Honourable Abdullahi Bello, former acting governor of Kogi State and speaker of the State House of Assembly, in this interview by KUNLE ODEREMI, speaks on the war against corruption, the granting of financial autonomy to state parliament, debate over 2023 presidency, among other issues.
AS a major player in the politics of Kogi State, how instructive was the recent judgment of the Supreme Court on the November 2019 governorship election conducted in the state?
The final judgment was just a comprehensive affirmation of the will of the people of the state. The judgment was not only good, it was okay by most of us in Kogi State because it reflects the will of the people. You will recall that several months before the party primaries in the buildup to the gubernatorial election in Kogi State, I said that the governor was going to win overwhelmingly and that it was going to be an easy election based on the situation on ground. Those of us in politics and know the political terrain of the state knew then several months before the election that the incumbent governor was going to win a second term in office. We see the opposition parties, especially the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as a party on perpetual holiday. They will only reawaken themselves when the election gets close. So, that cannot be called an opposition. It was an easy victory for the governor and the court confirmed the judgment and we are grateful to God for that.
Are you saying Kogi is a one-party state?
No, it’s not a one-party state, but the opposition in the real sense of it does not exist in the state. They are only existing on the pages of newspapers and on the social media. But on ground, they are dead as a dead wood.
But, the PDP was able to make an impact in the 2019 general election in the state?
If you look at the pattern of the general election in that state, out of 25 members of the state House of Assembly, the APC won all the seats. If any serious politician of opposition party is battling for a gubernatorial election, you cannot afford to lose all the seats in your Assembly. Even those who become the gubernatorial candidates of the opposition parties could not win their own state constituencies for their own parties. For instance, if I’m coming from Okene, and I am in an opposition party and intend to contest for the governor of my state, there is no way where somebody from another senatorial district from another party should win the constituency where I come from. If I cannot deliver my constituency in a general election, how then do you think that when the gubernatorial election comes, I will be able to mobilise the people of other zones to vote for me? So, this is where they missed the point. If you look at the presidential election, the APC won overwhelmingly. In the senatorial election, all the Senate seats were won by the APC. So, if the APC under the leadership of Governor Yahaya Bello won all these seats, how do you now think that when it comes to his own election, the people will abandon him? Look at the House of Representatives, the APC has seven of the nine seats. So, why won’t such party win? Those that have gone into major elections and won, these are the indices that make any party to win in any election in the state.
But the views in some quarters are that your party used violence to capture the state and that the victory is deficit in terms of integrity and fairness.
We that are practically involved in politics, when you consider the issue of rigging, you cannot rig where you are weak. We are not conceding that there was rigging. There is no way where a minority can win the majority; it is not possible. So, on the issue of deploying violence, look somebody like me, I went into the 2007 election and I won. In 2011, I contested again and I won and became the speaker of the state House of Assembly and briefly as the acting governor of Kogi State. By 2015, I contested for a seat in the House of Representatives and I still won my election. So that is to show that I’m not somebody who cannot interpret and read the political trend and situation when it is approaching. Most of the people that are in my categories are supporting the current governor. If I’m supporting a governor, from the kind of followership, I have, how do you think that the governor will be defeated whenever I am asked to coordinate? So also we have so many other political gladiators who are supporting the governor and we are not making noise about it. But given the fact that we have decided to give support to the governor we all mobilized our supporters, months ahead the direction they must follow.
The road to 2023 and rising clamour for power shifting to the southeast or the southwest? One, do you support power shifting to the south in 2023 and where to be precise?
All democracies in the world are not the same because of the peculiar situation of each nation. In some countries, the issue of ethnicity is not prevalent, so individuals are recognized based on integrity, competence, merit and character, rather than where he or she comes from. But in our situation, with the kind of our local setting, it is not abnormal if people are saying offices of the president or governor should be based on zoning. I believe that very soon, we will overcome this type of agitation and begin to emphasis competent and quality leadership. I’m in support of power shifting from the north to the South but it is very important for leaders who want to lead at levels to begin to do what I will call the MKO Abiola type of political adventure. When he had the intention many years before he would one day be asking Nigerians to vote for him, Abiola had become a household name in most homes of the country. he had was famous for philanthropic activities. He was everywhere helping the downtrodden from Lagos to Sokoto down to Port Harcourt and up to Maiduguri. And he was honoured with many chieftaincy titles. So when he came out for the presidency, people voted for him on June 12, 1993, not minding that he picked a fellow Muslim, Ambassador BabaganaKingide as his running mate. People said he was good, competent and could be trusted. It was only those in power that denied Abiola the leadership of the country. We all went under the rain to vote for him under the banner of the SDP because he was a brand that what to cut a new leaf. So, those who want to become the president of the country from the southeast, South-South or southwest should work. Buhari didn’t just emerge as president of the country in 2015. He had been in the battle for a very long time, even he had been a former military head of state before. But Buhari became brand in the north polling millions of votes in Bauchi, other places. So, they should not remain in their comfort zones and their various zones. I want to see them crisscross the zones. You don’t stay in your sitting room to market your goods as a manufacturer. You have to showcase and advertise yourself before the people directly. The southwest is known for block votes; a similar pattern is beginning to emerge in the north central, where we have problem is the southeast. Look at the time the seat the senate president was conceded to the zone, they changed senate president about three times. Did you see the north central do that when it had the opportunity to produce senate president? Lawan is there now, do you see anybody from the North- East trying so most these people from the southeast are the enemies of themselves not any other zone. So, if anybody from the south wants to be president in 2023, they should begin to establish friendship across the country. Let them cultivate the people and friendship across the states and inset in the minds of the people. Abiloa’s election was one of the most peaceful in the country.ng to undermine him?
Having been a speaker and acting governor, how would you rationalise the enabling law recently signed by President MuhammaduBuhari on the issue?
It was a good move and action by the Executive arm of government at the centre for the effort towards the granting of financial autonomy for state judiciary and legislature. You know we had attempted severally before. In 2010/2011, in the then attempt to amend the constitution, we almost worked through the amendment that time. We had 24 states that supported the amendment, in fact, Kogi was one of the first set of states to have support the amendment. But strangely, the Speaker of the Katsina State of Assembly went to the chambers of the Senate to withdraw their own support for the proposal and making up their own to be less than required by one state making us to lose that attempt to have independence as at that time. so, when you look the issue of independence as at the time I’m talking to you now, it was the governors that did vehemently all they could do that they would oppose the issue of financial autonomy for the legislature. And let me tell you the first story about the whole thing. As at the time we led the struggle about all this thing, and we ran into serious frustration, we ran to a governor, who was a former Speaker and who even opposed the autonomy like RotimiAmaechi from Rivers State, he never supported independence for the state legislature even though he came3 from the background of a former Speaker. All said and done, we are grateful to the current government for giving us the support for the state legislature has their autonomy. In most of the states, the problem we have in the country, is not the absence of the law; it is the implementation of the law; the bottomline is the state legislatures have their autonomy.
But is it being practiced? If you look at all the states of the federation, the answer will be no! Even as it affects the judiciary, which has its independence over time for a long time. But you see state governments allow the judiciary based on the law and constitution. The answer is no; it only at the federal level allows the constitution to prevail whereby the National Assembly has its own independence according to the constitution.
So also the judiciary based on the constitution. But when you go beyond the centre, most of the state governors tactically ensure that the two arms of government: state legislature and the judiciary are tightened in such a way that they don’t have their financial autonomy. They are afraid all the time that if the state legislature have their autonomy, the governor could find it difficult to operate. They do not realize it is not so. I have not seen where there is a connection between having such financial independence could have such kind of consequence or discomfort for a state governor. I hope and I believe as we continue to struggle or trudge on, some of the state governors will see the need to for a complete autonomy for state legislature.
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