OPINION: Yahaya Bello and the Nigerian Middle Belt syndrome by Promise Emmanuel ▷ Nigeria news

OPINION: Yahaya Bello and the Nigerian Middle Belt syndrome by Promise Emmanuel ▷ Nigeria news

Editor’s note: The chief press secretary to the deputy governor of Kogi state, Promise Emmanuel, also known as Kogi Rebel writes on the 2023 presidential ambition of Governor Yahaya Bello and its significance for the Middle Belt region of Nigeria.

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I consider the gospel of John in the Christian Holy Book as one, packed with many intrigues and perspectives. For instance, one may choose to reflect on Nathanael’s strange remark when told about Jesus of Nazareth, a rural, backwater sort of a place with a dented population.

I would want to think that Nathaniel, with an air of sarcasm, probably shrugged, cringed, and responded with a loosed smile, “what good can come from Nazareth?” This is a question I also believe, resonates within the minds of millions of Nigerians about the north-central region as the permutations for the 2023 presidency beckons.

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Yahaya Bello
The writer notes that Yahaya Bello represents the Nigerian Middle Belt in the forthcoming 2023 polls.
Photo credit: Alhaji Yahaya Bello
Source: Facebook

So, for contextual clarity, we may choose to rephrase a begging question of: ‘what good can come out of north-central Nigeria?’ even when the indices say the region, in its “belting function” and an estimated population of over 45 million people, continues to make significant inputs into the economic and socio-cultural development of the country.

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From the Gurara Waterfalls in Niger to the Kerang Highlands in Plateau, and from the food basket of Benue to the confluence of the Rivers Niger and Benue in Lokoja, Kogi state, the north-central geopolitical zone continues to play instrumental roles in the totality of the nation, boasting of Nigeria’s most exciting scenery and rich natural land features.

However, for a region with so many grey areas of opportunities, keen observers say it has witnessed a peculiar communication gap amongst class, religious, ethnic groups, and political groups which, according to them, deepens its susceptibility to underutilization. Sadly enough, its antiquated history says it also suffers a deficit in the political equation for the apex of leadership at the center. This, in a recent instance, comes on the heels of the 2019 general elections with registered voters in Nigeria, as sourced from the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, amounting to a whopping 13,366,070.

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Enters Governor Yahaya Bello…

When Kogi state governor, Alhaji Yahaya Adoza Bello assumed office in January 2016 in very unfamiliar circumstances, it reflected a paradigm shift for not just a region in isolation, but for Nigeria’s fledgling democracy. On the realization that home-driven governance can only thrive on communication and rapport, he launched deliberate steps to creating favorable handshakes amongst the regions irrespective of political, religious, or class identification that formerly held them spellbound.

In his home state of Kogi, he initiated a policy to reposition the state civil service, and its modus operandi, this, he did, by weeding the service of ghost workers who previously illegally milked the system, causing underutilization of financial and material resources. Under his watch in 2017, security operatives combed the dreaded bushes and reduced them to rubbles, buildings used as dens for suspected kidnappers, terrorists, and armed robbers in perpetuating crime. That security effort in Okene Central Senatorial district of the state sent a stern message across boards. Since that historic act, and countless others after it, Kogi state has remained a haven for ease of business for north-central states, and other states in the country as it relates to cultism, armed robbery, kidnapping, and other related crimes, which have been nailed to the cross in Kogi state.

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Like I’ve said on various platforms, I got into government at an almost impossible age condition for anyone to become a chief press secretary to any deputy governor in Nigeria. This was made possible because of the relatively younger leadership in Kogi state. My story, though garbed in personal perspectives, speaks volumes for thousands of other young Kogi people about the effervescent leadership qualities of Governor Bello.

In Nigeria today, a governor and his deputy hold sway as the brightest hands in security, ethnic tolerance, religious tolerance in the sense that a Muslim governor is building a chapel in Government House and of course, more than 35% affirmation of women in his cabinet who are also young people, a clear departure from the past. The United Nations in a commendation letter to the governor dated January 26, 2021, and signed by the organization’s Women Representative to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Ms. Comfort Lamptey, particularly commended Governor Bello for giving opportunities to women to harness their contributions in governance at the local government level.

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Why Yahaya Bello amongst Kogi politicians?

At 39 when he ventured, I listened to a young woman saying, “this man is handsome, he should be our governor.” This statement makes a place for light comedy, un-deep, regardless, still true. Of course, I am joking. He is handsome, but not the most handsome from Kogi state, still, he is handsome.

If you follow the ogogoro permutations from different sectors of the state on the ire of ethnicity supremacists, religious bigots, retired establishment members- a long testimony of why he should not “become” abounds. Then I ask the following questions:

1. Amongst the entire political gamers in Kogi state since 1999 till date, who amongst our top players have broken the near success syndrome of breaking into the center of Nigerian politics beyond the three senatorial districts of Kogi state?

2. Who amongst the political chess masters have been able to robe on national party politics, playing significant roles, dictating progressive party undercurrent amongst the coterie of “political angels” only you have qualified in Kogi state?

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He served as chairman of the security committee of the APC national convention in 2019. He currently serves as the subcommittee chairman on the security of the APC northern governors. He is currently chairman, youth and women mobilization chairman of the interim management party administration of the Mai Bala Buni leadership which has repositioned the party through fence-mending, youthful-voice-proliferation, and also statewide membership registration. He played executive roles in this exercise. Give us a single Kogi politician with such political mileage since 1999 at the age of 46.

3. Who amongst all the presidents, have served Nigeria, turned their states into Dubai before emerging as Nigeria’s president?

4. Which governor or politician in Kogi state has produced election results with the numbers beating hands “Tatatata” in accomplishment at both the state and national level the way Adoza and his team have done since the return to democracy in 1999?

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5. At what point will Kogi politicians grow up from the toddler’s routine of dragging for governorship, tearing pants for senatorial seats, and using 2×2 planks for House of Representatives seats every four years as her only attempt at national inclusion? When will Kogi politicians rally around their own to plant a feat in Aso Rock for better opportunities for their people?

6. At what point in Kogi state should the region agitate beyond being a balancing scale and decider of national elections but never amongst the top players when substantive portfolios are shared at the centre?

7. At what point will Kogi politicians and their recruited ogogoro analysts understand that they have never been close to having anyone amongst us pull this kind of shot that is close to pitching for the centre?

8. At what point are we in Kogi going to realize that Ajaokuta Steel resuscitation and River Niger dredging only have bureaucratic seriousness without any human seriousness that can commandeer the kind of support that is bringing a rail line up plenty states into Maradi?

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9. At what point will the naysayers understand that no region in Nigeria talks down on their own best feat-forward in a feeding-bottle federal system of government that who gets what, how, why, and when is dependent on the high wired ropes of national influence and presence?

To those who think futuristic, these questions are rhetorical. The game is now bigger than a Yahaya Adoza Bello, it is the fate of over 45 million Middle Beltans hanging in the balance of no inclusion. It is the fate of Ajaokuta Steel Complex. It is the fate of Rivers Niger and Benue dredging. It is the fate of a Kogi International Airport. It is the fate of Kogi indigenous people and the entire north-central region seeking a front-line position to step into Aso Rock safe for only the southeast which has never succeeded unlike the other four geopolitical zones in Nigeria.

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Kogi state, though widely described as a miniature Nigeria, was formerly balkanized along religious, ethnic and class divides, until Governor Bello, in fulfillment of his campaign promises to his people, set into the works, a unification project envisioned to removing these veils that had obstructed accelerated progress of the state since its inception in 1991. With the realization that he had to be the change he desperately wanted for Kogi, he set to motion that his “administrative organogram” reflects representation by capable hands extracted from all the Ethnic groups, major or minor. Today, Kogi state thrives on an atmosphere of mutual respect, understanding, and tolerance because the Igalas, Ebiras, Okuns, Nupes, Kakandas, Oworos, amongst other tribes, have learned, through a Yahaya Bello body language, not to place any tribe or religion above another.

Again, Why Yahaya Bello?

It is most important that Governor Yahaya Bello considers the clarion call by the region, and Nigerians, to throw his hat in the ring, come 2023. I also hold candidly that the people’s active participation at the polls is one of the key measures of electoral democracy. As a region, our lack of interest or apathy in elections tends to undervalue the democratic process, engender mistrust in political institutions, and enthrone unaccountable leadership. Indeed, the onus is on us to rededicate commitments.

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Much is said of Governor Bello, who in 2018, having unraveled the causes and determinants of neonatal, infant, and child mortality in the State, received reports from the Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) for households, in partnership with the National Population Commission (NPC) and federal ministry of health, revealing that Kogi, Benue and Kwara states had the lowest cases of under-five mortality.

Governor Bello’s astuteness in the face of pressure to yield to the politics of the Covid-19 pandemic still leaves many in awe of his personality. When the imaginary fires of fear were lit and vindictive ammunition of cases was shot at different states, he didn’t whimper, he stood his ground, and counseled that priority must be placed on human lives rather than personal and pecuniary gains.

Given these and more for Kogi state and the region, there is a manifold of how a Yahaya Bello presidency would reposition us in the scheme of things. It would, for one, emancipate from the shackles that had hitherto muffled our voices in the Nigerian project while unifying the eminence of manifold minority groups, constituting the barriers principally between the Muslim north and the mainly Christian south. It would also open broader doors for development, as no man leaves his burning house to go fetch firewood in the bush.

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Insecurity is plaguing north-western Nigeria, whilst permeating various states with federal and state authorities achieving minimal results to stifle it. This, to Kogi state and her people, is paradoxical, given that Governor Bello, since assuming office has shone his searchlights on resolving conflict between agrarian and pastoralist communities, through dialogue and resource-sharing agreements, while also stepping up law enforcement to nipping crime and criminals in the bud.

The Middle Belt Syndrome:

Observably, since the return to democracy, the north-central region has been the “slave partner” in the Nigerian project which by clandestine political calculation, challenges the provisions of Section 17, subsection 1 of 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which states thus: “The state social order is founded on ideals of freedom, equality, and justice.” To me, the Middle Belt syndrome loosely explains a backdrop of unfairness, isolation, and condemnation to playing the third fiddle in the political affairs and configuration of our great country.

Sadly, the region has been referenced to be the weeping child of the north and the federation, facing residue effects of security challenges occasioned by unprovoked aggression from herdsmen within and outside the larger north. Devastatingly, this has led to the destruction of farmlands, killings, and maiming of citizens, kidnappings, and all forms of criminality in north-central states, safe for Kogi state.

I believe there is an ultimate need for north-central to wake from its long slumber– to search for its soul and identity, and the right leadership to champion its embattled people. Remaining with the core north should be about inclusiveness and not only when votes are required. The region had shown character in promoting interstates respect, and understanding where the average Tiv man ventures his business in Kogi state, while an Ebira feels at home kilometers away in Kwara. These are heightened because the various states in the region had existed mutually before their annexation into exclusivity. Hence, the torch of brotherhood shines on.

In its rights, the Middle Belt syndrome reinvents the ancient city of Nazareth, famous for being the hometown of the boy Jesus Christ, who was destined to redeem his people bounded by chains of incapacity. It emphasizes a rural, backwater sort of place, and asks, like Nathanael, a plethora of questions by many Nigerians as 2023 draws near.

…but Philip said to him, “Come and see!”

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