Re: Gov. Bello and Probe of Kogi Ex-governors

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Kogi state prides itself as the Confluence State. And this is for good reasons. Lokoja, its capital city, is the meeting point of two of Africa’s largest water bodies- Rivers Niger and Benue. It is also home to the historic Mount Patti, from which top, Nigeria’s former colonial master, Lord Frederick Lugard assisted by Lady Flora Shaw, his mistress, invented a suitable name for the world’s biggest concentration of black people. That is not all. Kogi State is believed to harbour in commercial quantities about 27, out of Nigeria’s 35 solid mineral resources.

However, it is not only in the foregoing, that Kogi’s confluence status consists. Her true confluence is in her rich human resource content. The state is inhabited mainly by the Igala, Ebira and Okun people. Other ethnic groups include Bassa, Ogori and Kakandas. These groups are highly resourceful. But Kogi has also been a confluence of the absurd. The mother of the absurdities is in the emergence of a man who did not participate in the general election, as governor, about two years ago, through supplementary election. Alhaji Yahaya Bello, the governor was not even a registered voter in the state, let alone voting. So unprepared for the luck fate thrust on him was Bello, that he did not have a running mate upon inauguration on January 27, 2016.

Since coming to office, the young man has demonstrated crass incompetence, an affectation for juvenile misdemeanours and arrogance. The governor’s poor performance has attracted more negative comments to the state. Every now and then, Kogi has been in the news for the wrong reasons- unending staff screening and verification exercise, a haphazard probe of two former administrations in the state, death of a civil servant in kidnapper’s den while pursuing screening, suicide over unpaid salaries, declaration of 24-hour total curfew (state of emergency?) in a senatorial zone, the governor’s criminal double voter’s registration and shameful denial, his procurement and commissioning of a Mobutu-style country castle to mention but a few.

Not surprisingly, Bello’s style has attracted unsavoury commentaries and turned the state to a banana republic of sorts where theories and undue generalizations are being made about Kogi’s leadership misfortunes. For instance, The Nation of Saturday, December 16 on Page 3, writing under the caption, ‘Gov. Bello and probe of Kogi ex-governors” the UnderTow page paints a gory and hopeless picture about the state’s yearning leadership question, declaring it is ‘a state where cynicism and sarcasm reign.’

The writer’s starting point is a comment allegedly made by a former governor of the State Alhaji Ibrahim Idris, CON. Idris, aka Ibro, one of the former governors being probed by Bello had been accosted by journalists who asked of his reaction to the exercise. The elder statesman responded in a metaphor that the probe was like ‘chasing shadows.’ The former governor went on to echo a popular belief about the present occupant of Lugard House, the Kogi State seat of power. He said the government has failed and that ‘the people know their leader,’ a euphemism that Bello will be voted out in the next election.

Undertow agrees with Ibro on Bello’s poor performance as the writer describes Bello’s government as ‘peculiarly incompetent.’ The writer goes on to mourn the leadership failure in the state and (perhaps inadvertently) lumps Ibro, along with his immediate successor Capt. Idris Wada in the same club of failed leaders of the Confluence State. He argued that both are ‘simply incapable of determining what is wrong and what is right’.’ He added that they are ‘too prejudiced, too self-centred and parochial to know better.’ The writer declares with a tone of finality that ‘Kogi people are themselves not fond of Mr. Idris’.

It is not clear how the writer reached his findings on Idris, apart from the lame charge that ‘Mr. Idris helped to foist an incompetent successor on the state.’ What is clear however is the fact that he has grossly underrated the former governor’s altruistic qualities and abilities as his political opponents are wont to do. Since it is safe to pass his comments as coming from an unbiased social analyst, one may assume the errors are out of ignorance.

To start with, the charge of tribalism against the former governor is untrue. While in office, projects were located on the basis of needs and equitably. In fact, throughout his nine years governorship, Omala LG, where he comes from never had a commissioner. In addition his finance commissioner was always from outside his Kogi East zone. These do not fit into the profile of a tribalist.

Most people living in Kogi today know the difference between the trio of Ibro, Wada and Bello. As light is far from darkness, so is the difference between the public perception of each of these men. Ibro has unequalled follower-ship in the state. Humble, hardworking, prudent and detribalized, his political influence span from his records of achievement while in office and his yet unbroken chord with the grassroots even six years after he left office.

Ibro’s achievements touched at the heart of where it mattered most. As a policy, his administration saw staff welfare as priority. Salaries and allowances were paid as and when due. The two months unpaid salaries which he inherited from his predecessor were cleared in record time. He introduced relativity and was the first governor to implement minimum wage in the north-central. What is more? For the nine years he was in office, Idris did not owe salary, not even for a month. Closely related to this, Ibro paid scholarship and bursaries to all deserving indigenes of the state in higher institutions across the country. In addition, he lifted a heavy burden off the shoulders of indigent parents as he introduced and implemented to the end of his tenure, the payment of WAEC/NECO fees for all final year students in secondary schools in the state.

Clearly, Idris had distinguished himself in his service to the people and should not be ranked along with inept leadership and a rudderless administration. In the area of infrastructure development, Idris may not have built skyscrapers or castles in the air, but he laid the foundation on which future administrations could build. One of his most enduring legacies is the Greater Lokoja Water Scheme with installed capacity of 50million gallons of water per day. He built the International market, Specialist Hospital, 40,000-capacity Confluence Stadium, more than 2,000 housing units in Otokiti, Ganaja estates and in all the Local Government headquarters.

He gave Lokoja a face lift by changing all its major roads to dual carriage ways with appropriate bridges. He also built about 2,000 primary school blocks, state secretariat Phase II and three-star Confluence Beach hotel extension. He also built new governor and deputy governor’s offices, rehabilitated all ministries, parastatals and other government offices. He established College of Education (technical) in Kabba, and Confluence Fertilizer Company in Agbeji and gave generous financial backing to the state university which ensured full accreditation of all its 29 academic programmes in 29 months. By the time he left office in January 2012, the NUC had declared KSU as the best state owned university in Nigeria.

Whereas his achievements are too numerous to mention here, it is noteworthy that Ibro recorded all the transformations, without borrowing a dime from anywhere or pushing the state into debt burdens. In fact, his clean records and prudent management of resources enabled the state to approach the capital market for a bond of N20b, which his immediate successor, Capt. Wada collected. The Debt Management Office, Ministry of Finance and the then Minister of Finance Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala still hold his records in awe for his commitment to due process.

It is instructive that since Ibro left office he had been free from incessant arrest, invitation or harassment by the EFCC, ICPC and other law enforcement agencies. This is the background of Ibro’s ‘chasing shadows’ response. It is an allusion to his responsive and responsible management of Kogi’s lean resources while in office. A clear conscience, they say fears no accusation, for even if accused he shall be vindicated at the end. Little wonder that whenever the man visits Kogi, people mill around him and still look up to him to lead the way out of the current leadership quagmire in the state.

– Achadu Dickson, an indigene of Kogi State, writes from Lokoja.

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