The rare and unusual Yahya Bello



By Majeed Dahiru

On the invitation of Mr Onuoha Ukeh, the Managing Director/editor in chief of the Sun newspapers, I attended the annual Sun Awards for the year 2020. Due to the covid-19 pandemic, the Sun Awards for 2020 was shifted to 2021 and this year’s edition was a resounding success as were the former editions.  The Expo Convention Centre, Eko Hotels and Suites, Lagos venue of the event bubbled with entertainment, food and drinks and a parade of star awardees along with their supporters and well-wishers. Prominent among this year’s recipients of the Sun Awards 2020 included; Governor Umar Ganduje of Kano for his giant strides in the infrastructural development of his state, Chairman Air Peace, Allen Onyema for his commitment to national unity and the aviation development of Nigeria, veteran Nolly Wood star, Kanayo O Kanayo  was recognized for his invaluable contribution to the development of Nigeria’s movie industry and Obinna Iyiebu, CEO of Cubana group took home the award for his iconic strides in entertainment and hospitality. But, one award stood out for me. The award of governor of the year on unity and security that was bestowed on Yahya Bello, the governor of my home state of Kogi.

For a man who has come to gain notoriety as the ‘’enfant terrible’’ of Nigerian politics, Bello’s emergence as the Sun governor of the year for unity and security comes across as an unlikely good news from an unusual quarter. At 46, Yahya Bello, Nigeria’s youngest governor and current chief executive officer of Kogi state, north central Nigeria is indeed an unusual political figure even in the very unusual political terrain of Africa’s largest democracy. An outsider to the political establishment of both Nigeria and his native Kogi, his transformation from Alhaji Yahya Bello [AYB], a political upstart to Governor Yahya Bello [GYB] was an unusual and rare phenomenon in the history of Nigeria. After many years of supporting his friends and associates into elective positions across party lines since 2003, Yayha Bello will eventually emerge from the shadows and make an open bid for the governorship seat of Kogi state in 2015 at the age of 40 on the platform of the All Progressives Congress [APC]. And he was to contend for the APC flag in the November [off season] 2015 gubernatorial election with no less a personality than Prince Abubakar Audu, the first and second elected governor of Kogi state.

Dismissed and in some cases despised as an unserious political neophyte, who was too ambitious for his age by the more established politicians in the state, Yahya Bello was not considered a threat to the almighty Prince Abubakar Audu whose acolytes were well positioned in the rank and file of the state’s APC structure. Concerned about what I considered a mission impossible that the young man was about to embark on, I reached out to a mutual friend of ours and sought to know the viability of his friend’s ambition and he said to me, ‘’If Yahya wants something he gets it. Despite the odds against him, he is going to make a very powerful showing at the primaries’’. And he added, ‘’I know my friend very well’’. This mutual friend is Abdullahi Bello, the current Kogi state chairman of APC. True to his prediction, Yayha Bello, supported mostly by a clique of fiercely loyal political upstarts like him, will emerge the first runner up to Prince Abubakar Audu in a tightly contested primary to the shock of the political establishment. And when Prince Audu answered the divine call in the middle of an election he was winning against Captain Idris Wada, the incumbent PDP governor of the state, Yayha Bello, his main challenger was presented as a replacement to finish the race by the APC.  

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Without much experience but in a hurry to succeed where his predecessors failed, the beginning of GYB’s administration will be characterised by staggering, wobbling and stumbling but without falling despite all the initial challenges. However, out of the commotion that dogged the early stages of his administration, a rare and unusual leadership quality of the young Yahya Bello began to crystalize. And this quality was his ability to unite one of Nigeria’s most ethnic and religiously plural states through a most inclusive administrative machinery that did not elevate his own section of the state above others hence leaving them marginalized and thus setting the stage for a Kogi state where, unity, justice and peace will reign for the next five years of his administration.

The unity and peace of any geographic entity is a fundamental condition precedent for its stability, security and socio-economic development. And to achieve this fundamental condition, the political leadership of the state must rise up above primordial sentiments of race, ethnicity and religion in the administration of their peoples. From his appointments to his modest efforts at infrastructural development, Governor Bello appears to be guided by this philosophy as seen in equitable distribution of positions, social amenities and political patronage across the state. Upon assumption of office as the governor of Kogi state, Yahya Bello, an Ethnic Ebira Muslim from the central senatorial district, will appoint Edward Onoja, Igala  and Christian from the eastern senatorial district and Kingsley Fanwo, a Christian Okun man from the western senatorial district as Chief of Staff and Chief Press Secretary respectively. In fact, Yayha Bello broke with an established tradition of his predecessors by being the first governor in the history of the state to appoint a chief of staff outside his ethnic group and senatorial district. And his subsequent appointments will reflect a high level of inclusivity that is devoid of nepotism, tribalism or religious bigotry.

When Yahya Bello became the governor in January 2016, Kogi state was a hot bed for kidnappers, armed robbers and bandits. Kogi state was also the second most important Boko Haram outpost after the Borno state with an active terror cell that served as a source of recruitments and logistics supply for the group’s war effort against the Nigerian state. Incidentally, the hub of both the kidnappers and armed robbers and the Boko Haram terror network in the state was domiciled in Governor Bello’s senatorial district with concentration in his native Okene local government with membership drawn from his Ebira kinsmen. With the strategic location of the state at the centre of Nigeria, which shares boundary with about ten state cutting across the south west, south east and south south geo-political zones as well as the FCT, Kogi was a time bomb waiting to explode at the heart of the nation.

But fortunately for the people of Kogi state and Nigeria, Yahya Bello was able to rise above primordial sentiments of ethnicity and religion by placing national security interest above sectional interest when he took to war on terror to his native land, his deviant kinsmen and severely neutralized their lethal capabilities. The young Governor Bello neither made excuses for the criminal activities of kinsmen nor offered amnesty to them. He dealt decisively with crime amongst his own people without politicizing or ethnicising issues of state security. By making example of criminal elements among his people through a surgically precise security operation and the rest of the state now confident of an impartial enforcement of law and other by the chief security officer of Kogi state gave their full support and cooperation to the constituted authority of Kogi state government under governor Bello’s leadership.

To further strengthen the unity in the state and ensure security of lives and properties, Yahya Bello deployed a combination of a deliberately inclusive political process and a purposefully accommodating administrative procedure to abrogate the indigene/settler dichotomy by extending unlimited economic and political rights to all non-indigenous ethnic groups that resident in Kogi. The administration of Yahya Bello went as far as creating chiefdoms for resident ethnic groups in the state and included them in their respective local government traditional rulers’ councils as recognized members. With a number of Igbo, Kanuri, Yoruba and Fulani appointees in the government of Yayha Bello’s Kogi, the state has become a miniature Nigeria of some sorts where ethnicity or religion is no longer a barrier to economic and political progress of any individual. The abrogation of the indigene/settler dichotomy in Kogi state within a span of four years, has drastically reduced incidences of communal crisis in the state particularly between migrant Fulani herders and their host farmer communities as the former has been allocated lands across the state away from farmlands and are now bonafide ‘’Kogites’’ with their Ardos recognized as native chiefs. A major positive outcome of this indigenization of the Fulani herder community in the state is that they are now collaborating with their state government to combat Fulani banditry on Kogi highways and forests by providing useful information about the criminal activities of some of their deviant kinsmen.

In addition to his massive investment in the procurement of security hardware to support security agencies in the state, Governor Bello’s excellent diversity management, which enabled him to unite the peoples of Kogi state, is primarily responsible for his phenomenal successes at tackling insecurity as all hands are on deck to contain their common enemy of violent armed groups. As though harkening to Shehu Uthman Dan Fodio wise counsel that, ‘’the easiest way to destroy a nation is to elevate one tribe over another’’, Yahya Bello may not have paved all the roads in his state with gold, build towers of ivory and dot the skylines with scrappers, but he has built a united, Kogi state where equity, justice and peace reigns. Sadly, this exemplary leadership qualities of Governor Yahya Bello is rare in today’s Nigeria at all levels and tiers of government and that is precisely why Nigeria is falling apart under a complex web of insecurity arising from the disunity of the Nigerian people as a result of a poor diversity management skill of the current set of political leaders.  The award bestowed on Yahya Bello, a thoroughly detribalized Nigerian with an unimpeachable nationalist credentials as the governor of the year on unity and security by the Sun newspapers is a pointer to the fact that without unity there cannot be security. And without justice there cannot be peace.