Yahaya Bello of Kogi State

Indeed, the hand of God has brought him this fortune; however, the fact remains that the hand of God – that can do all things – will not provide jobs for the army of unemployed youth, fix bad state-owned roads, embark on equitable developmental projects to give the state a facelift or provide a prudent and thinking leadership that can come up with best possible ways to boost the state’s internally generated revenue to reduce its dependence on federal allocation, especially now that the oil party is over…

A phrase that well describes the unfolding trend in Kogi State’s polity is: the hand of God. I’m not referring to Ben Watkins’ drama series or the famous ‘hand of God’ goal scored against England in the 1986 World Cup by Argentine football legend, Diego Armando Maradona. In this context, I’m talking about the manner providence had its way in Kogi State’s power tussle.

To keen observers – Kogites and non-Kogites – who have insights into the intrigues of Kogi State’s power play, the emergence of a governor outside Kogi East Senatorial District (home of the Igalas) defied logic and transcended the scheming or wisdom of anyone or group of persons. It’s just the hand of God at work, most concurred.

In an accustomed manner, during the run-up to the primaries of the two major political parties – the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) – the agitation for ‘power shift’ permeated the discourse amongst Kogites, and some non-Kogites who took interest in the politics of the State. However, after the primaries, the Ebiras (people of Kogi Central Senatorial District) and the Okuns (people of Kogi West Senatorial District) shoved aside their long-time agitation. The reason being that the politically savvy Igalas strategically clinched the tickets of the two major political parties, fielding the past incumbent, Capt. Idris Ichala Wada, as the PDP candidate and former governor, Prince Abubakar Audu, as APC’s gubernatorial candidate.

So, for the Igalas, retaining power until 2019 was a fait accompli, while for the Ebiras and the Okuns, it was another unfortunate end to their gubernatorial aspirations.

Until, something happened to disarrange the whole equation.

…power shifted from the Igalas; but should they be sorely pained by this development? No. Frankly speaking, despite the fact that their senatorial district has produced successive governors in Kogi State for the past 16 years, what does the state or their region have to show for it? Although, I agree it gave some of them undue advantage in the state’s civil service, however, it’s a bitter truth that the state under the watch of their illustrious sons has been diminished, battered and turned into Nigeria’s capital of miseries: a confluence of underdevelopment and penury.

According to reports, the election on November 21, 2015, went peacefully. In fact, some newspapers, going by the emerging polling figures, declared Abubakar Audu the winner of the election. Just as many were already jubilating as news filtered in from Kogi State that Abubakar Audu of the APC was coasting to victory, tragedy struck. Abubakar Audu, the much anticipated winner of the election dropped dead shortly after the Independent National Electoral Commission declared the election inconclusive on November 22.

And the whole story took a totally new dimension.

Audu’s demise got all political permutations disrupted, dealt the Igalas a heavy blow and, unfortunately, caused them a devastating political own goal, as the APC, in a bid to avoid losing their hard-won victory to the PDP in the court, resolved to hand the baton to Yahaya Bello (Fair Plus) – the gubernatorial aspirant who finished behind Audu during the primaries – to complete Audu’s almost-won race.

By implication, power shifted from the Igalas; but should they be sorely pained by this development? No. Frankly speaking, despite the fact that their senatorial district has produced successive governors in Kogi State for the past 16 years, what does the state or their region have to show for it? Although, I agree it gave some of them undue advantage in the state’s civil service, however, it’s a bitter truth that the state under the watch of their illustrious sons has been diminished, battered and turned into Nigeria’s capital of miseries: a confluence of underdevelopment and penury. A visit to Lokoja, the state capital, would support my claim.

I would advise Yahaya Bello not to be overwhelmed by the bitterness of the marginalisation of his people over the years. In simple words, he needs to be magnanimous in victory. However, if he chooses to run a government of vendetta or establish a hegemony of the Ebiras, posterity will not be kind to him.

However, now that power has shifted to Kogi Central Senatorial District – a region famously known as the hotbed of unrest in Kogi State – we must admit that power shift is not an elixir or an automatic solution to the myriad challenges of Kogi State. Good, fair, competent and effective leadership is. It also brings to mind the big question of what power would be used or not be used for. So, poignantly putting some of the questions that are likely in the minds of many Kogites to Governor Yahaya Bello is imperative. Mind you, these questions are not borne out of resentment or love for the Ebiras, the Igalas or the Okuns, because my stake in Kogi State transcends ethnic jingoism.

The questions are: First, if in the last 16 years, some Kogites have complained bitterly about the marginalisation of other ethnic groups by the Igalas, would this new government led by Yahaya Bello do the same with power in favour of his people? And, how does he plan to use his administration to correct the marginalisation of other smaller ethnic groups in the State? Second, the Ebiras are perceived as the most hot-headed group in Kogi State, would Yahaya Bello’s leadership encourage them to shun violence or will it further promote their activities beyond their localities now that they have him in power? Third, and more importantly, would Yahaya Bello confine developmental projects to his region or would he ensure that Kogi State is equitably developed? Anyway, time will tell with regard to these questions.

For me, I would advise Yahaya Bello not to be overwhelmed by the bitterness of the marginalisation of his people over the years. In simple words, he needs to be magnanimous in victory. However, if he chooses to run a government of vendetta or establish a hegemony of the Ebiras, posterity will not be kind to him. Because as things are presently, Kogi State is in dire need of true and fair leadership that transcends primitive ethnic calculations and the inane “born to rule mentality” that characterised administrations of his predecessors, leadership anchored on Kogi über alles.

Also, Yahaya Bello needs to reflect soberly on how many political gladiators had dreamt of power shift, compare his status and struggles to those of the likes of late Arch. Stephen Olorunfemi, late A.T. Ahmed and other political bigwigs who failed in the pursuit of power shift, and also reflect on the circumstance that brought him to power. If he does, he would definitely appreciate the fact that providence brought him this far. But, should this make him complacent? No. The story of a “shoeless” boy who became the president of Nigeria without much struggle but ended up a mess is a good lesson for him, if he cares to learn.

I would not join those congratulating Governor Yahaya Bello without reminding him that what he does or fails to do with power would be what he would be remembered for. At least, from the defeat of the incumbent governor, Idris Wada, he should understand better that his return to Lugard’s House in 2019 will not be automatic.

Indeed, the hand of God has brought him this fortune; however, the fact remains that the hand of God – that can do all things – will not provide jobs for the army of unemployed youth, fix bad state-owned roads, embark on equitable developmental projects to give the state a facelift or provide a prudent and thinking leadership that can come up with best possible ways to boost the state’s internally generated revenue to reduce its dependence on federal allocation, especially now that the oil party is over, at least for the time being.

Of course, I root for a thorough probe of past administrations in Kogi State. I would also advise the new governor to embark on a thorough audit of and verification exercise within the Kogi State civil service. I agree that Kogi is a civil service State, but I strongly disagree that N3.2 billion goes into the payment of the salaries of 22,000 employees monthly.

A few months ago, a publication of Daily Trust (of May 31, 2015) entitled, “After Inauguration, 16 Governors Face N46bn Wage Crisis”, revealed that states like Yobe, Niger, Kebbi, and Sokoto all have more employees on their payrolls than Kogi, yet they spend far less than what Kogi spends on staff salaries monthly. Does this sit well? Well, we might assume that Kogi State government pays its employees better than the aforementioned states but a thorough audit exercise would bring us to a better and logical conclusion to this. Perhaps, it would expose the legions of ghost workers and other lurking kleptomaniacs milking the state dry and also provide vacancies for genuine unemployed graduates of Kogi descent.

In conclusion, I would not join those congratulating Governor Yahaya Bello without reminding him that what he does or fails to do with power would be what he would be remembered for. At least, from the defeat of the past governor, Idris Wada, he should understand better that his return to Lugard’s House in 2019 will not be automatic.

Ahmed Oluwasanjo writes from Abuja and can be reached on ahmedoluwasanjo@gmail.com