In this exclusive interview with Daily Trust, Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State speaks on the crisis rocking the All Progressives Congress (APC), the purported pact between President Muhammadu Buhari and the party’s national leader, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, 2023 elections and zoning of the presidency. Bello, who is one of the governors believed to be eyeing the presidential seat, also speaks on his ambition, quest for power shift in Kogi, the delay in the appointment of a new Attah of Igala, among other issues. Excerpt:
How have you been combining the affairs of Kogi State with the APC Mobilisation Committee for Youth, Women and People with Disabilities, which you chair?
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It is actually tasking to combine these two responsibilities. It is tasking to be the executive governor of Kogi State, who inherited a microcosm of Nigeria, especially in ensuring that there is peace, security and unity, as well as providing good governance, but to the glory of God, we have been doing that seamlessly. I thank God and the good people of the state.
I would not have been here without a platform–the All Progressives Congress (APC). I took the task with gratitude.
The second responsibility was equally tasking because it is not easy to mobilise Nigerian youths across the country. It took a lot from us, but thank God that the exercise was worth it.
Today, we have a membership of 40 million people. We have youths and women numbering over 30 million that have been mobilised to join the party. To the glory of God, the APC today is owned by Nigerian youths and women; and of course, people with special needs.
The tendencies that formed the party in 2014 seem to be playing up again and threatening its existence; do you see the party surviving after President Muhammadu Buhari’s tenure?
Sure. If you look at it critically, what was the membership of the party when it was formed? I don’t think it was up to 10million, but today, Nigerians who did not belong to any political party in the past have joined the party. We are no longer talking of legacy parties, we are talking of the APC. I didn’t belong to any legacy party, my first political party was the APC, and by the grace of God, it will be my last. I don’t see myself under any circumstance ever leaving the party for another one.
Nigerians believe in the APC, not legacy parties. However, you won’t rule out agitations by few members of the legacy parties over one thing or another. It is allowed; that is the beauty of it. I think anybody whipping up the sentiment of legacy parties today is doing so for personal reasons.
I know that the leader of our party, President Muhammadu Buhari, believes in it. All the governors, senators, members of the House of Representatives and state houses of assembly, as well as chairmen of local governments and councillors, were elected on the platform of the APC, not as members of legacy parties. So I believe the party would not only win in 2023 across board, it will last as long as humanity exists.
The minority judgement of the Supreme Court on Ondo governorship election has ignited debate about the legality of the caretaker committee of your party being chaired by Mai Mala Buni, the Yobe State governor. The crack in the party has been widened, with some chieftains saying Buni should go while others are with him. Where do you belong?
I am not a lawyer and I will not delve into the legality or illegality aspect of the judgement, but as a governor who has run through a full course of litigation in my first and second term, I know that all of these court cases are frivolous and I don’t think they are going to hold water. Let me simply tell you that what is happening today is pure politics. From my own elementary knowledge of the law, during my school days, we used to have courses called commercial and corporate laws. And of course, from what I learnt from my wife, who is a lawyer, and from the arguments I have heard so far from credible and very intelligent and smart lawyers, minority judgement of any court whatsoever is never the position of the law or of the court.
This is the first time I am seeing or hearing Nigerians dwell on the minority view of a court, when clearly, the majority view would have taken place. What we have is a situation where someone would simply say let the whole building cave in because his interest was not met. And we are not going to allow that to happen, by the grace of God. The position of the law has been spelt out clearly by the Supreme Court and I am urging every interested party or everybody that is aggrieved in one way or another to sheathe their swords.
You were reported saying 10 governors would join the party. Three have joined, remaining seven; how soon would that be?
Before the 2023 general elections we are going to see a lot of difference. Even if that doesn’t happen now, you will see it after the elections.
You have on many occasions called for the jettisoning of zoning in 2023. Don’t you think this will cause confusion in the polity?
I have gone through our party’s constitution and did not see where zoning of the presidency is stated. I do not know of any party’s constitution where zoning is stated. I have also read the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and did not see where zoning was mentioned. So we should not import what is not in the constitution. If a party like the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which we say did not govern this country properly, practised it and it seemingly did not work, why should we consider it? We are practising democracy, and from what we know, zoning is against its principle. It is purely about number and merit.
Let us simply look at who can do the job and pull this country out of the woods –someone who will unite and secure the country, be the gap between the old and the younger generation, that president who would give the Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa and minority ethnic nationalities a sense of belonging. We need a leader who will ensure fairness, equity and justice. That’s what I am advocating.
Today, poverty is everywhere and insecurity is almost everywhere. There is seemingly a lack of unity across the country, so we need someone who will unite the country. I think that is what we should be dwelling on. We need someone who will come and put infrastructure everywhere so that everybody would mind their businesses and won’t care who the president is.
Today in America and Europe, even in Dubai, everybody minds their businesses. Nobody cares about the rulers because the right infrastructures have been put in place. Everybody is just going about their businesses so long as there is fairness, justice and equity in the system.
We cannot continue to talk about turns in governance. We have had presidents and vice presidents from various parts of this country, except the North-Central, but how much have their lots been improved beyond other zones? So I think that this time, let us go for merit and capacity. Let’s go for the person who will put this country together and fix it. That is my opinion.
There are fears that if zoning is jettisoned, the country would be further polarised and agitation for secession would be heightened.
When a credible leader, unifier the real person loved by the people emerges, all these clamours would reduce and he will deliver this country. We have practised it in Kogi State. Today in Kogi, we don’t care where you come from. In fact, we have virtually every major ethnic group in my cabinet. Agitations on which ethnic group to produce the governor of the state are no longer there because there is fairness, equity and justice in both appointments and the distribution of the meagre resources that belong to the state. Today, the entire resources of Kogi State are working for the people of the state and Kogi is safer than ever before. So who cares where the governor comes from? If we replicate the same in this country, I can assure you that agitations by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and Oduduwa Republic will fizzle out naturally.
Your billboards, sponsored adverts on radio, television and newspapers are everywhere. What is cooking?
Nigerians are behind all these calls and clamours that I should run for president in 2023. Nigerian youths and women, both at home and abroad, are clamouring that I should run in 2023. They want to pull me out of my cocoon at all cost. Of course I have been listening to them; and like I said, at an appropriate time we will give a definite answer. But one thing is sure; it will amount to disappointment and betrayal of confidence and trust by Nigerians if I tell them no.
Members of the Kogi State House of Assembly seem to have abandoned law-making for your presidential campaign, moving from state to state. Did you commission this?
The Kogi State House of Assembly is an arm of government. They are elected, just as I was elected. They are among the millions of Nigerians that are calling on me to run for the presidency in 2023. Let me even tell you that it is not only the Kogi State House of Assembly, more than two-third of the various state houses of assembly across this country are calling on me to run.
Are you going to run?
I will not disappoint them, by the grace of God. It is their right and opinion to clamour that I should run, and I don’t think they are committing any offence. So there is no need to reprimand them or anybody.
Tomato sellers in the streets, managers in various offices, beggars and mechanics in the streets, both at home and even those abroad, are calling on me to run for president in 2023. As I said, at the appropriate time I am going to give a definite and affirmative answer to their agitations.
You have always hailed Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu to be a man of integrity, leader and all that. There are speculations that he would run for presidency too; don’t you think this would be a clash of interests for both of you?
Senator Tinubu is one of our leaders and I respect him so much. He has played a very significant role in Nigeria’s democracy and has built a lot of people. He has paid his dues, and with all respect, as a son to him, my simple advice is that it is time for him to allow his children take over the mantle of leadership and do it to the glory of God and his admiration. He should see that those children he raised are now doing well. Let him see how we manage this country in his lifetime. However, he has a right to run, nobody is questioning that. I always urge everybody to respect him for the roles he has played in this country’s democracy. He is a man of integrity, to be candid.
Do you think the APC would survive if Tinubu is denied the party’s ticket and he pulls out with the South-West?
You don’t build a house and destroy it. I don’t think he will do that. He has grown past that. As an elder statesman he will not say the country should be destroyed in his lifetime, not even after his demise, so I don’t see him doing that.
I can speak for him, that at an appropriate time he will throw his weight behind a Nigerian youth to take over the leadership of this country while he would be behind the scene giving support as an elder statesman. I think that is what he is going to do. He is a smart politician.
Recently, Senator Rufai Hanga, a key founding member the APC, mentioned that there was an implied arrangement between Tinubu and Buhari on the 2023 presidential election, but from what you have said, it is like there is a problem somewhere, what would you say about this?
The APC is guided by a constitution, which every member and even intending members ought to read and understand. Let me tell you that Nigeria is not a banana republic, which a committee of one or two persons will see as a personal estate or property. You can’t even do that in a council ward in this country, not to talk of Nigeria as a country.
Governing this country is not a one or two-man show. We also have the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which is guiding us. Every action and activity of powers is clearly spelt out in the constitution.
I was not there when the purported or implied understanding took place. But today, we have over 40 million members of this great party and you are telling me that, assuming without conceding, that such understanding took place, we are bound by it? I think President Buhari and Senator Tinubu have the interest of this country and the APC at heart. They want a popular, credible and qualified Nigerian to lead this country.
President Buhari is leading an all-inclusive government and party, not for the two of them or few individuals. This idea of me and my friends or associates is archaic and aristocratic. It should not be discussed in a democracy because it is outdated and has no place again in our constitution; not anywhere in the world.
Recently, a former governor of Jigawa State, Sule Lamido, described the APC as a party of fraudulent persons, saying it is wooing chieftains of the PDP it had tagged as corrupt to their fold. Can you react to this?
Today, we have so many high-ranking members of our party that are being tried by various anti-graft agencies. I don’t think we are what he has described. In fact, our party is not protecting its members the way the PDP did when they were in power. We believe that if you commit an offence you should face the consequences.
In Nigeria, we have the good, the bad and the ugly. How would you be able to remove every ugly one or the bad ones from this country? It is a mix you have to continue to manage and move on. So I don’t think PDP members are joining us because they are corrupt. Corruption exists everywhere, even in London, America and across the world. But as a government we will not condone acts of corruption and indiscipline; that is why you will not see Mr President or hear the APC protecting anybody found wanting.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is trying so many people that belong to our party. I am sure you know Governor Joshua Dariye, a serving senator that was tried, and several others. Even those that did not belong to any political party are being tried across the country, irrespective of tribe or religion. That is our government for you. Aside that, the APC is a voluntary organisation, so anybody can join.
Chief Raymond Dokpesi said that for the PDP to take over power, it must field a candidate from the North. What does that portend for your party?
It is a good calculation by some people who have eagle eyes. Sometimes you watch the body language of a nation and good politicians. I am sure he is saying something that probably some people are not saying, irrespective of his political party. And he is an elder statesman; he has paid his dues too. He has seen it all and has been part of the political evolution of this country. So, if he has already envisioned, envisaged or calculated into the future and says a candidate should come from the North for their own political party to win the presidency, I think we should take a look at what he is proposing. However, I still maintain my position of a credible and qualified person who will unify this country. In any case, they abound in every part of this country; it is just for our party to look at who is sellable and will appeal to the younger generation, women and the demographic setting of the country at the end of the day.
While he is looking at a northern candidate, I will be agitating for a young, vibrant and capable candidate for our party, who will take the chunk of the votes at the end of the day because the youth and the women have the votes. So let us come out with a candidate who would get the huge chunk of the votes and win election.
If the PDP heeds his advice, what would the APC do?
It is left for the party to decide at the end of the day. I know we are going to take the right decision and defeat the PDP again.
It is about one year since the demise of the Attah of Igala, people would like to know when the next monarch would be appointed?
The process is going on. It is almost completed. As soon as it is concluded we will make sure the announcement is made. I so much respect the traditional institution in Kogi State and I don’t want any imposition or manipulation whatsoever. Let the right person emerge. As soon as we have such person we will make sure he is confirmed.
You broke a jinx in 2015 by emerging governor from Kogi central, where some people had agitated that power should shift to in the state, where are you going to pick your successor from?
At an appropriate time, I know that the person will emerge, and whoever emerges will be the best for Kogi State.
I am grooming leaders across the state, from the local to the state level. By the time I will be concluding my second term in office, I want to assure you that anybody picked at the end of the day would be good for the state. I want to also assure you that the best person that would do even better than me shall emerge, by the grace of God.
Last year, during the COVID-19 pandemic you insisted it was not in existence in the state, but somehow, the vaccine was administered; what gave you that confidence to stand your ground despite the pressure? Why was the vaccine administered in the state despite your stand?
It was a combination of common sense and science that we applied in Kogi State. Common sense in the sense that if all the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to those of malaria and nothing more, then we have been grappling with malaria in the state or even deadlier infections and are surviving. I envisioned the devastating effects of the drastic measure to prevent COVID-19, which were being imported into the country, such as lockdown. I won’t shut down my economy because of malaria. When Lassa fever, which was more lethal, was ravaging the country, we did not shut down. We did not shut down because of insecurity that is taking lives and livelihoods every day. And there are other ailments that are killing people, so why should I do that for COVID-19? We rather ensured that our environment was secure and clean. We ensured that we maintained personal hygiene and developed our own local protocol. We applied it and lives continued as normal.
What makes the Kogi situation different?
Some of these insecurity challenges stemmed from agitations that will make non-state actors take arms. Some are purely criminality. What I did was to ensure fairness, equity, justice and transparency in governance so that nobody would have any reason whatsoever to take up arms against the state. Let people be involved. I ensured that everybody was up in their responsibilities. Various leaders across board, from local, to local government, as well as traditional rulers, law enforcement agencies to religious bodies, are up and doing; we got them involved. We treated information that got to us as confidential as possible. We also ensured that no criminal hibernated in our state. We have the political will to enforce our laws, thereby not creating a haven for criminals.
It has taken a lot of our resources through the provision of various crime-fighting equipment, such as vehicles, communication gadgets, training and re-training and little welfare for our law enforcement agencies; and that has worked effectively. Today in every community, the people have taken security as their responsibilities and they report to law enforcement agencies. We support law enforcement agencies to make sure they deal with all crimes and criminals.
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