COMMENTS BY GOVERNOR YAHAYA BELLO OF KOGI STATE TO THE NORTHERN ELDERS FORUM

I do feel a sense of privilege to be among the elders of Northern Nigeria today. Thank you for the invitation. From the dawn of time, it has fallen to those who have, by God's gift of longevity and a life of service to the community, attained the office of elders to exercise same by providing guidance to the younger generations.

It is indisputable that the Northern Elders Forum as it is currently constituted has earned the right to play that role in Northern Nigeria today. I am therefore here today to sit at the feet of the elders and notable resource persons at this event, and learn.

I am aware that hard truths will be spoken to leadership at this event, for that is the way of elders. I am one who, by sheer divine intervention, falls into that category of persons referred to as 'leadership' in today's Nigeria, and I can hardly wait to hear the nuggets of wisdom that will rain down here.

Truly, as the Letter of Invitation to this event echoes, we have 'multi-dimensional challenges' as a country. So multi-dimensional in fact they can be analogous to bushfires in harmattan season. While you are battling one, another appears, then another…Frankly, leadership in Nigeria can task one beyond human endurance, but it also brings with it the unequalled satisfaction of helping people and transforming societies for good. That is my avowed aspiration as the Governor of Kogi State and the youngest Governor in Nigeria right now.

The immediate consolation which I can proffer is that Nigeria's problems are not insurmountable. We have a strong and tested hand on the helms of the Ship of State in the person of President Muhammadu Buhari, and while the preparations for the journey have taken a while, it is now underway and we are gathering momentum.

SECURITY
The decimation of the Boko Haram insurgency as a credible threat to the Nigerian federation is the signature achievement of the first year of the Buhari Presidency. Nothing underscores the power of a determined leader to bring about change than the defeat of Boko Haram in one short year by the Commander-in-Chief and his Armed Forces. We all remember how terrible the problem was when he took Office.

We need to situate that accomplishment within its proper perspective to understand exactly the magnitude of it. The insurgents were at still very strong and posing a threat to more and more of Nigerian territory. Suicide bombings were a near daily occurrence and the death toll was rising into the tens of thousands, and the number of internally displaced persons had become unmanageably high.

Now:

The problem of Internally Displaced Persons will vanish with the insurgency. I believe that in one year or less the Federal Government can actually return the IDPs to their communities, settle them into livelihoods, especially in agriculture where there are many quick-wins and commence the process of helping them rebuild their lives.
The problem of Investment which vanished with the insurgency, will largely reappear with the disappearance of the insurgents and the enhanced security of lives and property made possible by the reinvigorated Nigerian Armed Forces.
The renewed hope in the nation's Armed Forces and Security Infrastructure by foreign governments and partners mainly driven by their confidence in the Commander-in-Chief have seen a rise in defense assistance to Nigeria, and even pledges of reconstruction funds to the North-East, the area of the country hardest hit by the conflict.

The Militancy in the Niger Delta is of course another child of the atrocious governance over the years. The trillions in Naira that has gone to the cradle of our oil industry as derivations and payments outside of the statutory FAAC allocations has not translated into the projected socio-economic development of the region. The response has been the militancy.

Our brother, Late President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua made a credible effort to quell the unrest in the region with his peaceful approach through the Amnesty Programme, especially the youth empowerment components. It worked wonders. Unfornately, his successor allowed those gains to slide, allowed people without conscience to take over the program and generally threw it into disrepute, so that when the current Administration arrived, it had literally become a cesspit of corruption.

While it is is tempting to want to do away with the Amnesty Program altogether because of the endemic corruption which invaded it, we must not lose sight of the fact that there are genuinely vulnerable and helpless people in the Niger Delta which it has helped, and can still help. I trust Mr. President will continue to manage it objectively while retooling it for greater impact. On their part, I urge the militants to drop their violent ways and embrace dialogue. That is the only solution out of the quagmire in the Niger Delta.

I must also commend the President for flagging off and remaining committed to the Ogoni Clean-up Project. That clean-up and the restoration of the natural environment all over the Niger Delta may be the only benefit that future generations may see from the years of oil exploration in the region, especially if fossil fuels continue to slide as energy sources of choice and clean energy alternatives continue to rise.

Banditry, robbery and kidnapping are serious security threats in Nigeria. They are the direct outcomes of bad governance, and wrong personal choices. This Government is strengthening the Nigerian Police Force and the Law Enforcement Agencies. The military and paramilitary services have also been drafted into service to assist in the quelling of these serious crimes. The journey remains far, but we are definitely on it.

I must touch on our reforms in Kogi State here, and perhaps recommend it to others. When we came into Office, the state was under siege. In my first month in Office there were 18 reported cases of kidnapping, nobody has the statistics on the unreported one where families just paid up and kept quiet. Judges and other senior public Officials were being taken at will, sometimes with their armed aides killed. School children were taken off school buses. Travelers were marched off their vehicles and into the bushes and dens. All were held for ransom. Kogi was a veritable no man's land.

We tackled that problem headlong. Everything else was second tier. By the end of my second month in office kidnapping case, at least the reported ones, had dropped to just 5. Today, it is a rare thing indeed. What did we do? We sought the help of the Police and military top hierarchy and helped to strengthened the capacities of our regular Law Enforcement Agencies and we equipped and further trained the Kogi State Vigilante Services to help stand guard in the communities and remote rural areas. We bought and distributed over 100 security vans, other security gadgets and equipments and instituted systems of command and control that kept the equipment in play without providing opportunity for corruption to undermine the process.

Kogi is a very safe place today, and we are playing hosts to more and more guests, travelers and potential investors, both domestic and foreign.

2. SOCIO-ECONOMIC

President Buhari at the centre and I and my brother Governors in the various states inherited a Nigeria whose economic mainstay in the form of crude oil earnings was in total decline when we came in. To worsen matters, the country's social fabric was very decayed, especially after the 16 years of PDP's feckless adventuring. The last 6 years of that will forever stand out for the infamy of her corrupt operatives.

President Muhammadu Buhari, in his characteristic directness has stuck the needle into the core of the abcess, the pus from the accumulated years of putrefaction is rushing out, the patient is wailing in pain, but the healing process has definitely started. Considering the depth of the rot, the process of recovery is likely to be painful as it will be painstaking, but it has begun…

Kogi State also has her tales of woes from those 16 years, but the last 13 of them were particularly beastly. The level of suffering visited on the populace by those who should be leaders is simply mind-boggling. Every trick in the book likely to turn a dishonest kobo for the politically exposed individuals at the expense of the poor and excluded citizenry was deployed.

No sector was spared. The Civil Service Wage Bill was infiltrated with ghost-workers and other categories of fraudulent beneficiaries. Civil servants and pensioners perished while their wages and emoluments were siphoned off. Contracts were inflated to many sizes their true costs, then abandoned. Raw cash was carted away and pumped into private edifices and investments outside the state.

We cannot run away from exacting accountability for these past malfeasances, especially wrongs against the people. If we are to recover what belongs to our commonwealth and prevent recurrence, we must ask intelligent questions. The President has launched a blistering war on corruption in all sectors, even the Judiciary. Kogi State has followed suit. Last week I empaneled a Judicial Commission of Inquiry to scrutinize financial dealings, especially contracts, in Kogi State over the last 13 years. We aim to collect our monies back - from past public servants and from contractors who abandoned projects.

We have put together a comprehensive socio-economic policy document towards our economic recovery in Kogi State. Before we got into Office, we laid the framework for our socio-economic activities in government under the aegis of a New Direction Agenda. Once sworn-in, I wasted no time in getting consultants to develop that framework into what we now call the New Direction Blueprint.

The New Direction Blueprint is a roadmap for accelerated development of Kogi State in 5 key Thematic Areas of Education, Health, Infrastructure, Civil Service and Pension Reforms and Youth Engagement and New Venture Creation. Working with our Blueprint under Civil Service and Pension Reforms, we embarked on a a Staff Screening and Verification Exercise which has currently shaved off about N1.3bn monthly from our Wage Bill, a figure that is projected to increase as we wrap up the exercise this October.

We are opening up roads and rural infrastructure. We are also engaging in urban renewal and development projects in and around the leading urban areas of the three senatorial zones of the state.

Kogi has three cash cows, chained up and hidden away over the years, but cash cows all the same. Agriculture, Solid Minerals, and Tourism. We are going to really unleash them. Investments in these sectors are receiving strong support from my administration. Many feasibility studies in these areas have been midwifed to near completion now. A few projects have also started. We expect to reach full capacities in these and other areas.

Any of our elders here today, or any of their wards, who may wish to re-fire (not retire) into any of these areas and possesses the investment capacities required to engage in large-scale endeavors are encouraged to invite us for discussions. I am promising preferential approval of doable proposals.

We have brought two sets of that Blueprint Document in three volumes and will make them available to the secretariat of the Forum for record purposes. We hope you will use it to to monitor us as we progress, and we will welcome your elderly counsel as we go, especially if you notice that we are deviating from the Blueprint.

3. POLITICAL

The political party is the only entity recognized to field candidates for any election in Nigeria. Elections are the sole options available to anyone who wishes to capture and wield power in Nigeria since the advent of this democratic dispensation in 1999. If political parties are in turmoil, the consequences are often an unsettled polity, and distracted leadership.

It is sad that the two main political parties in Nigeria today seem to have rumblings of discontent within their rank and file often traceable to failure of internal democracy, and lack of respect for party supremacy by elements who often see themselves as above the law.

I was a victim of this as members of my own Party, both within the Kogi State Chapter of the APC and even from forces outside the state but embedded within the Party. I found myself beset on all sides by my own party-men, those I should ordinarily depend on for cover and support.

I have nothing but respect for those who took me to court and asked that I defend my mandate. I was only glad to do that to the supreme court and back. By the grace of God, I gave a good account of myself, defeating every opponent from the Tribunal to the Apex Court.

I am however worried about those who claimed to be APC members who went to the Press to de-market the APC all over Nigeria, cut deals with the opposition parties to sell out the APC, and open rebelled against the highest hierarchies of the APC and her internal control organs just to unseat Yahaya Bello because of their clandestine interests in the soul of Kogi State.

These are the types who undo Parties and pose a threat to governance and the polity. I believe these ones proliferate because to some extent internal party control mechanisms, especially for discipline of erring members, are slack and never implemented. The problem grows with impunity as they get away with more and more misbehaviour. The solution is simple: Parties must implement their constitutions without fear or favour.

I am currently working with the Kogi State Secretariat and loyal executives of the APC, the Zonal executive Committee and the National Headquarters to install much needed discipline in the state chapter of the party. Without party cohesion, even a Governor or President will find it hard to deliver great governance to those who elected him.

The political system in Nigeria became an incubator for corruption long before the APC came to power. I stated during the inauguration of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry mentioned above that corruption has cost Nigeria more lives and progress than Apartheid cost south Africa or Genocide cost Rwanda. I insist that Corruption must be seen as worse than any other Crime Against Humanity, and treated as such.

If parties eliminate corruption within themselves, it is a small thing to eliminate it in the country.
People who took up politics as another get-rich-quick scheme in which the losers are the very electorates who voted for them must be rooted out. The Governing Party today, the APC, owes this country and her posterity a duty to decimate corruption with even more extreme prejudice than Boko Haram or some other aggressor.

Nigeria is one country, it must remain so. We may change internal boundaries and aggregations to further reflect traditional affinities, but we must not be seduced into tampering with the external borders as a quick fix for any agitations. Our problems with each other are not that intractable. Let us sit down and talk them over. I trust the President will take the lead in this.

Governance is a partnership between the three arms of government. It will only work if no arm undermines the other. We in the Executive have cultivated a healthy relationship with our Legislative and Judicial Arms in Kogi. The principles of separation of powers are not a bludgeon to beat each other to death with, but a basket to put the blessings of good governance through cooperation in and carry to the people.

Thank you for the opportunity to make these remarks.

 

GOVERNOR YAHAYA BELLO
EXECUTIVE GOVERNOR
KOGI STATE.
10th October, 2016