Why Bello is coming back, and Bayelsa may fall, by Azu Ishiekwene


Conversation with Azu

By last week, the governorship/senatorial election in Kogi State had been reduced to a sex duel, with Senator Dino Melaye inviting his arch rival, Governor Yahaya Bello, to a mojo contest.

Kogi’s number one problem in the last two decades has been poverty, not a shortage of testosterone. The state’s monthly allocation is five times smaller than what Dangote gets monthly from the Obajana Cement factory also located there. Poverty is its biggest problem. To make matters worse for the state, the last 20 years of civilian rule have produced leaders determined to divide, incite and rob.

Melaye’s invitation is part of a torrent of distractions that has nearly overshadowed the main issue as Kogi voters go to the poll again this weekend. Before Melaye’s video, the deputy governor Simon Achuba was removed for acts of gross misconduct and dramatically replaced in spite of his protests that the House of Assembly’s report did not indict him as required by law.

While the dethroned deputy governor was kicking and screaming on the deck, news made the rounds that Bello had bought the main traditional ruler, the Attah of Igala, a Rolls Royce not only to bring him at par with a number of traditional rulers across the country, but also to optimize his comfort and pleasure as he navigates the rugged roads of Lokoja.

In other words, while the election clock wound down, the headline news on mainstream and social media was hardly about poverty or whether voters thought the governor had performed to deserve a second term. It was, instead, about mojo, infighting and royal comfort.

Will Bello get a second term? He will lose on social media and, maybe, also lose the mojo contest to Melaye. But he would win the governorship election this weekend.

Bello would win, not in spite of, but because of his flaws – flaws which have dogged his predecessors in the past two decades but have not left the voters any wiser. Bello is done on social media, finished off by his perceived arrogance, his imperial style, and his acrimonious war with civil servants. But he is alive, well and coming back for another four years. He borrowed a leaf from the crony politics of his predecessors and has managed to make the 2019 version of his odyssey a compelling read.

Incumbency and ties to Abuja have largely been central to the outcome of state elections. Bello may be reigning in Lugard House, Lokoja, but he worships at the Presidential Villa, the shrine of Nigeria’s political power.

He knows that his unexpected emergence as governor after the sudden death of Governor-elect, Abubakar Audu, had more to do with the backing from the Villa than anything else. In return, he has been President Muhammadu Buhari’s boy 100 percent and has not been ashamed to flaunt it.

Luckily for Bello, those who insist that he would meet his waterloo at home since all politics is local may have overlooked the fact that the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has contributed more than any local group in paving the way for the governor’s second term. The PDP’s acrimonious governorship primaries loaded the gun. Bello is only about to pull the trigger.

Apart from the fact that PDP squabble left Melaye with a black eye and a heavy heart, the eventual emergence of Musa Wada who defeated his mentor and elder brother, Idris Wada, was exactly the provocation that the non-Igala needed to line up behind Bello, in spite of his shortcomings.

Perhaps the Igala (who make up about 48 percent of the population) might have had a chance if Idris Wada, who already had done one term as governor, had won the PDP ticket.

But the emergence of Musa Wada after a debilitating and lingering family and party feud, not only presented the prospect of consolidating the Wada-Ibro dynasty, it potentially meant that the non-Igala would endure the Igala yoke for another eight years, outside the nearly 16 they have already been in power.

Kogi elders, led by General David Jemibewon, now supporting Bello were pressed between the rock of Igala remorseless domination and the hard place of the incumbent’s hubris.

In the mire of Nigeria’s tribal politics, Bello is not only perceived as the lesser of two evils, his massive purge of the Kogi civil service allegedly dominated by the Igala is also deemed “a good thing” by the Ebira, the Okun, the Bassa-Nge and other smaller ethnic groups chaffing under years of Igala rule.

Bello is still owing civil servants but has managed to close the arrears gap at a time when PDP is falling apart, and deep pockets, including Jide Omokore, have been defecting to the APC with a net negative flow in the other direction.

There’ll be many voters who would vote Bello not necessarily because of his record or because they like him, but because they believe he’s probably the best chastening rod against the Igala at this time. A PDP divided against itself has been extra help.

As for the libidinal challenge, Melaye’s extraordinary invitation to the governor over who is more prolific in bed is one more proof that the senator has run his race. Voters in his stronghold may be prepared to forgive his excursion to the treetop, pardon his shenanigans on social media, and even indulge his tantrums and musical video fantasies.

It’s improbable, however, that Melaye would defeat his rival, Smart Adeyemi, who currently has the wind in his sails in Koton-Karfe and Lokoja local governments both of which often determine electoral outcomes in the state. In an election between two candidates from Okunland, the largely Muslim voters in Koton-Karfe and Lokoja will tend to lean towards a candidate whose godfather is the incumbent and who also enjoys the support of a Muslim president.

Will this also be the year when APC finally makes a significant inroad into the South South? Very likely. Whatever the sterling credentials of candidates, the vote tends to follow the money as surely as the fly follows honey. I’m ashamed to say this but it’s what it is: whether because of poverty or in spite of it, voters follow the money first and ask questions later, if at all. 

Governor Seriake Dickson is completing his second term and voters know that however generous and supportive of PDP candidate Douye Diri he may be, the governor’s money will soon be yesterday’s money.

APC is the new oil block. The party’s stalwarts from the South South are in charge of the Niger Delta Development Commission, the Local Content Board and more important, the junior portfolio in the Petroleum Ministry. As they weigh their options, Bayelsa voters – even in Southern Ijaw, the state’s vote bank – will find the new currency of patronage hard to resist. 

Without the support of any visible moneybags, and at best, only the lukewarm interest of key stalwarts such as Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike, PDP presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar, and former president Goodluck Jonathan to count on, Diri is in a difficult, if not a losing, place.

And just like it happened in Kogi, the PDP crisis in Bayelsa which led to the departure of Timi Alaibe and his supporters after the acrimonious governorship primaries also played into the hands of the opposition in the state.

APC forces, with their eyes already on 2023, will use this weekend’s election in Bayelsa to get a footing in the South South, with Akwa Ibom also firmly in their sights. 

For Timipreye Silva, Godswill Akpabio, Adams Oshiomhole and Ovie Omo-Agege – all APC leaders in the South South – Saturday’s election is not only a do-or-die to install David Lyon as the next governor in Government House, Yenagoa. They also want to send a message to the party leader President Muhammadu Buhari that the post-Rotimi Amaechi era is finally underway in the region.

Whether in Kogi or Bayelsa, every election is a parable of the fickleness of power. The promise of change is an illusion. By this time in another four years, the politicians will return, with warmed over promises, asking voters to do it again.

And weary, frazzled voters indifferent to the past and obsessed with survival and what they can get now, will not even ask, why should we? We’re trapped.

Ishiekwene is the Managing Director/Editor-In-Chief of The Interview


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