By Chukwudi Nweje

For the immediate past governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello,  there is no gainsaying that life has not been easy since he exited office on Saturday, January 27, this year. Many critical observers would agree that rather than rest after eight years of leading his state, his major worry presently is the cat and mouse game with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC).

The anti-graft agency has been on his neck over various allegations which, in the views of many of his supporters, are the handiwork of political opponents and detractors. The latest of the allegations happened last Thursday when confusion was thrown up at a Federal High Court, Abuja as the EFCC alleged that the former governor diverted funds belonging to Kogi in September 2015, months before he assumed office in the state.

The EFCC made the claim in the amended charges filed against Alli Bello, Daudu Suleiman, and the former governor before Justice James Omotosho.

Yahaya Bello was first sworn in as the governor of Kogi on both January 27, 2016 and January 27, 2020 for his second term in office.

He handed over to Usman Ododo after completion of constitutionally allowed two terms of eight years in January, 2024.

Many observers were surprised over the EFCC’s allegation that Bello and the other suspects diverted about N100 billion belonging to the state government in September 2015, months before he even assumed office.

Yahaya Bello was not even a defendant in the original suit, and was not in court.

However, when the matter was called for the defendants to be re-arraigned, counsel for the former governor, A.M. Aliyu, SAN, objected to reading of the amended charges to his client.

His ground of objection was that the anti-graft agency had failed woefully to comply with Section 218 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), 2015.

The senior lawyer submitted that a copy of the amended charges was not served on them as required by the provisions of ACJA.

But EFCC’s lawyer, Rotimi Oyedepo, SAN, asked the court to reject the arguments of the defendant, adding that the court had, on its own, endorsed the amendment.

The development has thrown up a lot of conspiracy theories. One of them is that GYB came to power January 2016 but EFCC is trying to charge him for an offence allegedly committed in September 2015. That is a clear four months before he assumed office.

So, the key question agitating the minds of critical observers is: “How is it possible to steal government funds when one is not in government and doesn’t have access to the office and the funds?”

Not a few observers smell some political witch-hunt by opponents in the latest case even as they believe that it seems more like a persecution than a prosecution.

But luckily for Bello, the Kogi State government has consistently said there is no money missing in its coffers. So, the question on the lips of his supporters is,  “why is EFCC chasing shadows and looking for what is not lost or is there an agenda being played out by the anti-graft agency?”

There are those who insist that the EFCC should face more critical cases rather than wasting tax payers’ money on phantom charges.

Some indigenes of Kogi State under the aegis of Kogi In Diaspora Association (KIDA), an umbrella group for Kogi citizens worldwide, have already dragged the EFCC to the international community, demanding a stop to what they described as the baseless harassment of the immediate-past governor

A letter dated February 9, 2024, signed by the Co-Convener, Kogi In Diaspora Association, Hon. Seyi Olorunsola, was addressed to the United Nations Mission in Nigeria, the European Union Office in Nigeria, the Embassy of the United States of America, Abuja, the British High Commission, Abuja, the Canadian Embassy, Abuja, the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Embassy of the French Republic and the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China.

The letter made available to newsmen urged the diplomatic offices, representing the international community and international institutions, to use their influential channels to address the matter urgently.

According to the letter, in the past few days, the former governor has faced a barrage of attacks from the EFCC, accusing him of an alleged N80 billion fraud committed four months before assuming office in 2015.

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It reads: “I write to you as the Co-Convener of the Kogi In Diaspora Association, an umbrella group for Kogi citizens worldwide. Our organization is deeply concerned about the escalating threat to the fundamental rights of Nigerian citizens, particularly exemplified by the recent actions of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The specific case at hand involves the unwarranted and baseless harassment of the immediate past Governor of Kogi State, H.E. Alhaji Yahaya Bello.

“We find it incredulous that a person without access to the levers of governance authority could misappropriate such a substantial sum. Moreover, the EFCC’s claim in 2021, alleging Governor Bello laundered N20 billion of Kogi funds in a specific commercial bank, was refuted by the bank, and the case subsequently faded away.

“These sensational media trials not only tarnish the reputation of individuals like Governor Bello but also raise serious concerns about the misuse of power by the EFCC. It is disheartening to witness the agency engaging in a pattern of witch hunting without concrete evidence, undermining the principles of justice and fairness.

“We implore your esteemed diplomatic offices, representing the international community and international institutions, to use your influential channels to address this matter urgently. The abuse of power by the EFCC poses a significant threat to the freedom and rights of Nigerian citizens. We believe that your intervention can play a pivotal role in preventing further unjust harassment and ensuring due process for those targeted.

“As advocates for justice and human rights, we kindly request that you engage with the Nigerian authorities, emphasizing the importance of upholding the rule of law and preventing any actions that violate the fundamental rights of citizens. Together, we can work towards fostering a fair and just society in Nigeria.”

Also, the Kogi State government described as false the allegation of corruption levelled against the immediate past governor by the EFCC.

The EFCC, in an amended charge filed against the Chief of Staff to the incumbent governor, Alli Bello, had indicted the former governor, who was alleged to have diverted about N100bn months before he assumed office as governor in September 2015.

But, the state Commissioner for Information, Kingsley Fanwo, in a statement released on Friday, insisted that its funds were not missing, and accused the EFCC of being politically motivated to tarnish Bello’s reputation.

Part of the statement read: “As an administration, we inherited the zero tolerance for corruption policy from the immediate past administration of Governor Yahaya Bello.

“A few years back, we witnessed a worrisome trend and torrent of witch-hunt by the EFCC unrepentantly striving to force corruption claims on our government and its officials. The commission started with claims that it discovered a non-existent fund in an alleged fixed deposit account.

“It eventually shot itself in the foot with a badly scripted skit of conniving with the now discredited (Godwin) Emefiele-led Central Bank of Nigeria to claim that the money was returned to the central bank. This is the height of a witch-hunt and unprovoked attack on the integrity of the government and people of Kogi State.

“For the records, we wish to make it clear that Kogi’s funds are not missing, and that the EFCC is trying so hard to find what is not missing. We, therefore, call on the EFCC to desist from mentioning the name of Kogi State in its ongoing persecution, orchestrated by some political actors in and around the Presidency bent on destroying Bello’s image.

“The amended charges in which the name of the former governor was mentioned are false, frivolous, fictitious, and far from the truth. They are cooked-up charges that signpost their desperation to give a dog a bad name to hang it. The intention was to sensationalise the whole scenario and promote a media war against the former governor and other officials of the government.”

Fanwo also called on President Bola Tinubu to order a special probe into what was happening in the state to prevent the EFCC from ‘being used as a hired gun by political hawks’.

For many who followed events in Kogi under Yahaya Bello,  the period in the history of the state would not be forgotten in a hurry.

Despite criticisms against him, many observers agree that what worked for him was the emphasis on the inclusion of youths in his administration.

Before his inauguration as the chief executive of the state, Kogi was sharply divided along ethnic lines even as politicians planted division in the minds of the people for their selfish political gains.

But from inception, it was clear what vision Bello wanted in his state. For instance, the first three appointments of the governor immediately after his inauguration on January 27, 2016, were spread across the three Senatorial Districts. Hon Edward Onoja from Kogi East became the first CoS to emerge from a zone different from that of the governor. All the governors before GYB had ensured their CoS emerged from their Zone. His SA Media was appointed from Kogi Central and his CPS from Kogi West.

For many, it was a fresh breeze that reshaped the mentality of the Kogi People and strengthened by the fact that projects were spread all over the state and the institutions of government were ushered into a new vista of development. Also before the coming of Bello’s administration in the state, insecurity was rife. Robbery and kidnapping were perpetrated with reckless abandon.

There is no doubt that one of the areas the administration of  Bello performed was on security. From being one of the most insecure and dreaded states as at the time he took over, the state rose to become one of the safest states in Nigeria. The administration’s determination and commitment toward securing the state was borne out of the conviction that security is the primary and most important function of government.