Bello and endless solidarity trips to Aso Villa
Kogi State governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello’s open support for President Muhammadu Buhari appears to be something no one or any amount of criticism can stop.
He has taken this assignment further by almost becoming another spokesperson to the President on national issues, which many observers believe is eye-service to enable the governor remain in the president’s good books.
In the country’s history of democracy, no governor has been as heavily criticised as Bello, as the confluence state governor has always been in the news for what most of his traducers believe are wrong reasons.
Bello, who has been a regular face at the Aso Rock Villa, has nearly taken over the role of media aide to the President.
When former President Obasanjo wrote his famous letter to President Buhari, it was Bello who responded, saying nobody can stop the president from contesting in 2019.
Almost every other day, Bello is seen on national television fielding questions from State House correspondents on the situation in his state or the country generally.
Reporters in the Villa see him as one of the ‘big fish governors,’ who always oblige them with answers to their curiosities about the state, a privilege that home-based newsmen are denied.
There is hardly any session with State House correspondents, where the governor has not stoked one controversy or the other about Kogi or the country.
When members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) recently visited President Buhari to present their position on how they felt about the state of the nation and the presidency’s style of governance, Bello was there to act as the president’s attack dog.
The clerics met Buhari for a close door meeting, where they told him that Nigerians were angry over alleged bad governance and imbalance in the system.
The president had taken time to politely explain and respond to the clerics. But while addressing State House correspondents at the Presidential Villa in Abuja later that Friday, the governor took a swipe at them.
He said those that looted the country were angry because the sources of their free money have been blocked by the current administration.
He specifically made reference to tithes as an avenue, where clerics get part of the looted funds, and which were no longer coming, hence their outburst.
Reacting, CBCN’s president and Archbishop of Jos, Ignatius Kaigama, said millions of Catholic members would deal with Bello.
“I don’t even want to dignify that reckless accusation with a response,” he said. “If the president met us, understood us and was courteous to us, why would a governor come up with such generalisation, a very wild one at that and rubbished everyone? Let our people deal with him. We have millions of our people to tackle the governor. I don’t think any bishop will comment on such an impudent statement.”
The Christian Association of Nigeria, prominent Catholic bishops and two Catholic groups, among others, also berated Bello for attacking the Catholic leaders.
Prominent groups that lambasted Bello for his unguarded statement included, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, the Centre for Anti-corruption and Open Leadership and the Progressives Peoples Alliance.
However, the governor, through his spokesperson, Kingsley Fanwo, later said contrary to the “mischievous” rumours being peddled by “agents of disunity,” he only said he has love and respect for Catholics and all religious organisations in the country.
The governor expressed “tremendous respect for the Catholic Community” and stressed that “he would not do anything to disparage any religious organisation in the country.”
Bello said reports that he disrespected the Catholic community and its leaders were “another mischief by his detractors in their desperation to portray him in bad light. My statement to the press was well documented. I was only critical of corrupt leaders, who have been disconnected from the looting pipes. These are the leaders, who are launching campaign of calumny against Mr. President.”
Again, after the Federal Government proposed cattle colonies as panacea to farmers/herders clashes, Bello was the first to rush to the Villa to offer his state as a pilot for the proposal that was yet to be understood or accepted. He went further to donate 150, 000 hectares of land in Kogi Central for the scheme.
When President Buhari returned to the country after his medical trip abroad, the governor was not only at the Villa to receive him, but was the only governor to declare a public holiday, which even Katsina, the president’s home state did not contemplate.
During another visit to the Villa, when six of his colleagues visited for the usual Jumat prayer on the day about 73 Nigerians were given mass burial in Benue, Bello was guest of State House correspondents, where he declared that Kogi will give the president more votes than Katsina.
This statement did not also go down well with many persons, especially the running mate to the late candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the 2015 election, James Faleke, who responded that Buhari couldn’t win Kogi with Bello as chief campaigner.
Faleke warned Buhari not to rely on Bello to deliver the state, if he decides to run again.
In a swift reaction, however, Bello said Faleke has lost touch with reality at home.
Describing Faleke as a “Diaspora” politician, Bello said the House of Representatives member is a bad loser, who has been trying to bring his government down since he (Faleke) lost in all his efforts to replace the late Abubakar Audu.
Faleke, who was Buhari’s former campaign coordinator for Lagos State, responded that Bello lacks the capacity to deliver his state.
He said: “I refer to a boastful statement credited to Governor
Yahaya Bello that Kogi State would garner more votes for President Buhari in 2019 than Katsina State.
“First, the governor has never contested for any election and won. Not even councillorship election. He didn’t campaign for the governorship seat he is currently occupying. He was simply gifted the seat. So, how can such a person stand to discuss election issues?
“How can a governor, who is not registered as a voter in his state and has no voting rights, mobilise votes for no less a person than Mr. President?”
Faleke said it was the height of deceit and folly for a governor, notorious for neglecting the welfare of citizens in his state by owing them several months salaries and pensions, to boast of being able to lead the same citizenry, who are daily dying of hunger, to vote en masse for the president.
Ordinarily, as a friend of the first family, there should have been nothing wrong with a solidarity visit from Bello to welcome the president’s first son after a successful surgery abroad.
However, because of his penchant for frequenting the seat of power, Bello was heavily criticised for travelling to Abuja to welcome back Yusuf Buhari, after medical treatment abroad.
Yusuf was flown to Germany on January 12, 2018 after treatment at Cedarest Hospital, Abuja, for injuries sustained in a motorbike accident in the FCT on December 26, 2017.
Among those present in Abuja to welcome Yusuf was Bello, who has become a regular face at the Presidential Villa.
Bello’s presence in Abuja did not go down well with many Twitter users, some of whom accused him of sycophancy and incompetence. So much negative reactions had trailed the governor’s act of solidarity.
Former Speaker, Kogi State House of Assembly, Abdullahi Bello said Governor Yahaya Bello’s penchant for regularly visiting the seat of power in Abuja is a choice to which he is entitled.
“All governors visit Abuja a lot. Why is his case being treated differently,” he queried.
The executive director, Centre for Human Rights and Conflict Resolution in Lokoja, Idris Miliki Abdul said the governor’s habit of frequently visiting Abuja is a worrisome development that calls for serious concern.
He pointed out that the frequency with which Bello is seen at the
Villa indicates the seat of power in Lokoja is no longer conducive for him to stay and perform his duties after spending a whopping amount to renovate the government house.
He asked rhetorically: “Must Bello attend every function outside the state?”
Abdul called on the governor to stay in the state and perform his duties and responsibilities.
Another former member of House of Representatives, Duro Mesoko, said if he were to give his opinion, he would advise the governor to stay more in the state because it deserves nothing less than 90 percent concentration in view of the monumental challenges facing it.
“If the governor stays more in the state, he would be better able to grasp the challenges being faced by the citizenry,” he said.
Reacting to the criticisms, Kingsley Fanwo said as the state governor and a major stakeholder in his party, he is duty bound to attend meetings in Abuja to represent and protect his state’s interest.
“He couldn’t have relocated to Abuja, when he has important duties in the state. He only visits Abuja, when it is necessary to do so like other governors,” he explained. “Governor Yahaya Bello is close to the president’s family and it wasn’t out of place to visit the family to felicitate with them over the son’s recovery.
“He didn’t leave Lokoja to do that. He was in Abuja when Buhari’s son returned. These are petty issues that shouldn’t ordinarily attract the media’s attention.”