The two-term tenure of Yahaya Bello as the Governor of Kogi State ended on January 27, 2024 with the handing over to Usman Ododo, the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, who won the governorship election. For those who have watched the encomium heaped on Bello in office, the expectation after handing over was that the time has come to see in truth how his own people rate him now that he has no executive power. Perhaps, the encomium heaped on him while in office was to curry favour or out of fear of the office.
Sending him off from Lokoja, the state capital, and receiving him in his hometown, Okene, should provide the answer.
The two but related events clearly showed that Bello, who came into power, unexpectedly, at the age of 40 on January 27, 2016, is truly loved by his people in and out of government. Bello, who was sworn in on January 27, 2016 and served two terms, came into office by providence. He was ruled as the rightful owner of the mandate of the All Progressives Congress after the man who had coasted to victory and was only awaiting his official announcement as the winner of the governorship election by the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prince Abubakar Audu, died. Bello, who came second behind Audu in the primaries of the APC, was declared as the rightful owner of the victory.
There were two fears for Bello when he suddenly found himself in power: One was that of not being sure he was prepared for the office, considering the circumstances of his emergence. The second was his age. No one in the current democratic dispensation had been handed such level of responsibility before him.
But Bello appeared to have proven almost everybody wrong with his performance and conduct in office. From his achievements across all sectors and comportment, he has been hailed by those who have followed developments in the state, including members of the opposition parties. When benchmarked against the expectations of his people and what he was able to deliver, he scored pass marks across sectors that included the economy, education, health and security.
While in office, Bello was one of the governors that showed utmost commitment to completing projects started by his predecessors. In fact for some of them, including the Ganaja Flyover in Lokoja, he negotiated down the cost of the project despite adding some more aspects to it. In the bid to ensure the strict supervision of projects, he emerged as one of the very few governors who traveled out of the country frequently.
Beyond saving money for the state and completing other projects across all sectors, former Governor Bello increased the Internally Generated Revenue of the state by over 300 percent in his eight years without burdening the people unnecessarily. This enabled him to complete both the projects he initiated and inherited.
And this reflected in the numerous projects former President Muhammadu Buhari had to commission when he visited Kogi State. Among these were the Confluence University of Science and Technology in Osara; Ganaja flyover; General Hospitals in Gegu and Isanlu; Referral Hospital, Okene; three GYB Model Secondary Schools; Zone 8-Paparanda Square Road, Lokoja; upgrade of the General Hospital in Idah; and several projects across the 21 Local Government Areas of the state.
There has been a debate on which sector Bello had the most impact. While some said security, there are those who believed he did better in education and others health. This was because when Bello came into office, insecurity was at its peak in the state. The state, which links the Southern part of the country with the Federal Capital Territory, abuja and the North, was virtually impassable for travellers as not only Boko Haram operated freely, but other criminals who took advantage of the situation.
In a few months after taking over, Kogi State became safe, with fewer numbers of attacks on travellers and residents. And when attacks occurred, the response rate of security agencies was faster and swifter. The presence of the Nigerian Navy Base in Lokoja was the icing on the cake for the security architecture Bello succeeded in putting in place. This was apart from the investment in vehicles for the various security agencies.
In the education sector, Bello ensured that the three senatorial districts of the state now have a university each. These are the Kogi State University, Kabba, which he established in 2023; Confluence University of Science and Technology, Osara in Okene, which he also established in 2020; and Prince Abubakar Audu University, Ayingba, Dekina, established by the late Audu.
The state-owned polytechnic in Lokoja also got full accreditation of all courses offered in the recent accreditation by the National Board for Technical Education. The National Commission for Colleges of Education also found the two state-owned Colleges of Education: College of Education, Ankpa and College of Education Technical, Kabba, worthy of full accreditation of the courses offered them, making it first-ever in the history of the two schools. A year after Bello became governor, all the 17 courses offered at the College of Education Technical, Kabba, got full accreditation.
Bello also paid N497 million registration fees for students writing the Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination organised by the West African Examination Council. On January 23, 2024, Bello approved the payment of N115 million to cover the cost of the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination organised by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board for 15,033 students in public schools across the state. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, Kogi State at present has the least number of out-of-schoolchildren among the 19 states of the North.
In the health sector, Bello received encomium from the leadership of the Nigerian Medical Association for his footprint. In a goodwill message signed by its Chairman, Dr. Baoku Olusola, and Secretary, Dr. Jonah Bola Kelvin, Bello was credited for not only improving facilities, but also the welfare of the personnel.
Bello was praised for approving the Consolidated Medical Salary Structure and the hazard allowance of doctors in Kogi State when 26 other states had yet to implement any of them; establishing a World Class Reference Hospital in Okene with the capacity to handle complicated medical and surgical cases; renovated and remodelled Kogi State Specialist Hospital in Lokoja to include an ultra-modern administrative complex with two suspended Floors; construction of Psychiatric Department and complete renovation and remodeling of the whole hospital; construction of two ultra-modern General Hospitals in Eganyi, Ajaokuta; and establishing the Kogi State Health Insurance Agency to help reduce out of pocket expenditure by the people.
The NMA said in its letter to Bello in part: “Your name has been written in gold and you will never be forgotten Sir as the conqueror.”
Several other persons and groups, including the Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency, Ambassador Ahmed Abubakar, have extolled Bello over his exceptional achievements in office. Abubakar, who captured the bulk of the encomium, wrote: “It is a fact that your exceptional achievements rejigged Kogi’s economy. I wish to congratulate you on your notable strides since assuming office as governor. Your various infrastructural projects opened up the state as one of Nigeria’s main trade routes. You’re leaving Kogi more prosperous, developed and transformed as seen in your infrastructural projects such as the renovation of the Okene Reference hospital and the establishment of Omi Rice Farm. You have enhanced public services and facilities and have added value to agricultural production and rejigged Kogi’s economy.
“As your tenure winds down, I write to congratulate you and acknowledge the notable achievements of your administration during your two tenures as governor. During your time as governor, the various infrastructural projects you undertook significantly improved the state’s connectivity and accessibility as one of Nigeria’s main trade routes from the West and South to Northern parts of the country. The renovation of the Okene Reference hospital is a testament to your dedication to enhancing public services and facilities. Similarly, the establishment of Omi Rice Farm, one of the largest in Nigeria, is a clear demonstration of your administration’s commitment to adding value to agricultural production.”
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However, nothing spoke more than the farewell guards mounted for Bello, fondly called the White Lion, as he departed Lokoja after handing over to Ododo, and the reception he received on getting to his hometown in Okene. The people of the state themselves have spoken with their massive presence at the farewell and reception apart from the encomiums heaped on him from several quarters. As an observer said: “Certainly, this is a reflection of the fact that Bello met the expectations of his people by his performance in and out of office.”