Governor Yahaya Bello and the Turmoil in Kogi

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    By Yemi Adebowale; yemi.adebowale@thisdaylive.com; 07013940521 (text only)

    I have spent quality time reading the statement by the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Comrade Ayuba Wabba on the crisis-ridden Kogi State, following the removal of Alfa Imam as Speaker of the state’s House of Assembly. In the avowal released last week, Wabba chastised youthful Governor Yahaya Bello for being responsible for the crunch plaguing the state. Imam was removed as Speaker, after being badly battered and replaced by Mathew Kolawole.

    The lawmaker who moved the motion for the probe of the Paris Club refund was battered by the thugs dispatched to disrupt proceedings in the House. The NLC President raised the alarm that the removal of Imam could weaken democratic institutions and lead to anarchy. “The offence of the former Speaker was that he had initiated a legislative process to look into the disbursements of the Paris Club refund following non-payment of salaries and pensions and the industrial tensions in its aftermath. The Kogi State mess represents the height of intolerance, insensitivity and impunity, and a precursor to dictatorship and anarchy and should be condemned by all well-meaning Nigerians and apprehended by the Federal Government before the situation spins out of control,” Wabba remarked.

    I concur with Wabba on this pronouncement. Kogi State has persistently been in the news for all the wrong reasons since the emergence of Bello as governor. Civil servants have been seething over huge unpaid salaries. Just few weeks back, there was a fatal rally involving Senator Dino Melaye and the governor over attempt to recall Dino. The ban of academic staff union at the Kogi State University by the governor is still generating controversy. In the case of Alfa’s removal, thugs, allegedly sponsored by the governor, invaded the Assembly, beating lawmakers and journalists. Governor Bello’s explanations on all these issues are not convincing. Honestly, I fully agree with Wabba that the developments in the Kogi State House of Assembly in particular and Kogi State in general, under Bello’s watch, are appalling. An urgent intervention by the founding fathers of this state has become pertinent before Kogi is turned into a theatre of war. The peace-loving people of this state must also stand up and be counted in the battle to checkmate Bello. They should not be under the delusion that the debacle in the state will simply vanish with time. It will be a risky and criminally-negligent assumption.

    The industrial disharmony in Kogi State aside, patriotic Nigerians should also be worried by the travail of a 32-year-old Kogi State civil servant, Johnson Musa, dragged before a Chief Magistrate in Lokoja for allegedly threatening and exposing the Abuja residence of Governor Bello. Musa, an indigene of Dekina Local Government Area of the state, was alleged to have taken aerial pictures of the governor’s Abuja residence and posted them on social media. He purportedly posted the pictures with the caption, “This building is owned by an individual in Kogi, where hunger is the first name, in less than one year.” The prosecuting counsel, Mohammed Abaji from Kogi State Ministry of Justice, confirmed that Musa was arrested by men of the Department of State Services. The action, Abaji said, had put the governor and his family under threat and capable of causing potential harm to their property, urging the court to take cognisance of the offence of cyber-stalking against the accused. This is absurd. This young man stood up against corruption. Patriots and human rights lawyers must rise up to save citizen Musa from further humiliation.

    I am particularly pained by the persistent mess in Kogi because Governor Bello ought to be representing the youths who are “Not Too Young to Run.” At 42, Bello is the youngest governor in Nigeria. I was expecting him to prove to cynics that Nigerian youths are capable of managing sensitive political positions. But the reverse has been the case. Bello is just not getting things right in Kogi, mainly because of his specious exuberance. I doubt if any governor has inflicted this much pain on civil servants in particular and the people of the state in general. His endless staff audit has become a convenient alibi for owing salaries and pensions. The disbursements of bailout funds by this governor have also not been transparent. The instruction of the federal government was that 50 per cent of the fund should be used to pay of salaries, pensions and gratuities. I doubt if this has been the case in Kogi State.
    Today, I am urging youthful Bello to deeply reflect on the numerous crunches bedeviling Kogi State and strive to change his style of leadership. If Bello is genuinely interested in the progress of Kogi State, he must put aside his personal interest and reconcile with all aggrieved stakeholders. He sure knows that no meaningful development can take place in a chaotic environment. The welfare of civil servants must also be prioritised, because this is a “civil servant” state. It is a shame that the huge bailout funds and Paris Club refunds were not transparently utilised by Bello to ameliorate the suffering of the civil servants. This governor must urgently make amends to reduce tension in Kogi State.

    Akwa Ibom’s Prickly N1.2bn Lodge in Lagos
    Governor Udom Emmanuel’s plan to spend a gigantic N1.2 billion on a new governor’s lodge in Lagos is most undesirable at this period of recession. The governor has confirmed that this amount was approved for him by the state’s lawmakers. To be candid, the state’s House of Assembly ought not to have approved this profligate expenditure. I still can’t understand how this kind of expenditure would impact on the lives of the people of Akwa Ibom State. Governor Emmanuel, this is profligacy. I won’t be surprised if cash backing is swiftly provided for this budgetary expenditure. This must not happen in a state where civil servants are being owed promotional arrears of over two years. It must not happen in a state where local government pensioners are wallowing in abject poverty due to huge unpaid entitlements. The Akwa Ibom State governor even described the budgeted N1.2 billion as “a paltry sum.” It seems Governor Emmanuel has forgotten that the majority of his people lack access to basic amenities of life like public water supply, quality public schools and health facilities. Even in the state’s capital, Uyo, only few people have access to these basic amenities. This governor must judiciously use Akwa Ibom’s money to change this narrative instead of planning for a bogus lodge in Lagos.

    Traumatised Edo State Pensioners
    I thought Edo State Government and local government pensioners would enjoy a better life with the emergence of Godwin Obaseki as governor, but unfortunately, this has not been the case. These retirees are still being pummeled as was the case under Adams Oshiomhole. These traumatised seniors were again on the streets of Benin on Monday to protest huge unpaid pensions, gratuity and other entitlements. In their hundreds, the pensioners blocked the King’s Square area of the Edo State capital for hours, chanting solidarity songs.  No doubt, the Obaseki administration has been insensitive to the plight of these seniors. Gabriel Osemwenkha, leader of the aggrieved pensioners, remarked that Obaseki had deliberately refused to attend to them and that several seniors were going through untold hardships due to unpaid pensions, while some had died. “We find it insulting that government can issue statements of threat over our protest. We have every right to demand for our entitlements; we worked hard for it and should not be viewed as a privilege,’’ he said. The pensioners had embarked on a similar protest last week, but the insensitive administration in Edo State described the action as a “sponsored protest’’. Our governors must put an end to treating seniors with disdain. The situation in Edo State has been most pathetic in the last four years. I wonder what Obaseki did with the Paris Club refunds meant to offset part of the liabilities of the pensioners and civil servants. This governor has to rise and change the narrative of Edo retirees who are going through hell. My dear Obaseki, please ensure that these seniors experience genuine “change.”

    Rochas Okorocha is Still in Fantasy Land
    The Progressive Governors’ Forum met in Kebbi State few weeks back and the Governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha who also chairs the forum, boasted that the All Progressives Congress has the best set of governors in the country. “Our party has the best governors ever produced in the history of this country, from Sokoto, Adamawa, Kebbi, Lagos, Imo, Zamfara, Nasarawa, Kogi and others. When you visit those states, you will know that Nigerians have not made a mistake electing us to lead their state of affairs. We have resolved to fix the economy and it has already been fixed,” he bragged. I watched him on television also warning Nigerians that it was too early for them to judge the performance of persons elected on the platform of APC, “since the party has only spent a little bit over two years at the centre.” He wants Nigerians to only judge his party “when the mandate entrusted to us expires”. This is one governor that never ceases to amaze me. Virtually all economic indices are on the negative, yet, Okorocha says his party is doing very well. Civil servants are wallowing in poverty in most APC-controlled states, his beloved Imo State inclusive, due to huge unpaid salaries and other entitlements. Health, education, road, water supply and other key social amenities are in a mess in Imo State, and in virtually all the other states, yet, this governor goes about bragging. Well, there is no way he would understand that there is so much pain in our land because of his bulky monthly security vote. Okorocha is no doubt a highly successful stand-up comedian.

    Abubakar Malami Blinks on ‘Hidden’ Funds
    A couple of days back, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami regaled Nigerians with the story of $793.2 million allegedly hidden in seven banks by the NNPC and two other federal government agencies. He succeeded in getting an interim forfeiture order for the said funds. When his lawyers returned to court this week to face the banks, they suddenly backed down and filed a notice of discontinuance of the suit before Justice Chuka Obiozor of a Federal High Court in Lagos. Malami’s lawyers said it was purportedly “in the larger interest of the public.” Our AGF should have thought of this in the first place before dancing naked in public with the NNPC. He has suddenly realised that the matter is better resolved through other means apart from litigation. Haba! After amusing the nation with the alleged discovery and getting an interim forfeiture, Malami turns around to discontinue the case. This is preposterous. What about the collateral damage to the banks after demeaning them in the media in Nigeria and beyond? Malami’s action was certainly unhealthy for our depressed economy and polity. He must learn to think deeply before acting. I am disappointed that Justice Obiozor did not strike out this case with substantial cost. He awarded a paltry N200,000 to each of the banks. He also ought to have directed that the notice of discontinuance be published in all national dailies.

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