Government officials siphoned COVID-19 funds — Gov. Yahaya Bello | Dailytrust

Government officials siphoned COVID-19 funds — Gov. Yahaya Bello

Governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello

Yahaya Bello is the Executive Governor of Kogi State. In this interview with Channels TV, monitored by Daily Trust, Governor Bello said the #EndSARS protests have links to the politics of 2023.

He also speaks on why COVID-29 palliatives were distributed in Kogi State, despite his claim that the state recorded zero cases of the disease.

Looking at the looting of COVID-19 palliatives, how come these materials were in warehouses, which led to people eventually looting them? What was the reason behind this?

This is one question that will require me to start from the beginning. You will recall that early this year an alien disease called COVID was imported into this country and I spoke, I cautioned, I warned, I advised against this COVID-19 of a thing and the management of it.

My advice was never heeded to. Those who planned the whole scenario of COVID never listened to me—a little voice like ours.

Nigerians were ill-advised. We were confused. We were misdirected. And here we have one of the very many effects of that unfortunate decision. Now, we had COVID at hand, a glorified malaria, billions of naira, billions of dollars, were siphoned by a few individuals.

Are the individuals Nigerians?

They are Nigerians in government and outside the government, in business empires and very few middlemen. Kogi State is the only State that refused to accept there was COVID-19 that will kill people.

If there is COVID-19, it emanated from China. China has since gone beyond the issue of COVID-19. I did say that COVID-19 is political.

I did say COVID-19 has economic undertone, and several others and political undertone. It has come to play. But we are still not addressing it.

We are still blindfolded and we are following. I did remember that there were so many scholars who said that if tension would be the only effect we would have from the unfortunate lockdown of the COVID-19, then we would be grateful for it. We are still in the same year. We’ve seen lockdowns. Youths are locked down at home, ASUU on strike, high crime and criminality.

Now, comes the idea of palliatives for those that were locked down. Remember in Kogi we did not lockdown because we had no COVID-19. We allowed people to go about their businesses and there was peace and orderliness in Kogi State. And we are healthy.

What happened in this particular situation in which people had to break into warehouses and loot palliatives?

I’m coming there. This is a golden opportunity to address Nigerians. Let’s address the youths. I am the number one youth in government today. Whether anybody likes it or not, it is by the special grace of God Almighty. I will say the truth so that I will be vindicated.

We have been doing palliatives and so have other governors, whether APC or PDP, we do all these palliatives and the rest. So, why would the governors hoard those things? How much are they going to make out of it? We did canvass that various assistance should be given to governors as deem fit.

Why will you bring me rice when I have the confluence rice here? Why will you ship garri for me when my people are producing garri here? Why will you send me seasoning when there are other local dealers I can buy from?

Those CACOVID materials were brought, handled by them. It was unfortunate. Among all the governors, we don’t trust each other because of a few interests to the extent we are allowing ourselves to be ridiculed.

You are bringing two, three trailers of rice to me but you want to do a pre and post audit. What an embarrassment! Those items were brought to us and they said they must come and flag it off. Three trailers or five trailers at most for big states and they say they must come and flag it off since when.

What is your take on the #EndSARS protests across the country?

This is one of the effects of this so-called COVID-19. Let us not gloss over it or react based on the impulse of the moment. Dear Nigerians, let me tell you, what is happening today: this so-called EndSARS, is politically motivated.

Whether anybody says it or not, I am saying it once again and you can quote me anywhere, any day and I will prove it to you.

Why did you say so?

Why would you demand for five items and you were granted and you refused to take it? Which struggle, agitation or uprising across the world has ever succeeded without leadership?

Are you saying you do not agree with the agitations of the protesters?

One hundred per cent, I agree, but if you look at what is happening today, you will have no option than to classify it as politically motivated.

When you set up SWAT in a very short time and people are not aware of why it was done quickly, who are going to be members of SWAT, was it just a name change? What’s wrong with that?

A lot is wrong with that. Let me tell you, you asked for an end SARS. Remember, not everybody believes in ending the SARS. If you say SARS are even doing one wrong thing or the other, the best way to have agitated was to have simply asked for the reform of the entire security architecture.

In the military today, in the Air Force, in the Navy, even in the civil defence, there are bad eggs. Do you end those security outfits? That is number one. Number two, even in the media today, as good as the social media is, it has its own disadvantages that can set even countries or nations on collision course.

Do you end the media? We continue to ask for reformation. Now, SARS has ended. Police morale has been dampened. They have gone off the streets. The hoodlums have taken over. Who do we report to?

We should have articulated our points and go about it in a more credible way and not to be used by politicians. Look, let me tell you, whether we like it or not, you will say that I said it again, this is 2023 playing out by a few individuals who felt they can continue to use us in this country. And, I am urging all the youths across the country to please return home.

You didn’t believe in COVID-19, why did you accept the palliatives?

Let me give you an example. This is not the first time we are receiving relief materials from good spirited Nigerians. In most cases, we are asked to come and pick them and share it our own way. But this is completely different.

Relief material is just the tip of the iceberg. Let me tell you, the Federal Government gave each state N1 billion. The World Bank is poised—let me put it that way—to give each state N1.1 billion. N1 billion from the Federal Government, I accepted because that is the Federal Government’s fund to be given to quell the effects of COVID-19.

Remember we had no single case of COVID-19 in Kogi State. The five cases from NCDC, they can’t prove it any day, any time. Now, even though we have no COVID-19 in Kogi State, we are equally affected because our economy was equally affected and the Federal Government released those funds to assist every state and I will not reject it.

That is number one. Number two, the World Bank’s N1.1 billion, I was meant to sign a certain MoU, which I referred to as a one-sided agreement or letter or document, and I refused. Go and check the records. Do your investigative journalism. Kogi State was the only state that refused to sign that document for N1.1 billion because, first, I did not believe in that COVID. First of all, N1 billion has been disbursed. Kogi State did not receive. I refused to receive it and I rejected it.

Did you request for those funds in one of the meetings with other governors and they said why would you request for it when you don’t believe in COVID-19? Did that happen?

Well, in a meeting like this, before you start any meeting, you exchange jokes and banters. But when it comes to reality, you tell the truth. Everybody that knows me, all my colleagues know me very well. And of course, Nigerians are knowing me well now that I speak the truth and act realistically.

If I refused to accept N1.1 billion from the World Bank, what is CACOVID, which is noodles and rice?