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At the Peter Obi Event in New York

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*By Sonala Olumhense*

As a Nigerian with considerable interest in public affairs, the Grand Ballroom of New York City’s Hilton Midtown Hotel, the venue of “Afro-Economics & Government Policy: A Conversation with Governor Peter Obi,” was my destination last Sunday.

The engagement followed others in the United States, some of which had been mismanaged by local organisers who chose to charge a gate fee. Not New York, which was free to every registered attendee, thanks to the Columbia University’s Africa Business Club and Black Law Students Association.

The Hilton Grand Ballroom is a cavernous facility capable of accommodating 3,000 persons. For a city with nearly 700 hotels pre-COVID, Hilton bills the facility as the city’s largest ballroom. At the height of the event, it was about two-thirds full.

On arrival, I was exactly half an hour ahead of schedule. I was therefore even more impressed to find over 100 other Nigerians ahead of me at the door, some of them from faraway states.

On the evidence of the New York event, I report that Labour Party presidential candidate Obi is not a myth or a hoax, contrary to what some snake-oil merchants suggest.

He is no product merely of social media, or merely an Igbo man seeking an Igbo presidency. The Nigerians I saw, heard, and interacted with were from various parts of Nigeria.

Who is Obi? He may be a Nigerian who wants the leadership of Nigeria to alter her story, history and trajectory, but he is the candidate of time and chance.

That makes him a formidable candidate, and on the evidence of last Sunday, I now fully understand those videos of widespread excitement each time he is identified in public, which offend the Nigeria political establishment (structure, if you like).

I have previously written in this column that Peter Obi, the metaphor, is the rephrasing of the question for the APC and PDP conglomerate.

Most Nigerians admit: Nigeria is a pathetic failure. Obi’s advocacy is a commonsense proposal to re-engineer the country beginning from its leadership recruitment.

The background here is no mystery: Nigeria is at its lowest ebb of morale and coherence since her independence in October 1960. Since then, she has suffered relentlessly at the hands of ruthless politicians and a mostly-rotten military machine which dresses up some of its most brutal, greedy and pretentious in civilian attire and dumps them on the nation.

The danger is that Nigeria is now rotting at a precipitous pace, the nation hurtling towards disintegration with nothing working for most people except those who wield power, their cronies and their families. What this means is what the rest of the world can see: a nation of tremendous potential that is running out of time.

It is the popular outrage against this mess that is fueling Mr Obi and his message: to reset Nigeria.

At The Conversation, he took questions from a panel of two, and then from a pile that had been written by the audience at the beginning of the programme. Throughout, it is significant that not once did he read from a prepared text. He did not have an army of aides whispering clarifications of questions or explaining elementary concepts. He avoided no questions.

Was I satisfied with every answer he provided? No. There were a couple in which I felt he was under-prepared.But was I satisfied with him? Absolutely. It was the first time since 1983 when, as a young journalist, I joined a panel to interview the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, that I encountered a Nigerian politician at a very high level who spoke with confidence, control, and conviction. He was on the floor for a couple of hours, pausing only to drink water. He did not go to the bathroom or pause for a doctor to monitor his vitals.

You could tell not simply that Obi is literate, but that he is educated and that should you seek his certificates, he will give them. You could tell that he is not intimidated by books or facts, and that should he see a library, he would walk in not as a tourist but as a reader.

You could tell not simply that he is educated, but that he wants to extend that privilege to Nigerians in their own country. He explained his philosophy, including why it is outrageous that in a country in which there is supposedly a government, the ASUU strike has been permitted to keep students at home for over half of 2022.

He addressed the correlation between education and poverty, advocating the first as the antidote to the second. He pointed out how, by merely implementing the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, such nations as India and China lowered their poverty rates.

Who should be the next Nigerian leader? He warned that the forthcoming election “will be about character we can trust, competence, capacity, commitment to do the right thing,” dismissing the absurdity about the presidency being conceivably someone’s “turn.” The election, he affirmed, is a political contest and “not a chieftaincy title,” and “will not be about connection.”

On corruption, Mr Obi drew attention to the importance of leadership by example. “Corruption kills entrepreneurship, professionalism, and hard work,” he said, stressing that it must be fought through the personal example of the leader, his family and those around them.

He called on Nigerians not to vote based on sentiments of religion or ethnicity because the same challenges confront Nigerians everywhere. “Don’t vote for me because I am from the South-East,” he said. “If you go to the North, it is not safer than the South. It will not be about religion (either); Muslims don’t buy bread cheaper than the Christians.”

Members of the PDP and APC have often dismissed Obi’s popularity on the grounds that his party lacks a structure. Responding, Mr Obi said, “The structure they talk about is the structure of criminality and that is what I’m coming to dismantle.”

Predictably, the crowd roared because everyone knows how APC and the PDP have rigged their way into those offices over the years with arrogance, using money, the security agencies, thugs, and even the electoral commission.

*What is Obi, then? If you think of him merely as a contestant for public office, you miss the point. Obi is a conversation, a confession, and an opportunity to rethink. He is the epochal conversation Nigeria has not had with itself since the rails fell off following the civil war in 1970. He is a confession that this conversation—demanded far more by the #EndSARS generation than the Grand Ballroom demographic—is not optional.*

I recommend this template,as a non-campaign engagement at home or abroad to hear and be heard. Office-seekers who are comfortable with ideas, or whose power is not in buying support with money or aides who love unearned riches more than they do their families, should try it.

*Let us talk about what constitutes hope for Nigeria. Let us hear your ideas. That is what Peter Obi is doing. And he is not renting his crowds.*

(Sonala Olumhense is a Veteran Journalist, syndicated Colunmist and Author)
_____

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Opinion

Yahaya Bello: From White Lion to White Mouse – Law Mefor

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At the University of Jos, where we studied general and applied psychology as undergraduates, we learned about an intriguing experiment involving a white rat and a boy called Little Albert. The white rat was repeatedly associated with loud noise, so Little Albert was classically conditioned to become afraid of it. This fear then spread to other stimuli that were similar to the rat, such as a fur coat, some cotton wool, and a Santa mask.

The former Kogi state governor, Yahaya Bello, now cuts the terrified image of Little Albert. A few weeks ago, he prided himself on being the White Lion as he left office. But since then, he’s been hiding like a scared mouse. Power is indeed ephemeral, but did Yahaya Bello realise this when he governed Kogi with an iron grip?

When Bello was governor, he was always a sight to behold, particularly when he worked out. He trained like a heavyweight boxing champion; he had a considerable tonnage and was well-built, a lady’s man with six packs.

Bello took several months off from governing Kogi to campaign for the APC presidential ticket in the 2023 election. Had his gamble paid off, Nigeria’s President Yahaya Bello would have been making headlines across the world. He refused to concede the race to Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the candidate of choice, fighting to the bitter end.

Lord Acton wrote to Bishop Creighton as early as 1887, stating that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Absolute power corrupts absolutely, which means that a man’s morality is weakened or corrupted by power and that a man’s corruption increases with his level of power. According to this idiom, persons in positions of power frequently don’t have the interests of the populace at heart, and Bello was an absolute ruler as they came!

Bello selected current Governor Ahmed Usman Ododo as his successor, defying convention and common sense to put in office a pliable successor. Departing governors always try to serve as a proxy for a third term in government. Ododo established Bello’s office as the previous governor within the government house in a way never seen before.

The EFCC had taken notice of the messy corruption in Bello’s Kogi state administration before he departed from office. Ali Bello, the chief of staff of the current Kogi state governor, Usman Ododo, was re-arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on a revised 17-count accusation of fraud. Ali Bello, as you may wish to know, is the nephew of Yahaya Bello. Ali was docked before the federal high court in Abuja because of the allegations that he participated in the misappropriation of more than N10 billion from the state coffers under his uncle Yahaya Bello.

Ali Bello was named chief of staff by Ododo even though he had been on trial since Yahaya Bello’s days as governor. Likewise, the EFCC has charged Bello himself with appearing in court on more serious charges of power abuse and corruption involving more than N80 billion.

Bello’s refusal to make himself available and his resistance to being taken into custody resulted in a siege at his Abuja home, where he had hidden himself a few days earlier. Bello was said to have been taken away by Governor Ododo, and it is currently unclear where Bello is. It’s also possible that the EFCC is attempting to obtain legal clearance for his arrest in light of the court order that prevented Bello from being arrested and arraigned; this order is currently being reviewed by the court of appeal.

Remember, Bello’s rise to power was entirely due to divine intervention. Bello was selected by the All Progressives Congress to succeed Abubakar Audu, who had won the race as governor but passed away before the results were announced. Bello was proclaimed the victor of the 2015 Kogi gubernatorial election. On November 16, 2019, he defeated PDP candidate Musa Wada to win a second term in office.

More significantly, upon taking office in January 2016, Bello became the youngest governor since 1999. He was not even forty. The country was full of optimism when it welcomed the young governor and anticipated that Bello would serve as a test subject for what the new generation of leaders could provide for modern governance. Bello’s performance received a generally negative rating, much to the disappointment of all Nigerians who had misplaced their confidence in him.

It’s as if Bello serves as a benchmark for young people’s ability to hold public office; no one would elect a young Nigerian to office again. It was a betrayal of hope. Many people are against the proposed state police because of what people like Senator Natasha Agboti-Uduaghan went through during the height of Bello’s reign and abuse of power.

Apart from his incapacity to deliver, state governors’ abuse of power—which Bello has been accused of—should be a bigger concern. There isn’t a single Kogite who didn’t benefit from his administration that would give Bello a pass mark. For example, Bello’s 8-year reign is said to have recorded not a single legacy project.

But it’s crucial to remember that Bello is not by himself alone. The majority of governors treat their states as their personal estates and continue to operate carelessly. The concept and essence of separation of powers that characterise presidential democracies are conspicuously absent from state governments, where the executive, legislative, and judicial branches are fused under a single governor.

Not even the LGs created by the constitution are allowed to function by the governors who sit on the monthly amounts that the LGs receive from FAAC, according to the text and spirit of the 1999 Constitution.

Bello is being questioned by the EFCC regarding funds he received from the FAAC and Kogi’s LG allocations during his eight years as governor. Rather than act as Peter Ayodele Fayose did when he left office as governor of Ekiti state, Bello chose to go into hiding and use the legal system to prevent his arrest and arraignment.

Indeed, states make up the federating units of the Nigerian federation. Generally speaking, as states are autonomous in a proper federation, the EFCC shouldn’t have authority over them. However, Nigerian federalism is amorphous and obtuse. States receive funding from the federation and are consequently required to report to the EFCC on how such funds are expended.

While the EFCC may not be able to inquire about state-generated income internally, it is unquestionably necessary to account for the money obtained from the FAAC and special funds (such as ecological, salary bailouts, and other intervention funds) from the FG. Yet Bello, refusing to account, feels that he is not answerable to the EFCC. This is the height of impunity.

The protesting little group of supporters of Bello is another development from the Yahaya Bello tale. These young people were hired, and it’s possible that they were given some naira notes to pretend that their former governor was being harassed and persecuted. Similar events have been occurring in Nigeria since the country’s return to this purported democratic regime in 1999.

On a final note, Bello should be informed that this is the ideal moment to live up to his claim as the White Lion. He ought to get over hiding like a rat in a hole. He ought to confront the situation like a lion would—with courage, even if it means serving time in prison for corruption if guilty. He should not wait to be smoked out and picked up like a rabbit.

So also, governors past and present, as well as all other public officials elected and appointed, should be aware that their time will come to give account. They will be rushing from hole to hole like rats and rabbits being pursued by a ravenous predator if they are not prepared for the day of reckoning, as it seems Yahaya Bello is not.

No public office or public fund belongs to the occupier of the office. It belongs to the Nigerian people. Public officials should know this and know peace in and out of office

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Opinion

Yahaya Bello and a Complicit Judiciary

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— Chidi Anselm Odinkalu

Josiah Majebi is the fifth Chief Judge of Kogi State (in north-central Nigeria) in four years and the fourth to exist 1 almost entirely in the pocket of the state governor. He has been in office as substantive Chief Judge since the beginning of February 2023, having acted in that role since 26 June 2022 when his predecessor, Richard Olorunfemi, retired. Henry Olusiyi served in that office for just under seven months from the end of June 2020 until January 2021. Sunday Otuh, who succeeded him, spent eight months in office before retiring in September 2021.

The last Chief Judge of Kogi State who attempted to hold that office with dignity and independence, Nasir Ajanah, paid with his life, un-mourned and exiled from the state. He was the second Chief Judge of the State to be politically lynched by the government of Kogi State in one decade.

At the beginning of April 2008, the Kogi State House of Assembly, defying an order of the state High Court, adopted a resolution asking the State Governor to remove long-serving Chief Judge of the State, Umaru Eri. On that basis, then acting governor, Clarence Olafemi, promptly announced the sack of the Chief Judge on 2 April 2008 and designated another judge, Sam Ota, to act in his place.

In his defence, Umaru Eri claimed that his crime was that he had declined the request of the politicians to act as go-between in bribing the election petition tribunal on behalf of the then state governor whose election was in dispute. On 16 May, 2008, Alaba Ajileye, a judge of the High Court of Kogi State, reversed the sack and reinstated Umaru Eri.

11 years later, on 18 June 2019, Alaba Ajileye presided again in deciding a case that seemed uncannily to reprise issues in his earlier decision. As with the 2008 decision, the claimant in 2019 was another Chief Judge of Kogi State, Nasir Ajanah with his Chief Registrar, Yahya Adamu. The defendants included the Kogi State House of Assembly, its Speaker, and the State Governor, Yahaya Bello.

At the directive of Governor Yahaya Bello, the Secretary to the Government of Kogi State wrote on 14 November, 2018 to Chief Judge Nasir Ajanah, asking him to provide “the payroll of judicial staff for the ongoing pay parade of civil servants in the state.” At the time, the Governor was a defendant in the court of the Chief Judge, so the Chief Registrar responded to the letter and explained that the judiciary was a self-accounting and co-equal branch of government supervised by the state Judicial Service Commission.

An affronted Governor Yahaya Bello wrote under his own name to Walter Onnoghen, then Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chair of the National Judicial Council (NJC), asking the NJC to find the Chief Judge guilty of misconduct and requiring that he “step aside and (an) Acting Chief Judge allowed to take his place.”

While his petition was still waiting for the attention of the NJC, Yahaya Bello resorted to political self-help. He referred the perceived effrontery of Nasir Ajannah to the State House of Assembly, which promptly constituted an investigation committee. The Chief Judge sued. While his suit was pending, on 2 April 2019, the State House of Assembly adopted a resolution asking Yahaya Bello to remove the Chief Judge and also requiring disciplinary action against the Chief Registrar. On 18 June 2019, Alaba Ajileye sitting as the High Court of Kogi State in Kotonkarfe, determined that the Kogi State House of Assembly and the Governor acted unlawfully in seeking to remove the Chief Judge.

The reaction of the governor was bestial. He first went after Alaba Ajileye, a man of courage and learning whose judicial record was unblemished. With a doctorate degree in law, Alaba Ajileye was an expert in the rarefied subject of digital evidence. Following this judgment, however, Yahaya Bello’s government made it known that they could no longer guarantee his safety. Yet, when he was put forward for elevation to the Court of Appeal, the same Kogi State government actively blocked it. A man who would easily have adorned the Supreme Court with distinction, Alaba Ajileye retired from the High Court in February 2023 and has since then forged a career as a scholar and academic.

Turning to the State Chief Judge, meanwhile, Yahaya Bello made life unbearable for Nasir Ajannah. He began by banishing the man from official state functions. When Chief Judge Ajannah attended the swearing in of the new Grand Khadi of Kogi State on 21 May 2020, the Chief Security Officer to Yahaya Bello informed him that “the governor gave a directive that he should not be allowed to attend the function.”

In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Yahaya Bello made Nasir Ajannah persona non-grata in the state. As a result, he was forced into internal displacement in Abuja, where his personal arrangements were worse than transitory. While in hiding in Abuja, Nasir Ajannah contracted COVID and died in isolation in Gwagwalada in the Federal Capital Territory on 28 June 2020. His death went unacknowledged and even the institutions of the judiciary were reluctant to mourn his passing.

The men who followed Nasir Ajannah in the office of Chief Judge of Kogi State learnt to stoke the vanities of Yahaya Bello and avoid his anger. Ahead of his departure from office at the end of eight years as governor of Kogi State in January 2024, Josiah Majebi as Chief Judge and Chair of the Kogi State Judicial Service Commission, prepared a list of candidates for nomination as judges of the High Court of Kogi State. At the top of the list was a wife to Yahaya Bello the basis of whose claim to the nomination was the dutiful fulfilment of the duties of connubium in Yahaya Bello’s bedroom. For the Chief Judge, it was also proof that he had truly abjured any pretensions to a mind of his own.

Alarmed at what they saw as perversion of the system of judicial appointments, a group of seven Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) from the State wrote to Josiah Majebi to dissuade him from this course of action. In January 2024, they sued challenging his judicial nominations. Pending the outcome, the NJC suspended the process of appointment to the Kogi State judiciary. On 18 April 2024, James Omotoso, a judge of the Federal High Court in Abuja many of whose judgments usually have something of a smell problem about them, implausibly ruled that these SANs had no legitimate interest in the process of appointment of judges in their state and that, in any case, the discretion of the NJC in appointment of judges was effectively not open to review.

It was the day after Yahaya Bello’s chosen successor and blood relative, Usman Ododo, chose to turn his predecessor into a fugitive from legal process and two days after Mr. Ododo opened his case in the petition questioning the lawfulness of his election as governor of Kogi State. As a bungling Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) waited to arrest Yahaya Bello in Abuja, one I.A. Jamil, a judge of the High Court of Kogi State, issued an order claiming to restrain the Commission from doing its job.

According to the order of the judge, the case which was filed over two months earlier on 8 February, was hurriedly assigned while the siege was on going in Abuja, argued, heard and decided and the judge quickly signed the order and handed it to Governor Ododo to take with him to Abuja from where he spirited his cousin away from legal process in a blaze of gunfire. The court was almost assuredly disingenuous about the date of filing. In all likelihood, the case was filed same day on 17 April and then back-dated.

The EFCC now claims it has declared Yahaya Bello a fugitive but the real question will be how a compromised and complicit judicial leadership will now treat the nomination of his unqualified wife as a judge and the petition against the declaration of his violent cousin as governor of Kogi State. The judges who currently control Nigeria’s criminal politics now must show how much they owe Yahaya Bello

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Opinion

Ali Bello: The Unseen Architect of Progress in Yahaya Bello’s Legendary Administration

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By Joseph Ikani

In the tapestry of Governor Yahaya Bello’s legendary administration in Kogi State, one name resonates quietly yet profoundly—Ali Bello. A technocrat and administrative virtuoso, Ali Bello has been the invisible force behind the scenes, steering numerous successes that have defined the state’s transformative journey.

As Governor Yahaya Bello’s administration concludes on January 27, 2024, it leaves behind a legacy marked by a plethora of infrastructure and overall development in Kogi State. However, the first term, spanning from 2015 to 2019, was not without challenges. Heavy criticism emerged as the populace eagerly awaited the tangible dividends of democracy. While Governor Bello was fervently committed to infrastructural and rural development, his ideas faced resistance from some once-trusted allies and members of his administration. The divergence in priorities became apparent, with the governor emphasising infrastructure while others leaned towards human capital development and political empowerment.

The turning point came with the intense campaign for Governor Bello’s second term in 2019, a victory that solidified his commitment to the state’s progress. As the whistle blew for his second term, ongoing projects were swiftly completed, and new ones emerged, transforming the state’s landscape. Key projects such as the establishment of Confluence University of Science and Technology in Osara, the construction of the Ganaja flyover, the establishment of ultramodern general hospitals in Gegu and Isanlu, and the expansion of the general hospital in Idah to a zonal hospital began to take shape. At the heart of the execution of these monumental projects was the hands-on involvement of Ali Bello.

Governor Yahaya Bello, CON

One remarkable example is the construction of the Ganaja flyover, a project initially rejected by Governor Bello due to its high contract cost. The previous administration had awarded the flyover project at a staggering cost of over ten billion naira. It was Ali Bello and his adept negotiating skills that secured TEC Engineering Construction Company a more cost-effective deal, expanding the project beyond its previous design. The governor himself acknowledged that, without Ali, the construction of the flyover would have remained an unattainable feat.

While other associates of the governor were visibly present around him and within the government house vicinity, Ali Bello stood out by being ubiquitous at all project sites, spanning from Kogi East to Central and West. His relentless commitment, aimed at ending the era of subpar execution of contracts, became the driving force behind the state’s development.

This article aims to shed light on the unsung hero, Ali Bello, clarifying that any antagonistic disposition towards Governor Yahaya Bello’s first tenure was not out of malice but a genuine desire for the well-being of the people. As a staunch observer of the state’s affairs, it is imperative to commend those who positively influenced the change in governance. Ali Bello emerges not only as a catalyst for progress but also as a misunderstood figure. In his quest for transparent spending on people-centric projects, Ali became an inadvertent target of hatred and animosity, facing malicious victimisation, orchestrated plots, and accusations. Despite the adversity, Ali Bello’s diligent work, passion for excellence, and genuine dedication to the well-being of the people have played a pivotal role in the progress that Kogi State has achieved under Governor Yahaya Bello’s visionary leadership.

* Joseph Ikani, Ph.D.
is at the Centre for Public Accountability, Abuja
akinjoe1979@yahoo.com

 

Note: The opinion expressed here is completely that of the writer and does not represent the position of SunriseNigeria.

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