By Ayo Olesin
As expected, some of those who lost out in the race to secure the All Progressives Congress (APC) ticket to contest the upcoming Kogi State governorship elections have gone all out to discredit, not just the process, but also the administration and person of the incumbent Governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello.
For any outsider looking in without being beclouded by partisan considerations, it is obvious that the emergence of Yahaya Bello as Kogi Governor in January 2016 was a simple matter of preparation meeting opportunity, which some will sum as luck.
Surely, his party leaders perceived certain qualities in Bello in handing him the ticket after the demise of Abubakar Audu. Who can fault that?
Bello, who has demonstrated, early on, an uncanny ability to weld the disparate political and ethnic cleavages that hitherto existed in the state, has been accused of maintaining a totalitarian grip on the affairs of the state, something which has been mischievously termed absolutism.
For one, any student of politics knows that in a constitutional democracy, it is impossible for an elected leader, especially of a sub-national entity, to wield absolute power like some medieval ruler. But if a leader has been able to rally massive support among his constituents, dealing fairly but firmly with issues of governance, dissent is most likely to be limited.
Under our constitution, state governors are accountable to the law, not just to themselves. Yet, that does not diminish the fact that a true leader must be in control of his environment lest he be pushed around and misled into serving the interests of just a few.
The particular point of angst is the emergence of Ahmed Usman Ododo as the party’s candidate for the November polls. Some of the losers have accused Bello of handpicking him even though a party primary was conducted in the full glare of stakeholders. Anyone that emerged from that process would have been labelled as “hand-picked” anyway. Assuming but not conceding that Bello even hand-picked him from the array of other qualified aspirants, many of whom also served in his cabinet and have held high offices even in their youthful years, including a few non-indigenes, it is nothing new in these climes. A sitting governor has a right to show an interest in who succeeds him, having the benefit of a first-hand assessment of performance in their erstwhile offices.
President-elect Bola Tinubu has adopted this strategy in Lagos and ensured continuity in the implementation of government policy and programmes. However, if the primaries are deemed improperly conducted by anyone, the remedy lies with the courts.
Now the deeper argument is that Ododo is Bello’s cousin from Ebiraland, which, in fact, has never produced a governor until Bello arrived in 2016. (By the way, Gov. Bello and Ododo are not blood relations, according to painstaking findings).
These views are being championed from Igalaland by those who want power to shift to that axis but it appears the bus has left that station as even the elite, including the Attah of Igalaland, are not in that corner, judging by the huge reception and blessings given to the APC candidate during his recent visit to Igala land. To them, what matters most is the continued development of Kogi State and peace in the land.
There are also some who believe that it is their turn to be governor on account of having held a high political office but now find themselves in the winter of their careers defined by a permanent residency in Abuja and lavish “investments” in other parts of the country rather than their home states. These characters are the ones now playing the “rotational governorship” card, using their affinity with the media to push their narratives.
That Ebiraland is having another shot at the governorship seat does not in anyway preclude others, especially the Okun, who have not occupied the seat, an opportunity.
The truth, as reinforced by the outcome of the 2023 general elections, is that power is not served on a platter. As such, politicians that have lost out at this time need to return to the drawing board and retune their strategies, rally support, perhaps in preparation for the next elections.
The same elections also point to the fact that it is indeed defeatist to assume that the APC ticket is equal to the governorship seat in Kogi or elsewhere as there are other strong contenders in that race.
In repeated attempts to discredit Yahaya Bello himself, much heavy weather has been made about Kogi being sustained by civil servants and teachers and how they have been having a hard time under his watch. This curious argument conveniently neglects the immense contributions of other members of the productive workforce, including farmers, traders, transporters, artisans and solid business concerns in the hospitality and other sectors. Are we saying now that state and local governments exist just to pay salaries and wages of civil servants, many of whom cannot state their job description in clear terms?
Bello has since the inception of his administration made it clear that the era of a government bleeding from payment of ghost workers; people working multiple jobs in other states; retired and dead persons still on the payroll will end, and it did. Of course, those enjoying such freebies would not be happy.
Regardless, it seems to me that the misinformation has been deliberate all along and people would choose to believe what they want to believe. The same workers that people say are not paid are the same workers commending Yahaya Bello for prompt payment of salaries.
In his address to mark the 2023 International Workers’ Day celebration, Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress in Kogi State, Comrade Gabriel Amari, confirmed that Governor Bello’s administration had been consistent with the regular payment of workers’ salaries. The commendation was in the papers.
Perhaps what many cannot stand is the fact that Bello has chosen to be his own man. His proven abilities as an energetic, vibrant, youthful leader may not sit well with many. His demonstrable commitment to bridging gaps within his party and the state; his loyalty as a quintessential party man; his recognition of the critical role of the youth and women in governance; his boldness in taking hard, firm decisions have been framed as exhibiting dictatorial tendencies. I disagree. These are, instead, strengths that no one should ignore.
Some have also chosen to ignore the fact that Bello took up the task to address the terrible security situation in that axis – a crucial link accounting for 80 per cent of road traffic between the southern and northern parts of the country – which, hitherto, had been overrun by highway robbers and kidnappers. By simply supplying men of the police force with hundreds of vehicles and communication equipment and other tools of the trade as well as building an internal security intelligence mechanism, relative peace returned to that state and its communities, allowing for increased economic activities and dousing social tensions.
It was under Bello’s watch that the long-standing mutual distrust, enmity even, between the three major ethnic groupings in Kogi – Okun, Igala and Ebira – was finally resolved, paving the way for closer cooperation in moving the state forward. I told a colleague during one of our heated arguments that I was sure that if Ododo had been an Igala man or from Okun, his boss would have still given him his blessings for the ticket. Having studied Gov. Bello, and judging from many of his public pronouncements, tribal affiliation will not be a determining factor in “anointing” anyone. The considerations would be deeper than that, most probably capacity to deliver and loyalty. So, those advancing ethnic theories need to relax.
Like the organisers of a recent Governor of the Year award said while conferring the honour on Bello, the commissioning of first-of-their-kind landmark projects in the state by the President was an eye opener that the public had been fed the opposite of what is happening in Kogi State for long. I went to that state recently and was quite taken aback at how some people had misrepresented certain facts over the years.
One must concede that Bello made grave errors in communicating many of his policies in his first tenure in office and has suffered a negative backlash as a result. But it would be unfair to continue to peddle the “usual falsehoods” against his administration. The good he had done should be acknowledged just for fairness sake even if you don’t like him. Everyone so concerned should hone their political skills and address issues rather than sentiments. If we list politicians with capacity to hold their own in Nigeria, Yahaya Bello will be in the top 10 category.
With now less than a year to leave office, the November poll is an opportunity to weigh Bello’s politics and the impact of his performance in office. After all, it is the electorate that will determine if his man wins or not.
*Ayo Olesin is a senior journalist, publisher and member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors*