After a lull in the spate of controversial activism associated with the politics of Senator Dino Melaye, the senator representing Kogi West District, has returned to the limelight, following the reported burning of some of his constituency projects, which were ready for commissioning in Lokoja, the state capital, by yet to be identified persons.
Senator Melaye appears to be in the eye of the storm, as preparations for next year’s general election take the centre stage.
The police are still investigating the circumstances surrounding the burning of the projects. Reports have that some unidentified miscreants torched the projects located within Government Girls Secondary School, Sarkin Noma and Lokongoma Secondary School in Lokoja, Local Government, in the wee hours of the morning, around 2am. The projects include: four blocks of classrooms each at the Government Girls Secondary School, Sarkin Noma, Lokongoma Secondary School Phase 1 and Adankolo Secondary school.
They were due for commissioning, after extensive work by the senator, as part of his constituency projects. The hoodlums allegedly burnt the refurbished buildings, including books and furniture procured for the schools. The projects were scheduled to be inaugurated within a period of four days, with a thanksgiving service to round it off. With the development, the entire programme had to be aborted.
The following day, Melaye allegedly escaped assassination, when suspected gunmen opened fire on his convoy in Ayetoro-Gbedde, Ijumu local Government. The attackers who were allegedly dressed in police and the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS) uniform were said to have attacked the senator on his way from Yagba. One account has it that the attackers barricaded the road between Mopamuro and Aiyetoro with vehicles allegedly belonging to the police and the joint task force.
Another source added that on sighting Melaye’s convoy, on his return from the inauguration of his projects in Yagba Federal Constituency, the gunmen opened fire on the black G-wagon Mercedes Benz car conveying the senator.
Earlier, the state government had condemned the burning of four of the constituency projects undertaken by the senator in Lokoja by suspected political thugs.
Some unidentified political thugs had last week Tuesday warned Melaye who is based in Abuja not to enter Kogi. The senator, in a reaction, said he had formally informed the Kogi State Police Command of his coming for the commissioning of various projects in the seven local government councils in the senatorial district.
When contacted the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), William Ayah, said that the command was neither aware of Melaye’s coming, nor the threat by unknown persons that he should stay away from the state.
The suspected political thugs had through unsigned pamphlets warned him to keep away from Kogi State. The pamphlets reads: “Dino don’t patronize Kogi. Stay away, else you will have yourself to blame. Save yourself and remain where you are; keep off from our land. Dino come and reap what you sowed; you don’t respect our leaders, so we do not respect for you. Respect is reciprocal. Take what you get; if you dare us, expect the worse. We warn you.”
The Kogi State Government has been having a running battle with the senator; a crisis that led to his planned but failed recall process from the National Assembly. But in its reaction, the government condemned the burning of the project. The Director-General, Media and Publicity, to the Governor, Kingsley Fanwo, who spoke on behalf of government during an assessment of the burnt projects, said that security operatives have been directed to fish out the arsonists.
He said: “Government condemns the incident. Education is the leading thematic area of the state government and so it will not allow any elements derail it. Irrespective of who is doing the project, the fund is from the government. So, whether it is the executive or legislative, such projects should rather be applauded and not destroyed.
“We have directed the security operatives to get to the root of the matter and unravel the perpetrators and bring them to book. Government will take a decisive action to ensure that the arsonists do not go scout free.”
Deputy Commissioner of Police in-charge of Operations Mr. Monday Kuryas said the hoodlums forced their way into the building. He said the act was premeditated, as the arsonists came with vehicle tyres with which they burnt down the building and damaged other structures. Kuryas said the police was investigating the matter and will soon apprehend the arsonists.
Governor Yahaya Bello also dismissed the issue, describing Melaye as an “attention seeker”, who may attack himself to get public sympathy. The governor said neither he nor his supporters played a role in the attack and that there is a possibility that the senator staged the incident to gain public sympathy.
His words: “The project that was embarked on by him that was burnt down is highly condemnable. I condemn it in its entirety. Remember the person in question is an attention seeker; remember he has orchestrated self-attacks severally in order to draw public sympathy and I won’t be surprised if he organised that for himself.
“This is a project he started; nobody stopped you from starting it. You continued it and you completed it; nobody stopped you. You are about commissioning it, why would anybody go and burn it down? Why would any right-thinking person go there and burn it down? That is not our character; that is not my own style of politicking. If anything, any development is for the people. The money did not come from his pocket; it is public fund meant for the people.
“So, if he orchestrated the whole thing and turn around to seek for public sympathy, it is most unfortunate. That is the only way I can attribute it.”
Melaye, who had earlier commissioned a block of four classrooms in Taware, Manyare and 10 kilometers of roads, all in Gegu-Beki Local Government and a borehole at Felele in Lokoja Local Government, said it was sad that people who are not ready to provide for his people could do such thing.
He lamented that the schools were built for the communities, but unfortunately some politicians who could not provide projects to alleviate the suffering of the downtrodden turned around and sponsored thugs to destroy the projects. He said no amount of intimidation and harassment would dissuade him from fulfilling his electioneering campaign promises to the people of his constituency.
Commissioner for Education, Mrs Rosemary Osikoya, who was among the government officials that visited the scene, said the Bello administration will not fold its arms and allow the arsonists go scot-free.
She said: “Exams are ongoing and these building have been used since January 2018. We expect that people will respect the sanctity of education. This act was masterminded and not accidental. The buildings were burnt, including the chairs. If not for the some serving corps members around, who tried to put out the flame, it would have been worse than this.
“We appeal to everybody to collaborate with us in education and not use it as a meeting point for political sabotage. This is a dastardly act. The state’s interest should be paramount, rather than the individual political ego.”
Also, the Speaker of the Kogi State House of Assembly, Prince Matthew Kolawole, condemned the act. He said on no account should anyone destroy any constituency project facilitated at both the state and national levels. He added that it is the height of irresponsibility for anyone to embark on the callous vandalization of projects facilitated by Senator Melaye.
Kolawole assured that the hoodlums would be tracked down by security operatives and be made to face the full wrath of the law. He said, as a legislator, it will be painful to see projects facilitated through his office for the people being destroyed by some bad elements in the society.
The Speaker called on the security agencies to live up to their responsibilities, by providing adequate protection for citizens, their properties and infrastructures.
A community leader, Mallam Shehu Zoro, said what happened was not just barbaric, but uncivilized, adding that some politicians are taking things too far. He said: “If you say you are against Dino, how does that affect projects meant to uplift the standard of education of which the Senator is just a facilitator. Those behind the burning of the schools and their sponsors, God will surely pay them back.”
There was also a reported attack on the convoy of Senator Melaye last Thurday. The senator insisted it was another assassination attempt on him, perpetrated by uniformed men. The accusation has earned him another invitation by the police. The lawmaker has said that he will honour the invitation. He gave the assurance last Saturday, a day after the police accused some persons in his convoy of attacking their personnel in Kogi State; a claim the lawmaker described as false.
His words: “The account of the police is false and illogical. I will honour the invitation of the Kogi State Police Command on Thursday, despite the attempts on my life.”
Melaye had accused the police of shooting at his convoy on his way to inaugurate a project at his constituency. He said while the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corp (NSCDC) deployed some personnel to escort him, there was no provision made by the police to that effect.
Contrary to Melaye’s claim, the Commissioner of Police, Mr. Ali Janga, said the police opened fire in self-defence, after some individuals in the senator’s convoy allegedly shoot at them.
He said: “Unidentified civilians inside (a vehicle in the convoy) decided to open fire on my policemen. You don’t expect the police to fold their arms. So, eventually, they replied and opened fire too.”
Melaye, who was expected to be in court on Thursday in Kogi in the criminal charge preferred against him, will hopefully honour the police invitation on the same day.
Meanwhile, the senator’s moves to return to the upper legislative chambers on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have already started generating mixed reactions. Some stakeholders are kicking against the idea of an automatic ticket for defecting APC lawmakers ahead of the 2019 general elections.
One of the leaders of delegation from across the seven local governments that make up Kogi West senatorial district, Otunba Bayo Yusuf, frowned at the attempt to offer automatic tickets to aspirants who are defecting to the party.
Credit: James Azania | Nation