By Tunde Olusunle
The media handlers of Yahaya Bello, the overtly exuberant governor of Kogi state, have been in overdrive in the last few days. They’ve been issuing rebuttal after rejoinder after release, all in a spirited attempt to absolve their principal of a most calamitous faux pax he recently committed. He just might have unwittingly illuminated preexisting fogs in general thought, and cleared cobwebs in the public eye. Bello’s wrong-headed gaffe most probably would ordinarily have been dismissed as a tolerable incidence of logorrhoea — that verbal affliction which makes people “over-talk”. The gist of his exegesis, however, transcends what can be papered over courtesy of inchoate contestations, vacuous statements and discombobulated appearances on television.
Understandably and deservedly, Bello’s treatise commands deeper dilation against the backdrop of what has become the new normal, in a sleepy state hitherto famous for its tranquil, welcoming attributes.
While addressing his kinsmen at Ihima, Okehi local government area in the central senatorial zone of the state recently, Bello made a detour into his indigenous Ebira language, the major tongue spoken in that section of the state. Ogori and Magongo, the other ethnicities in the same zone, are wholly subsumed by the Ebira. He exhorted his listeners to record his address and playback for those who were not physically present. The video clip which is still trending on the internet has been subtitled in instances to enable listeners to grasp the meat of Bello’s homily.
First, he made it very clear that as the incumbent governor, he was not inclined to have anybody but his kinsman and protege succeed him. He reeled out some of the projects his administration had sited in Ebiraland which would not have been possible under a governor from another zone. He alluded to the Confluence University of Science and Technology (CUSTECH) in Osara, the upgrading of the Obangede Specialist Hospital and the road repairs and rehabilitation being undertaken in his zone. Even if he did not enunciate further, Bello’s drift was in direct reference to the preceding monocultural grip on governance in the state of the Igala-dominated Kogi east zone. Beginning from January 1992 all the way to January 2016, straddling the regimes of Abubakar Audu, Ibrahim Idris and Idris Wada, Kogi east grossed at least 18 years in the state’s helmsman’s position. There was of course a military interregnum, between November 1993 and May 1999.
At the expiration of Bello’s second term in office in January 2024, Kogi central would have spent eight years in Lugard House, Lokoja; the way the government house in the state is addressed. For the benefit of hindsight, Bello’s ascent to the governorship was purely providential. The candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the 2015 gubernatorial election, Abubakar Audu, was coasting home to victory in the contest, trouncing his major opponent, Idris Wada of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP). Sadly, however, Audu died before the tallying of the final election results. Further to some opaque interpretation of the electoral laws by Abubakar Malami (SAN), the attorney general of the federation, Bello who came second in the governorship primary which produced Audu was bequeathed with the position.
Yahaya Bello’s contention at the Okehi Declaration suggests that he will unilaterally impose on the state in 2024 an Ebira successor, who will anchor the relay for two more terms of four years each. This is to ensure that Kogi central approximates the subsisting record of Kogi east when the zone would have chalked 16 years by 2032, two years short of the Igala record. Curiously, in all of these political permutations, Kogi west, the third leg in the sociopolitical tripod of Kogi state and home to the Okun-Yoruba people in the main, is not featured. In the 31-year existence of the state, the area has not produced a substantive governor except for a three-month stint in 2008 when the erstwhile speaker of the state house of assembly, Clarence Olafemi, stood in as acting governor following the nullification of the 2007 governorship election of Ibrahim Idris, by the courts. The ruling called for fresh polls between Idris and Abubakar Audu.
Bello, at the Ihima outing, warned those he described as critics of his administration, telling his listeners that he was “a seasoned gun handler”. As a decorated marksman, he promised to pursue his political adversaries all the way into their hiding holes. Issuing a categorical threat, Bello said: “I’m coming after those who abuse us, who poke their hands in our mouths. Those fingers will be severed from their hands. I will pursue them to their bedrooms and hiding places. Those of you who harbour or protect such characters must be ready to confront the boiling point of my wrath when I come. My eyes will be flaming with fire and I will ensure you are burnt. Anyone who opposes my agenda will be picked up and kept in a place where will never see the sun again”. Indeed, en route to the decisive actualisation of his political masterplan to install a homeboy as successor, Bello announced to his audience that the coming politicking and elections “will be very hot and those who cross my path will be spontaneously consumed”. He reminded his congregants that he is the famous “white lion” who still roars and feeds on his preys. Kogi state is just about becoming an expansive, modern-day shooting range, in the hands of gangsters.
It was good Yahaya Bello spoke his mind the way he did. His communication managers, unfortunately, have been running around, trying spiritedly to rewrite the narrative, freely and consciously spewed by their boss. They forget that words are like eggs. A Yoruba proverb indeed reminds us that alcoholic intoxication is just an enabler of the unfettered expression of long-harboured thoughts. Such thoughts had previously been catalysed and were just awaiting public ventilation in due season. Bello definitely knows what he is saying. Puzzles and consternation about the post-2016 descent of Kogi state into a full-scale Hobbesian state may just be receiving illumination, thanks to the candour demonstrated by Bello in his address.
Sadly, and spontaneously too, the celebrated confluence state hitherto an oasis of serenity has spiralled into a jungle of the rule of the gun. Certain incidents have happened in the recent political past of Kogi state, which is getting clearer now, thanks to Yahaya Bello’s recent outburst. Ahead of the February 2019 presidential election, hooded gunmen besieged the Lokoja home of former governor Ibrahim Idris, where elders of the PDP were strategising for the polls. Dignitaries at the meeting included Tunde Ogbeha, (a retired army general and former senator); Salifu Atawodi, (a retired air vice marshal); Dino Melaye, Biodun Ojo; Tolorunju Faniyi; Musa Ahmadu, (all former federal parliamentarians), among other senior stakeholders. It took Ogbeha’s phone call to the commander, Command Army Records in Lokoja, to detail personnel to disband the hoodlums. Instructively, upon the arrival of the military, the hooded gang simply strolled leisurely, albeit confidently, into the adjoining premises of Government House, Lokoja.
Months later, the gubernatorial primary of the PDP in Kogi state was disrupted by unknown gunmen who invaded the Lokoja stadium, the venue of the process. Past midnight when the votes were being tallied, electricity in the stadium was suddenly put out as the sports arena erupted into a cacophony of gunfire. The Adamawa state governor, Umaru Fintiri who was delegated by the PDP headquarters to oversee the process, was shielded out of the stadium by his very professional and courageous security aides. A similar scenario played out on the eve of the gubernatorial election proper when the delegated anchor of the Kogi state PDP governorship election, Oyo state governor, Seyi Makinde, was briefing leaders of the party at a Lokoja hotel. Again, masked men breached the hotel premises and intimidated members of the PDP. Makinde’s security stood firm and repelled the invaders.
Days after, a PDP woman leader, Salome Abuh, was shot, locked up in her home and incinerated in Ochadamu, in Ofu LGA, for standing for her political preference during the governorship election in late 2019. Early July 2020, staff of the Federal Medical Centre in Lokoja, were attacked by gunmen suspected to have been sponsored by the Kogi state government. The medical workers were planning a press conference to implore the federal government to establish a COVID-19 screening centre in the state when they were assaulted within the premises of the hospital. Voters in Lokoja, the state capital, will not forget in a hurry, the aerial attacks that visited them on election day in November 2019. A helicopter reportedly procured from the Nigeria Police was deployed to fire live bullets at voters in the densely populated capital, which typically posts high election figures.
Yahaya Bello’s recent advisory re-echoes the Ebira song which was spontaneously composed in the aftermath of Bello’s victory at the 2019 polls. The video clip, which has been trending for three years now, features excited youngsters singing and dancing to the rhythm of a song celebrating Bello’s triumph. While part of the song was in Ebira, it was interspersed with English. It suggested that “nobody can deny the Ebiras a second term at the helm in Kogi state. As many people as attempted to vote according to their conscience rejecting the Ebira candidate, Yahaya Bello, were treated to the rhythm of gunfire, ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta”. Simply put, what we have in place in Kogi state today is democracy by the barrel of the gun.
On the tail of Yahaya Bello’s outing was yet another threat, woven around the senatorial election next February. The major speaker at that event declared that the forthcoming parliamentary poll is a direct contest between Ebiraland and Delta state. You wonder why? Abubakar Sadiku Ohere, a serving commissioner under Bello, is the APC candidate for the office while Natasha Akpoti, also a daughter of the soil and PDP flagbearer, recently got married to Emmanuel Oritsejolomi Uduaghan, the Alema of Warri and a businessman from Delta state, at a well-attended ceremony. Her marriage to someone outside her geocultural hemisphere has now been clad in the mould of what Catholics refer to as a grievous sin. Such is the magnitude of toxicity which is being thrown up in the Kogi political space months before the polls, from supposedly high places.
Just months ago, Bello who had relocated to Abuja for about 18 months while contesting for the ticket of the nation’s presidency under the banner of his party expended tons and tons of resources belonging to Kogi state on a vainglorious quest. It was a season of good, brisk business for the media — print, electronic and advertising. Bello marketed youthfulness and capacity as his strong points. His pseudo-seriousness actually hoodwinked some otherwise circumspect political watchers, who bought into the real possibility of his eventual emergence as the candidate of the APC at the last presidential primary. Nigerians have definitely dodged a bullet by being spared the prospect of having a sniper as the national helmsman.
Yahaya Bello has just acquitted himself as an uncharacteristic ambassador of his Ebira kinsmen, most of whom are courteous, civilised and cosmopolitan. He cannot be representing His Majesty Abdul Rahman Ado Ibrahim, or the Abdulrahman Okenes, Aliyu Attas, Tom Adabas, Patrick Adabas, Isa Ozi Salamis, Moses Okinos, Clem Baiyes, Austin Oniwons, George Omaku Ehusanis, Angela Okatahis, Ladi Ibrahims, Sunnie Ododos, Mercy Johnsons or the Natasha Akpotis. The departed A.T. Ahmeds, Musa Etudaiyes, Salihu Ibrahims, Joseph Makojus, Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojos among other prominent Ebira personalities were notably sober, sane and savvy people in their time.
He is not a good advert copy for Kogi state at large either, a polity famous for availing Nigeria across generations, some of the nation’s very best in the project of national development and reengineering. Need we rehash their names in hundreds and thousands here? The Sunday Awoniyis, Silas Daniyans, Moody Olorunmonus, Ayo Johns, David Medaiyese Jemibewons, George Oshos, Femi John Femis, Kola Jamodus, Eyitayo Lambos, Bayo Ojos, Mohammed Chris Allis, Mohammed Ndatsu Umarus, Abdulrasaq Isa Kutepas, Olusola Akanmodes, Olu Obafemis, Albert Anjorins, Olatunji Dares, Ola Oyelolas, John Baiyesheas, Julius Oshanupins, Yomi Awoniyis, Dapo Olorunyomis, Dapo Asajus, Yemi Akinwumis, Gbenga Ibileyes, Tunde Adelaiyes, John Obaros, are some of the finest human species one can find anywhere in the world.
This is not forgetting Ahmadu Alis, Yakubu Mohammeds, Ibrahim Ogohis, Isaac Alfas, Salifu Atawodis, Jibrin Usmans, Ibrahim Idris, Idris Wada, Jibrin Okutepas, Emmanuel Onucheyos, Patrick Okolos, Dan Okolos, Josephine Agbonikas, Gabriel Oyibos, Jeremiah Abalakas, Halima Musas, Humphrey Abbas, John Sani Egwugwu Illahs, Nicolas Ugbanes, Attai Aidokos, Armstrong Idachabas, who rank among the most cultured across the globe. Francis Idachabas, P. S. Achimugus, Stephen Achemas, and James Eneojo Ocholis were fine personalities when they were here. Being identified as constituents of a governor who prides himself as a marksman is not an edifying ascription.
Yahaya Bello has to go beyond the predictable, puerile, disjointed alibis being pleaded by his image makers. Power must be exercised with caution, discipline and responsibility. He should be holding town hall meetings across the state now, apologising for his verbal somersaults and restating his subscription to civility in corporate governance. He must begin, speedily, to exorcise the demons and monsters of bloodletting violence which have become an integral component of his administration’s DNA. This was unwittingly planted and groomed in the sociopolitical scheme of Kogi state under his watch. For his information, every bullet that is fired, every innocent citizen hit, and every drop of blood spilt in the name of Kogi politics, henceforth, will be traced to him.
Bello’s predecessor governors, Joshua Dariye and Jolly Nyame of Plateau and Taraba states respectively have just graduated from the “Kuje Corrections University” with honours, albeit for different causes. De-facto number two man under the leadership of Sani Abacha, a three-star army general and chief of army staff at the time, Ishaya Bamaiyi, was kept out of circulation for eight long years. For all his closeness to former President Olusegun Obasanjo, PDP elder statesman Bode George had his years behind the bars. Obasanjo himself, who was Nigeria’s military head of state in 1976 when Bello was a toddler, was kept in the gulag for over three years by the Abacha government.
Former Liberian president, Charles Ghankey Taylor, was tracked and picked up within Nigerian territory by Interpol in 2006 to answer for human rights abuses he committed in Liberia and Sierra Leone. He was sentenced to 50 years imprisonment in 2012 and is serving time in prison at The Hague. Taylor is 74 and with his prison term expiring in 40 years’ time in 2062. He may “never see the sun again”, to deploy Bello’s expressions. Taylor, once a “lion” in the wilds of Liberia and Sierra Leone, is a lonely, miserable kitten in the cold cell of a foreign prison today. He no longer has those scruffy, substance-ingesting, bloodshot-eyed, gun-toting rebels and militias at his beck and call. Former Chadian president, Hissene Habre, was exiled to Senegal after his ouster from office, concurrently tried in Chad and Senegal, and simultaneously sentenced to life imprisonment. He was convicted of various human rights offences. He died in exile in 2021 at 79, interred in a distant cemetery in Dakar, not in N’Djamena, the capital of his home country.
Entrenching democratic institutions may take a while. But then, we’ve taken the first steps as a democratic sociopolity. A word is enough for the discerning.
Olusunle (PhD). poet, journalist, scholar and author, is a member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE)