Editor's note: The chief of staff to to the Kogi state governor and All Progressives Congress (APC) stalwart, Edward David Onoja, writes on the recent criticisms of Alhaji Yahaya Bello, as the north-central state prepares for its governorship election in November 2019.
I have observed that right from the earliest days of his administration, The Nation newspaper's attitude towards Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi state has remained a paradox. The Lagos-side outfit which has always struggled to project the image of an ethical media house has proved incapable, whenever Bello is involved, of resisting temptation and jumping into the gutters like an addict in search of algae to sniff. In the last 3 and one half years, a reader with even the most basic knowledge of the facts on ground in Kogi would be shocked at how routinely The Nation succumbed to demons or inducements to peddle falsehood against the government and person of Yahaya Bello.
Desperate from the beginning to hack down the young administration in Kogi state, The Nation shamelessly threw both caution and ethics out the window. Her rambling articles were usually replete with manufactured misfeasance, dressed in malicious misreportage and launched in vituperative grammar to diabolize Bello, vilify his government and turn the general public against him.
In pursuit of this objective, The Nation practically devoted alternate editions of her back page column, Colloquium, to fronting the doggerels. Outright lies and gutter language against Bello soon became a basic staple for readers of The Nation. Deep resentment against the young governor who had up-ended apple-carts for vested interests in Kogi state infested The Nation like the HIV virus infests the bloodstream of a patient with full-blown AIDS. In seeking to subvert Bello, The Nation badly sickened itself.
Their penchance for making personal attacks on the governor completely unrestrained by any notions of journalistic excellence appeared to be limitless. They attacked everything from his style of governance to the fashion of his agbada to his gap-tooth and general physiognomy. The hate was real and the bitterness so palpable that one wonders if The Nation did not incarnate as a human in some previous life in which Bello was her nemesis.
Every one of the highly acidic articles she carried was undoubtedly execution by media, with The Nation and others in her stable as joint executioners. It appears the objective, both now and then, was to hang a public image of bumbling ineptitude on the administration in order to crucify it. Perhaps they hoped this would start a chain reaction of adverse outcomes in other areas which might destroy it. They possibly hoped to influence the litigation pending before various tribunals in those early days, each seeking to prematurely terminate Mr. Bello’s governorship. One of the more notorious cases was filed by a Kogi-born, Lagos-based federal legislator who seemed to be in the good books of the The Nation.
In the end, all 17 cases against Governor Yahaya Bello's electoral win and subsequent inauguration as 4th executive governor of Kogi state on 27 January, 2016 were dismissed. The Supreme Court delivered the coup de grâce to all the challenges and challengers when she upheld Bello's election on Tuesday, September 20, 2016. That day, The Nation and her ilk mourned while genuine Kogites and their friends broke into spontaneous celebrations.
Almost instantly, the frequency and vehemence of The Nation's attacks on Governor Bello also nosedived. It looked like the newspaper, despondent at the failure of her months-long campaign to pull the governor down, simply departed from him, just like Satan departed from Jesus after his bitter campaign of temptations failed to terminate The Master’s earthly ministry in its infancy.
However, as recorded in the Bible, the devil only left Jesus alone for ‘a season.’ Following that monumental defeat at the place of temptations, the devil kept away from Christ for the bulk of His earthly assignment, only showing up behind the scenes from time to time. 3½ years later though, the adversary appeared again shortly before the first Easter. Hiding in Judas and some other actors, the evil one returned, desperate to win back at the crucifixion what it lost at the Temptations. The devil's game plan was to derail the Master's mission to planet earth by truncating the transition from His earthly ministry to His eternal purpose for mankind. Of course, he failed.
Like the devil, like The Nation. Shortly before Easter this year, precisely on Wednesday 17 April, 2019, Governor Yahaya Bello formally indicated interest in seeking his party's nomination to contest a second term in office. Like the devil at the trial of Jesus, The Nation has shown up as if on cue - foaming at the mouth, spewing falsehoods and fully determined to truncate the Governor's transition from his first to his second term.
In an amateurish scribble titled, ‘Kogi Governorship Election and Bello’s Disastrous Rule’ The Nation signalled her return to the war of attrition to unseat Bello which she unilaterally declared and had dedicated herself to fight. As usual, this instant publication is characterised by the same infantile thinking to which The Nation regresses whenever her goons believe they have the Kogi state helmsman on their chopping-board. They appealed to everything except facts and objectivity in their bid to undermine Governor Yahaya Bello as he crosses from his first term to a second. As we shall see presently, this second season of demarketing efforts, like the first, is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
They compared Kogi to a Zamfara but however failed to realise that the joke is on them. How can a purported newspaper not know that since Governor Yahaya Bello took over as governor, security of lives and prosperity has become the single most pervasive state of affairs in Kogi? Kogi state has rapidly gone from being the kidnap capital of the nation to the state with the second lowest crime rate based on 2017 statistics released by the National Bureau of Statistics.
On 8 April 2018, The Nation reported that ‘Kogi is second most peaceful state in Nigeria (after Osun) and most peaceful in the north…’ They correctly cited the 2018 rankings by the National Peace Index as their source. If not for sheer idiocy, how can the same newspaper go ahead to publish a comparison with Zamfara which is battling with security challenges the likes of which the fat cats at The Nation cannot understand or be expected to empathise with.
The Nation's most recent attack on their favorite target should finally clear the cobwebs for anyone still trying to pinpoint any modicum of journalism in their attitudes towards Governor Yahaya Bello. The newspaper may have been inveigled into attacking him in the early days by forces strong ‘external forces’ but it should now be crystal clear to even the blind that the tabloid has jettisoned all pretenses to objectivity long ago and constituted herself into Bello's personal and political opposition.
The Nation is miffed that Governor Yahaya Bello included ‘a call from his people’ as one of several reasons for seeking a second term. Well, it must still be news to The Nation that Governor Bello is widely accepted by his people. He scored 93% in the recently concluded general elections, arguably the most effective test of popularity for politicians based on connection to the grassroots. Delivering for Mr. President and his able vice president, With 2 out of 3 senatorial seats, 7 out of 9 House of Representatives seats and 25 out of 25 State Assembly in his kitty, Governor Bello is the most successful politician in the state's history at this stage in his governorship.
The Nation spitefully insists that ‘no progress of any kind is or can be attributed to the person or government of Mr Bello…’. Where can one begin to educate the dotards at the nation on the achievements of Bello and his administration spanning education, health, infrastructure and utilities, job creation and youth engagement, civil service and pension reforms, agriculture and security? It is a lost cause. The Nation has joined herself to the league of the worst - those who do not know and do not know that they do not know.
The Bello administration started off by developing a New Direction Blueprint document in 3 volumes of over 400 pages. The governor himself describes it as a detailed roadmap for the accelerated and proportional development of Kogi state in all her constituencies. The administration has done nothing but implement that Blueprint in office.
To keep track, a referral compendium to showcase achievements in the preceding 360 days is published and presented by the governor. Starting from January 2017 till date, the administration has always invited the general public to use the compendium as a fact checker. The Nation is yet to disprove a road, water, electricity, reform or human capital project recorded. No one else has. Yet the nation swears with all her journalistic ineptitude that there is no project anywhere. Mindless opposition such as The Nation assaults Governor Bello with can only be the impotent fulminations of a demoralised adversary which has lost touch with reality.
In yet another example of having lost it, The Nation actually goes on record in April 2019 to claim that Governor Yahaya Bello does not pay salaries. Apparently changing their mind they revised their assessment to say he pays only occasionally and piecemeal and then that he allegedly owes upwards of 20 months salaries to some civil servants.
A little research would have helped The Nation not to make such an ass of itself. Google would have shown them that Governor Bello inherited 5 months unpaid salaries at the state level, 9 months of unpaid teacher's salaries and over 25 months of cumulative unpaid salaries at the local government levels. These statistics are direct from the current leadership of organised Labour in the state. If you factor in the general parlous financial state of most Nigerian states you will begin to see what The Nation struggling to conceal. That since concluding an exhaustive screening and digitisation of the state's workforce and payroll, Governor Bello has somehow managed to reduce the salary backlog at state while making sure workers received full pays, not percents. Though percentage payments persist at the LGs, Bello has also increased the percentages paid. The governor is also working to secure the funding needed to clear arrears.
The Nation might also need to reread her own old reports on salary problems facing both states and the federal government, specifically from around 2014, to convince herself that the current hypocrisy and double standards towards Bello is real. In any case, maybe one should not even bother trying to set The Nation straight. When it comes to Governor Yahaya Bello, no one can accuse The Nation of objectivity.
Thereafter The Nation went on to accuse the governor of servility to Aso Rock and being a sycophant to President Muhammadu Buhari and miscellaneous other persons of power and influence. This particular one might actually be taken as a compliment by Governor Yahaya Bello who considers the president a preeminent father figure and truly holds many statesmen across the nation in genuinely high esteem.
The Nation also needs to educate its writers and editors on the place of alliances, lobbying and networking in delivering the strategic aims of governance. If they have no case study, Governor Bello will do nicely- on this score, his credentials are impeccable.
While presenting the New Direction Blueprint to the people of his state about 3 years ago, Governor Yahaya Bello stressed that a huge percentage of funding for the lofty objectives therein must be attracted from outside sources, ability to leverage on friends in high places being one of them. He also executes the role of chief marketing officer of his administration.
Thus, while it might seem like coincidence to The Nation and other Bello detractors, others acknowledge that Kogi state has done very well indeed for itself in receipt of major federal government projects since Bello took office. Except perhaps for the N70bn cattle ranching project, it is on record that Kogi state has been consistently listed in the first phase of most novel FGN initiatives under the APC government of President Muhammadu Buhari.
For instance, the practically completed Obajana-Kabba concrete road is the first project under the FGN tax-for-roads initiative. It is the longest of its type in the nation and it is located in Kogi state. Recently President Muhammadu Buhari signed Executive Order 7 to expand the initiative into a public-private partnership scheme in which six big private companies will pay for 794.4km of new roads in 11 states in return for income tax credits. Kogi state got 3 more roads in this batch, namely, the Ekuku-Idoma-Obehira road, the Lokoja-Ganaja road and the AdaviEba-Ikuehi-Obeiba-Obokore road.
The long abandoned Kabba-Ilorin road has been awarded by the federal government at a cost of N21bn and work has commenced. Omi Dam in Kogi state has also been listed for hydropower development under another FGN PPP initiative announced last week.
When unprecedented flooding ravaged parts of Kogi state last year, Governor Bello ran to President Buhari in distress. The very same day a proclamation of national disaster was issued and rescue efforts focused on Kogi. The National Emergency Management Agency and special armed forces units practically relocated to Kogi state and by working day and night, 9 local governments were evacuated in record time, about 150,000 Internally Displaced Persons quartered and provisioned in camps. A humanitarian disaster of massive proportions was averted. Kogi could not have achieved that without friends in high places.
The Nation needs to engage her news analysts, if they still have the position on their payroll, to do the break-down. Friends in high places are a prerequisite to serving your people well. Governor Bello knows it, but The Nation does not. To her everything is politics. Abuja connections are not to be trifled with and Bello has no problems serving those of his national leaders and elders who have earned the privilege by service of their own to the nation. If they lift him on their giant shoulders from time to time for the benefit of his people, who is he to complain?
We have seen a record number of persons suffering from Bello Derangement Syndrome (a maddening affliction of those who hate Governor Yahaya Bello's guts, often for no just cause) overcome by terror at the prospect of confronting him at the polls in November, resort to grovelling and begging his party not to field him at all.
The Nation does not disappoint in this pathetic aspect too. Their useless article devotes at least 3 lengthy paragraphs trying to sweet talk every APC leader they can remember into subverting democracy and rigging the process of choosing the party's flagbearer in the next Kogi gubers, provided that the outcome is Bello's exclusion. What a great spitting shame for an institution which claims to practice journalism.
The simple fact is that H.E Yahaya Bello has declared his intention to seek a second term in office as governor of Kogi state, the APC has declared her intention to let due process prevail at every stage of the elections and citizens who are qualified to vote are already nursing itchy fingers to exercise their franchise. Nothing else matters. Bello is already on the campaign trail selling himself, with his tremendous achievements going ahead to clear the way like the pilot in a powerful convoy. Let every aspirant on every platform go and do likewise.
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