It is, indeed, a year like no other for Yahaya Bello (YB), Governor of Kogi State. One year in Luggard House, Lokoja, is enough time to take a bird’s eye view of a most turbulent and fairy-tale rise to power for someone I want to dub a child of destiny.
Let me confess upfront that I write as a brother and kinsman from the same senatorial zone as the governor, who probably knows him a shade beyond the call of duty and not as an aide or publicist. I seize the opportunity of this auspicious first anniversary to purvey a touch of brotherly candidness, while leaving a proper showcase of his 365 days in office for those who have that duty to do.
It would be trite to recount here the epic circumstances that brought this pleasant introvert and artful grassroots political strategist to power. A man who, upon losing the All Progressives Congress (APC) primary to Prince Audu Abubakar, had resigned to fate and had gone about running his vast businesses. But fate was not done with him yet, as we have come to see. The sudden demise of the Prince, that colossus of Kogi politics, had thrown him into the power equation once again.
A man of eloquence, sharp mind, surprisingly gentle disposition and good nature, providence seemingly thrust power upon him, willy-nilly, and in the last one year, he has continued to project peace and offer reconciliation to all at every turn. We know he has never stopped reaching out to his co-contestants, making it understood that Kogi people represent for him the Y and the X at every turning point of this political equation; not the office nor the inherent perks and perquisites.
To prove that he is not one to stoke the embers of discord in his party, he was recently photographed respectfully greeting Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the APC numero uno, during the public presentation of President Muhammadu Buhari’s biography in Abuja. Besides being an unwavering party man and conciliator, I have come to find his loyalty to people and to the causes he believes in quite extraordinary. As I found out in the course of our interactions, his loyalty to President Buhari is almost addictive to the point that he almost alienated a very senior parliamentarian and mutual friend when the lawmaker’s relationship with the president was frosty.
For the Kogi Central stock of Kogi State to which I belong, the coming of Bello, the Ebira-born political maestro, is for us, akin to Barack Obama, winning the presidential election in the United States. It is a first-ever opportunity for our minority tribe to occupy the Government House in our highly heterogeneous state. It was a source of joy and excitement for the likes of us. And as a major stakeholder, it is my wish that Governor YB makes a major difference. I am from Magongo, and knowing that my mother is from Ogori, Governor YB had recently teased that I am the REAL Ogori-Magongo!
A man of simple ways, the last time I visited Lokoja, he drove (he would rather drive himself as much as possible) to meet me and my younger ‘siblings’ (B & F) at our apartment. At certain points, I almost had to remind him that he is now governor and that people are liable to take him for granted if they find him too humble and self-effacing. Not being your typical Nigerian politician, he has remained what I want to call a ‘triangular politician.’ Do you remember in the university days, those students who used to shuttle from hostel to lectures and back to hostel? You would predictably find GYB go from home to work, to the mosque and back to home or work. GYB hardly socialises; as much as possible, he shuns social gatherings and ceremonies.
Some people have begun to tag him as snobbish on account of this, but that is far from the truth. I think it is a mark of his professional training and work ethic. And let me say that going by the initial traits, I believe he will acquit himself well in office over the next three years, or seven years. And I say this with all sense of responsibility.
One year is a short time and, no kidding, it is also time enough to work the vision and set the tone for a glorious era in government. From what I see and what some people have said, I think he is on track. Devoid of the initial shenanigans and distractions that roiled his early days in office, he has laid out his blueprint and, indeed, gone ahead to draw his roadmap.
Many would speak about the long-drawn screening exercise of civil servants in negative terms, but he has said he is actually on a mission to sanitise not only the badly compromised pay system, but to revamp the civil service.
His mission is known as New Direction Agenda (NDA) and he says his priority is education. His administration has acquired three schools from three zones as Centres of Excellence and Unity; they are the first in a series to be designated as such to raise future leaders and worthy ambassadors of the state. A number of schools have enjoyed renovation as well as received instruction materials.
He has said agriculture would be a main thrust of his administration. So many programmes have been initiated in this regard but most notable is the 20,000 hectares of land to Dangote Group for the cultivation of rice. Twenty one earth-moving plants have been given to each of the local government areas to help them drive year-round farming. He has promised to give the local government councils full autonomy – including financial. This would be the greatest thing that would happen to my state since its creation, if he can pull this off and drive its implementation, including making them accountable. If this happens, the impact would be enormous as the state would enjoy rapid integrated development.
Some residents insist that Kogi is more secure today than GYB met it, having drastically tinkered with the security architecture of the state. They also say Lokoja is much cleaner today than a year ago when he took office. Apart from employing many more street cleaners and designating many more dumpsites, Kogi State Environmental Sanitation Exercise has been initiated.
What more can I say? I had promised at the beginning that this is not a forum to promote the activities of GYB, but I guess I got a little carried away. I urge the governor to stick to his modest plan, which he himself designed. There will be resistance to change, but he must be resolute and faithful to his roadmap in order to leave lasting legacies.
He should also lead with the fear of God, compassion, truth and justice. He should listen to his people and carry them along.
•Abrams, member of the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria, is the Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of FRESH FACTS Newspapers (Email: [email protected]).