The White Lion, the youth’s Poster Boy, does a lam

By Ayodele Akinkuotu

ORDINARILY, with the refund of some $760,910 (seven hundred and sixty thousand, nine hundred and ten dollars) by the American International School Abuja (AISA), to the coffers of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) anti-corruption crusaders ought to be congratulating both the Commission and the people of Kogi state.

The refund was part of the $845,852 (eight hundred and forty-five thousand, eight hundred and fifty-two dollars) paid by Yahaya Bello, ex-governor of the State as school fees in advance for five of his children in primary school. The payment is believed to have been money stolen from the coffers of the state. But can we congratulate Kogi for this refund? The simple answer is, No! Those currently holding the levers of power in the state, in a kind of rear-guard battle, have come out in strong defence of the immediate past governor.

According to Kingsley Fanwo, commissioner for information, no money is missing from the state’s coffers. Thus, in the fullness of time, the final forfeiture of this sum, which at today’s exchange rate would be about a billion Naira, would be a boon to the federal government rather than boost Kogi state’s coffers.

That is likely not going to be the only loss to Kogi; some choice properties in Abuja, Lagos and Dubai valued at billions of naira, ownership of which has been traced to Bello may also swell the State’s losses. Those properties have been cited in the 19-count charge against Bello and three others at a Federal High Court in Abuja.

Bello, who has failed to show up for either interrogation at the EFCC or put up an appearance in court on two occasions, has been declared wanted by the anti-corruption commission. How did the dashing debonair ex-governor arrive at this impasse?

His mandate in 2015 as governor of Kogi state had all the imprimatur of providence.

Here is a man who lost the primary election of the All Progressives Congress (APC), to Abubakar Audu. Audu had been a one-time governor of the state, but at the time, Yahaya Bello was relatively unknown in political circles, even in Kogi. And just before the announcement of the governorship election results, in which the APC was already coasting home to victory, Audu, the candidate, died suddenly. His running mate, James Faleke, thought he deserved to step into Audu’s shoes. He was advised by the powers that be to bury the thought. No thanks to the political intrigues which came on the heel of Audu’s death.

That was how 40-year-old Bello emerged as the new candidate, thus becoming governor-elect. He became an instant sensation for the youth, especially the “Not-too-Young-to-Run” campaigners. Claiming him as one of their own, they pointed out that he was the first product of the 6-3-3-4 system of education, introduced by former military president, a general, Ibrahim Babangida, to become an elected governor. Eight years later, Bello is in the news, and for all the wrong reasons.

The youth’s Poster Boy is now on the run from the EFCC. He is not the only accused in the 19-count charge. There are three others, Ali Bello, said to be the ex-governor’s nephew, Dauda Suleiman and Abdulsalam Hudu. The latter, like the ex-governor, is also on the lam. Before he disappeared, Hudu was a cashier at the Government House in Kogi.

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What is at stake in the 19-count charge, on which investigations first started in 2019? At the heart of the charge is N80 billion money laundering. Part of that huge sum has been traced to the acquisition of 14 choice properties. The properties located in Lagos, Abuja and Dubai allegedly belonging to ex-governor Bello and the sum of N400 million were slammed with an interim forfeiture order in 2023. Only one of those properties was listed on Bello’s Asset Declaration Form in 2016.

The “White Lion”, the ex-governor’s moniker, is not the first chief executive of a State that had been dragged to court after their stint in office for looting the states they presided over. Only two of them, out of scores that had been fingered for dipping their hands in the kitty, had been successfully prosecuted and jailed.

One of them who escaped from Nigeria to Dubai while answering to the charges against him, only succeeded in jumping from frying pan into fire. He was prosecuted and jailed in the United Kingdom for the same money laundering offence. Not a few of his friends blamed him for panicking. They were so sure if he had waited to see his case through, he would have gotten away with a slap on the wrist.

Bello is seemingly toeing the line of this former governor who fled from Nigeria. On the day operatives of the EFCC moved to arrest him in his Abuja residence, the ex-governor of Kogi State was believed to have been spirited away from his house in Abuja ably aided not only by his godson, Usman Ododo, his successor, but the policemen charged with his security. The inspector general of police has since withdrawn those officers. While many people have wondered aloud at Ododo’s aiding and abetting an accused, some others are not surprised.

On the day Ododo took the mantle of office, he publicly showed his appreciation to his predecessor by not only prostrating for him at the swearing in ceremony but declaring that if any declaration by him as incumbent conflicts with that of Bello, his predecessor, the people should ignore his directives and follow that of Bello. Nigerians have interpreted this to mean that, through Ododo, Bello is now serving a third term in office. It is unfortunate for him that it is a third term bereft of immunity.

Thus, having been declared wanted by the anti-corruption agency like a common criminal, the police, the immigration and all security agencies are now on the lookout for him.




     

     

    In spite of that hunt for him, the ex-governor enjoys strong official backing in his state. The Kogi House of Assembly, in a strongly worded statement, has asked the EFCC to stop witch-hunting Bello. In fact, the legislators have insinuated that the Commission has developed a penchant for hounding the State’s public officials. Part of the statement reads thus, ‘’Kogi over the years has witnessed a worrisome trend and torrent of with-hunt by the anti-graft agency, unrepentantly striving to force corruption claims on the State government officials and now an ex-governor’’. If the lawmakers are convinced that Bello has done extremely well for Kogi in his two terms, they are at liberty to pass a retroactive law that could save Bello a lot of headaches in this matter. The sole essence of that law should be that both the dollars paid to AISA and the State’s monies believed to have been looted by the ex-governor are part of his retirement benefits, which he has only taken in advance. Has it not been said that the law is an ass. And asses are noted for being ridiculous.

    They are not alone in their support for Bello. The Ebira Youth Coalition has warned the inspector general of police that no harm must come to their son and compatriot. This warning was in response to the withdrawal of policemen and security operatives who blocked the ex-governor’s arrest by the EFCC. The social media has been awash with diviners performing rituals to ward off Bello’s arrest and his likely eventual arraignment. It would not be too far-fetched to posit that marabouts are equally at work on the same matter. Although the services of the latter do not come cheap, the ex-governor is of course loaded.

    The absurdity in the kind of support Bello is getting from some of the downtrodden indigenes of Kogi is the dilemma of anti-corruption crusade in Nigeria. While Bello and his cronies were feeding fat on the State’s commonwealth, for several years, civil servants were being paid only a small percentage of their monthly salaries, thus making them and their dependants live in abject poverty. And like in most states in Nigeria, government is said to be the largest employer of labour in Kogi state. Therefore, the failure of the government to pay salaries as at when due has led to the impoverishment of a huge part of the population.

    While some government officials led by Governor Ododo, who used to be auditor general of local government authority in the State, and some equally ignorant indigenes of Kogi are strongly defending Bello, a chieftain of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP has commended the move against the former governor. Austin Okai, in a statement, declared that ‘’the misappropriation of public funds cannot be tolerated, and those responsible must be held to account irrespective of their former positions’’. It is the voice of people like Okai which represents the deprived downtrodden people of Kogi; and that is why they deserve some congratulations because no matter how long it takes what has been stolen from them will eventually become theirs.

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