Between Bello and Onoja: An Imaginary Rift.


By Barr. Zacchaeus Dare Michael,

But for the fact that perception is often misconstrued as reality in this clime and even elsewhere, one would ordinarily have ignored the latest madness afflicting some embittered and frustrated foes of the Governor and Deputy Governor of Kogi State.

Perhaps suffocating under the stark reality that God and good seem to have planted a permanent hedge around the two leaders which has made them difficult to subdue, both in elections and in governance, their increasingly desperate detractors are resorting to childish psychological warfare and false propaganda about an imaginary altercation between Governor Yahaya Bello and his indefatigable loyal deputy, Edward Onoja. Maybe they believe that if they project enough I’ll-will at them it will suddenly become true. After all, a drowning man will clutch at the flimsiest straws.

The retailers and vendors of this asinine ware are leaving no stone unturned to mislead unsuspecting members of Kogi State to believe that Governor Yahaya Bello, who won his re-election for a second term in office in stellar fashion and with an overwhelming majority of the valid votes cast, is at loggerheads with his deputy cum consiglieri, Edward Onoja, who has always stood unflinchingly by his side.

Perhaps in a bid to kill 3 stones with one unsteady stone, the fabricators of the phantom rift stories are also making concerted attempts to drag down the Governor’s Chief of Staff, Hon. Pharm. Abdulkareem Asuku, by accusing him of being the rift-maker and capo di tutti capo of troublemakers between his two leaders.

In reality, anyone who, like this author, is familiar with the inner workings of Lugard House as the Kogi State Government House is fondly called, knows that Hon. Asuku who took over as Chief of Staff after Chief Edward Onoja served Bello in that capacity for almost four year before moving on to his current position, can often be found in amicable tête-à-tête with his predecessor comparing notes, fashioning out strategies or simply touching base.

Unfortunately for those who have been cursed with the onerous task of fabricating disenchantment between people who have no problems at all with each other, their burden is a deadweight with no destination. It is in this regard that these unfortunate propagandists are most like Sisyphus who, in Greek mythology, was punished by the god Zeus, who forces him to roll a massive boulder up a hill for eternity. Every time he nears the top of the hill, the boulder rolls back down. In like manner, as each story of rift collapses before the evident amity between the three gentlemen, their detractors have to find a heavier story next time, vainly attempting to balance out past failures.

It is pertinent to state without equivocation that Governor Bello and his Deputy remain the best of friends that they have always been. As far as official functions and private lives are concerned, Onoja remains unapologetically loyal to his boss who continues to describe him Onoja as his siamese twin and trusted man.

A stranger does not even need to travel far to confirm for himself that all is well in Lugard House. How will a boss who is aggrieved with his deputy send him to represent him at every august event that he cannot himself attend owing to competing pressures of office? From meetings of Governors to coronation of traditional rulers to congresses of key religious and civil organisations, Chief Edward Onoja has been honoured by Yahaya Bello to represent him. If there was such a rift as the abjects hopefully promote, the Governor would simply have reserved his exclusive rights to attend such events to himself. We have seen other governors do it and the heavens did not fall.

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For the avoidance of doubt, those trying to drive a non-existent wedge between the two leaders and by extension, the Governor’s Chief of Staff were the same unhinged elements who concocted all manners of mendacious lies to discredit the Governor from being re-elected for a second term in office in the November 2019 gubernatorial election. It is clear that having failed in their satanic and sinister agenda to stop the duo from being reelected, they are now trying to create an imaginary altercation between the Governor and his loyal Deputy so that they can derail them from delivering on the social contract they made with the people of Kogi State.

In any case, and there is a catholic truth: Chief Onoja has never hidden his unalloyed loyalty and undiluted commitment to whatever Governor Bello stands for or represents, long before the Governor even contested in any election. The Governor, likewise, has never hidden his love and respect for his impassioned loyalist and number one fan. The two of them, by every feasible metric of evaluation, are the closest Numbers 1 and 2 citizens of any state in Nigeria today.

It is on record that many in Kogi East, the largest senatorial district in the state and the one with the largest voting strength, were against the re-election of Governor Bello in 2019 under  the premise that power must shift back to the zone where it has always domiciled since the creation of Kogi State until Bello, an Ebira from Kogi Central, shattered the ceiling and won the seat in 2015.

At the risk of sounding obvious here, one is certainly going to be labelled as anti-Igala if you projected Bello for Governor in 2015, succeeded then tried same again in 2019. Yet Onoja, product of a unity college and a detribalized Nigerian like his boss, put friendship far and above  primordial tribal sentiments and ethnic provincialism and staked everything to ensure that his principal won reelection. A deputy who wanted to undermine his boss could have nursed dreams of his own. But that is not just the character and the essence of Chief Edward Onoja.

One of the purveyors of these falsehood is one Austen Anibe. He has openly written pernicious falsehoods trying to impugn the characters of the Governor and Deputy of Kogi State. Being a serial conman and blackmailer, one can only wonder what favours the duo in Lugard House denied him – either directly or by accident.

Of course, nobody ever takes Austen Anibe seriously because there is, among the sensible public, credible suspicion that he may not be totally compos mentis. This suspicion of impaired mental functioning is fuelled in part by the wild and uncoordinated nature of his myths. For instance, in recent publications on social media he alternates between pushing stories of the imaginary rift between Governor Bello and Edward Onoja and accusing them of being confederate in a hit-list of 15 notable Kogi Easterners allegedly marked for assassination in order to pave the way for an Onoja governorship run in 2023.

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The question which only sane minds can see begging for an answer is, ‘how can a Yahaya Bello who is allegedly desperate to part ways and be done with Edward Onoja for good, be at the same time so committed to his as yet unstated ambition that he is willing to off 15 people for it? Laughably, Anibe adds himself and one Austin Okai, another eponymous miscreant, to that list. In which wacko universe does Austen Anibe and Austin Okai feature when men of ‘timbre and calibre’ are aggregated?

To show just how murderous Anibe is, he did everything humanly possible during the recent #EndSARS protests to hurt innocent people and only failed because nobody in Kogi State accords him any credibility. In a series of social media posts, he feverishly tried to pitch the youth of Kogi State against Chief Onoja by alleging that he warehoused COVID-19 palliatives in his private residence in the village. He also claimed motorcycles meant for the youths were hidden away in Onoja’s father’s house.

All the allegations were totally false and baseless, but had the potential for major mischief. Kudos to the youth of Kogi State who ignored the rantings of Anibe and his proprietors. Assuming our youths were not so sensible and had believed the mentally deranged laggard, hoodlums might have invaded the residence of the Deputy Governor in the village and we might possibly be mourning some serious mishap to his loved ones today. Still our people must come to agree that madness does not mean that the community will overlook a madman who consistently tries to set the village on fire. Austen Anibe must have a reckoning with the authorities for his misdeeds.

It is against the background of the foregoing that I turn my attention to other attempts to undermine Governor Bello and Deputy Governor Onoja. There is a claim of financial graft against the Governor and his Deputy by a non-existing MAWA Foundation, at least that is the name the unknown entity, otherwise known by its twitter handle @AfrikaReport, goes. Whoever is behind the sham handle alleges that N400m was spent to renovate Onoja’s Office as Deputy Governor before he moved in. It goes on to suggest that the said amount can provide clean water to 133 communities in Kogi State. It’s on record that this same Edward mobilizing resources and supported by his boss and other friends and associates have added nearly 30 of such rural water schemes since 2016. On December 5th of this year he is billed to be commissioning another 11 Projects, 7 of which are rural water projects. You can hate a man for his divine rise but can’t deny the impact he leaves behind in his track. CEDO rural touch is legendary, hence his acceptance by the people.

The publication and its claims are as false as the hidden and inconsequential fellows behind it. The simple truth is that Edward Onoja is using the Deputy Governor’s office as inherited from his predecessor. No renovation work was done. Even his official residence was only marginally renovated, and only because the previous occupants left it in such bad shape. Even at that, the amount expended to make it habitable for the new Deputy Governor is not even a percentage of a fraction of N400m. Not only that, payment was staggered over half a year to reduce the burden on state finances.

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In the end, people of good conscience must ask why the purveyors of these imaginary stories of rifts, assassinations, embezzlements are coming from and where they think they are going.

One, the wasting locusts are obsessed about who succeeds Bello when his 2nd term ends in 2023. This is only 2020. No mortal can foretell what will happen tomorrow with any certainty. If only they will borrow themselves some sense they will join Chief Onoja in his frequent chorus: ‘2023 is in the hands of God and nobody can predict who will see it’. Not even those who are projecting who will be Governor in 2023 and getting ready to do and undo for it.

Two, Kogi State under His Excellency, Governor Yahaya Bello has been a model for judicious management of public funds. It has always ranked in the top 3 nationally in all World Bank indices for prudent management of public funds. Three weeks ago the New Direction Administration scored an unprecedented 100% in all nine indices for States Financial Transparency, Accountability and Sustainability (SFTAS). It is currently ranked numero uno in SFTAS in Nigeria. Those on the lookout for institutional misappropriation of public funds are destined to be disappointed for a long time.

Three, this writer is fully convinced that the reason the likes of Austen Anebe and the fake MAWA Foundation continue to fabricate and circulate fake news about Kogi and her leaders is because they have not been brought face to face with the legal consequences of their perfidy. My counsel to Bello and Onoja is to prosecute these people.

Dear Asuku, if your bosses are too soft-hearted about this matter, rise to the occasion before fake news and hate speech derail Kogi’s New Direction. It is like the good Book says in Ecclesiastes 8:11, “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.”

In conclusion, the ways of God are not the ways of men. Like we say in our local parlance, man proposes, God disposes. The providential way Governor Bello came to be in 2014 should serve as a significant lesson to those trying to play God at the moment, marking the fate and credentials of those who will succeed Governor Bello or not. For Governor Bello, greater responsibilities await him at epic center of our national life given the yearning gap in national leadership and cohesion. His traces at the state level where he has harnessed the potentials of the youth and set them up for veritable productive is a begging template that should be replicated at the center. The big picture should be the preoccupation and not the distracting waves of neophytes parading themselves in feeble opposition or wannabes.

Kogi State is on the verge of redemption. There is a new wind of holistic and organic development blowing across the land. And that is exactly the focus of Governor Yahaya Bello. The same thematic focus drives his loyal deputy, Edward Onoja, who wants his principal to succeed against all the odds staked by the naysayers.

Barr.Zacchaeus Dare Michael,
legal practitioner, public affairs analyst and APC chieftain.

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