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Yahaya Bello: From white lion to white mouse

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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.

The author, Law Mefor
The author, Law Mefor

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 Alhaji 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 Yahaya Bello himself with appearing in court on more serious charges of power abuse and corruption involving more than N80 billion.

Yahaya 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, Yahaya 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, Yahaya 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 Yahaya 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 demonstrated to the fullest extent—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 Yahaya 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.

Yahaya 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.

Dr. Law Mefor, an Abuja-based forensic and social psychologist, is a fellow of The Abuja School of Social and Political Thought; drlawmefor@gmail.com; Twitter: @Drlawsonmefor.

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