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He was just 40 years, going on 41, when he became Governor of Kogi State in January 2016. Even this is a piece of history. By that feat of a lifetime, Alhaji Yahaya Bello became the youngest governor in Nigeria in his era. Energy of youth, he had in good measure. Experience he lacked not. He was futuristic even as he was zesty. At that age, he became a bridge between the old brigade and the adventurous youths.
The youths loved him. An All Progressives Congress (APC) governor, Bello was unapologetically bipartisan in the manner he related with politicians from other parties. He was the relatable guy next door. A friend of all. Almost bohemian. His youthful energy and his feisty swashbuckling bursts were on full display in his brand of politics. No dissimulation. Shorn of pretence, you would always know where he stands on any issue. He stood with the youths; much more with the people of Kogi state whom he defended and fought for passionately. Bello had no bile. Neither bitterness nor huffishness. You could always tell from his elaborate and infectious smile. Not one to stab you in the back. A rare character trait in the treacherous Nigerian political ecosystem where back-stabbing and betrayal define the actors.
Not so, Bello. He unleashed all his energy in the cause he believed in as exemplified in the manner he campaigned for and stood by President Muhammadu Buhari and later President Tinubu. In his time, he morphed into the alternative spokesperson for Buhari. A role he played with verve and virtuoso. His passion to push Buhari through the sub-conscious of the people was fervent. But in promoting his party and Buhari, Bello muted his own celebration. The man who spared nothing to beat the gong for his party and its leaders, Buhari and Tinubu, forgot to beat his own gong as a memorial for his development imprints across his state.
For indeed, Bello is under-celebrated. He is largely unsung. A case of the prophet not being honoured by his own people. In a country where governors appropriate five hours airtime worth millions of naira to live-telecast the commissioning of roads, bridges, hospitals, school buildings and sundry other infrastructure including make-shift toilets, some far less than the value of the publicity, Bello should be on television more frequent than you can imagine. He allowed his politics to overshadow his achievements in his state. And they are many.
But why would a governor who achieved massive urban renewal in his state, built one of the best-equipped reference hospitals in Nigeria, revived the health sector in his state including the remodeling of the state’s health insurance scheme, introduced three universities in the state and birthed a new generation of tech whizzes through STEM-based education steeped in innovation, among other landmarks, not celebrate himself?
A recent tour of the state by some Nigerian editors was an eye-opener. All the editors, bar none, were in unison in their attestation that Bello, somehow, under-marketed himself while promoting the national cause of his party, the APC and Buhari, especially. Perhaps, Bello’s many firsts in Kogi State provided the props for his bragging ahead of the governorship election that brought in his successor and party man, Dr Ahmed Usman Ododo, an accountant in politics. During the electioneering, Bello exuded confidence that almost bordered on arrogance. He was categorical as he was emphatic. “My achievements will give APC victory in Kogi,” he kept intoning from one campaign podium to another.
It was not, after all, an empty boast common among some politicians. Bello had a charter with Kogi people. And did he deliver during his eight years? Kogi civil servants say he did, and even exceeded expectation. While he was loud in infrastructure, he never took his eyes away from the people. Planting schools and health centres including well-equipped hospitals across the three senatorial districts as a matter of policy shows a man passionate about human capital development and preservation of life.
Bello constructed new roads, reworked old ones, did not neglect housing for the people. Beyond these, he scored a first by delivering the first-ever flyover bridge in Lokoja, the Ganaja flyover. Roads in Kogi have become a national necessity. Kogi is a confluence state. Aside being the meeting point of Rivers Niger and Benue, it is also the intersection point from where you can connect to all parts of the country: far north, south west, south-south and south east.
In the global development index, two key sectors are always emphasized as the chief drivers of development. Health and Education. Perhaps, Bello adopted this template. He gave the people the best health services complete with accessibility, availability and affordability. The 250-bed Reference Hospital in Okene, ranks among the very best in Nigeria and West Africa sub-region. The Chief Medical Director (CMD), Professor Solomon Avidime, was exultant as he was enthusiastic to show you round the expansive medical facility which handles a wide spectrum of health challenges, from the most complicated including cancer cases to routine surgeries.
Listening to Prof Avidime as he confidently takes you on a tour of the well-equipped facility and the depth of professionalism among the staffers, both medical and administrative, pumps up your hope of the inevitability of a better tomorrow for Nigerians and Nigeria.
Recently, CBN Governor, Yemi Cardoso, said that medical treatment abroad cost the nation about US$11.01 billion in 10 years, from 2010 t0 2020. With the naira taking a hit at the forex market in recent years, that amount may look like pocket money when tallied against overseas medical expenses in the last three years. But there is a whimper of hope of a reversal of this avoidable capital flight. With improvement in medical infrastructure and services in Nigeria, experts have predicted that Nigeria will sooner than later become a preferred destination for medical tourists from overseas and Kogi will be among the destinations, courtesy of Bello’s people-centric disposition to healthcare.
But if you’re not enamoured with the effervescence of Prof Avidime, you will surely be tranced by the zesty display of academic pomp by Prof Abdulrahaman Asipita, the Vice Chancellor of Confluence University of Science and Technology (CUSTECH), Osara. Going by the projection of Prof Avidime, the Reference Hospital aims to serve as a teaching hospital for medical students from CUSTECH. By the way, CUSTECH is already deep into its third academic year with courses in special needs area such as ICT, metallurgy and allied courses that cater to the needs of the state which has a huge repository of solid minerals and metallurgical deposits and activities.
No debate, Bello has set Kogi on a strong footing to play big in the emerging brave new world of digital economy. It is a firm foundation that the incumbent governor, Ododo, has shown a rare smartness by continuing and ensuring completion of inherited projects. This seamless transition from Bello to Ododo is what gives democracy the lustre of advancement and development. Ododo should stay the course.