EDITORIAL: Yahaya Bello’s date with vendetta politics

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If Yahaya Bello, the immediate past governor of Kogi State thought he would be enjoying some quiet time now, having served a remarkable, even if sometimes controversial, eight-year tenure in office, it appears he has been mistaken given the many headlines that have carried his name in recent days.

At the center of this unsought attention is the decision of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), to slam the charges of embezzlement of N80 billion of public funds against Bello and the tardy manner it went about it, as well as the sudden emergence of political campaign posters in Abuja, which suggested that the former governor was contesting for the position of chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).

As regards the EFCC matter, it must be conceded that there is nothing particularly new when the nation’s anti-graft agency decides to go after Nigerian public officials after leaving office. Many former governors have come under EFCC’s scrutiny long before leaving office and a handful have been invited for questioning, landed in detention, or even jailed. Some are being prosecuted at the moment. This is routine more or less.


What is not routine, however, is when the EFCC brings charges against a defendant that are patently ridiculous if not outrageous. By now, one would have thought that the EFCC would have admitted that it has no business in filing a charge for an offense said to be committed in 2015 when Bello was yet to assume office.

It is no surprise however that a raft of protests has greeted the EFCC charge and accusations are flying that there is some political vendetta behind moves to “deal” with Bello as it were, having been stripped of the immunity and trappings of power enjoyed by the typical Nigerian governor.

Those rushing to Bello’s side insist that he is simply being needlessly harassed.
Expectedly, the Kogi State government itself has dismissed the charges as laughable and that no money is missing as the EFCC has claimed.

Kingsley Fanwo, Kogi State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, who served under Bello and continues to serve under his successor, Ahmed Usman Ododo, berated the EFCC for exhibiting a failure of intellect and extreme sloppiness in preparing the charges, which he attributed to a desperation to nail the former governor on the instructions of certain unnamed political foes who have scores to settle.

Other individuals and groups have also weighed in on the situation.

The Kogi in Diaspora Association (KIDA), which says it represents Kogi citizens worldwide, escalated the matter beyond the nation’s shores by drawing the attention of the international community to what it called the “baseless harassment” of former Governor Yahaya Bello by the EFCC.
In a letter addressed to various embassies and international bodies in Nigeria, KIDA Co-Convener, Seyi Olorunsola, expressed concern about the recent accusations levelled against Bello, alleging an N80 billion fraud committed before he assumed office in 2015.
The letter, dated 9 February, pointed out that Bello lacked the authority to misappropriate such funds prior to his governorship. It further noted the dismissal of a previous case against Bello in 2021, where the EFCC accused him of laundering N20 billion, raising concerns about the agency’s motives.

KIDA said that actions such as “sensational media trials” tarnish reputations and undermine the principles of justice and fair play. The letter urged the international community to intervene, emphasizing the “significant threat” the EFCC’s alleged misuse of power poses to Nigerian citizens’ rights and freedoms.
KIDA urged the foreign missions to request engagements with the Nigerian authorities to emphasise the imperative of upholding the rule of law and protecting fundamental citizen rights.
“We implore your esteemed diplomatic offices, representing the international community and international institutions, to use your influential channels to address this matter urgently. The abuse of power by the EFCC poses a significant threat to the freedom and rights of Nigerian citizens. We believe that your intervention can play a pivotal role in preventing further unjust harassment and ensuring due process for those targeted,” the letter states.
Similarly, a coalition of civil society groups, also last week condemned what they described as “unwarranted political persecution and harassment” of Bello by the EFCC.
The groups, comprised of organisations such as the Kogi Ethnic Nationalities Union, Conscience Nigeria, and Civil Society for Transparent Leadership, among others, in a joint statement accused the anti-graft agency of engaging in a media trial of Yahaya Bello without concrete evidence.
They noted that the EFCC’s allegations revealed “glaring inconsistencies and red flags, casting doubt on the accuracy of the accusations” and slammed the agency for describing Bello as being “at large” despite not extending a formal invitation for him to address the allegations.
The groups were vehement in condemning what they see as “a broader pattern of political vendetta aimed at undermining Bello’s reputation and legacy, allegedly orchestrated by certain political figures threatened by his rising profile”. They argued that such actions not only tarnish President Bola Tinubu’s anti-corruption agenda but also erode public trust in the EFCC’s commitment to fairness and the rule of law.
Still on the same matter, the Northern Emancipation Network (NEN) said the EFCC’s actions concerning Bello were unacceptable.
The NEN Chairman, Suleiman Abbah, in a statement, expressed concern over the ongoing alleged intimidation and harassment of Governor Bello, stating that the original charge against Yahaya Bello alleged his involvement in a conspiracy to convert funds belonging to the Kogi State Government in September 2015, before Bello even assumed office as governor on January 27, 2016.
The former governor also found support in the Yoruba Youth Council, which advised the anti-graft agency to leave Yahaya Bello in peace given what it described as his outstanding performance in office.
In a statement by its National President, Comrade Eric Oluwole, the Council said that given the state government’s declarations, the anti-graft body should beam its searchlight elsewhere and leave Bello alone.
Oluwole recalled the outstanding achievements recorded by Bello, especially the newly established University in Okun Kingdom, the Yoruba-speaking part of Kogi State, the first of its type in the state.
NEN warned political actors to refrain from interfering in Kogi State affairs and to cease their campaign of calumny. “The state government has not reported any missing funds and has been recognized for its transparency and accountability both locally and internationally,” it stressed.
Given the groundswell of support Bello appears to be enjoying, the EFCC has been pushed to the defensive and will need to do its homework properly if it has any case at all.
The other prong of the assault against Yahaya Bello is not so straightforward as it is being conducted by unseen hands who are said to be invested in ensuring that Yahaya Bello falls out of favour with the top APC hierarchy, starting from President Bola Tinubu, and undermine his standing as a power broker within the party.
They are trying to create a false impression that Bello is contesting for the position of APC chairman, a position that is not even vacant and no such elections have been slated by the party for the near future.
Of course, Bello was quick to dismiss such claims as sheer mischief, which when one looks at it quite frankly, is plain childish. Needless to say, he also affirmed his loyalty to the leadership of Dr Abdullahi Ganduje, the incumbent APC chairman.
Those close to the situation say Bello stepped on many toes during his tenure as governor, especially with his decision to reject the APC zoning arrangement in the run-up to the 2023 elections and throw his hat in the ring even though the presidential ticket had been zoned to the south-west. Bello is from the north-central.
Some of those seeking his head, according to a senior APC member, have complained that Bello behaved as if he was untouchable given his closeness to the Presidential Villa. They don’t want him to enjoy similar privileges now that he is out of office, which could be used as a springboard for another choice appointment under President Bola Tinubu or even position him to contest the presidency when it rotates back to the north. They see a man who cannot be controlled.
“They want him out now, these people have a long-term view of things, they are looking at scenarios and are already defining potential allies and adversaries, they are in the Villa, it is about 2027”, the party chieftain, who is close to Bello, said.
Some Bello loyalists have also been saying that certain APC bosses are also angry that the former governor was fully in charge of the outcome of the last governorship elections in Kogi that saw the emergence of his preferred candidate, Usman Ododo. Some of these people sponsored opposition candidates against their party all in a bid to drag Bello down, and are now resorting to all sorts of underhand tactics in further attempts to rubbish him, they say.
However, that is the nature of Nigeria’s politics where memories are short and people are used and dumped.
These people have forgotten that Yahaya Bello has been useful to the APC for a long time and the party has sent him on several rescue missions. He was the one who stopped a major crisis and restored normalcy in 2021 when truck owners from the north threatened to stop bringing food to the south. He and a few others also saved the party from imploding during the crisis with Mai Mala Buni as interim leader.
Most significantly, Bello has been one governor who delivered massively on his mandate and led an era of transformation in Kogi State. He made the APC proud in Kogi and Kogi indigenes appeared satisfied with his stewardship.
Even former president Muhammadu Buhari, who was known to be spartan with praise, lavished commendations on Bello when he visited the state to commission several projects in 2022 including the first-of-its-kind Ganaja flyover project, the world-class Reference Hospital in Okene, the newly constructed Palace of the Ohinoyi of Ebiraland, ultra-modern GYB Model Science Secondary School, and Muhammadu Buhari Civic Centre, among other projects.
The coming weeks will see what direction the intrigues against Bello will play out but if his antecedents are anything to go by, Bello is a man who stands his ground. He remains well-connected and has always belonged to the Tinubu camp. He is certainly not new to controversy and crisis and he surely knows how to weather a storm.

Bello has battled rogue civil servants in Kogi, formidable political adversaries, stubborn traditional rulers and negative media campaigns and emerged unscathed all through.

He has stamped his imprimatur on state and national politics and cast his name in stone at a key player in Nigeria’s political landscape, love him or hate him.