By Boluwaji Obahopo
EIGHT years ago, precisely on January 27, 2016, Kogi State witnessed a change in its political leadership.
A 40-year-old young man and political greenhorn tiptoed into the leadership space of the state.
Alhaji Yahaya Bello was sworn in as the fourth democratically elected governor of Kogi State, marking a complete change from the former dominance of elderly people in the saddle of the state’s affairs. Not only that, it was the first time in the history of the state that a non- Igala person would govern the state.
Bello’s emergence as replacement for late Abubakar Audu who was the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in the governorship election came with a bag of mixed feelings. Being a non-Igala and a young man for that matter would he make any difference in political governance of the state? Many also began to allude spirituality to his emergence, saying if not by providence, there was no way he would have become Kogi’s Number One citizen at that time.
The expectation for or against him was enormous especially given the fact that he was from a minority Ebira ethnic group.
Apart from the encumbrances and challenges which come naturally with the office of a governor, Bello was, as well, under pressure to prove that a youth could be trusted with enormous powers.
For some reasons, he was bugged down with litigation from those trying to take the seat from him. He became the most litigated governor – three different cases were instituted against his emergence – all ending at the Supreme Court.
No doubt, the judiciary challenges contributed to his inability to settle down for governance on time, depriving him the presence of clear mind to give his undivided attention to the task at hand.
Bello fought many battles on many fronts at once. He started by engaging the House of Assembly members over leadership change. With the then Speaker from the same LGA with him, Bello fought for another zone to produce the speaker in order to ensure balancing of power among the three senatorial zones of the state.
Before the dust of Executive – Legislative debacle could settle, Bello engaged in staff audit, putting a stop to State and Local Government workers salary until the end of the screening. The screening was to take a dangerous twist that almost rubbished its good intention. The screening initially scheduled to end in just a month lasted more than six months, bringing anguish to workers who lost patience waiting for their salary.
Bello extended his battle to the political class, especially those of the APC, who felt he was an usurper. The battle for legitimacy took a long toll on him and could not allow him to focus well on his Blueprint Agenda in his first term. Political analysts got so worried that they renamed his ‘New Direction” agenda as “No Direction” Agenda.
By the time the coast would fully clear for him, he was already at the twilight of his first tenure, and the urge to get a second term became ominous. He quickly reached a stage of maturity; gaining strength, confidence, security, respect and social acceptance, by understanding that he was accountable only to the people of Kogi. Instead of trying to please political chieftains, he made the sound judgment of working for the greater good of the majority.
Battle against insecurity
Bello, headlong, tackled the high reign of insecurity. Kogi before his emergence was a haven for criminals. He immediately engaged in the effort to end the reign of lawbreakers. His success was resounding and widely acknowledged around the country.
On insecurity, Bello said: “To me, Kogi State is a metaphor for our nation. We are the intersection at the heart of Nigeria where compatriots from different parts of Nigeria meet everyday on their journey of life, share a meal or a short rest and travel together to destinations. Our aspiration is a Nigeria where we can all meet in our rich diversity, unite in our nationhood and travel together towards our shared greatness.”
Despite bordering nine states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Bello sustained a solid security and safety architecture through effective law enforcement strategies, local intelligence gathering, collaboration among security agencies, and involving traditional institutions.
Bello thereafter focused on his New Direction Blueprint that was put together by a team of consultants drawn from every discipline.
The outcome of the blueprints is a harvest of legacy projects most of which were completed in his second term, among which is the first over-head bridge in Lokoja, the state capital called the Ganaja Flyover Bridge.
Getting second term was like redemption for Bello as he put his efforts into constructing infrastructures across the state that even his political arch enemies could not but appraise him for a job well done and for indelible marks in the development of the state.
Bello ensured that one or two roads in all the 21 local government areas of the state were either constructed or rehabilitated. He constructed the ultra modern event centre named after former President Muhammdu Buhari.
The construction of the Referral Hospital, Okene which has the capacity to handle multifaceted health challenges has become the talking point of health practitioners across the country. He also built one General Hospital in each of the three senatorial districts of the state. Bello’s healthcare reforms contributed to the decline in mortality rate of the state.
Strides in other sectors
Governor Bello made tremendous strides in other sectors like Education, human capital development, youth and women empowerment.
A cursory look at the education sector will show uncommon accomplishments such as improving education through increased funding and infrastructure, establishing two universities and fully funding their take off, concerted efforts leading to 100 percent accreditation of courses in all the tertiary institutions of the state. Even the Nigeria-Korea Friendship Institute (NKFI) of Vocational and Advanced Technology also benefited from the release of funds.
The best of his ending is the free education policies he introduce in 2023 for Primary and secondary schools, coupled with the free payment of WAEC, NECO, JAMB, Basic Examination and Junior Secondary school examination as well as the construction of Model schools across the three senatorial districts of the state.
Women, youth inclusion
He also implemented some policies such as women and youth political inclusiveness. He ensured that in the last LGA election, all the vice chairmen were women. He followed it up by ensuring that at least each LGA has three female councilors – one of whom were appointed as Council Leader. Most of those appointed into his cabinet are youths.
Bello may have found himself as a greenhorn, who faced a lot of stumbling blocks in his first term but he certainly finished well and strong.
Political analysts have given him a pass mark on the fact that he will be judged by his cumulative eight years in office and not only by his first term. They said Bello has fulfilled the biblical saying that better is the end of a thing than its beginning thereof.
“History will be kind to such a man whose ideal, encapsulates that of perseverance, resilience, and dedication and whose journey has led to a more satisfying and fulfilling outcome and rewarding conclusions,” Abubakar Jimoh, a resident of the state concluded.
Bello is leaving Kogi more prosperous, transformed – NIA DG
Indeed, the Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency, NIA, Amb. Ahmed Rufai Abubakar, said that Bello’s exceptional achievements had re-jigged Kogi’s economy. He commended the out-going Governor for his exceptional achievements in the state.
Abubakar, in a commendation letter he personally signed and addressed to Governor Bello, congratulated him on his notable strides since he assumed office as Kogi Governor in 2016, saying his various infrastructural projects had opened up the state as one of Nigeria’s main trade routes.
While congratulating the Governor and the Kogi State chapter of the APC for winning the just concluded governorship election in the state, the NIA boss noted that the governor was leaving the North Central state more prosperous, developed and transformed.
He listed some infrastructural projects, renovation of the Okene Reference hospital and the establishment of Omi Rice Farm as some of the achievements of the Bello administration.
Abubakar, in the letter, titled, “Acknowledging Your Remarkable Achievements as Governor,” explained how Governor Bello’s enhanced public services and facilities added value to agricultural production and rejigged Kogi’s economy.
“As your tenure as the Governor of Kogi State draws to a close, I write to congratulate you and acknowledge the notable achievements of your administration during your two tenures as Governor since you assumed office in 2016. I would also like to congratulate you and the Kogi State chapter of the APC for winning the just concluded Gubernatorial elections.
“During your time as Governor of Kogi State, the various infrastructural projects undertaken by your administration have significantly improved the state’s connectivity and accessibility as one of Nigeria’s main trade routes from the West and South to Northern parts of the country.
“The renovation of the Okene Reference hospital is a testament to your dedication to enhancing public services and facilities. Similarly, the establishment of Omi Rice Farm, one of the largest in Nigeria, is a clear demonstration of your administration’s commitment to adding value to agricultural production.
“As you conclude your tenure and begin another chapter in your political career, I wish you success in your future endeavours.”
Tasks before Ododo
The way forward is for his successor, Alhaji Usman Ododo, is to unite the polarized tribes of the state, consolidate on Bello’s achievements, especially in Security, education and health among others.