You can accuse Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello, of many things but one of them wouldn’t be that he lacks boldness. It is less than two years to the 2023 general elections and while many interested politicians are still tiptoeing about their aspirations, he has come out to say he wants to run for president. In fact, he’s the only one thus far to have come out boldly to state his intent.
Since he made his position public commentators have had a field day arguing whether he’s serious about it, or whether Nigerians should consider him a serious prospect for the topmost elective office in the land.
His critics have been quick to point his flaws – and he does have them like any other human being – but one thing no one can deny is that he has every constitutional right to aspire to whatever office he desires. In the end the voters whether at party level or at the general election would get to decide whether his dreams would become reality.
One of the first things that people raise whether attacking his presidential bid is his position on the COVID-19 pandemic. Bello and his Cross River State counterpart, Ben Ayade, were notoriously skeptical about the existence of coronavirus in these parts and were less than enthusiastic about the lockdowns that were imposed across the land.
Kogi State was equally not very compliant with whatever the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) had to say or do about the pandemic. Many condemned Bello’s position in the light of what science had to say about this health crisis worldwide.
But it is important to note that the governor’s position wasn’t exactly unpopular as many Nigerians had their doubts about the reality of coronavirus in these part. True, many prominent and not so prominent people lost their lives to the pandemic, but we must concede that thousands of people also lose their lives each year from things like malaria, cancer, diabetes etc. Granted that COVID-19 is a contagious disease, still the question must be asked whether the massive lockdowns didn’t turn out to be a case of the cure being worse than the disease.
That was the position of Bello all the while – to say that the lockdowns were doing more harm than good to the people and the economy. Today, a little over one year of those measures Kogi that was widely condemned is no worse shape than the states which scrupulously abided by NCDC guidelines. So, the debate would continue for a while as to whether the governor was right in his approach.
But, again, in the COVID-19 we see his character trait of boldness playing out. He wasn’t afraid to stand alone when everyone one else was bending in another direction. There’s no question that the country is looking for people in top leadership positions who can be firm and not spineless politicians who sway every which way.
One of the major selling points of his candidacy is his youth. At 45, he could well turn out to be the youngest of among those in the 2023 race. Again, there’s controversy whether this is an advantage.
But after six years of being ruled by a senior citizen, the country can do with the energy of a youth. Yes, the young are prone to mistakes because of their exuberance and adventuresome nature, but the older people are not necessarily immune to error. So, rather than being a disadvantage being in his forties should be an asset – especially when we see a massive disconnect between the younger demographic in the country and our older political elite as was evident during last year’s #EndSARS protests.
Bello is also vilified for his closeness to, and unapologetic support for President Muhammadu Buhari. Whole some argue that it makes him look like a lackey, the flip side is that it says something about his character and loyalty to those he admires or respects.
This shouldn’t be a bad thing because Nigerian political office holders often prefer their successors to be friendly faces and not potential antagonists who would be more interested in demolishing than preserving their legacies. Rather than being a weakness Bello’s loyalty to Buhari should be something that stands him in good stead in the scheming for power.
Another major challenge confronting the governor is the issue of zoning. This is a tricky one considering that conventional wisdom is that power would shift to the South after eight years of Buhari – a Northerner – being in office.
But there was this recent intriguing statement released by governors of the All Progressives Congress (APC) following the defection of Ayade to the ruling party. In it they stated clearly that all elective positions in 2023 would be open to candidates from all regions of the country.
This has been widely interpreted as the death knell for zoning in APC and it removes a major obstacle in Bello’s path as he comes from the North-Central which can justifiably argue like the Southeast that it has been marginalized in presidential politics.
The governor has also been widely praised for exhibiting gender sensitivity in his appointments by giving women a greater role in different aspects of his administration. One such appointment that captured the imagination of the country is when he named a female police officer his Aide-de-Camp.
Now, this was an unusual and bold move as he was giving the powerful assignment of managing his personal security to a woman. In most cases they would not be considered for such roles not necessarily because of incompetence but largely down to widespread gender bias and discrimination in the society.
At a higher level a politician who is willing to think out of the box in this fashion could help unlock the tremendous potentials locked up in this half of our population.
Bello has his warts just like any other aspirant that would throw their hats into the ring in coming months. He deserves his day in the sun or hustings to make his case, and to rejected or accepted by the voters at party and other levels. He shouldn’t be undemocratically denied that right by critics who might have been put off by one misstep or another which he may have made as governor.
That’s another way of saying let those whose preferred choices have never made a mistake raise their hands.