined the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) of Muhammadu Buhari, who would later become president. Elected governor in November 2015 without even being on the ballot (he inherited the votes of Abubakar Audu who died before the results could be announced), one would expect Bello to be humble. But for eight years, he behaved as though he was above the law. In fact, he saw himself as the law. He repeatedly told appointees that in his own dictionary, ‘loyalty comes before efficiency’.

 Under Bello’s stewardship, every election in Kogi State was like war. In a video that went viral before the 2019 gubernatorial election, Bello’s female supporters were threatening his opponents with gunshots. Ahead of the 2023 election, there was another trending video of Bello where he said: “I will personally light a fierce fire in my hand. Whoever want it, we shall use it to burn them, whoever survives it will thank God… Whoever is against us, we will make him or her (to) join my mother and lie with her (my mother) in the grave.” By that video, according to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) spokesman, Debo Ologunagba, Bello revealed himself. “From his outburst, Nigerians now know the individuals who engineered the gruesome killing of many of our citizens including the PDP Woman Leader in Kogi State, Mrs. Salome Abu, who was burnt alive in her house in 2019. Also, Nigerians now have more insight into the disappearance of Hon. Adelabu Musa, the PDP Chairman in Okene Local Government Area for over three years now,” Ologundana said in a statement released at the time.

Ordinarily, the impeachment process is guided by unambiguous laws as to how it could be prosecuted. But not in Kogi under the ‘White Lion’ who held the three arms of government in his firm grip. On 20 October 2019, Bello illegally terminated the tenure of his deputy, Simon Achuna, using his cronies in the State House of Assembly and a compromised judiciary. The then Chief Judge of Kogi State, late Justice Nasir Ajanah, empanelled an impeachment committee in line with section 108 of the 1999 constitution (as amended) to investigate allegations against Achuna by lawmakers. The committee reported back that there were no verifiable grounds for impeachment and consequently returned a verdict of not guilty. At Bello’s insistence, the same Justice Ajanah, whose panel acquitted Achuna of any misconduct, performed the swearing in of David Edward Onoja (to replace Achuna) as Deputy Governor!

For eight years, Bello projected the image of a tough guy, apparently because he misunderstood the real meaning of power. Acting under a purported resolution by the State House of Assembly in October 2022, the former governor deployed armed thugs to seal the Dangote Cement Plc in Obajana. He claimed that Kogi State owns the plant and resorted to self-help in what appeared a not-so-subtle attempt at a shakedown. After much damage had been done, the company was reopened following the intervention of the federal government.

The litany of misdeeds by Bello, who combined hubris with narcissism, is quite extensive. During the Covid-19 pandemic that led to a lockdown in most countries across the world, including Nigeria, the former governor insisted there was no such health challenge in Kogi State. When Justice Ajanah died at the Gwagwalada COVID-19 Isolation Centre in Abuja and had to be buried at Gudu cemetery in compliance with the COVID-19 burial protocol set by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Bello was livid. He said the Kogi Chief Judge died of natural causes, and not of anything else as is “being insinuated by certain persons for political and mischief purposes”, while describing Covid-19 as a ‘hoax’.

Meanwhile, Bello has a criminal case with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) regarding double registration in both the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and Kogi State. “Following reports of the alleged double registration by the governor of Kogi State in the on-going Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise, the commission set up a panel of investigation into the involvement of staff in the matter. The initial report submitted by the panel was referred to the Appointment, Promotion and Disciplinary Committee, which made recommendations to the commission,” the INEC National Commissioner & Member, Information and Voter Education Committee, Mrs. May Agbamuche-Mbu, announced on 14 December 2017. “While the governor of Kogi State currently enjoys immunity from prosecution, the commission took the following decisions in respect of its own staff: Summary dismissal of two staff for acts of gross misconduct, immediate and compulsory retirement of an electoral officer for acts of gross misconduct.”

So serious was the matter that on 28 February 2018, the Senate mandated its Committee on INEC to investigate. “The governor of Kogi was involved in double voter registration and weeks after, INEC confirmed that by sacking three of its staff,” Senator Mohammed Hassan said in a motion that was unanimously adopted. “It was reported that he (Bello) was issued another Temporary Voter Card (TVC) at his Okene ward.” Then Senate President, Bukola Saraki, explained the gravity of the matter: “The issue you are talking about is one that is important because the stability of our democracy depends on the credibility of our electoral process. It is something the INEC committee should investigate and report back to the Senate.” Despite the indictment, Bello claimed that if anybody was engaged in double registration, it must have been his ghost. Now that he no longer enjoys immunity from prosecution, the law must find that ‘ghost’ and hold him to account. 

Readers may argue that the foregoing has nothing to do with Yahaya Bello’s case with the EFCC. That is true. I am just not interested in that drama of corruption. As I have always reiterated on this page, fighting corruption requires proper investigation that will lead to trials and convictions. It’s not about telling tales in the public. In the instant case of Bello, the only evidence of corruption that is credible is the one presented in a court of law. Not at press conferences. In November 2017, then Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, established the Corruption and Financial Crimes Cases Monitoring Committee (COTRIMCO). In its report, the committee said of the EFCC: “Offenders are charged to court before proper investigations of the charges are done, and afterwards, expecting the court to detain such alleged offenders till conclusion of their investigations”.   

I am aware that the former governor and his nephew, Ali Bello (currently the Chief of Staff to the incumbent Governor Usman Ododo) and two other accomplishes are being accused of laundering a total sum of N80,246,470,088.88, belonging to Kogi State. The allegations may well be true. But he will not be the first governor to be so charged. A former governor of Zamfara State, Bello Matawalle (around whom EFCC staged a similar drama last year) is now a member of the federal executive council! So, this intervention is not about how Bello fiddled with the resources of Kogi State and his hide-and-seek game with the EFCC. It is about the perils of power for politicians who behave as though there is no tomorrow. The question that arises is, why do the Yahaya Bellos of this world thrive in our political system?

Since early last year, I have been working on a book regarding 25 years of unbroken democracy in Nigeria. Despite my best efforts, it is not likely to be out till the end of this year or early 2025. The reckless abuse of power is one of the issues I am interrogating since those who abuse power have no qualms about looting public funds. We must wonder why a constitutional republic continues breeding so many rudderless apprentice emperors who rule with impunity, fiddle with public funds, violate the rights of the very citizens they were elected to govern, and literally run amok with power. 

But it is not all negative. The strength of our system lies in the chilling lesson that after the wildness of uncontrolled power comes a return to sanity when the cloak of absolute immunity yields place to the cold reality of common ordinariness. By his action, Yahaya Bello has suddenly come to terms with the full implications of that reality. What he has failed to understand is that he cannot continue to deploy the services of his successor, Usman Ododo, to shield himself. I am sure there is an expiry date to that relationship between the godfather and his godson as we have seen in numerous states over the years. 

Overall, I fail to understand why Bello is on the run. If he is well advised, he could surrender himself to EFCC followed by drummers with his ‘Ta ta ta’ female supporters as cheerleaders. With enough resources to hire as many Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) as he wants, I am sure Bello would spend not more than a few days in Kuje before he walks free. A ‘Lion’ (white or black) should not regress into the rascality of behaving like a weather-beaten chicken in a bid to frustrate the law and evade accountability.

A Worthy Example for Yoruba Obas

The ten-minute BBC Yoruba interview with a former United States-based wrestling legend, who is now Oba James Oladipo Buremoh, Aroko Ola Ajagungbade 1, the king of Idera community in Kwara State, has continued to generate considerable interest. In the video clip, the man renowned in the past as ‘Ladi the African Tiger’, told the story of his emergence as king, and the initial pact with his people which included allowing him to spend six months annually working in the United States and returning home to spend six months. Working for a tour firm as a bus driver as revealed in his interview with the American National Broadcasting Company (NBC) displeased some Nigerians who felt that he was denigrating the traditional institution. “At this point, Safiu Olaniyan, the Nigerian Consul in the United States had to douse the tension by letting everyone to understand that there’s dignity in labour,” he recollected.

For someone who spent most of his early life in the United States, it is remarkable that Oba Buremoh (who in 1978 defeated American Mike Hayes for a World Wrestling title) speaks impeccable Yoruba. The traditional ruler said as of the time he ascended the throne in 2003, only one of his children had completed secondary school and he had to train them without depending on government or anybody. So, he opted to continue working in the United States while ploughing his savings back home. Let me take some of the story from the traditional ruler: “You can ask my children. They know I don’t buy clothes. I don’t buy anything for myself. I prefer to lack than to see people around me in dire need and suffering. Whatever money I made abroad, I was bringing home to spend on my family and Idera community. In the past, kings were seen as the lord and master. Nowadays, I think they should be seen as servants instead.”

The Oba, who returned home fully in 2019, continued: “That is the way I see myself. I am a servant and I say this all the time to my people in Idera community. Instead of directing or forcing people to take up a task during any community work, I always lead from the front. I remember the day we were building our primary school. It was a joint project with the government. I personally paid our own share of the counterpart funding while the government paid the rest. On the day of the foundation laying ceremony, I was the first to start work at the site. The chiefs tried to prevail on me not to join them in working but I declined. Like a labourer, I picked up a digger and I participated fully from the beginning to the end. Whenever I start any work in the community, nobody would sit down while I was working. This way, we have been moving together in the community over the years with a strong conviction that there’s a clear difference between a boss and a leader. A boss demands respect while a leader earns it.”

In the BBC clip, the royal father could indeed be seen in a t-shirt and denim shorts, working with other men within his community. For me, he is a worthy example of what any leader, especially any traditional ruler, should be. Unfortunately, in Yorubaland today, most of the people being elevated to the throne believe it is all about overdressing in some gaudy apparels and gallivanting all over the place rather than serving their people. Many also do not have other means of livelihood and do not present themselves publicly as worthy examples. That was not the way it was in the past when we had a Timi in Ede, Oba John Adetoyese Laoye, who was not only a drummer-king, dancer, and cultural icon but also globally renowned for his craft even as a traditional ruler. 

At age 78 in 2012, the Awujale of Ijebuland, Oba Sikiru Adetona—who will be 90 next month and has been on the throne for the past 64 years—enrolled to study Law at the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN). “Age cannot be a barrier to learning for me. It is what I desire and I assure all of you that I will study very well and come out of the university in record time without fail,” the Awujale said at the time while joining 200 other students at NOUN’s Awa Community Study Centre, in Ijebu North Local Government area of Ogun State. With that, the revered Ọgbagba Agbotewole II, an accountant, sent a strong message to his people on the importance of education.

Let me say here that there are many traditional rulers in Yorubaland today who are worthy of their thrones. Recently, there was a trending video of Oba Oyewole Oyediran playing the organ and conducting a choir of the Cathedral Church of St Paul, in his Sagamu town, Ogun State. That is a royal father indeed! And many Nigerians know that even as the Orangun of Oke-Ila, Oba Adedokun Abolarin still pursues his passion for education to the benefit of his people. Unfortunately, this class of traditional rulers is not in the majority, hence the need for soul-searching. Being a traditional ruler is a high calling. I am delighted that Oba James Oladipo Buremoh recognises that.

To the Aroko Ola Ajagungbade 1, ki ade pe l’ori, ki bata pe l’ese o!

• You can follow me on my X (formerly Twitter) handle, @Olusegunverdict and on www.olusegunadeniyi.com   

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