By Owei Lakemfa
KOGI State is perpetually in the news, but almost always, for the wrong reasons. The stories from the state are hardly ever about development, progress or project commission. They are usually about political differences, conflicts, kidnapping, high- handedness, impunity, corruption and general bad governance.
Things took a dramatic turn for the worse for the 27-year-old state in 2015 when Alhaji Abubakar Audu, the controversial candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, who was on the verge of winning the gubernatorial elections, suddenly dropped dead. Ordinarily, his running mate, Honourable James Faleke should have been asked to step in since it was a joint ticket. But the APC thought otherwise, it superimposed a then 40-year-old businessman, Yahaya Bello on the state. Was it a way of punishing the state by having an ‘elected’ governor who was not a candidate, did not campaign in the elections, was not voted for and had no running mate as is constitutionally required? The APC simply grafted the votes of Audu/Faleke on Bello and had him declared governor. Later, it was revealed that Governor Bello engaged in the act of double registration as a voter. To this, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu could only express helplessness in prosecuting Bello as this would be: “dependent on whenever his tenure ends… Our constraint is that we cannot prosecute a serving governor.”
I doubt if Governor Bello was ready for governance. Unlike his Rivers State counterpart, Nyesom Wike who calls himself “Mr. Projects” for the projects he is commissioning, or Governor Akinwumi Ambode who boldly declares he is overtaxing Lagosians to fund the numerous projects he is executing, or Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State who proudly commissions one modern school after another, Bello has virtually nothing to show for his years in office. Even where the Federal Government provides bailout funds for payment of wages, salaries and pension; they are largely unpaid. Things became so bad that when Mr. Edward Soje, 54, a Director in the Kogi State Teaching Service Commission who had not been paid salaries for eight months, had triplets, he committed suicide. In its characteristic lack of empathy, the State Government washed itself of any blame in the tragedy. The Bello government has also employed the tactics of former state governor, Idris Wada who embarked on an open ended ‘screening exercise’ of workers, leaving many workers unpaid.
Under Bello’s unique governance, five of the 20-member Kogi State House of Assembly who supported him, ‘impeached’ the Speaker, Hon. Momohjimoh Lawal and the House leadership and then sacked 10 of their colleagues. Bello used the five legislators to pass laws including the Appropriation Bill. When Justice Nnamdi Dimgba of the Federal High Court on May 19, 2016 delivered judgment in favour of the majority 15 legislators, they were denied access to the Assembly chambers. Then at about 2:00am on May 31, armed thugs were unleashed on the majority lawmakers at their legislative quarters. When the legislators insisted on convening the Assembly in accordance with the court judgement, armed soldiers were drafted to prevent them from doing so.
The opposition People’s Democratic Party, PDP, has also accused Governor Bello of running an illegal detention centre in the State House where opponents like Alhaji Mohammed Barga, the Zonal Vice-Chairman of the PDP Kogi West and a former Vice-Chairman of Okene Local Government, Hon. Usman Okorongo were detained without trial.
When armed herdsmen were on rampage across the country, rather than think about the security of the people of the state, Bello in another display of sycophancy and without consulting the people, invited herdsmen into the state promising them a safe haven and even cattle colonies. When the herdsmen attacks spread to Kogi State, he had no response.
When his government had industrial problems with the lecturers of the Kogi State University, Anyigba, he thought the best way out was to illegally proscribe the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, in the institution and sack 135 lecturers of the institution.
In the latest controversy, Governor Bello was reported to have shown antagonism to the new State Police Commissioner, Esa Sunday Ogbu who was last week posted to replace Mr. Ali Janga. The latter who seems to be in the good books of Bello, was removed by Inspector-General Ibrahim Idris following the escape of some suspects.
Almost on a daily basis, Governor Bello is involved in trading insults with other leaders from the state especially Senator Dino Melaye (Kogi West). Melaye is a combative entertainer on and off the Senate stage. From the January 2012 anti-government street battles he joined us in waging when I was Acting General Secretary of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, I knew Dino as a courageous and resourceful fighter. But what Kogi needs are not leaders who are perpetually jesting, crooning, dancing and performing to audiences. These are reasons why leaders like His Excellency, Governor Bello and Distinguished Senator Melaye, who is facing recall, are not good for the state.
The state’s problems might have been from its August 27, 1991 birth when the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida in one of its infamous genetic engineering operations, grafted the Igalas who were complaining about marginalisation in Benue State, on the Okuns (Old KabbaProvince) who were complaining about marginalisation in Kwara State and the Ebira. The state started off being run by the military. But Colonel Mohammed Zakari soon handed over to a flamboyant politician, Abubakar Audu who was overthrown within two years. An army of Colonels then took over, handing batons to each other; Paul Omeruo, Bzign Afakirya and then the controversial Augustine Aniebo. Colonel Aniebo had been military governor of Borno State before being posted to Kogi State. The people were so angry about what they considered to be his bad governance that there were threats to drag him to the police once he handed over. But the skillful Colonel Aniebo did not wait to see if the people were serious; one week before he was scheduled to hand over power, he ‘took off’ reporting to be sick. He put a wide distance between him and the state, preferring to hand over by proxy.
I am tempted to ask the ruling APC to look into the issue of bad governance in Kogi State, but the party itself is battling credibility problems bordering on being unfaithful to its constitution and romancing tenure elongation on the one hand. On the other hand, I don’t have faith in the main opposition party, the PDP. Yet, if I ask the Kogi people to take their destiny in their hands, I may be accused of encouraging an uprising. It is left to us collectively as Nigerians to rescue Kogi State from bad governance.