Security the world over is unarguably, the major source of peace and development, while insecurity, remains the albatross of harmonious co-existence and safety of lives and properties. MUHAMMAD BASHIR in Lokoja, ex-rays performance of the Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello, in ensuring that people of the state sleep with their two eyes closed, while investors and traders go about their business unhindered
Nigeria for a long while has been a country virtually sitting on a proverbial keg of gun powder, with the festering state of insecurity across the length and breadth of the country.
Wherever you turn in the country in the last few years there is something to worry about with the level of insecurity, with insurgency in the North East, banditry in the Northwest, farmers herders clashes and varied criminalities in the North Central, secessionist agitation and banditry in the South East, South South and kidnapping in the South West and across other parts of the country. As enshrined in Article II of the 1999 Constitution, the governor is entrusted with the management of the security of lives and properties in their various states, the same applies to the president at the national level. Specifically, the Article vests executive power on governors to execute state laws, given their individual peculiarity. The situation of Kogi State was particularly pathetic some years ago, as criminals called the shots and boldly carried on as lords of the manor, but this was before the current governor of the state, Yahaya Bello, took over the reins of power in a highly polarised state, that was divided into tribal, religious and class lines, a situation which eventually snowballed into security challenge and distrust among the major tribes in the state.
The Igala man from the eastern part of the state did not trust the Ebira man from Central and Okun (the Yoruba-speaking people) in Kogi West and otherwise. Kogi State before the emergence of Governor Bello was virtually neck-deep in deprivation, injustice and oppression. One of the uncommon things the governor did when he assumed office, was the appointment of his Chief of Staff from the Igala extraction in the eastern zone of the state. Mr Edward David Onoja, currently the state Deputy Governor, from Olamaboro Local Government Area, was appointed by the governor as his Chief of Staff, though this action did not go down without stiff protest from his kinsmen in the central senatorial district of the state, the governor stood his ground.
The governor’s kinsmen hinged their protest on the fact that since the Igalas from Kogi East had governed the state for 17 years, they have been appointing their Igala kinsmen as chief of staff and not any other tribe in the state, and that being the case, why should Governor Bello appoint an Igala man chief of staff and not his Ebira kinsman, which they claim is the usual tradition. But unperturbed, Governor Bello in his way of response, made the office of the Chief of Staff under Onoja, much more functional and powerful, unlike previous Chief of Staffs, who were reduced to clerical staff.
In furtherance to his commitment towards deepening peace, unity and tribal harmony in the state, the governor initiated one of the most potent mechanisms for peace, called EBIGO. EBIGO is an abbreviation of Ebira, Igala, and Okun, the platform was created to bring the three major tribes together, away from division. This step taken by the governor, have no doubt brought trust and understanding among the people of Kogi State. In his bid to wipe out oppression in the state, Governor Bello, brought those who would ordinarily be called children of ‘nobodies’ into critical positions in his government, this is with the intent of changing their status from children of ‘nobodies’ to people of reckoning. Kogi State is bordered by nine states of the country, Edo, Nasarawa, Niger, Ondo, Ekiti, Benue, Kwara, Enugu and the Federal Capital Territory.
This geographical position has made Kogi State vulnerable to all kinds of crimes and criminality and epic centre of security concerns. Pre-2015, all three senatorial districts of the state became a hotbed for kidnapping, political thuggery, armed robbery, youth cultism, herders-farmers clash, ethnic clashes, Boko Haram terrorism etc. Criminals had a field day because of its accessibility through multiple points. At the time, Kogi State was daily in the news for every wrong reason. It was a lucid example of a near-failed territory. Not to mince words, Okene, one of the major towns in the state used to be the operational base of ISWAP and other criminal elements.
Previous governments were overwhelmed and handicapped in managing this monstrous situation. When Governor Yahaya Bello, “The White Lion” as he is popularly called, on January 27, 2016, took on his traducers who saw him as an underdog, he took on traditional rulers and politicians who are believed to be the purveyors of conflict. There he read to them the riot act and handed down a clear warning to them that a new Sheriff is in town and would not hesitate to wield his executive power to deal decisively with anyone found wanting or involved in any conflict or crisis in the state. He went further to say he will dethrone any traditional or chief who cannot make his domain a peaceful place.
Less than three months after he took office, the tide began to turn. Those who had earlier underrated him began to feel the heat, those who think that they own the state and that without them, nothing can work became jittery. Even criminal gangs, who were celebrating because a supposed inexperienced governor had emerged, began to adjust, while others have since fled the state.
Two things worked effectively for Governor Bello; the purity of his motives was not in doubt and courage to dare the powers behind the criminal enterprise in the state was not lacking. He drew the red line for those who cared to take him seriously.
He began tightening the noose around the kidnappers. His team went all out for their establishments. Their hideouts were invaded. Any house, suspected to belong to a kidnapper or kidnapping gang, was pulled down under his supervision. Okene, the governor’s home town, was the haven of ISWAP, but it became peaceful following the establishment and construction of a Military forward operational base, after that, like they say, the rest have become history. Apart from providing motivation for security agencies in the frontline, with logistics and other supports, the Kogi government in partnership with the Nigeria Police Force also established two Mobile Police Squadron Bases along Obajana-Kabba road in Okene. He also facilitated the location of a Naval Base in Lokoja, established to ensure adequate security of waterways in the confluence state. He commissioned the Nigeria Navy Ship Lugard and Navy Barracks.
Provisions for security
The governor equally procured over 250 well-equipped security vans, which were disbursed to the police, Army, Civil Defense and local vigilantes in the state. One would wonder, why vigilantes, this group is a composition of local hunters, while some youths who are known to be trouble makers in their localities were recruited into the vigilante group to earn a genuine living and help in complementing the efforts of mainstream security outfits in the state. A particular spot called Irepeni along Abuja/Lokoja/Okene Road had been the den of kidnappers, as motorists plying this particular road always live in panic. Kidnappers at this spot, operate three to four times in one day, until this vigilance group led by local hunters, hunts them down to their hideouts and sent them packing, those among them who resisted through gun battle, died, while others have since served justice.
Impressed, by his tactical war on insecurity in the state, the then Inspector General of Police, Mr Ibrahim Kpotu Idris, recognised the governor with an award as the best security-conscious governor in Nigeria. The first award the governor received since he took oath as the governor of Kogi State. This award eventually heralded several recognitions and honours to Governor Yahaya Adoza Bello. Notable among this awards, was the distinguished Nigeria Excellence Award in Public Service, handed to the governor by President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday, October 21, 2022, at the presidential villa, Abuja. Recently, the Inspector-General of Police, Usman Alkali Baba, described Governor Bello as a dogged fighter against insecurity and made it difficult for crime and criminalities to thrive. IGP Alkali stated during his official visit to Kogi State, said the governor’s efforts in crime fighting, had made the state unsafe for criminals to thrive. He said Bello is one governor that would never raise the alarm of not being in control of security in his state because he always leads from the front. “I am very happy with the governor, because he is playing the role of the “real Chief Executive Officer in terms of security, he is a dependable ally in the battle against national insecurity. “I’ve never heard him crying that he doesn’t have control of security in his state. That is because he can synergise and cooperate with all the security agencies as well as lead from the front. Security is everybody’s business. When you have a leader who is leading from the front, others will follow. That is what is happening in Kogi. “Many of the crimes being committed by sons and daughters of Kogi are not even being committed in Kogi but outside Kogi, because they have no place in Kogi State again. “We have people like Governor Bello who are supporting our cause, my sincere gratitude to His Excellency for being proactive about security. I can’t remember how many times he has visited the force headquarters, not for himself, because he has no reason to; but in his efforts to protect his people. I don’t know how many governors do this,” the IGP added. Also Governor Bello during the IGP’s visit reiterated the readiness of his administration to resist attempts by some desperate politicians planning to plunge the state into the pre- 2015 era of insecurity in the guise of playing politics. The governor said credible intelligence report at the disposal of the state government had revealed that the actions of some politicians were capable of truncating the peace currently being enjoyed in the state, stressing that his administration would not allow insecurity to be smuggled back into Kogi through the “boot of politics”. While commending security agencies in the state, Governor Bello, pointed out that nothing could have been achieved without the support of the police and other security agencies. “They stand by day and by night to secure our lives and properties. We recognise their sacrifice and dedication and we do owe them a weight of gratitude for their service. Together they form a formidable wall of defence for my people and state. “It is well known that before the inception of the current administration, our citizens lived in perpetual fear from rampaging insecurity of all kinds, including high rates of terrorism, kidnapping, bank robbery, violent political agitations, pipeline vandalism, herdsmen/farmers conflicts, inter- and intra-communal clashes, campus and other forms of cultism, amongst others. “By the grace of God, over the last 7 years, my administration has done its best to supply both the tools and the allied morale boosters that our officers need to excel. In our first year, we were able to buy and distribute over 200 patrol vans, over 500 motorcycles and thousands of communications and tactical equipment to the services. We also continue to provide regular maintenance and logistical support. “In addition, we established a Joint Task Force, Operation Total Freedom, for them which allowed the police, the Armed Forces and all the other security services, including our community policing network, the Kogi State Vigilante Services, to work in tandem, sharing intel and collaborating real-time in operations. In this way, we were able to tackle the distrust existing among the services and which is the root of the lack of synergy hampering their effectiveness. “On February 8, 2017 I received the Special Award for Excellence in Security Governance conferred on me by the then Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Kpotun Idris. It was the first award of its kind on a sitting governor by the Nigerian Police. Till today the Nigerian Police Force has not seen it fit to bestow it on any other. “On December 26, 2020, Major- General MG Ali, Commander of the Special Forces Battalion of the Nigerian Army gave me a highly cherished honourable mention during a public speech and held up our security model as worthy of emulation by other leaders.” “On October 21, 2022, President Muhammadu Buhari presented me with the Distinguished Award for Security Management at the 2022 Nigerian Excellence Awards in Public, held in Abuja,” the governor added.
This uncommon stride by Governor Bello did not also go on notice, as the Nigerians in Diaspora Monitoring Group (NDMG) congratulated Governor Bello on his distinguished award for security management conferred on him by President Buhari. In a statement signed by the President, of NDMG – UK chapter, Joyce Ogwu, the Nigerians said the award is well deserved.
“Nigeria Excellence Award in Public Service was set up to recognise distinguished public service to Nigeria, either contributions to individuals, state or local community, or the public through excellence in leadership, service, or humanitarianism. “To be eligible, the recipient must be a living Public Official or a private citizen excelling consistently in a given sphere of influence, in good character standing, and must also be at the forefront of service and innovation. ”Governor Bello was among an exclusive class of distinguished Nigerians selected and rewarded for excellence.”
Joyce in the statement equally commended the Federal Government for singling Governor Bello out for recognition, considering his giant strides in the security of lives and properties. According to her, the Kogi governor has done incredibly well, noting that his onslaught against crimes and criminality has made the state one of the industrial hubs of Northern Nigeria.
“Our dear nation has battled insecurity in recent times. Back home, we are always briefed on consistent attacks, killings and other crimes on daily basis. The Federal Capital Territory is not sparred. “But in Kogi, the story is different. Aside from the recent flooding ravaging the nation, all that has come out of the state is good news. It is either the governor is commissioning one project or he is kick-starting another. There’s not even any bit of crime.
“We must commend President Buhari for this initiative to reward excellence. At least, now, the nation has recognised the efforts and contributions of the governor like many of us have been shouting about. Besides security, the diaspora group also hailed Governor Bello for his giant strides in infrastructure and tackling unemployment. “We want to assure him of the support of Nigerians in the diaspora. We are solidly behind him and we are praying for him. It has never been this good in Kogi,” Joyce added. The group, however, advised other governors to follow Bello’s example in leadership and governance. Given the prevailing peace in Kogi State today, at a time other parts of Nigeria are in security turmoil, the people of Kogi can but appreciate the giant strides of Governor Yahaya Bello in securing the good people of Kogi State.