Undercurrents of Kogi’s political game • The workers connection

Against the backdrop of the disruption of the Jumaat prayer attended by Governor Yahaya Bello as part of activities marking the 25th anniversary of the creation of the Kogi State, YINKA OLADOYINBO examines the chain of events leading to the incident.

KOGI State in the North-Central part Nigeria was again in the news in the last one week, in continuation of the political crisis that has engulfed the state since the completion of the last governorship election. The government of the confluence state had rolled out the drums to celebrate the silver jubilee of the creation of the state with some programmes lined up to add spices to the four-day event.

The programme started on Thursday and was expected to continue on Friday, with a special Jumat prayer at the Lokoja central mosque. The prayer session, however, turned out to be a stoning session as the state governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello and his entourage was reportedly attacked by some people, who hauled various objects at the governor. The situation was said to have degenerated as the governor allegedly hurriedly left the environment after observing the prayer.

The latest development in the state, according to political pundits, is confirming that the political landscape of the state was yet to be devoid of crisis. Many had expected that, having won at both the Election Petition Tribunal and the Court of Appeal, the governor would enjoy the support of the political class and the people across board. However, that was not to be, as it is obvious that Bello is now fighting many battles on many fronts.

The problem had started with the governor’s emergence as the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as a replacement for the late Prince Abubakar Audu for the supplementary election of December 5, 2015. Since he was named by the national secretariat of the party, there has been no love lost between his political camp and that of the late former governor, headed by his deputy governorship candidate, Honourable James Faleke.

The situation got worse when Faleke, who was supposed to be a deputy governorship candidate to Bello, rejected the offer and challenged the declaration of Bello as governor before the tribunal, a development that was novel in the political lexicon of Nigeria.

The governor later faced stiff opposition from the State Executive Committee (SEC) of his party which passed a vote of no confidence in him after accusing him of running the government like his personal estate. The party officers had accused the governor of appointing people that never worked for the APC or were involved in the process that led the party to victory into offices. The members of the SEC, led by the state chairman, Hadi Ametuo, therefore asked the national secretariat to call the governor to order or else the APC might go into extinction in the state.

Besides, the governor also went through a leadership crisis that crippled the state House of Assembly for over six months and prevented the legislative arm from performing its statutory responsibilities. Upon assumption of office on January 27, 2016 by the governor, it was obvious that there was the need for a change of guard for the sake of even distribution offices, at the legislative arm of government as both the governor and the then Speaker of the House of Assembly, Momoh Lawal, were from the same Okene Local Government Area of the Kogi Central Senatorial District. The crisis brewed when the governor insisted on a member of his party and minority in the House should emerge as the speaker. After about six months of bickering, maneuvering, political horse trading and legal tussle, the crisis was resolved.

But as all the political crises were unfolding, the governor, in fulfillment of his promise, commenced the processes of cleansing the state civil service of rot and corruption, which he said, had characterised the system since the creation of the state. This he started with the setting up of the General OlusolaOkuntimo-led committee for staff screening. The committee had as part of its mandate, the determination of the actual work force of the state with the aim of having a clean payroll.

The constitution of the committee was based on the belief and findings that there was an endemic corruption in the civil service, which is largely allegedly being perpetrated by the top echelon of the service in collusion with some lower officers. As a result of this, before the committee commenced its assignment, the governor sent many top civil servants at both the state and local government on compulsory leave, apparently to prevent interference in the work of the committee. Those affected by the step were the Head of Service, permanent secretaries, Directors of Local Government Administration, treasurers, cashiers, education secretaries, among others.

Observers in the state had lauded this bold step of government at cleansing the service, but were skeptical about the implementation of the report. The pessimism  was as a result of past experiences where such move were made by past administrations who allegedly found it difficult to implement the reports of the committees put in place for such exercises. The people of the state across political and ethnic divides were of the opinion that if Bello can be sincere with the exercise and at the end ensure that the rot is cleaned, he would have written his name in gold as it was believed that billions of naira are being lost to the fraudulent inclusion of ghost workers on the payroll.But while the exercise lasted, the tension in the state increased. Some of the moves of the committee, which had representatives of the organised labour as members, pitched it against the leadership of the workers and this eventually led to the workers pulling out of the exercise. The development also consumed Okuntimo as he was removed by the governor based on the demand of the organised labour.

The situation was further aggravated when the workers could not get their salary for the period the screening lasted. While the government claimed to have paid the workers fours month, many of the workers faulted the claim as some were said to have only received between one and three months.

Many people believed that the attack on the governor at the mosque was orchestrated by some people who were aggrieved over the failure of government to pay their salaries after being made to face a series of screening. The assertion was later confirmed by the Maigarin of Lokoja, Alhaji Muhammed Maikarfi, while addressing the youth of the town, during their solidarity rally for the governor. He pointed out that it was not Governor Bello alone in the country that was battling to pay workers’ salaries, noting that the immediate past administration left four months unpaid salaries.

Speaking on the tension in the state, the executive director of the Centre for Human Rights and Conflict Resolution, Idris Abdul, said the situation was a self-inflicted and a product of the attitude of the present administration to governance. He noted that Bello’s approach to governance was largely responsible for the situation in the state.

In the same vein, the state chairman of the Inter Party Advisory Council (IPAC), Ibrahim Itodo, is of the opinion that the governor was yet to match his promise with action as pledged during his inauguration in January. He also opined that the internal wrangling in the APC was having its toll on the quest for development in the state.

He said, “The political situation in Kogi State is comatose. We have not fared well in the past 25 years and the major problem is within the political parties because of inadequate adherence to the principle of internal democracy. The APC came in at a time when we were yearning for real development and for proper change. But the change mantra we have noticed in Kogi is the opposite. So politically, we have not done well because dividends of democracy are not available right now in the state.

On the possibility of the manner of the emergence of Bello being responsible for the situation, Itodo said, “I don’t think the manner of emergence of the governor is a contributory factor to the events in the state. The governor ought to have called the party leaders to a town hall meeting and charted a way forward together.”

But in all this, the governor is of the view that the major challenge that his administration has is the failure of the people to move away from the old ways of doing things. He said his coming to government had brought a new horizon into governance. Bello believes those benefiting from the corruption of the past are behind the agitations in the state. The governor, who spoke through his Chief Press Secretary (CPS), Kingsley Fanwo, however said he had placed his hands on the plough and was not ready to look back, as he had a covenant with the people of the state to entrench good governance.

He said, “The government of Alhaji Yahaya Bello is not the kind of government that will not expect this kind of tension. Things are changing in the state. The political climate is really going through a lot of changes and that is why those who feel they are losing out in the political chess game are trying to fight back as hard as they can. Politically, we know that it is a battle against some very powerful forces within and outside the party and who were not happy with the divine mandate given the governor of the state. They are using all the machinery they have to fight the government. The governor will continue to remain committed to his words of giving the best to the state, regardless of the feelings of external forces, who feel they must always have their way.”

Fanwo was, however, of the opinion that certain things were responsible for the incident at the central mosque. “The incident was not basically targeted at the governor as a person. That is why we maintained that the governor was not stoned. What happened was as a result of many reasons. One of the reasons is that the Kabawa Boys are used to politicians coming to give them money not to foment trouble. But the governor doesn’t buy into that arrangement. What he rather wants to do is to empower them.

“The second reason is that the political leaders in Lokoja/Koto are losing out in the political calculus of the state and they feel that one of the ways to win back their place is to continue to embarrass the governor so that he will dance to their tune. We know that some miscreants were sponsored to cause confusion in the mosque and to paint a picture of a state in crisis. But it failed because the governor was able to do his supplication and left.”