Governor Bello has surpassed his predecessors in infrastructure, human capital development —Chief of Staff
Chief Edward Onoja, Chief of Staff to Kogi State governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello. As one of the most influential persons in the administration, he speaks with YEKINI JIMOH on a range of issues concerning governance in the state in almost four years and why Bello deserves another four years.
DO you agree with the low rating of Governor Yahaya bello by some of his critics?
The hypocrisy of detractors claiming they are rating the performance of my boss, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, as governor of Kogi State, is well-known. The legitimacy and force of any rating exercise lies in the objectivity and impartiality of its agency. Without freedom from bias, what we have are just interested or guilty parties standing judgment in their own matter.
For instance, if people claim they are rating Governor Bello low, such rating, as the lawyers say, goes to no issue at all as it is vitiated by malice and bias. Another example is when some individuals, including some persons who held sway in government at all levels, some of them from as far back as when we were still in kindergarten, still believe they should be calling the shots and deciding for us in government. If they were that good and had all that knowledge, why was Kogi so prostrate and in disarray before Governor Bello took over?
Only a fool does the same things the same way and expects changes. We need to be objective and erase these sentiments, unless we do not want progress. Comparatively speaking, can any of these previous governors prove that in their first three and a half years in office they came anywhere near the achievements Governor Bello has recorded?
In what specific areas do you think your boss has performed more than his predecessors?
Check security, roads, rural water supply, electricity, health, and education or civil service reforms. Naysayers can travel down and take a tour of the state now then compare and contrast with the recent past. Anyone who can find the humanity to blind sentiments and judge from with the fear of God and in the interest of the people, cannot but arrive at the inescapable conclusion that Governor Bello and his New Direction Administration have started a long-awaited renaissance in Kogi.
Let me give you some ratings which really matter and which display our milestones in office:
In 2017, less than two years into Bello’s tenure, Kogi was rated one out of only four states in the federation deemed success stories in the SDGs by the United Nations. We were invited to the 72nd UN General Assembly where we made a presentation. Governor Bello inherited a Kogi State that was the kidnap capital of Nigeria with over 250 kidnap cases in 2015 alone. Less than six months into his tenure, kidnapping dropped drastically. In fact, for a six month period from July of 2017 to early January of 2018 we recorded no kidnap cases at all. Till today, we only record random and isolated cases.
We officially became the second most peaceful state in the federation after Osun, and the most peaceful in northern Nigeria in 2018, as rated by the National Peace Index (NPI).
In the same 2018, we were rated the state with the second lowest crime statistics after Kebbi by National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). Our enhanced security came at the cost of a governor actually spending his security vote and other appropriated funds on the provision of security for his people.
Over 200 and 500 brand new four-wheel drive vans and motorcycles were purchased and distributed to all the security agencies in addition to other gadgets and financial support. We build a Forward Operations Base for the Nigerian Army and outposts across the state. There is the formation of The New Kogi Vigilante Service. Over 5,000 Kogi citizens were recruited, screened, trained and equipped through it to ensure effective and efficient community policing, a vital support base for the already established security agencies.
You think the governor has made the right choices in terms of appointment to key positions?
In appointments, for the first time, the state enjoys equity in spread of government appointments and projects. Tribe and religion play no role except to ensure for proportionality. The youths have taken over and women occupy high profile positions and of big influence.
Though an Ebira, Governor Bello works with an Igala as his deputy and Chief of Staff, as well as an Okun person as Secretary to the State Government. It is the first time to record such spread. I am probably the most empowered Chief of Staff in the whole country and I like to believe that I have justified the trust which my boss deems fit to repose in me. We have Elders Advisory Councils across all the Senatorial Districts which provide an outlet for the wisdom of the experienced elders to reach out and guide government, especially in sensitive matters pertaining to the peculiarities of each locality.
How has the state been coping in terms of meeting conflicting demands?
Our Internally Generated Revenue has grown from about N350m monthly to over N1bn simply by eliminating corruption and improving collection. This year, we have been rated the seventh top performer among all the states and FCT in basic education by the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC). Over 375 basic education schools have been renovated or constructed from scratch across the state. Our secondary schools have enjoyed the administration’s magic touch too, especially in enhanced learning materials. Several tertiary institutions were upgraded to the point they have received long outstanding accreditation for critical courses.
Still in 2019, the NBS rated us one of the only nine states which reduced unemployment at a time the rest of the country slid further into it. Where are those who shouted up and down that the governor’s civil service reforms were a waste? Even the vexed salary arrears have become history as the governor kept his word to pay up all arrears as soon as the bailout funds become available. The bailout has come and the governor has paid. Talk and do!
Are you saying that the governor has justified the huge resources received compared to his performance?
Governor Bello has brought electricity to nearly 100 communities across the state, especially in the eastern flank and the Lokoja/Koto axis of Kogi West. On July 6, the governor inaugurated Project Light Up Kogi East (PLUKE) for accelerated electrification of at least 200 communities in Kogi East. The project was provided for in this year’s budget and the governor has set aside N1.5bn for it. It’s no longer news that Kogi East may soon be linked in minutes to Edo via Aganabode bridge at Idah the headquarters of the Igala nation through a Public-Private Partnership arrangement.
The second largest rice mill in Northern Nigeria is ready for commissioning at Ejiba in Yagba East of Kogi West. We are anticipating 100,000 hectares of palm plantations in Kogi East, with processing cottage ventures. His Royal Majesty, Atta Igala, confirms the setting up of two cashew processing plants in Kogi East. Finally the big one CBN’s approval to establish 500,000 hectares of cassava farms with corresponding processing plants in 50 HUB engaging directly 500,000 farmers. Are these not forward and upward signs for our people? Yet, the blind can’t see what Governor Bello is doing. Blindness is worse, if it’s that of the mind. It has no remedy.
The governor has finally brought balance to the religious scales in the state as he laid the foundation stone for the first ever chapel in Government House, Lokoja, alongside an excited national president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) a fortnight ago. Before then, Christians, Muslims and even traditional worshippers alike have enjoyed his support for their lawful modes of worship.
Kogi East, and in particular Igalaland, has received special attention commensurate to the size of its landmass and population. Apart from getting the lion’s share of all the efforts listed above, projects of key significance like the Igala Unity House and the Project Light Up Kogi East are unique to us. We have several cultural and unifying festivals banned over the years, some since colonial times. Governor Bello has restored them, both as a salute to us and as a means of improving the tourism and culture profile of the state.
We cannot mention all the projects, policies and initiatives one by one, but wherever they are sited, they are for the use of Kogites and not the governor or his family. Whether we like it or not, good and bad governance affect every tribe and senatorial district the same way.
In Kogi State, Kogi East and in particular, the Igala, held sway for 20 of 25 years before Governor Bello. Yet, is our backwardness in development not worse today than those of our two brother districts to the West and Central of our state on the indices listed above? Has the bad governance of the past exempted Kogi East because its sons were in office?
Of course, those who had the opportunity to govern, along with their families and cronies, are wealthier today than King Solomon of old. They can buy the rest of us combined in multiple folds, but does that help us because they speak the same language as us? Meanwhile, do they even care a hoot about the suffering of our people so as to extend a little helping hand to anyone? Show me with evidence how they helped in solving any of the indices of development above for their little clan or village? These people are multibillionaires today courtesy of our stolen patrimonies for God’s sake. They can transform any village in Kogi East they desire into a little Maitama or Asokoro.
Today, are all of them – brothers, uncles, sons and aunts – not the only ones who can afford the heavy cost of nomination forms? They and a few retired this and that and one or two serving so and so? My question prior to now is, is their quest for a return to power not mainly to acquire immunity from their former looting, immunity to loot further?
Okay, assume for a moment that looting is not exclusive to them and no one is a saint, can any of them accuse Governor Bello or members of his team of any scandal or financial impropriety? If they could, do you think they would not have taken out hours on TV and pages in newspapers to shout it aloud to the whole world?
Sometimes, I just sit and laugh at the joke we are becoming in the scheme of things on the national stage. In the mad pursuit for localised ethnic agenda, are some of those that by the grace of our vantage position we persuaded the Governor to rescue from drowning in irrelevance on to positions of influence on the national stage not the ones who have redefined perfidy before the eyes of the who Nigeria?
What was their thank you, ‘Omaye’? Is it not a new definition and depth of treachery in the crudest form? I shiver at the kind of wolves in sheep’s clothing that we birthed in our land. Now, I understand why they say you should let a wolf dying of starvation in the bush die because if you feed and resuscitate him, he will try to eat you the moment he gathers enough strength. What a shame.
Why are you supporting Governor Bello for a second term against the decision of your kinsmen?
So, ‘Governor Bello is not Igala’ is the final frontiers to those who like to make merchandise of us? So what? Can any of them deny his good works on our people and Igalaland? For months they wailed that our people are suffering for non-payments of salary by Bello. Even when Wada confessed on Berekete Family and Channels TV that it was a historical problem which forced his administration to seek an N80bn bailout to solve, they still insisted that Bello must be blamed. Now that it has been cleared up to date far and better than what Wada, our ‘Omaye’, dreamed, tell me if it is not the same old primordial sentiments of tribe which continues to afflict some of us? People are actually sad that the Governor is paying salaries.
Incidentally, the same sentiments that killed millions in Nigeria during the Civil War and hundreds of thousands in the Rwanda genocide are found in the two hydra-headed monsters of tribe and religion which afflict our land. If you add the class divides nurtured by our past leaders to set the haves apart from the have-nots so that some people are superiors and others are inferiors by no effort or fault respectively of theirs, but the mere accident of birth circumstances, we see the true dangers facing our society in technicolor.
These three monsters are what Governor Bello, my friend, boss, leader and Siamese twin has trampled underfoot in the last three and a half years and demystified in the Confluence State. This state where two stranger rivers, totally different in source, color, content and speed meet in a noiseless synergy of vision and mission and with focused purpose travel together the tortuous and unpredictable voyage down to the south of Nigeria to empty into the mighty Atlantic Ocean.
It is instructive that while we should flex our bigger numbers over our neighbours, there is an ocean somewhere that covers 70% of the entire earth and is both deep and wide enough to swallow many times all the lands, resources and vegetation that we fight ourselves over. Who kills for the ocean that it is so big? Nobody. Only the Almighty sustains it. Let us stop bottling ourselves up here as if life begins and ends here in Kogi.
We are over 7 billion humans on the planet. What fraction are we the Igala in this 7 billion? In fact, what fraction is the whole of Kogi State compared to the global numbers? Meanwhile, all of this is going to vanish one day. After that, the judgment when we will stand before our Maker to tell Him how righteous and holy we were here on earth when we thought that other tribes but us must exist. You claim you love God? He says if you cannot love my creation that you see, do not bother protesting how much you love Me Whom you have never seen.
The plan of God is that we share the earth and its resources. “The profit of the earth is for all,” is how the Holy Bible puts it. Insisting that we must always take and take because we have the might or the numbers is contrary to the divine design of things. It is how we treat everyone of God’s creatures, whether Ebira, Okun or Igala that shows how much we love and fear the Creator. Anything short of equity and fairness in distributing the things we co-own with others is standard hypocrisy and unacceptable to God.
‘Love thy neigbour as thyself’ is not a suggestion, it is a command’. Love is always the greatest of the great virtues. It is always ahead of the other two, faith and hope. May our love bring life to our faith and hope as individuals and as a tribe.