Yahaya Bello: The bully as a coward, by Ikechukwu Amaechi

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IT is a settled axiom: All bullies are cowards. Hurting and scaring those who are weaker is not bravery and despite their braggadocio, bullies only prey on the weak using aggression and intimidation to cover up their own feelings of inadequacy and fear.

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Former Kogi State governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, has proven that axiom, once again, to be eternally true. Who would have ever thought that the self-acclaimed ‘White Lion’ will ever be afraid of anything or anybody? In the eight years that he superintended over the affairs of Kogi State, he carried on like an Emperor.

Yet, barely 10 months out of office, he has become a caricature, a fugitive running away from his own shadows. He is now a whining spoilt brat, complaining in an annoyingly childish and petulant manner about the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.

On Tuesday, Yahaya Bello failed to appear before the Federal High Court in Abuja to answer to a 19-count charge of corruption the EFCC preferred against him. Of course, he had a team of senior lawyers who represented him.

Mr Adeola Adedipe, SAN, one of his lawyers, told the court and, indeed, Nigerians that his client would have made himself available for the proceedings, if not for his mortal fear of arrest. “The defendant wants to come to court but he is afraid that there is an order of arrest hanging on his head,” Adedipe submitted.

Of course, the fugitive has a lot of money which he is deploying in muddling the waters while he remains in hiding. So, it is not a surprise that hired guns, including lawyers, are demonstrating on his behalf.

Dr Sam Amadi, a lawyer and former Chairman of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC, took to his X handle on Tuesday to lament that: “Someone contacted me to say if I know senior lawyers who can be paid to defend @OfficialGYBKogi on @channelstv. The guy said of course I can never do it but help him with someone who can. Note: Lawyers are now paid enablers. When you see them on TV talking nonsense just remember.”

To be sure, I am not particularly a fan of the anti-graft agency because of the way it has carried on since inception. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo who created the Commission used it maximally for political vendetta. And not much has changed ever since.

But that said, as a society that claims to be governed under the rule of law, which presupposes that all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the state itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced, and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights principles, no one should be allowed to spurn any lawful invite of the EFCC like Bello is doing.

In any case, what is he afraid of? Why is he running away from the law? Could that be an admission of guilt because the guilty, to borrow a cliché, are always afraid? If not, what is the big deal in honouring the invitation of the EFCC and clearing his name?

Which is easier, running to court like the former governor of Rivers State, Dr Peter Odili, to secure a perpetual injunction against probe or clearing his name?

Just before he left office on May 29, 2007, Odili obtained a court injunction preventing the EFCC from probing the Rivers State government finances. The EFCC immediately appealed against the injunction and that appeal has yet to be decided. Meanwhile, the anti-graft agency tried to continue its investigation of Odili regardless of the injunction, but he fought back in a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt.

And in March 2008, a year after he first granted the perpetual injunction, Justice Ibrahim Buba, doubled down on his jaw-dropping ruling: “The subsisting judgment of March 2007 by this court is binding on all parties,” he bellowed. “Therefore there is a perpetual injunction restraining the EFCC from arresting, detaining and arraigning Odili on the basis of his tenure as governor based on the purported investigation.”

That is what Yahaya Bello seeks. But here is a man, who for eight years ruled Kogi State with an iron fist and a degree of meanness that can hardly be equalled. He brooked no criticism no matter how constructive. He took no prisoners.

Under his watch in November 2019, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Woman Leader of Wada/Aro Campaign Council, Ochadamu Ward, Mrs Acheju Abuh, was burnt to death in her home by political thugs, who on arriving her house at about 2pm shot sporadically into the air, blocking every escape route before pouring petrol on the building and setting it ablaze, as terrified villagers watched from afar.

As governor, Yahaya Bello reduced the entire judicial arm of government to a parastatal in his office. Chidi Odinkalu, a law professor, former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, and enfant terrible of the Nigerian Bar, in his brilliant article on Sunday titled, “Yahaya Bello and the Judiciary,” narrated how Bello reduced the judiciary in the state to a laughing stock.

Kogi State under Yahaya Bello was like France, under Louis XIV, an absolute monarchy where full power resided with the king. The only difference is that Nigeria claims to be a democracy. As an absolute monarch, Louis was not subject to any constitutional limitations, leading him to declare: “l’etat, c’est moi” (“I am the state”). Yahaya Bello became Kogi State writ large.

Under his watch, the office of the Kogi State Chief Judge became a game of musical chairs, held at the pleasure of the imperial governor. Narrating the ordeal of Justice Nasir Ajannah, one of the many Chief Judges that served while Bello held sway, Odinkalu wrote:

“Yahaya Bello made life unbearable for Nasir Ajannah. He began by banishing the man from official state functions… In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Yahaya Bello made Nasir Ajannah persona non-grata in the state. As a result, he was forced into internal displacement in Abuja, where his personal arrangements were worse than transitory. While in hiding in Abuja, Nasir Ajannah contracted COVID and died in isolation in Gwagwalada in the Federal Capital Territory on June 28, 2020. His death went unacknowledged and even the institutions of the judiciary were reluctant to mourn his passing.” What was his crime? Attempting to hold the office of Kogi State Chief Judge with dignity and independence.

In October 2019, Bello orchestrated the impeachment of his deputy Simon Achuba, by a highly subservient State House of Assembly without following due process. But even when a State High Court in Lokoja presided over by Justice John Olorunfemi on February 27, 2020, declared the impeachment null and void, Bello still had his way. Not only did Justice Olorunfemi fault Achuba’s removal from office, describing it as a violation of the Constitution, he also said the nomination of Edward Onoja as the deputy governor did not follow due process.

On the eve of last year’s National Assembly elections on February 25, 2023, Bello ordered the destruction of a major road leading to the community of the PDP senatorial candidate for Kogi Central, Natasha Akpoti-Uduaghan, cutting it off from the rest of the state. He had vowed that over his dead body would Natasha, his mortal political enemy, go to the Senate.

It is sheer poetic justice that the reason Bello gave EFCC chairman, Olanipekun Olukoyede, why he could not answer the summons was because Natasha had allegedly surrounded EFCC with over 100 people to embarrass and intimidate him. He would rather EFCC operatives come to his village to have a chat with him than face his nemesis, Natasha, who now sits in the hallowed chambers of the National Assembly as a Senator.

That is the trademark of bullies. When the chips are down, they are cowards. If only Nigerian political leaders can learn a lesson on life’s uncertain trajectory from him. Today, the self-acclaimed “White Lion,” His Excellency, Alhaji Yahaya Adoza Bello, CON, who rechristened Government House Lokoja the “Lions’ Den” has been thoroughly demystified – he is a bloody coward.

The Nigerian state must ensure that he does not become another Peter Odili with a perpetual injunction shielding him from scrutiny. He must give account of his stewardship.


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