Not a few were surprised when the calls for Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello, to declare his interest to run in the 2023 presidential elections began to gain momentum. Although, feelers had indicated that the controversial governor had been preparing underground to take the shot, for the first time, he indicated his ambition on prime time TV.
In the typical Nigerian politician’s roundabout way of making such announcements, Bello said, “Nigerians, the youth and women, including very objective elite, are asking me to run for president in 2023. My answer will be in affirmative in a little time from now”.
He highlighted the need to have a crop of leaders with capacity, who could get the job done and unify the country.
“I think they are seeing something in me, that they are asking me to come and unite and fix this country,” he said
On restructuring, the 45-year-old politician gave his personal definition of restructuring, saying, “Let’s restructure and allow the younger generation take over the leadership of this country.”
From the above statements, it is clear that Bello has identified two clear advantages he might have over the present crop of politicians being speculated as having in interest such as Nasir el-Rufai, Aminu Tambuwal, Anikulapo Abubakar, Kayode Fayemi and the rest.
One is that he is relatively young at 45 and might command a significant appeal among the youth, and secondly, he comes from Kogi State, which is effectively in the middle belt and is not particularly involved in the raging contest over zoning between the core northern politicians and the southern power brokers, who insist on being rewarded for facilitating Muhammadu Buhari’s emergence as president in 2015 despite losing three times earlier.
Bello is apparently putting himself forward as a bridge builder and uniting factor of sorts at a time when tensions over the Buhari-led government’s perceived tacit leanings towards a perceived northern agenda with the herdsmen crisis, political appointments, economic downturn and general hardships being experienced by citizens. These are in addition to ominous separatist agitations in the South, marking down the administration.
While there is a general feeling that for Nigeria to progress, there needs to be a marked departure from a past dominated by the so called analogue leaders, Bello seeks to offer some freshness but his main challenge will be how to demonstrate that he is the right candidate.
Certainly, it will be difficult to dismiss him as a non starter in the face of some of the big wigs emerging as the contest gains traction. Bello is a sitting Governor running a second term, which shows he can win elections; members of his camp dominate the state’s Senate and House of Representatives seats in the National Assembly as well as the State Assembly.
He has dealt squarely with his biggest political foe, Senator Dino Melaye, and the fear of Bello is the beginning of wisdom in Kogi politics. While some might criticize his methods and style as being brash and abrasive in turn, Bello has had his way so far.
He is a staunch ally of President Buhari and has demonstrated a knack for inserting himself in national discourse in turn even in controversial circumstances, much more so with his stance on Covid-19, which he insists does not exist, and his opposition to vaccination, citing the unfortunate outcome of a mass polio vaccination programme in Kano State many years earlier.
Despite the lack of scientific evidence to back his claims, Bello seems to have a large following among the COVID-19 deniers within the Nigerian populace, especially the lower classes, who believe it affects only the rich and wealthy.
The relatively low infection and death rates in Nigeria despite a mass failure to adhere to globally accepted safety measures reinforces this notion. And what could be more in ensuring that Bello gets a soft landing than the highly influential leader of one of the world’s largest churches, The Redeemed Christian Church of God, Enoch Adeboye, suggesting during a recent visit to the state that the Kogi governor was a man of faith for maintaining his controversial stance on COVID-19 even when the official church position endorsed safety and vaccination.
Bello certainly knows a thing or two about optics as that visit could subtly open an opportunity for him, being a Muslim, to garner Christian votes when it matters down the line.
Regardless, Bello’s perception among the elite would be mixed even if he manages to garner grassroots appeal. For one, he has clashed with Labour unions over wages while scoring point in areas of security, health, education and some infrastructure, so the verdict on his performance in office is bound to be mixed, like others.
What could work for him is if the bigger gladiators within the ruling All Progressives Congress inflict mortal injuries on themselves as they battle to retain control amid the looming zoning imbroglio, Bello could emerge as a compromise candidate with appeal to both the north and the south.
––Sadiq Amoboye writes from Owo, Ondo State.