New Telegraph

February 29, 2024

Yahaya Bello And Burden Of Political Sagacity

It seems curious that barely a fortnight after former Kogi State governor, Alhaji Yahaha Bello ended his two-term tenure in office, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has slammed charges of corruption against him in relation to an ongoing matter.

Essentially, Bello is being accused of diverting about N80bn of state funds along with his nephew Ali Bello, and political associate, Dauda Suleiman. While the merit of the matter is for the court to decide, what seems ridiculous as the EFCC has claimed, is that the said offence was committed in 2015, several months before Bello assumed office in January 2016.

The question that would arise immediately is how can an ordinary citizen, as he was at that time, have access to state funds. The entire budget for Kogi State in 2015 was N110bn so how could any individual, governor or not, loot about 70 per cent of the budget? Were salaries not paid? Did the government not spend money?

Interestingly, the Kogi State Government, on whose behalf EFCC was supposedly acting, has insisted that no money was missing from the state’s treasury, stressing that state funds were used properly to fund development during the tenure of the immediate past governor.

The state’s Commissioner of Information and Communication, Kingsley Fanwo, said some people with selfish and political undertones hell-bent on tarnishing Bello’s image are using some elements within the EFCC, to achieve their purpose.

Fanwo said the attempt to join the former governor into an ongoing suit is “faulty, mischievous and has no basis”.

In a statement he signed, Fanwo said the amended EFCC charge to include in one count, the name of Yahaya Bello, and describing him as being “at large”, is ridiculous, laughable and portrays the EFCC as an agency infested with persons whose intents disagree with the noble intention of Mr. President to defeat corruption.

It beggars belief that the EFCC could describe a former governor as being on the run when he has not even been invited for questioning.

Fanwo also pointed out that the offence which Yahaya Bello is alleged to have committed upon which he has been named in the count is a conspiracy to convert N80,246,470,089.88 is said to have occurred on or about September 2015 in Abuja at a time when Captain Idris Wada of the Peoples Democratic Party was Governor of Kogi State until he handed over to Bello on the 27th day of January 2016.

Many would wonder if this is the same Bello that ensured that Kogi State published all its financial reports online during his tenure. In 2021, the World Bank commended Bello for refunding $4.63 million surplus funds under the Nigeria Erosion and Watershed Management Project (NEWMAP) describing the step as a sign of good leadership and would enable it to extend its projects to other states facing deficit funds as well as extend the closing date of its projects.

Is it the same Bello that has left a huge and lasting legacy with landmark projects in education, health and physical infrastructure all over Kogi state despite relatively meagre resources?

It is obvious that the EFCC failed to do its homework and in its haste to nail the former governor committed a blunder that has subjected it to ridicule.

Bello’s increasingly vocal supporters have now accused the anti-graft agency of pandering to some clandestine interests aimed at checkmating Bello’s ascendancy as a potent political player on the national level.

The former governor himself has not hidden his interest in serving in other high offices believing that he is a front-line representative of the younger generation of political leaders, who have something different and refreshing to offer in the task of rebuilding our nation as the old establishment continues to hold the nation’s polity by the jugular having cornered vast resources to ensure self-perpetuation in office while the country drifts towards chaos.

At 48, Bello still has a long way to go in politics and some observers have claimed that the EFCC radar being beamed on Bello is all part of the long game in the race for 2027. The plot, they say, is to set him up for a clash with President Bola Tinubu in order to cast him behind the fence; and be denied the sort of goodwill and access to the presidential corridors of power that he enjoyed under President Muhammadu Buhari and ultimately scuttle his chances for higher office.

Part of the problem, it seems, is Bello’s decision to reject the All Progressives Congress primary in 2023, which supposedly pitched him against President Bola Tinubu.

However, APC insiders would swear that Bello has been a Tinubu loyalist all along and it is common knowledge that Tinubu was largely instrumental in ensuring that Bello got the Kogi ticket after the sudden death of Abubakar Audu who initially won the 2015 elections. Bello admitted later that wanted to “test the mic” in rejecting the APC zoning arrangement, which favoured a south-west presidential ticket to contest it nonetheless and having lost the primaries as expected, immediately pitched his tent with the Tinubu camp.

He subsequently went on to serve as head of the security committee of the Tinubu-Shettima campaign in continuation of several important roles he had played within the party usually in difficult situations.

Indeed, the former Kogi governor was one of the key players that prevented the party’s disintegration during the orchestrated “coup” against the erstwhile caretaker committee led by Yobe governor Mai Mala Buni.

Some APC insiders claim that the conspiracy to deal with Bello is actually brewing within the highest organs of the party and among some close to the president. They are not happy that Yahaya Bello has proven on occasion to be his own man.

His firm grip on the APC party machinery in Kogi; his style of governance where he did what he believed was right even if toes needed to be crushed; his obvious high profile within the party, where he became the go-to troubleshooter; and his daring to defy even the federal government at critical periods such as the COVID-19 era, which denied some powerful individuals access to procurement contracts; and joining others to sue the Buhari administration over the naira swap policy has proven too much for certain hawks within the APC to swallow.

Some party insiders sympathetic to Bello say that certain right-wing elements who lost out in the bid to stop Tinubu’s from securing the presidency and just bidding their time until power returns to the north simply want Bello out of the equation having shown his hand as a potential runner from that region.

These elements worked with opposition politicians to sponsor candidates against Bello’s candidate, Ahmed Usman Ododo, in the Kogi Guber polls last year to rubbish his high profile as a power broker within the APC but still lost out.

These elements acted true to type when posters suddenly appeared recently at the APC secretariat in Abuja purportedly indicating that the former governor was contesting the position of party chairman. This sort of mischief has been deployed time and again to undermine rivals in Nigeria’s murky political waters.

Even the most uninformed could see through this ruse since no such vacancy existed, Bello was quick to debunk the rumours.

Bello, in an official statement, said he did not authorize anyone to circulate any posters on his behalf as he remains a loyal party man committed to Ganduje’s leadership.

“We are aware of the clandestine moves by some mischief makers to create confusion within the hierarchy of the All Progressives Congress. This is the handiwork of some opposition leaders and some 5th columnists within the party.

“A part of the plans already being hatched is the circulation of campaign posters with the picture of His Excellency Alhaji Yahaya Bello, the immediate past Governor of Kogi State, insinuating that he is contesting for the position of the national chairmanship of the All Progressives Congress. The insinuation is infantile, and false and should be disregarded.

“Our party is not in the process of conducting Congresses or a Convention, therefore, there is absolutely no basis for anyone to circulate any posters for party offices.

“Let it be abundantly clear that Alhaji Yahaya Bello did not authorize anyone to circulate any posters on his behalf as he remains a loyal party man who is committed to the leadership of the national chairman of the party, Dr Abdullahi Ganduje.

Those behind the push against Yahaya Bello should know by now that this is one man who does not back down easily. For eight years, he has battled all sorts including rogue elements within Kogi civil service, negative media onslaughts, political allies turned foes and always stood his ground on matters of conviction and principle.

Most importantly, he enjoys the support of his primary political base and even the current governor has insisted that Bello remains his leader and mentor.

Those in his inner circle say that he remains focused on the Nigeria project and enjoys the confidence of his political godfather, President Bola Tinubu and all efforts covert or overt to drive a wedge between them will be in futility.

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