Yahaya Bello: Prototype of Visionless Exuberance

Yahaya Bello caricature

BEVERLY HILLS, May 23, (THEWILL) – Alhaji Yahaya Adoza Bello, Governor of Kogi State, suffered a bruised ego recently and this must have given him a rude shock.  He was on the half-hour live programme of Channels Television, Politics Today, on Friday, May 14, 2021 where he continued to propagate his interest in becoming Nigeria’s next president. But technology was clinically unkind to him that evening, with embarrassment leaving a deep imprint on his psyche.

Channels Television had organised a Twitter poll during the live programme to determine Bello’s level of popularity among Nigerians. The poll was:  “Would you support a Yahaya Bello 2023 Presidency? The Kogi State governor hinted on Friday that he might run for the top spot in the 2023 election cycle,” the television station posted. The result was a horrendous outcome.

Less than 30 minutes into the poll, Bello had lost by 91 percent.  According to the result published shortly after the programme, out of 6,796 participants in the poll, only six percent voted in favour of the governor. Three percent were undecided while the rest 90 percent rejected Bello and his dream of ruling Nigeria.  The television station later deleted the poll from its platform, apparently out of sympathy and, possibly, to save His Excellency the (un)deserved embarrassment.

But that may not deter Bello. Before the conclusion of the Twitter poll disaster, the Kogi governor had told his viewers that his eyes were on the Presidency. He said the pressure on him to contest the topmost national leadership position was too enormous and evident to ignore.

“Nigerians, the youth and women, and all Nigerians, including very objective elites are asking me to run for president in 2023.  And I believe it is high time that we looked into capacity – who can do the job, who is going to unify this country. And I think they are seeing something in me that they are asking me to come and unite and fix this country.

“My answer will be in the affirmative in a short time from now,” he said, urging Nigerians to be patient with him. “It’s a work-in-progress. And by the grace of God, I am not going to disappoint you when the time comes for me to give a response to that,” he added.

Vain Disposition

Yahaya Bello’s six years as governor of Kogi reveals a man whose only preoccupation lies in flaunting his youthful age. Yahaya Bello was born on June 18, 1975.  He was 40 years of age when he was first elected governor in 2015. As the only governor born after the Nigerian Civil War, he is the youngest among Nigeria’s 36 state governors.  He is 46 this year.

Indeed, Bello’s youthful age is an asset and a plus for him, especially given where Nigeria is today. He is both lucky and unfortunate.  He was chosen on the platform of the All Progressives Congress as the replacement for the late Abubakar Audu who originally won the election but died before the result was declared.

Bello’s ascension to power was one that luck bestowed on him beyond imagination. His was like the man whose palm kernel was cracked for him by benevolent spirits but who forgot to be humble.  He was expected to fold up his sleeves, hit the ground running and explore the massive opportunities that fate had bestowed on his growing shoulders.

Escaped Opportunities

A young man, stepping into Government House at 40, with no legacy that points to his previous performance would have shown Nigerians that those ruling the country in their advanced age really need to give way.  Bello’s Albatross is that he is a young man, with no legacy behind; no vision ahead. He has not really justified the luck that fate bestowed on him.

The status of the state offered Bello a huge room for performance. Kogi is not in the league of Nigeria’s fast growing states – in economy, infrastructure, human capital and other key fundamentals.  There is little evidence that the state is pursuing industrialisation.  It has a rice mill, yet not distinguished in agriculture.

It has no strategic human capital development scheme like some of its peers. For instance, it is not among the up-climbing non-oil producing states like Anambra. Kogi is not known to be positioning for human capital development that would transform the state into a vibrant, technological economy.  The people are poor, they are not top in education; the state is not known for a unique selling point that makes its distinction undebatable. All these require a lot of work, thinking and, above all, vision.

Incidentally, Kogi State is full of potential.  Its location singles it out for unique development in agriculture, tourism, solid minerals and transportation. Kogi is located in the central region of Nigeria bordering nine states. They include Niger, Kwara, Ekiti, Ondo, Anambra, Nassarawa, Benue, Enugu States and the Federal Capital Territory.

With this strategic location, Bello could tap from the natural gifts of the states to make Kogi an epicentre of tourism, trade and commerce.  The confluence of Rivers Niger and Benue could be developed into a unique tourist attraction with a special annual boat festival. Security business will thrive in the state. Kogi is far from all these, yet it has a young man fresh from school.

Bouncing in No-Vision

Yahaya Bello is a young man; but he lacks vision.  Since his leadership, there is nothing to single Kogi out for distinction.  There is no industrialization programme; there is no strategic human capital development programme; there is no  foreign partnership investment; there is little economic development traceable to Bello’s visionary leadership. The Nigeria Union of Journalists recently honoured him for his “outstanding” performance in education.  The criteria include starting and finishing the state university, transforming the state polytechnic. Experts explain this as counting what is not yet there.  These huge projects are yet to be seen to impact on the real human capital development of the state.

Abia has a small and cottage industry development programme. The state has a skill development partnership with China. The aim is to boost small and cottage industries in the areas of leather works, textiles, manufacturing and many others. These are export-oriented SMEs.  Anambra also has a scheme for an SME export-oriented programme. It now exports ‘Anambra Tea’ produced by indigenous entrepreneurs under a scheme launched some years back. Its strategic human capital development has led to the state’s contingents emerging champions at various international competitions.

Benue has an economic development scheme entitled “Collective Vision for a New Benue State” with clearly defined goals and objectives. The scheme has suffered a setback from incessant herdsmen attacks on the state. Otherwise its planned yam flour processing industry would have gone into production. Nasarawa has a human capital development scheme that involves using qualified non-indigenes as pace-setters, with an articulated succession plan that absorbs indigenes after the foundation has been laid.

Amid heightened insecurity, Borno State governor, Babagana Zulum, unveiled a 25-year Development Plan through which the state will be transformed into a world-class society.  It has a human capital and SME development segment which he has tried to put in reality but for the unremitting insecurity in the region.

There is nothing to show Bello has a vision; besides being a ‘Young Man’.  In February 2018, the state held its first ever Kogi Investment and Economic Summit to showcase the potential of the state.  At the opening ceremony of the event, elated Bello stated

Yahaya Bello
Gov. Yahaya Bello with his wives.

that Kogi had worn the appalling appendage of ‘Civil Service State’ since inception and his administration was determined to change the narrative:

“Twenty-five years ago, Kogi State was created and ever since then, it is often referred to as a civil service state. Under this administration, we will no longer take that narrative because Kogi state is full of potential.

“Our geographical location, natural water bodies, variable vast and arable land, human capital and solid minerals are great potentials. I refer to Kogi State as the solid mineral capital of Africa. All these potentials will remain untapped so long as we continue to see Kogi State as a civil service state and nothing is done,” Bello said at the opening ceremony in Lokoja, as if preempting Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who represented President Muhammadu Buhari at the occasion.

Osinbajo said, “This summit is both timely and strategic not only to draw attention to the confluence of opportunities in Kogi State but also to reinvigorate and inspire the people of Kogi; as you are reminded of your prospect both as a state and what it has to offer and the possibilities that are so unique to this state.A fertile arable land that makes Kogi the largest producer of cashew, potential major rice producer, a respected fishing community among others as well as a bed of some of the most prolific solid minerals including coal, limestone, iron ore and tin makes undoubtedly, the confluence state.”

Re-election

Bello’s re-election in 2019 is documented as one of the worst electoral frauds in Nigeria’s history. It was reportedly a story in bloodletting, corruption and thuggery.  Before then, Bello’s unpopularity was written on the faces of the people. An average Kogi indigene rated Bello’s first tenure a disaster.  The social media was awash with narratives of his poor performance. The people were determined to vote him out.  But, being a young man with vigour to do all things, Bello would not give room for that. He belongs to the ruling party, APC whose election character revolves around the PMB factor – power, money and brutality.

Foreign observers who monitored the election wrote off the exercise as a sham.  An election observer and Executive Director, Justice and Peace Development Initiative,  Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, Rev. Fr. Lawrence Emhel who monitored the election in Kogi as a member of Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, said the election was an outright war won by bullets.

With alleged collusion of security agents and INEC officials, Bello won the election after the First Lady, Aisha Buhari and Kaduna Governor, Nasir el-Rufai among many top APC chieftains, had stormed Kogi to campaign for Bello’s re-election. El-rufai, at the campaign, practically went on his knees to beg the people of Kogi to forgive Bello for his unpardonable shortcomings. According to him, Bello as a young man  could be swayed by youthful exuberance.

“Many people say Yahaya Bello is young and that he has fought many people.  For every one that the governor has offended, I am asking all of you to forgive him.  He is young; he is supposed to make mistakes.  When you are young, you make mistakes, but you are supposed to learn from him.  On his behalf, I am kneeling down to beg all of you to forgive Yahaya Bello if he has offended you,” el-Rufai said.

Barely 72 hours to the November 16, 2019 governorship election, the Senate approved President Buhari’s request of N10.069 billion as refund for projects that Kogi executed on behalf of the federal government.

More Facts to Consider

Kogi recorded a total revenue of N67.33 billion in 2020, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.  This was made up of FAAC N49.98 billion and IGR of N17.35 billion. FAAC accounts for 74.22 per cent of Kogi’s total revenue as against 25 percent that IGR contributes. It has a total domestic debt of N68.1 billion and foreign debt of $30.15 million.  Kogi is not among the states that attract foreign capital inflow like Anambra, Akwa Ibom, Lagos, Rivers. Its 2021 budget is N130 billion.

Bello has had his first taste of the demonic pleasure of power and fame.  His ambition is probably fueled by the fact that Nigeria is wallowing in a regime of failed leadership and the people keep moving.  He must have studied the psychology of a people who can be ruled by anybody.  He is exploiting the abuse of our collective intelligence. He never took vision seriously at least as a means of interpreting social phenomena.

Nigeria’s leadership challenge is not really about age. Yes, young age is a factor to reckon with, but competence and capacity are key.  Former president Olusegun Obasanjo did not rule Nigeria as a young man. But he showed capacity that enabled him to open up the economy which helped in repositioning Nigeria after many years of military rule.

At the state level, former governor of old Imo State, Sam Mbakwe, did not rule Imo as a young man. But his vision and works remain unmatched till date. Former governors Orji Uzor Kalu, James Ibori and Lucky Igbinedion, for instance, were all young men when they ruled their various states. Late Lateef Jakande was far above Bello’s age when he ruled and transformed Lagos. Their records of performance are there for Nigerians to judge.

What is this vague claim to youthful age that Bello is clinging to? How can a man who has not shown capacity at the state level aim to rule Nigeria from Abuja? Bello is perpetually at war with Labour in Kogi.  He lacks tact and maturity to handle delicate labour matters.  It is evident that by presenting himself as a presidential hopeful, amid glaring lack of vision and capacity, Bello is compelling Nigerians to choose between leukemia and brain tumour.