The Governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello, is a study in controversy and likes to hug the limelight.
He is not one to shy away from issues that may place him at cross-purposes with the norm and such storms place him in the news, sometimes for the wrong reasons.
He has had his own fair share of run-ins with politicians from his state, including his famous spat with former Deputy Governor Edward Onoja, who he unceremoniously removed from office amidst allegations of age falsification and embezzlement, and his mortal enemy, former Senator Dino Melaye.
The controversies surrounding Bello seem like something out of the classic politician’s playbook, with many believing he creates some of these issues out of nothing to make himself relevant in the scheme of things.
He has been accused of massive looting of Kogi treasury, and using state funds to build a palatial mansion for himself.
Another controversy that rocked Bello was when he was accused of double registration by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the run up to the 2019 gubernatorial election in Kogi.
Bello has also been accused of kowtowing to the Presidency and always doing the biddings of President Muhammadu Buhari, at the detriment of the state, as well as mortgaging the future of Kogi for his 2023 presidential ambition.
Often acclaimed as the youngest governor in Nigeria’s fourth republic, the 45-year-old accounting graduate of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, could be said to have come with a lot of baggage which aptly summarizes his persona as the good, the bad, and the ugly.
But in the face of all these, Bello has always portrayed himself as the cat with nine lives, the victim who is being vilified for nothing, and the young man who is hated because of his gregarious traits.
So, how does Bello sit in the eyes of most Nigerians? We attempt a classification, drawing from all the literature around him, some having shown him as a brat, sometime a clown, and a confused patriot.
Bello the outlaw?
In 2020, a human rights group in Kogi State accused Bello of looting the state treasury when he allegedly made a transfer of N8 billion using a proxy named Abdulsalami Hudu, from State Statutory Revenue Account between January and December 2018.
In the petition, the group said investigations had revealed that the proxy was an operator of a Bureau De Change.
Breaking down the transfer, the group said different tranches of funds were transferred in installments into Hudu’s account over a period of time and were all traced to the governor.
Though Bello vehemently denied the transactions and threatened to sue the group, nothing was further heard of the allegations and there were rumours that the case was, once again, swept under the carpet after a meeting with the group leaders, an indication that there could have been a settlement of some sort.
Also in 2016, Bello was once again accused of diverting N10 billion he allegedly received for the state from the Federal Government meant for local governments.
This allegation was made by the Executive Director of the Centre For Human Rights and Conflict Resolution (CHCR), Idris Miliki, who challenged Bello to come out and tell the world how the money was spent.
Maliki further accused Bello of squandering the money that was allocated to local governments in the state in April 2016.
“The world is watching all the illegalities perpetuated by Governor Bello’s administration. The government is busy saying they don’t have money, but yet they collected N10 billion on behalf of local governments. What did they use the money for?
“Since they collected N10 billion on behalf of local government, what has Bello done in these local governments? Sincerely, there is something beyond the eyes that we don’t know which is going on in Kogi State.
“Governor Bello must give account for all these misappropriations going on in his government. He cannot operate outside the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” Maliki had said.
Yet again, Bello denied these allegations and vowed to make sure Maliki spend the rest of his life in prison but at the last count, Maliki is still a free man.
His well-publicized confrontations with his former deputy also placed Bello on the brat chart as he openly vowed to deal with Onoja whom he accused of not only being disloyal but insubordinate and someone he could no longer work with.
At his instance, the State House of Assembly impeached Onoja on accounts of age falsification, embezzlement and not following the dreams and visions of the governor for the state.
Bello the clown?
Yahaya Bello shot up on the clown scale when he created a somewhat laughable controversy at the outbreak of Covid-19 in the country by vigorously insisting that the pandemic was not in the state.
When the Covid-19 task force made known their intention to carry out an intensive testing, Bello refused to grant them access and accused them of planning to infect the people.
Under compulsion, Bello was to later claim that no one was found to have contracted the disease.
“After one month of intensive testing by their workers and officials, not one single person tested positive. The Nigeria’s Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), ministry of health and my state incident management team went around.
“They went to institutions, market places, motor parks, streets, villages, towns and cities, and not one single individual was confirmed positive. When students are resuming schools, we carry out tests on both indigenes and non-indigenes, and there has never been one single positive test,” he said.
When the AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 vaccines came out and state governors were scrambling to get their states involved in the distribution, Bello created another controversy when he said he would never take the vaccine.
Speaking on a live television programme, Bello said there was nothing medically wrong with him and that he won’t allow the people of his state to be used as “guinea pigs.”
Bello had said:
“COVID-19 is not our business in Kogi State. We have more pertinent issues and more pertinent matters that we are attending to in Kogi State.
“COVID-19 is just a minute aspect of what we are treating or handling in Kogi State; there have been outbreaks of Lassa Fever and Yellow Fever and those were handled without making noise about it.
“If the Federal Government is gracious enough and give us COVID-19 vaccines, we will equally sensitise our people, people who wish to come and take can come and take but I am not going to subject the people of Kogi State to vaccines or vaccination and I will not make them the guinea pigs.
“Mr. President is the leader of this country. I respect him so high; all of us respect him so much. We love him and he is leading by example. If he needs to take the vaccines and he takes it, it is a welcome development.
“As far as I am concerned, I, as a person, I don’t need to take vaccines. There is nothing wrong with me, I am hale and hearty. I am 100 per cent healthy… I won’t take any vaccine.”
Bello has also gone a long way to de-market the vaccines by claiming that they were meant to infect them indirectly, hinging his arguments on the fast speed at which they were developed.
In an address to the Kogi people, Bello had said:
“Vaccines are being produced in less than one year of COVID-19. There is no vaccine yet for HIV, malaria, cancer, headache and for several other diseases that are killing us. They want to use the COVID-19 vaccines to introduce the disease that will kill you and us. God forbid.
“We should draw our minds back to what happened in Kano during the polio vaccines that crippled and killed our children. We have learned our lessons.
“If they say they are taking the vaccines in the public, allow them take their vaccines. Don’t say I said you should not take it but if you want to take it, open your eyes before you take the vaccines.”
He backed his argument with an analogy of varying temperatures between Nigeria and other climes, saying that “what is applicable over there may not work in Nigeria.”
“We don’t need to participate in this marketing of COVID-19 vaccine. We should channel the money we want use to buy the vaccines to other things. The Presidential Task Force (PTF) should give the right advice to the president.
“It is better to invest in tackling more deadly diseases that are killing people every day, not COVID-19 that has 99.9 per cent recovery rate.”
Bello the confused patriot?
After months of denials and half-hearted truths, Yahaya Bello finally made his intention of running for the presidency in 2023 known by announcing that he ‘had bowed to pressure’ and has decided to throw his hat into the ring.
Making the announcement on January 10, 2021, Bello said he was going into the race to “liberate Nigeria,” and urged Nigerians to join hands with him in the struggle to free the country from the myriads of challenges confronting her.
“I want everyone to join me in the struggle to liberate this country. We must seize this golden opportunity to save our nation,” Bello said.
“By the grace of God, I’m ready to lead and I will provide all the quality leadership that is required in the country.
“Let us do our bit to support the current administration and join hands with President Muhammadu Buhari to save this country. Those that are leading today, I can assure you that apart from Mr. President and very few others, there are those who do not have the interest of the country at heart. They don’t care about us and that is the truth,” he added.
While many thought this declaration by Bello was a joke, his supporters are not holding back as they drum support for him, even going as far as arguing that presidential power should be zoned to the North-Central and that Bello is the obvious choice for APC and Nigeria.
The enthusiasm of his supporters has never waned as they continue to splash his posters in many parts of the country while his social media team has been working hard at shoring up his image.
Indeed, one Oladele John Tohuli, set up the Governor Yahaya Bello to President Yahaya Bello (GYB2PYB) campaign group, and issued him a 14-day ultimatum to accept their demand that he joins the presidential race or they would be forced to occupy the streets all over the country.
Interestingly, Toluhi was the same man that embarked on a walk from Abuja to Otuoke, the home town of former President Goodluck Jonathan in Bayelsa State in 2015, to honour the former President for conceding defeat to President Muhammadu Buhari.
Aside the call from GYB2PYB, other Bello support groups have emerged to arrange for him a couple of awards for purposes of positioning. Notable among these are the gender friendly award championed by the National Council of Women Societies (NCWS), and the one given to him by a group led by former Super Eagles captain, Austin ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha, which named Bello as the ‘Captain and Pillar of Nigerian Youths’.
Even the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) reportedly gave Bello an award as a Pillar of the Church.
While many believe these awards are syndicated and part of a grand scheme to play into the heart of Nigerians, not a few regard the Kogi Governor as a desperate and confused patriot, pretending to be popular and courting other parts of Nigeria and influential interest groups.
In fact, Bello creates further doubts with his seemingly loose claim that his 2023 ambition is the ‘ambition of the Nigerian youths’ who have been clamouring for younger people to come into positions of authority in the country.
While speaking to newsmen recently in Abuja, Bello had said:
“I don’t refer to this as my presidential ambition. It is the ambition of the youths, the younger generation, the women, the less-privileged, the deprived, and the oppressed in the society.
“These are the people calling me to come and serve, to run and contest for president in 2023, and in order that I don’t run afoul of the law, I am waiting for an appropriate time to officially give the nod to that call.
“And, as a matter of fact, because I belong to that constituency, humble background, young, and I’m seeing exactly the less-privileged, the oppressed, the needy and quest for good governance in Nigeria, I don’t think when the time comes, I am going to turn the request down. I won’t turn it down surely.”
His tribe of followers also seem drunk on his arguments. Toluhi, his man Friday, had once said:
“The Nigerian youths have put their resources and manpower together and with over 15 million of them signing signatures to ask Governor Yayaya Bello of Kogi State to contest the presidency come 2023.
“We believe that as youth leaders, we owe our nation this duty, to make sure that in 2023, we do not just have a president but the president that is youth minded. We want to have the president that is youth and women sensitive.
“We felt that it is the right time for Nigerians to have a feel of what Kogi State is currently having. We are aware that Kogi State today is the government of the youths, by the youths and for the youths.”
Indeed, most political analysts have opined that all the theatrics leading to Bello’s seeming nation-wide acceptance are merely stage-managed events to give his ambition a semblance of popular demand, while the gale of awards were also orchestrated to confer some form of credibility on him.
Some analysts have also frowned at the chain of events leading to Bello’s acceptance of the challenge, branding them as unnecessary.
According to some, though it is within his right to aspire to the highest office in the land as a Nigerian, this should be done without making so much fuss about it, while others say these events only point to the fact that he knew he may just not possess what it takes to lead the country and had to create a semblance of it.
Taking a look at Bello’s impact in Kogi, and the National space, in the last six years, it is glaring that being a youthful governor does not translate to competence on the leadership front.
An APC youth leader in the Kogi West Senatorial District, Michael Adaji, captured the mood succinctly when he said:
“Bello has been a disappointment as a young governor. We actually thought he would be different as a young man but unfortunately, he disappointed even the youths in the state. He has been a great disservice to the ‘Not too young to run movement.’ So those clamouring for him to contest should have a rethink.
“Kogi has gone from bad to worse under Bello that it would be unthinkable for anybody to be rooting for him to be president. Even if you are not from Kogi State, you must have been reading the news of happenings in the state.
“The only explanation anyone can advance for his or her romance with the GYB2PYB is financial inducement or gratification. That he is young is certainly no achievement or criteria for competence.”
His utterances and actions on the pandemic have become an embarrassment for even residents and indigenes of the state, so much that cases suspected to be COVID-19 related are taken outside the state for attention.
Eniola Bello, an indigene of Kogi and newspaper columnist argued in his titled ‘Yahaya Bello: The Ugly Face of APC’, that Bello’s ambition should not be taken seriously as he has often displayed a crass incompetence when it comes to governance.
“Bello’s notoriety for his re-election victory is only surpassed by his ill-informed response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the global response to the pandemic early last year, he has consistently cast doubts on the existence of COVID-19, insisted that there were no infections in Kogi State, frustrated officials of the NCDC from operating in the state, supplanted science with his opinion, dismissed the necessity for vaccination, and has refused to wear a face mask, except, of course, when he has to visit the State House, Abuja, for his regular photo ops with President Buhari.
“With the Kogi governor’s shenanigans, why should anyone desirous of a better country take the APC seriously? If Bello is the face of the new APC in the making, this is an ugly one. That he would even contemplate contesting the presidential election in 2023 speaks to how low his ‘political father’ has reduced Nigeria.”
An aspirant for the House of Representatives for Lokoja/Kotokarfe Federal Constituency, Ahmed Sani, was one of the earliest stakeholders in the state to knock Bello’s vaunted ambition.
“What success does he want to replicate on the national stage? Is it insecurity, failed roads, failed health and education sector?
“Bello, as far as I am concerned, does not have any notable achievement to his credit. The state is getting worse by the day and even Kogites outside the state are afraid to come home because of insecurity, especially kidnapping.
“There has been no change in the status of major towns in the state since Bello assumed office, even Lokoja, the state capital.
“The state has become worse, looking more like a rustic town. In fact, it will be safe to say there is no government in Kogi under Bello.
“Bello is only playing games with his purported ambition and he should be smarter than embarking on a futile journey.
“Bello cannot be that daft; he should know he does not have what it takes to be Nigerian president. He lacks any qualifying quality, aside the fact that he is a Nigerian that has the right to aspire to any office. I honestly believe that what he is doing is merely positioning himself to be visible outside of office, nothing more.”
Hate or like him, Bello’s claim to being a patriot got a shot in the arm when he supposedly intervened in the recent food blockade to southern Nigeria by northern food traders under the aegis of the Amalgamated Union of Foodstuff and Cattle Dealers of Nigeria (AUFCDN).
Seen as a timely intervention, Bello is riding on the crest of that success to trumpet his claims to leadership. Will he turn out a joker or go on to impress as a modern patriot committed to building a new and great Nigeria. Only time will tell.
By Isaac Dachen…
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