By Louis Yunusa
His emergence heralded hope for the people of Kogi State, who had yearned for a visionary and courageous leader; one imbued with exceptional character trait that would re-direct, a derailing state and reposition it to realize the lofty dreams of its founding fathers.
As an amalgam of diverse ethnic nationalities and cultural groups that had shared common ancestry, migration history and deep bond in the defunct Kabba Province, but separated by state creation, and reunited by providence on the 27th August, 1991 with the creation of Kogi State, a new platform to forge an unassailable pact to collective greatness had presented itself.
After almost 25 years, the once promising state with high expectations which was ignited by the plethora of nature’s gift on the state, Kogi was still lagging behind in terms of real development and progress.
The crux of the state’s challenges was not pinned down to poor leadership alone, the type that couldn’t come up with clear cut vision and practical approach on how to lead it to greatness, however, the real, identifiable problem with Kogi had been the absence of true unity, cohesion and mutual understanding amongst its diverse, but historically linked peoples.
The venom of idealistic ethnicity, decade-long barrier holding the state from leaping high, suddenly gave way in January 2016 with the inauguration of Alhaji Yahaya Bello as the fourth elected governor of the State.
While traversing the three cardinal points of the state – East, West and Central in 2015, Governor Bello, then an aspirant, saw for himself the cracks that many years of divisive politics had created in the state.
Kogi before Alhaji Yahaya Bello, was one where mutual suspicion and distrust prevailed. Tragically, some mischievous members of the political class, took advantage of this “hole” in the heart of the state to cling to power at various levels. There was complete absence of ‘real inclusion’ by successive leaders in the governance of the state.
Being a young man himself, he had an unbridled urge to orchestrate leadership renaissance where the youths and women, who had been fed with the empty promises of being tomorrow’s leaders but reduced to mere praise –singers, would ascend leadership positions in the state.
Bello, a direct metaphor of the catch phrase “youthful and useful”, having carved a niche for himself early in life, attaining accomplished life in the civil service and entrepreneurship. His life, grits, guts, and resilience – laden rise in life, also contributed to inspire youths of Kogi and beyond to dare the odds in the race to fulfilling destiny.
One remarkable steps he took, which had remained a watershed in the political discussions in the state was his first appointments few hours after swearing to the oaths to govern the state. He broke the entrenched political traditions in the state with the choice of the now Deputy Governor, Edward Onoja, as his Chief of Staff.
Until then, Chief of Staffs to governors had always come from the axis where the governor came from. This singular bold step, heralded a new beginning for the state.
Yes, Kogi has had a female Secretary to the government in the past, however, Governor Bello’s appointment of Dr. (Mrs.) Ayoade Folashade Arike, as the Secretary to the State Government less than a month in office, comes with lots of difference and uniqueness.
It was learnt that he deliberately desired a female, one with advanced academic records, below 60 years of age, and specifically from the Okun-Speaking part of the state. He indeed got what he wanted in Dr. Ayoade, a woman he met for the first time and became the SSG the next day. She is going down history as the longest serving Secretary to Kogi State Government.
Through Governor Bello, Kogi became a cynosure of all eyes. The state became a reference point in the discussions on youths and women participation in politics and governance. About 90% of his appointees in the first term, were youths below 40 years. From Commissioners to other heads of agencies and parastatals, as well as Local Government Administrators, were largely young people. It was a youth- studded administration.
Governor Bello didn’t wait for the tomorrow to come, he brought it down for them. He knew many of them lacked the requisite leadership experiences, still he gave them the opportunities to try, make mistakes and improve. Today, the experiment has become a resounding success, one that has paved the way for the birth and rise of new generation of leaders.
During the last LG elections in the state, Kogi came into international limelight with the election of all women vice chairpersons in the 21 LGs of the state. It was an epoch- making step, which has endeared the Governor to the hearts of the Nigerian women and gender activists alike.
Also, Kogi prides itself with over 63 female councilors, in addition to being leaders of their various legislative councils. With these deliberate gender – inclined moves, Governor Bello earned for himself a deserving fame as a silent, or unsung advocate of women political right and emancipation in Nigeria. This is no doubt, a significant legacy worth sustaining.
Beside political appointments, Governor Bello has ensured that equity, fairness and justice remain the immutable guiding principles of his administration. The government has since inception ensured development projects are evenly and equitably distributed.
From Idah, Olamaboro, Ankpa, Anyigba, in Kogi East to Koton-Karfe, Kabba, Ijumu, Yagba and Mopa-Muro in the Western Senatorial district, as well as Adavi, Okene, Okehi, Ajaokuta and Ogori-Mangogo in the Central part of the state, significant government presence can be felt with life – changing projects. His administration has ensured that no part of the state, no matter how remote is left behind from the positive touches of his administration.
It is in demonstration of his uncompromising belief in the principles of equity and justice that he braced the odds through strong political will to establish two additional state universities, Confluence University of Science and Technology, Osara in the Central Senatorial District and just recently, Kogi State University, Kabba, in Okun land, all within the space of two years.
Apart from bringing university education closer to the education – hungry indigenes of Kogi State, Governor Bello, has through the establishment of the new universities helped fulfilled ago – long desire of the Ebira and Okun people of having coveted citadels of learning on their lands. He has given all parts of the state sense of ownership and belonging through the distribution of projects and privileges.
As a multi – religious state, Governor Bello realized early enough the need to deepen religious harmony. Even though adherents of the two dominant religions – Islam and Christianity have co-existed peacefully over the years, he still felt it was necessary to build strong walls of inter-religious unity.
In so doing, he kept close relationship with the key religious stakeholders, including the leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), and the Jam’atu Nasril Islam (JNI), as well as other faith-based and traditional institutions in the state.
Going step further in demonstration of his commitment to ensuring sense of belonging to the religious groups, the Governor awarded contract for the building of a Chapel for Christians at the Government House, Lokoja, the state capital. The reality of the project, considered as one of the uncommon achievements of the Governor Bello- led government attracted commendations from prominent religious leaders across country.
There is no denying the fact that one of the greatest achievements of Governor Bello has been his administration’s deliberate policy of inclusiveness. As he exits power in January next year, it would be tragic that the door is shut against the outstanding legacies of his administration, notably, his inclusive governance style.
Having being around from the inception of the administration where he was trusted with sensitive responsibilities, in addition to his main schedule as the Local Government Auditor-General, the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Alhaji Ododo Ahmed Usman, has proven himself as a fast learner and an excellent administrator. He is detribalized and charitable as well. There is a general belief that with Ododo, Governor Bello has found a perfect successor, one that would be accommodating and all- embracing like him.