Yahaya Bello: When Courage Fails ‘The Lion’


By SHEDDY OZOENE

In his days as governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello assumed the nickname ‘the White Lion’. Many people thought it was befitting, in an ironical sense, for an elected governor who saw his fellow men – his constituents – as prey. He hunted and haunted them to no end during the eight years of his tenure.

His favorite pastime was boxing. He never tired of showcasing himself in the gym with different makes of boxing gloves, and with those huge biceps of his, one could imagine he packed some deadly punch. Behind the faćade, however, Bello is a coward who lacks the courage of a lion and the strength of a boxer. While his tenure lasted, it was convenient to intimidate the people around him. Recent events pertaining to the inquisition into his tenure have put him on the run and exposed him for the lily-livered bully that he truly is.

Kogi has not been blessed with great leaders since 1999, but Yahaya Bello takes the biggest price in ineptitude. For the eight years he was in office as Governor, he did little to lift the spirit and circumstances of the poor and hapless people of the state and improve the deplorable condition of its infrastructure. And like I wrote elsewhere, on his watch, Lokoja the state capital, remains like a fishing settlement.

Bello ran Kogi State like an emperor: aloof, self-centred, boastful, overhearing, clannish and intolerant of dissent. He arrived full of promise and at a relatively young age of just 40, but he turned to be a huge disappointment to the youth that looked up to him.

Civil servants stagnated, businesses and commercial activities collapsed and governance was reduced to a close circle of family, friends, and political acolytes. The political space in Kogi was literally shut down, and those who raised voices against the emperor ran a risk with their lives in a state where terror was believed to be state-sponsored.

Very many of his victims were the youth. Mrs. Natasha Akpoti-Uduaghan, for instance, will not forget easily how he dealt with her for daring to contest as Senator for Kogi Central on the platform of the rival Peoples Democratic Party. Just before the election in February 2023 and after he could not browbeat her to abandon her aspiration, she woke up one morning to notice that Governor Bello had moved in heavy machineries to excavate all roads leading to her part of Okene. Suddenly cut off from the rest of the world on the eve of the elections, it took her frantic phone calls and a media campaign to alert the Independent National Electoral Commission that it would be impossible for its officials to access voters in the area. The Governor’s candidate who was declared elected in a questionable manner, ultimately lost to Natasha after an epic court battle that eventually went to the wire.

Bello superintended a state where billions of Naira were diverted to his private pockets in a most primitive manner and projects existed only on paper.

Yet, after what was a listless performance, Bello single-handedly nominated and succeeded, against the odds, in installing his former Chief of Staff, Ahmed Usman Ododo, as his successor. It runs against the grain of understanding that, in a state that stands on 3 legs, so to say, the Okun people would produce the governor after the Igala and the Ebira have taken turns. Trust Bello to fight tough and dirty; in the end he beat most of the dissenting voices into submission and got his kinsman into the seat.

Those who guessed that he wanted to continue ruling the state by proxy were right. From every indication right from the start, Ododo was adjudged fit-for-purpose and well prepared to ensure his (former) boss survives the imminent turbulence that many predicted would follow him after office.

The official declaration of Ododo as governor is still being contested in court, but the governor, in his short tenure so far, has proved useful, defending Bello’s inglorious tenure, offering him shelter and recently, turning himself and his office into instruments of obstruction to his arrest from the law.

Considering the litany of financial indiscretions while in office, Bello’s ongoing travails are to be expected. And when the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) came up with charges that N80.2 billion developed wings under Bellos nose in Kogi State, not many people were surprised. I wager that, humongous as the amount is, N80.2 billion is still a tip of the huge iceberg. A full inquisition into the tenure of the 48 year old man who allegedly owns one of the most exquisite private jets in Nigeria, would reveal so much more.

What we didn’t expect was that the sturdy muscular feet of the boxing enthusiast would turn to jelly so soon. The boast that he was ready to face any inquisition into his tenure in office has turned empty, after all. Bello, the lily-livered lion now lacks the courage to stand in his own defense, preferring to hide, literally, under Governor Ododo’s bed.

In the face of revelations by the EFCC, ‘the White Lion’ became cowardly. Reports since he left office, and since the EFCC inquisition started, make mockery of the man’s famed boldness. He allegedly holed up for months somewhere in Lugard House, seat of the state government in Lokoja, from where he occasionally sneaks out of town and into his Abuja mansion.

Ododo is also learning from his feet. He has not taken off on any resounding start since being inaugurated last January, but he has spent precious time either defending or covering up Bello’s malfeasances. Last week, he deployed his official vehicles and security details to Bello’s Abuja home to rescue him from imminent arrest by the anti-graft agency’s officials and drive him out of the city. How wrongly does a governor use tax-payers resources to thwart the course of justice?

Like the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi (SAN) described the clear obstruction to the arrest, Ododo’s act is “insufferably disquieting”.

Bello can only run for a while. He will ultimately face the law since the EFCC has declared him wanted, placed him on the watch list and mounted a manhunt for him by the security agencies. The hunter is now being hunted like a common felon.

It is still morning in what may be a long manhunt and subsequent trial to reveal one man’s greed, avarice and financial indiscretions. Yahaya Bello will surely have his day in the law courts. After the EFCC trials, hopefully, we can raise questions about the sordid acts that led to many questionable killings in Kogi State and other acts of the state government that ensured that the political space in Kogi State was closed for all of eight years.

Bello has enjoyed his day in the sun, plundering such a poor state and victimizing millions of its inhabitants while satisfying his avarice. He will surely have his day with the cold hands of the law.


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