KOGI GUBER: Yahaya Bello Breaks Silence

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Kogi State governor, Yahaya Bello, among other issues, in this interview with journalists, highlighted how he wants to be remembered after his eight years tenure which is about to end. KUNLE ODEREMI brings excerpts:

WHAT has the Kogi State government been able to do in terms of reduction of poverty and unemployment in the state as they are major drives of insecurity?

I may not be able to give you all the figures here, so that you don’t call me a liar by the time you verify them but I will simply refer you to our online referral compendium, so that you can carry out research and see where we met Kogi and the various efforts we have made to reposition the state and ensure reduction of poverty. While you can get the details about all these from our website, I will also add that ever since I came on board, we have employed workers more than the previous administrations put together did. We have also reduced poverty more than the previous administrations did. We have ensured that all those unintended beneficiaries on our payroll were weeded off. That has made more resources available for us. In fact, my administration has made more millionaires in Kogi State than the previous administrations put together did by way of empowering our people, teaching them how to fish and not necessarily giving them fish.

How would you respond to the claim that your administration deliberately made sure that the road leading to Natasha Akpoti’s area was impassable during the general election, which gave advantage to your party, All Progressives Congress (APC) over the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) during the polls?

During any electioneering process, we don’t halt construction or halt infrastructural development and you know that the particular election you made reference to was characterised by what I will describe as fake uniform men coming to invade or disrupt the exercise. But as the chief security officer and chief intelligence officer of the state, who will not wait to react and allow criminals to take over our electioneering process, I acted based on the intelligence that I had and that stopped criminals from gaining access to our state and disrupting the elections.

What informed the choice of Usman Ododo, who is said to be your relation as the candidate of the APC for the forthcoming governorship election in Kogi State?

Honourable Usman Ododo and I have no blood relationship whatsoever. Yes, we might come from the same area but in Kogi and where we are headed to, we have tried to put aside the sentiments of ethnicity, religion or class. Nineteen years of ethnic sentiments brought us to where we were before I came on board as governor. Today, we talk about merit as we have broken the jinx of ethnic and religious politics in Kogi State and of course class difference. Before, it is who you are, your father, your uncle or who you know that will determine whether you will be elected or appointed into the various offices. But we have been able to raise people from humble backgrounds, and today, they are occupying important positions in the state. For Ododo, who is a very compassionate and a wonderful person, he emerged in a keenly contested primary election. He won overwhelmingly in the APC governorship primary and he is poised to contest the main election scheduled for November 11, and definitely, he is going to take over from me.

There have been reported cases of attacks on campaign offices of some of the political parties, particularly the opposition. What measures is your administration putting in place to ensure that the election is violence-free?

Yes, I have received reports in that regard and the security agencies are up and doing to ensure that all political thugs and criminals, irrespective of the political party they may be working for, are caged and brought to justice before, during and after the election. I want to assure you that election of November 11 in Kogi State will not only be free, fair and credible, it will be the most peaceful in the history of the state and Nigeria. I have superintended over elections before the forthcoming one; I will continue to learn and improve everyday in terms of performance and this next one is going to be secured. So, we are strategizing to ensure that all kinds of criminals are taken care of adequately before that day and I trust that all law enforcement agencies will do excellently well before the election and even during the campaigns. We always lead and others follow. We are going to also take the lead this time around, and by the grace of God, the election will produce Usman Ododo as the next governor of Kogi State. We are going to campaign on issues; where we met Kogi State, where we are today, where we are headed to and I will tell you that the electorate in Kogi State are ready to elect Usman Ododo come November 11. You cannot be a leading candidate; a candidate that is accepted by the people and you are perpetrating violence, and we are not going to allow anybody to do that in Kogi State.

How have you been able to grow the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of the state and how far can Kogi as a sub-national go without allocation from the Federal Government?

When I assumed office, the IGR of the state was within a paltry sum of N250 million and N300 million. The state Internal Revenue Service was operating from a two-bedroom office. Of course, accountability and mobilization were issues then, so we sat down and reviewed the situation we met on ground. We blocked all the loopholes, hence one of the reasons for the hues and cries then. Secondly, we ensured that we expanded the tax net and the revenue base of the state. There were so many revenue sources that were not harnessed before then. We also made use of legislations because there were no rules and regulations that governed revenue generation in Kogi State before we came on board. But we came up with several legislations to ensure that people pay their taxes and that tax deductions from civil servants and political office holders were remitted to the coffers of both the state and the Federal Government. These interventions by my administration are the reasons why the state’s IGR jumped from N300 million to N1.5 billion monthly and we are going to do better before we leave office having identified more loopholes. And because we have a lot of solid minerals in Kogi State, we have embarked on a policy that will ensure that we benefit from the mining of these solid minerals. As it stands, there is no record of how these solid minerals are mined on a daily basis and I will give you an example.

Two weeks back, I had an interaction with one of the investors in coal deposit in Ankpa Local Government Area of the state. There were issues of illegal and legal mining; the big man came and told me to drive away all the illegal miners but we have a policy that recognises artisanry miners. To cut the story short, we discovered that this man has about eight companies mining coal in that local government area and they are not taking away anything less than N15 billion monthly, but if you go to the area, what you will see is an eyesore. And what have they paid in tax? I don’t think it is up to 0.001 per cent of what they are making to both the state and the local government. So, we are going to come up with a policy that will ensure that both the communities and artisanry miners as well as the state and Federal Government will have full records of what is being taking away from the area, so that the people and the government will enjoy the benefits of their resources. I hope you are aware of the recent seeming feud between the Kogi State government and one of the richest men in Africa. It is a situation that is unpalatable if you hear the peoples’ side of the story.

I know that before the end of my administration, we will put in place a policy that will ensure that our people enjoy the benefits of the solid mineral deposit in that area. But, to address this issue, I think it is better we look towards true fiscal federalism and I am advocating that. In Nigeria, mineral deposit, solid, liquid and gaseous abound everywhere, so we should not be lazy in taking actions. Mr. President has been wooing investors from around the world to come to Nigeria. There are several areas to be invested on in this country and we have no reason whatsoever to be poor.

Most roads leading to Kogi State in bad shape; what is your government doing to make them motorable?

On the dilapidated state of roads leading to Kogi, we have made several attempts to get the Federal Government to come to our aid after various interventions and palliatives by the state government. You will agree with me that before now, one has to hold one’s breath travelling from Abuja to Lokoja because of the poor condition of the road. Also, there were kidnappings and robberies along the federal highways, which were manned by agencies of the Federal Government.

But we intervened by doing some palliatives on those roads, hence we recorded breakthrough in security in those areas but there was no refund to the state government. Somebody who manned the roads at that time said that Okene-Lokoja and Lokoka-Abuja were not economically viable. That was what we were told. Aside my visit, the then state legislators also visited the ministry. Federal legislators, both senators and members of the House of Representatives from the state also visited. Our traditional rulers equally visited but nothing substantial was done. But thank God Almighty, we have a new administration and we are looking forward to have some relief even as there are interventions already by the present government. A day after President Bola Tinubu inaugurated his cabinet, the Minister of Works, Dave Umahi visited and we took a tour of federal roads leading to and within Kogi State and promised immediate intervention. As we speak today, there are interventions going on, on those roads. In fact, Umahi immediately asked the acting managing director of the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA) to take a tour of federal roads in Kogi State, which he did immediately. That is how responsible and responsive the present administration is. So, our roads in Kogi are going to wear a new look very soon. For the state roads, you will be shocked over how we have been able to utilise the resources available to us to fix them.

Still on the issue of solid minerals, especially discovery of lithium deposits in Kogi, Nasarawa and Zamfara, which is said to be fuelling insecurity in the states, is there any plan to partner with the Federal Government to ensure that the situation does not escalate?

Let us tell ourselves the truth. Like I said earlier, true fiscal federalism is the way to go for Nigeria. You cannot be in control of your resources as a state and allow crime and criminality to fester because that is where your resources are generated from. You will man it; you will face the criminals; you will not allow any foreigner to come and arm your citizens. You will secure your state, so that you can attract investors. So, let the states control their resources and pay royalties to the centre. This will reduce the heavy burden on the Federal Government and free more resources for the states and local governments.

How would you react to the claim of arrears of salaries owed civil servants in the state?

Since 1992, when the state was created, there have been issues of salary arrears, pension arrears, percentage payment of salaries of local government and state workers. It was worst during the time of my immediate predecessor, when sometimes, three months salaries were combined to pay just 10 per cent of salaries of workers. We have the records. When we came, we inherited four months arrears of salaries of state workers and up to 14 months of local government workers. So, we decided to draw the line on the issue of payment of salaries and we started from when I inherited the state – January 27, 2016. Go to the various states in the North; you will find out that none of them is paying higher than what is obtainable in Kogi. At the state level, we are not owing anybody a single dime and we have cleared all the arrears. Recently, past political office holders approached us to pay arrears of four months owed them by their own principal. Will you say that I employed and didn’t pay them? None of my current and past political office holders is being owed a dime; you can go and verify that.

Kogi State is one of the states that have performed badly in the area of Foreign Direct Investment, and the state is one of the states with high rate of food inflation according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). How would you react to these?

I have always admonished journalists on the need for investigative journalism, not taking what some people dish out in form of figures and running with it. Let me take you back to 2020, which was the year of Covid 19. I am sure that you are aware that we had the highest inflow of Foreign Direct Investment in Nigeria, over $1 billion, even surpassing Lagos State. On the issue of food crisis and inflation in Kogi State; I will tell you that when I came on board, I discovered that there were lots of jobs to be done and these jobs to be done involved putting the right people in the right places and pulling off some individuals, particularly the high and mighty from the milk of Kogi State, so that the intended beneficiaries of the state’s resources will benefit from them.

In doing this job, definitely you will step on toes, but I didn’t mind stepping on toes if I am doing the right thing. My stepping on toes cut across the various agencies of government and it attracted some negative reports but rather than engage my critics in a media war, I chose to remain focus. So, I will tell you that some of the figures being churned out are false. I challenge whosoever that is churning out such figures to come out with the methodology employed to arrive at such figures. What was the sample size involved in the research to arrive at such conclusions. We have curbed insecurity in Kogi State and our farmers are back to their farms. In Kogi State, we did not shut down because of Covid 19. In Kogi State, we pay more than many states in Nigeria in terms of salary and we are not owing anybody. In Kogi State, we are utilising our resources for the benefit of a majority of our people and we have been honoured by the World Bank and other rating bodies for ensuring accountability, yet some people will be churning out figures against the state government.

At the time the almighty Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was witch-hunting me, my family members and members of my government, you will be shocked that the Federal Government did not have its financials up to date, including the chairman of the EFCC, who is now being investigated for corruption. At any point the World Bank applauded my administration, you will see the EFCC coming after us.

What are you doing to reconcile some aggrieved members of your party ahead of the November 11 governorship election?

I will tell you the truth, and that is: In Kogi State, our party is solid. We are one but the fact is that you cannot satisfy everyone at all times. That is why people have the opportunity to vent their grievances. In Kogi State under my watch, you will not hear of any case of violence within our party during congresses or primary elections. While there may be dissatisfaction, there are internal mechanisms to resolve them. There is also an external mechanism by going to court. Given that some people have taken issues concerning the governorship primary election to the Supreme Court, I wouldn’t want to comment on it. While we await the verdict of the apex court, I want to assure you that APC is solid in Kogi State and that is why we have continued to win elections and will win the forthcoming governorship election by landslide and have Usman Dodo as my successor.

How would you want to be remembered by the time you live office as governor of Kogi State?

There is nobody who has occupied office that wouldn’t want to do one thing or the other but what is important is: am I satisfied with my achievements and successes? I thank God Almighty for all I have achieved given where I met Kogi State and where I have taken it to. No government can solve all the problems 100 per cent but I thank God for my successes so far and commitment. My belief is that Usman Ododo will build on the foundation I have laid in Kogi State.

Credit: Nigerian Tribune except headline

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