Before Yahaya Bello Scores An Own Goal, By Kazeem Akintunde

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Yahaya Bello, former Governor of Kogi State, was a 10-year lad when former military Head of State, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB), came to power through a palace coup in 1985. Babangida, known by several aliases such as IBB, the ‘Evil Genius’ and ‘Maradona’, loved power and coveted it. He was not only in power during the eight years that he spent in the saddle, but he was effectively in charge of the country. Armed with a sweet mouth and a disarming smile, Babangida promised Nigerians heaven on earth.

It was John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, (1834-1902), who observed in a letter to Bishop Creighton on April 5, 1887, that power tends to corrupt and that absolute power corrupts absolutely. That letter was published in 1907 as part of a collection of Lord Acton’s work, ‘Historical Essays and Studies’.

Power with IBB was absolute and it corrupted absolutely. He promised to vacate power for a democratically elected government on four different occasions and he reneged on his own promises. He released an elongated transition to civil rule timetable which was observed more in their breaches. Initially, the transition programme was to end in October 1990, but IBB shifted it on several occasions till 1993. He banned old politicians and called for a new breed. He established the Centre for Democratic Studies and made Prof. Omo Omoruyi the pioneer Chairman. The centre was to train politicians in democratic ethos but IBB himself lacked any. After all, he was a military leader. He set up the National Electoral Commission headed by Prof. Humphrey Nwosu and gave Nigerians a two-party system. He formed the National Republican Convention and Social Democratic Party. The NRC elected Chief Tom Ikimi as its National Chairman while the SDP elected Chief Tony Anineh as its National Chairman. Both chairmen are from Edo State. It did not matter. Babangida did not just establish the political parties, he built party secretariats for them across the country and also provided grants to run the parties. He did not want moneybags to run or hijack the political parties. Elections for Local Governments, state Houses of Assembly and Governorship positions were held at different times between 1991 and 1992. The transition was to end with the presidential election on June 12, 1993.

However, events leading to that day were ominous. A group called Association for Better Nigeria, led by Abimbola Davies, with Chief Arthur Nzeribe as a promoter, went to court to stop the election from holding.  On June 10, 1993, A Federal Capital Territory High Court Judge, Justice Bassey Ikpeme, ordered NEC not to conduct the June 12, 1993 election based on the prayers of Nzeribe. However, the election was held as there was already a decree that prevented any court ruling from stopping the poll.

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He told his friend, Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola that he should run for the presidency as he intended to hand over power to whomever emerged winner of that election. On the basis of his promise, Abiola joined the Social Democratic Party, (SDP) and ran for the presidency. Bashir Tofa picked the ticket under the then National Republican Convention (NRC), and on June 12, 1993, an election was held. Results had started coming in and Abiola was the favourite to win the election. But Babangida had another agenda in mind. He annulled the freest election in the history of Nigeria but did not envisage that Abiola and Nigerians would look him in the eye and challenge his authority. He was eventually forced to step aside after several protests and civil disobedience as a result of the annulment. He dribbled Nigerians for several years but he was forced to step aside, and that was how he got the nickname, ‘Maradona’, after the Argentina footballer, Diego Maradona, whose artistry in the field of soccer was legendary then. Today, the same IBB is in Minna, Niger State, battling ailments relating to old age.

When he was forced out of power in August 27, 1993, he handed over the affairs of the country to an interim government led by Chief Ernest Sonekan. By this time, Yahaya Bello was an 18 year-old who must have picked up one or two things from the now retired general known  for his ‘dribbling skills’ and double speak.

In his own ‘Maradonic’ moves on the nation’s judiciary, Yahaya Bello, since leaving office on May 29, 2023, has been involved in a cat and mouse game with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC), an organ of government which wanted him to account for his eight-year rule in Kogi State. The agency is seeking to arraign Bello on a 19 count-charge bordering on alleged money laundering, breach of trust and misappropriation of funds to the tune of N80.2 billion.

He was almost arrested in his Abuja country home but the man that he handed over to in Kogi State, Usman Ododo, came to his rescue as he was smuggled out of the tight situation in the official car of the Governor. Bello went underground and managed to secure an injunction against the EFCC not to be arrested. A case has been filed before the court and Bello, through his counsel, picked a date that he would appear before the court to answer charges levelled against him. However, he has always found an excuse not to be in court after several adjourned dates.

Last week Thursday, Bello, again played another deft move when he wrote to the court that he would prefer that his trial should be moved to Kogi State, which, according to him, had territorial jurisdiction to hear the matter, and not the Abuja division of the Federal High Court. His lawyer, Adeola Adedipe, had on June 13, promised the court that his client would be in Court on June 27 for his plea to be taken and for the case to start in earnest. Adedipe said that the EFCC had been notified and the CJ had sought the opinion of the anti-graft agency via a letter dated June 14, 2024. The letter, addressed to EFCC counsel, Rotimi Oyedepo (SAN), was signed by the Special Assistant to the Chief Judge, Joshua Aji. According to the letter, the EFCC was supposed to respond within six days of getting the CJ’s letter.

Kemi Pinhero, EFCC counsel, urged the court to compel the defence lawyer to explain why the defendant was not in court despite an undertaking he made on June 13 to that effect. He prayed the court to “dismiss the story of the defence lawyer as dilatory and a further attempt to treat this court with scorn”. Pinhero also prayed the court to punish the two senior lawyers representing the former Governor, insisting that they have breached the rules of professional conduct.

Responding, Adedipe told the court that he was not Bello’s lead counsel, and that he also did not sign any undertaking to guarantee the presence of his client in court. “My Lord, the narration by the prosecution counsel is very untrue and it is accentuated by malice. I am not the lead counsel in this matter. What the learned prosecution counsel has tried to do was to pitch my person against this court.”

He submitted that the EFCC had failed to execute the warrant it obtained for the arrest of the defendant. Adedipe said his team had earlier notified the court that it was not aware of the whereabouts of the former Governor. He noted that given the direction the case had taken, he would like to withdraw his appearance for the defendant pursuant to Section 349(8) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015.

Now, Yahaya Bello is gradually turning himself to a fugitive before the court. But he should be told that he can only run, but can’t hide forever. It would be in his best interest to come out of hiding and face the case against him in court like a man. Even if he wanted the case transferred to the Kogi state division of the Federal High Court, he would still one day find himself in the dock to plea either guilty or not guilty to the charges levelled against him. A ‘white lion’ should not turn into a ‘white chicken’, running and hiding from the law.

If Bello is of the view that the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court lacks the jurisdiction to hear his case, he is at liberty to raise the issue, but not by staying away from the court room altogether. He should be told in plain language that he would soon score an own goal just like his godfather. I believe that the EFCC is no longer interested in his arrest, but for him to answer charges filed against him in court. While at the helm of affairs in Kogi State, Bello was a de-facto Governor who ran most politicians against his government outside the state. Now that he has been called to account for his stewardship, Bello is dribbling both the Bar and the Bench but he would soon box himself into a tight corner.

See you next week.

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