In this piece, SAM EGWU reflects on the one year anniversary of Kogi State governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, with a view to capture the pains and triumphs of a young and energetic governor.
The creation of Kogi State in 1991 by General Ibrahim Babangida (rtd) brought together people from Kwara and Benue to form the then new state. Apart from the fact that the rivers Benue and Niger conjoin in the state, the merging of parts of Kwara and Benue also characterises the confluence nature of the state.
However, since its creation, the state has metamorphosed from good to bad and bad to good in almost equal measure. Many analysts aver that the state hasn’t scratched the surface of its enormous natural and human resource, just as others believe that the inability of the state to evolve a conscious nexus between its politics (while not undermining the impact of tribes that make up the state) and governance has been the bane of state often touted as a major tourism potential.
In his submission on the state, Oluwole Afolabi, a communications consultant, while contextualizing the potentials of the state had said, “Geographically, Kogi is the only state in Nigeria that has a very good fortune of sharing border with 10 states and Abuja, the Federal Capital. The state can benefit from the economy of proximity with the states it shares border with by serving them with Agricultural produce.
“As a confluence State, good thinking will create a huge tourism industry in the state. Revenue from Oil will only contribute a paltry 6% to the 2016 budget of the United Arab Emirates whereas Tourism and commerce will contribute more than 50%. That is the power of thinking and vision. This is possible too in Kogi and Bello has the intellect, the aptitude, the ingenuity, the presence of mind, the maturity, the brinkmanship that can make all the forces in Kogi across religious, political, ethnic and sub-ethnic divides yield the kind of salubrious atmosphere that will engender socio-economic development and sustainable growth.”
However, 10 administrators, both military personnel and civilians, have governed the state. But more significant, largely because of democracy, were the era of Prince Abubakar Audu, Alhaji Ibrahim Idris and Capt Idris Wada.
Alhaji Ibrahim Idris ruled for nine years, thanks to interruptions by nullification of election via litigations. He had dislodged late Prince Audu Abubakar, who was preparing for a second term in 2003. Audu was hailed as one of the best governors the state ever had, especially during the short spell he had in 1992 and much less his 1999 to 2003 experience.
A major burden within the period of Idris’ government was Kogi’s over bloated workforce, which remained a major concern. His attempt to get it right through an Audit firm, Sallytibott, ended in failure as the effort could not produce any workable solution to the dwindling state fund which was spent on salary of workers, while other sectors suffered.
His successor inherited the burden. Capt Idris Wada who was sworn in under controversial circumstances on January 27, 2012. Capt Wada was faced also by the same monster of an over bloated staff base in the state civil service. He also tried to manage it but could not get it right before the wind of change swept him away. While governors served under PDP, analysts have questioned the enormity of the impact of these administrations.
Then came the era of Alhaji Yahaya Bello, the incumbent governor of Kogi State under the All Progressives Congress (APC). For one, the circumstances surrounding the emergence of Bello in the political landscape of Kogi State could be likened to the proverbial cat with nine lives. Bello took Kogi State by the storm, considering his relatively unknown statue in Kogi politics ahead of the guber polls. In the APC primary conducted by governor of Kaduna State, Nasir el-Rufai, Governor Bello came second, loosing the ticket to Prince Audu in a contest that featured 21 aspirants.
But as fate would have it, Prince Abubakar Audu died before the collation was completed but he had secured a comfortable lead before his sudden demise.
The political trajectory of the state was altered somewhat in favour of Bello, who is not from the majority tribe, Igala, which has governed the state nonstop due largely to its huge population in the state. Bello, an Ebira man, was by the death of Audu, given the iconic mantle of finishing APC’s victory at the polls for the Kogi State governorship seat and emerging the first governor from a minority tribe in the state.
Certainly, his emergence as complimentary APC candidate, being the first runner up to Prince Audu, sparked oppositions, especially from within his party, as spearheaded by Hon James Faleke, who felt that as running mate to the late candidate, he ought to have been elevated to continue the battle as candidate of the party.
However, Bello being preferred by the APC national leadership, coasted his party to victory at the polls and also fortified their victory legally. He won 17 legal suites arising from how he emerged APC candidate.
As he was sworn-in on January 27, 2016, the legal fireworks raged. With the volatile nature of Kogi State, the tribunal had to shift seating from Lokoja to Abuja. Yet, the court was always filled when there was seating. From the tribunal to Appeal, Bello won and finally, the supreme court where he proved that he was ready to govern Kogi State.
Just when he was able to secure victory, he was locked in a face-off with the state legislature. His political expertise was brought to bear in stilling a rather turbulent state assembly.
But governance is beyond winning an election; it is the ability to fulfill electoral promises. Still, serving as the governor of Kogi State is not an easy job, especially with the heterogeneous tribe and different political and soco-cultural leanings. Analysts posit that it takes one with a strong heart to rule Kogi State, considering that whatever actions a governor takes to correct an abnormality is considered a declared war against another ethnic group, a situation which many say has left Kogi State behind in terms of development among the comity of states in the country.
For the young governor, the last 365 days of his administration appears to be one of proving to cynics that he can surmount mounting problems facing the state on the one hand and looking for best possible ways (taking into cognizance the potentials and realities of the tasks) of tackling the problems headlong on the other hand.
As part of putting the state safe for investors and even the citizens to sleep with both eyes closed, Bello has put security on the front burner. He had invited the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris when he dolled out 104 hilux vans to security men and para-military organisations to rid Kogi of unwanted elements in the society. Much result had been achieved from this gesture because Kogi being the gateway to FCT hosts a number of states.
In terms of infrastructural development, road construction, school rehabilitation and health care services, Governor Bello has endeavored to bridge the deficit and ensure that his entrance into the politics of Kogi State was not a fluke but an attempt to help salvage the sinking people of the state and bring them to the promised land flowing with milk and honey.
Bello did not achieve the feat of salvaging the people of Kogi State from the absyss of collapse with kid gloves. He stepped on toes where even angels fear to thread. He took the volatile issue of staff screening with youthful energy and dedication, while also preparing for the worst. Those who were regarded as sacred cows were brought to book for the benefit of Kogi indigenes and children yet unborn. Though the screening exercise has generated a lot of controversy, the ‘white lion’ of Kogi as he is fondly called was never scared of taking up the challenge his predecessors could not deal with.
Recall that he had expressed so much passion in tackling the plight of civil servants in the state, having served as one before. Last year, Bello pointed out that all sorts of tricks were devised by previous administrations to short-change Kogi State workers. The worst is, of course, the scourge of ghost-workers. Thousands of non-existent ‘workers’ paid from Kogi State coffers, thus bringing it under undue strain and leaving the real workers either totally unpaid or only receiving meagre percentages of their wages.
“I am a former federal civil servant. I was never owed salaries during my time in service. When we came into office, Kogi workers were already on strike for at last 6 weeks, and we’re fed up with the then PDP government’s kleptomania, lack of transparency and disastrous policies. It hurts me that a so-called government could receive all federal allocations due to it and still finds the heart to leave workers unpaid,” he lamented.
He said his administration would be different and remain committed to improving the lot of workers by eliminating every scheme in the system designed to exploit and cheat. He said the ghost-worker syndrome was an evil his administration was committed to eradicating forever.
“No more will people sit in Pay Offices and fabricate thousands of names, add them to the nominal roll and siphon Kogi State resources with them on a monthly basis. No more will people sit down in Lagos, Abuja, even abroad, and receive bank alerts for salaries from the Kogi State Government,” he stated.
The screening process has since been concluded and despite attacks from those opposed to the coming of a new order, the governor has remained focused. This however is tied to the bail out fund amounting to N20bn which he was able to secure approval for from the Central Bank of Nigeria.
Nonetheless, the expectation for Bello’s administration is to set Kogi on a pedestal of greatness, where the natural and human potentials of the people will be fully maximized.
The venue of the one year anniversary directly opposite the memorial cenotaph were the new Revenue House commissioned yesterday is located attracted people from all works of life who thronged the venue, making movement through the popular Post Office a herculean task.
Speaking with LEADERSHIP weekend at the occasion, an indigenes, Abdulmalik Suleiman said that, since assuming office Governor Bello, did not leave anyone in doubt in the state that there was going to be a departure from the wasteful past and politics of retrogression that had eclipsed the state for long and at the same time retarded her progress.
He opined that that though the process and procedure for the staff screening greatly affected genuine workers, the sacrifices made during the period are today beneffiting the workers as they keep getting their salary.
In another development, Comrade Daniel Ola Adinoyi, past immediate president of Judiciary Staff Union (JUSUN), Kogi State chapter described the first year of governor Bello as eventful, noting that the governor has united the three major groups in the state through the appointments he has so far made without ethnic bias.
On his part, Hon Yusufu Andasi noted that Bello has established a situation where the Ebira man, the Igala man and the Okun man can sit comfortably together and relax, as against what it used to be.
A House wife, Madam Theresa Abdul, while speaking with our reporter in Lokoja yesterday, said, “I like the way the Governor Yahaya Bello has equiped the security agents in the state. Though issues of kidnapping and armed robbery have not completely stopped, I think that if the security personels are serious with the empowerment given to them by the government, peace and security will be restored in the state.