By Tonnie Iredia
It is not quite easy trying to examine why Yahaya Bello, Governor of Kogi State is now and again in the news for the wrong reasons. Each time a controversy about him breaks, what shocks people is the fact that the man appears to enjoy distracting himself thereby forcing analysts to recall the peculiar political development that ushered him into office. Did the man actually prepare for the position? There is doubt if he did because his ambition to become governor must have waned with the emergence of Prince Abubakar Audu (now late) as the flag bearer of their party, the All Progressives Congress APC. Before charismatic Audu could take office, he passed on, creating a vacuum which was inexplicably filled by the APC by bringing in Bello and dropping James Faleke, Audu’s running mate who no doubt contributed to the votes garnered by Audu that were now transferred to Bello.
The people of Kogi had no opportunity to even imagine whether to vote for Bello or not just as the new governor himself neither in essence canvass for votes nor did he articulate any agenda for governance. He became governor by the contraptions in the Nigerian political system and the technical nature of the nation’s judicial system. What this implies is that Bello must have acquired a fair share of political enemies. But why he always falls into their traps is hard to fathom. For longer than makes sense, the governor incurred the wrath of public workers in the state with several months of unpaid salaries and allowances. Ordinarily, Kogi could have hidden behind the large number of other defaulting states especially as the arrears were inherited but the case of Kogi is different because the governor introduced a screening exercise which was designed to operate without end. The position now is that no one believes the declared objectives of the screening.
As if the governor is unaware that unlike himself, the ordinary public servant has no security vote to appropriate, he has continued to treat the meager salaries of workers like a game of politics. Quite often, the state government gives an impression that salaries have been paid and that the few yet to be paid could not be cleared. The fact that what is said is too far from reality was confirmed when the organised labour in Kogi cancelled this year’s May Day celebration in protest against the non-payment of workers’ salaries and monthly pensions of retirees for as much as 14 months. The state Chairman of the NLC, Onu Edoka, and his TUC counterpart, Ranti Ojo said so. The people’s pain is further aggravated by the strategy of fighting with different groups, using the governor’s political appointees who are only good at making inflammatory statements. The other day, one of his aides described people engaged in peaceful protests as political jobbers and criminals; yet the protest was only calling attention to the impropriety of appointing two ambassadors from one section of the state.
The fight between the governor and Senator Dino Melaye is another piece of evidence that ego fighting is more important than governance in Kogi State. There is nothing wrong in a constituency seeking to recall its senator. If that is what is happening between the people of Kogi west senatorial district and their senator, Dino Melaye, it is a fair constitutional process. But the argument that the people were materially mobilized to cut their senator to size is worrisome. The recent advertorials valued at N12m placed in several national dailies by the Attorney General of the state in favour of the contrived recall confirms the point. No wonder, payment of salaries has remained a mirage in the state. The truth however is that a worker’s salary is not a privilege but a right. It is not even an achievement to say salaries have been paid let alone to argue that a substantial portion has been cleared. This to us is important in understanding the latest and mother of all fights by governor Bello which is the one with the workers of the State University.
It is unfortunate that the latest fight is with ASUU which everyone knows is not a child’s play. Interestingly, the governor is standing at the wrong end of the battle-field by purporting to have powers to proscribe ASUU. The news of the week which came out last Wednesday stated that the Governor proscribed the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) Kogi State University (KSU) chapter for its refusal to recognise his administration’s accepting to meet almost 90% of their demands. Expectedly, political opponents immediately lined up behind ASUU. In a signed statement, James Faleke a member of the House of Representatives who believes his right to the position of governor was usurped by Bello said the proscription had no legal basis. According to Faleke, there is no provision in KSU Law 1991 that gives the governor such sweeping powers to undermine the rights of the lecturers to free association.
Even if such a law existed, ASUU would naturally see it as being in conflict with the constitution which validates free association. Already, the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Mr Ayuba Wabba, has said that Gov. Yahaya Bello had no power to proscribe union activities in Kogi adding that the right of Nigerian workers to belong to any union of their choice is contained in Section 40 of Nigeria’s Constitution. Wabba also contended that workers have fundamental human rights to join unions of their choices as enshrined in the Charters of the United Nations and the International Labour Organization (ILO), to which Nigeria is signatory.
If what is playing out is not quickly checked, we shall have in our hands a long process that would keep students out of school for as long as no one knows. It is therefore time for the APC to introspect and engage their governor in peace education. We know however that whenever a piece such as this is written, the usual reaction is to hire writers to put up rejoinders attacking the messenger without assimilating the goodwill inherent in the message. Of course it is not in the interest of Governor Bello and the APC to adopt such a suicidal approach.