Samuel Bello, Abuja
Smart Adeyemi, All Progressives Congress (APC) Campaign Director-General for Kogi State Governor Yahaya Bello, in this interview, said that his party is really set for the November guber election against its opposition parties, particularly the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Excerpts:
Can you describe your job as DG Campaign for Governor Yahaya Bello?
My assignment as the director-general is to drop a programme that would ensure the success of our party and ensure the victory of Governor Yahaya Bello. To plan the campaign strategies and to get adequate security in place to ensure a free and fair election. I think what’s more important is to win the election by way of making sure our campaigns get to the nooks and crannies of the state and to Kogites, irrespective of where they are. My job is to build a network of campaign. I assure you that we are on it and we are not in doubt that we are going to win this election.
You are the marketer, he is the product. In your assessment, who is Yahaya Bello?
Governor Yahaya Bello is a man who has been misunderstood. He’s a man who people don’t really know and he’s a man who had the bad side of the media, more importantly the social media. Our opponents seem to have put in place a very strong team whose responsibility is to pollute the social media with fake news about Yahaya Bello administration. To me, Governor Yahaya is a highly visionary young man who is determined to serve his people irrespective of how you interpret some of his actions. He’s focused, a man with great tenacity, purpose and a highly courageous person. I think above all, he’s a man who is equally very disciplined and equally very humble.
I say this because I have had a lot of interactions with him and I will say this maybe he wouldn’t like it, but let me just say one thing about him. When I joined the APC, for about six months, each time I call him he’ll say good afternoon sir. So, I had to tell him that your excellency stop using sir for me because you’re the governor. So, he will tell me he hardly remembers and I will say you’re the governor. Please you’re embarrassing me. You’re the governor of the state and as a Christian, the Bible teaches me to give honour to who honour is due, it didn’t tell me if I was older than the person. So, you’re the governor and all of us are under you, so stop using sir to me. So, that speaks volume of who Yahaya Bello is. He’s a very humble person and unknown to some people, he’s equally a very shy man. Most times you don’t see him talk is just because by nature he’s not a noisemaker. He’s not somebody who believes in being in the media 24 hours.
People have been saying non-payment of salaries might work against Yahaya. What’s your reaction to this?
Yes, there was problem of not paying salaries in time passed. It’s now part of our history. Nobody is talking about government owing him now. Not to my knowledge, but let me tell you the genesis of this salary problem. It was the manifestation of misappropriation and maladministration of the PDP government. In time passed, you have people who were privileged in office. So, what they did was include their children, family members into the payroll. The noise you heard about Kogi government not paying salary was as a result of a large army of ghost workers. The last PDP administration in Kogi State institutionalized corruption so much that you do not know who is a worker and who is not. As I speak to you today, there are over 3,000 people who have been discovered not to have been properly employed. Some of them are not even based in Kogi State. There are people who live in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Abuja enjoying salaries over the years. Now when Yahaya Bello came on board, he felt the need for him to go headlong. Although people warned him, your excellency, don’t embark on it, come back second term. He said no, what is worth doing is worth doing well and should be done at the appropriate time. So, for him, winning election was not the problem. He must sanitise the system and make sure corruption is minimised. When he came on board, he confronted this institutional corruption and you know corruption would fight back. So, what they did was to form a ring, network of media to be attacking Governor Yahaya on social media every hour. Now these people are people who have been enjoying salaries over the years and they were not based in Kogi State. I was in PDP before. In the PDP government in Kogi State, they came with this slogan of stakeholders. So, what they do was at that time, once you’re seen or accepted as a stakeholder, you enjoy salary. You’re not a staff and you don’t live in the state. So, they keep on giving you money for not doing anything. Some of them take N2 million, N5 million, this can be investigated. I was a stakeholder that time, but I refused to join them because I told them that tomorrow, somebody can come and be asking questions. So, these are the institutionalized corruption under the PDP in Kogi State. When Governor Yahaya Bello came, he came with the strong courage to effect a fundamental change in the system. You know the guys would fight back because they are in their thousands taking salaries outside Kogi State. They don’t work, they don’t have offices. There are some of them with their businesses in town, but don’t work. So, you don’t expect to effect a change and the people would not fight back. Have you not seen that time government was not owing, they were owing, but not to the magnitude of what Nigerians are making people to believe. It wasn’t as bad and hopeless as they painted. Even myself, I have said at functions that Mr governor, you must pay salaries, but one other thing why salaries were difficult to pay was the cumulated debt left behind by the PDP administration. They were paying the principal along with the interest. The state was not really generating enough revenue. It was when he came he now started restructuring the new free work of the state and fighting corruption to get the state out of the mess he found the state when he came on board. We had a rotten system before Yahaya, and those who were benefitting from this rotten system fought him back to a standstill, but he was courageous enough to overcome them and he overcame.
What efforts are you putting in place to reconcile aggrieved members?
We have a committee in place that is doing that. Committee on mobilization and consultations and they are doing all that they can to reconcile aggrieved members. Aggrieved members that we know, they have electoral value.
There are aggrieved members that you may not bother about because it was a relief that some of them are leaving. There are people that you can never just work with them because light and darkness do not work together. There are people who believe that an elephant has been killed, so the elephant should be shared. Which is, they now have power, let us share the money. Under APC, they don’t talk about sharing money, so when you know people who over the years who believe in sharing money and the money is not being shared again, you see it’s a problem. When you know these are issues you cannot reconcile you just allow them to go in peace. But people with honour and integrity, people that we know add value to governance, people that we know are men and women of substance, of course, we would go after them and do all we can to bring them back, but if we realize that your going is going to be a blessing, we thank God that you’re leaving.
Don’t you think former Deputy Governor, Simon Achuba, might have gone with some of his people?
Well, the deputy governor and the Chief of Staff, Edward Onoja, now, having come from the same senatorial district, I’m sure that before the situation generated to this level, a lot of efforts were made to reconcile them, but it failed. Don’t equally forget that the governor invited the outgoing deputy governor to join them and they brought him on board. So, to a large extent, I think it was a good thing that they brought him on board to work with them. It was unfortunate that their relationship became sour and eventually the issue of impeachment is already in the front burner. Don’t equally forget that the outgoing deputy governor has sued the state House of Assembly and I would not like to talk about it because the case is already in court.
Do you think you can still poach heavyweights in PDP that are in the tied grip of Dino Melaye?
You saw the crowd of people when you came here. These are people that are saying they have now come to realize that they should join hands and give support to the APC. Those guys you saw happen to be members of PDP. Now, Nigerians are getting more aware of when the government is progressive. They do equally appreciate and they now ask questions and they are now in position over the last two decades to compare administrations. I think the people of Kogi have come to realize that Governor Yahaya administration is more focused despite the challenges and problems he encountered. They have come to realize that it pays them to allow him to go for second term, that is the position of our people and this is the truth. I will also let you know that there are a lot of sentiments and issues that are unknown to people outside Kogi State. Let me put it this way, Kogi State says creation never had any other central district producing the governorship candidate for the ruling party at that time than East senatorial district, that is the majority Igala speaking area. Now, both Central and West have been clamouring for power and unfortunately, Governor Audu died, so Governor Yahaya Bello came on board and Yahaya happens to be one of the contestants that time that appreciates the qualities of Governor Abubakar Audu even as at that time. They were close and he appreciated him. The situation we have now is since the Central, where Governor Yahaya is from now, they have never produced a governor before, the slogan now is that allow Yahaya to complete his eight years because whether we like it or not, our diversity should be a strength for us. Diversity can only be strength when there is justice, fairness and equity. If diversity is within the framework of oppression, you can’t say diversity is strength. Diversity can only be a strength when there is democracy in place that equally takes into consideration justice, fairness, equity, mutual understanding. For a diverse society to be in peace, there must be unwritten conventions of fairness. So, there are people who are of the opinion today that since the western flank, that is Central and West have never had the opportunity before, let us allow Yahaya to complete his tenure. Even quite a number of the electorate in the East are of the opinion that Yahaya Bello should complete his eight years so that they could have some power to shift to them. Don’t forget that some people in the West are equally saying that West Central district equally deserves the governorship seat. So, these are the issues that will determine the vote of people. It isn’t the noise on social media that will determine who wins election because quite a number of these electorate are not even on the Internet. Many of them just receive phone calls. So, whichever way you look at it, Governor Yahaya Bello is in a far better position to win this election than any other aspirant. If you ask me the percentage, I’ll tell you that the opposition will be lucky to have 25 per cent of the votes at the end of the race. You will quote me later that they will struggle to have 25 per cent of the votes.
Don’t you think you’re undermining some opposition members who are hell-bent and have been attacking Yahaya?
In a democratic society, criticism is highly welcome but criticism should be constructive. It should not be based on hatred, sentiment and bitterness. Criticism is the oil that propels progress in democracy. It’s now one of the pillars that must not be tampered with. We appreciate criticism, I appreciate and believe in criticism, but criticism must be constructive and not malicious.
When are you launching the campaign?
Very soon, we are going to launch our campaign. What we intend doing first is to embark on two of the major cities where we have the concentration of Kogi people, Kogites to enlighten them, especially those on social media who do not really care to find out what’s happening. We intend to go there and give them the facts. People are entitled to their opinion, but you’re entitled to your facts because your facts must be debated. Whatever you claim are your facts is subject to other people verifying. Your facts must have evidence. We would go out to show our people the infrastructural facilities, the situation before Yahaya Bello came. Don’t forget, Kogi is one of the largest states in Nigeria by population and landmarks. Kogi landmarks alone are up to some five states in Nigeria. This is what we have verified. We have gone far with this election in terms of campaigning and in the last five days, we have been receiving people decamping to our party and as I speak to you, we have about 10 different communities of over 3,000 people saying they want to decamp. You know our main opponent, PDP, the man who they claimed won their primary is still having court cases now. So, we are not even sure PDP would present a candidate because they had an inconclusive primary election and the election took place in Lokoja stadium, they couldn’t conclude. It was the second day they went to complete the counting of the votes in somebody’s house in GRA in Lokoja. So, as I speak to you, I’m not sure they have a candidate, but we are very much prepared for them and looking forward to a formidable candidate against our own candidate. We are really set for this election, we have our projects, scorecards that we are going to present and I’m sure Kogi people appreciate the fact that Yahaya Bello has done well. If there is any problem I must open up and accept we had, was the issue of the delay in paying salaries, which is now part of our history. That is the only thing people use against our government. Nobody is talking about projects, but I believe salary must be paid. I’m a labour man and I do understand and appreciate the fact that the governor came at a time when the state was already indebted to many banks into billions. When money is paid to Kogi State government, the bank just sits on it and say so, so loan five to six years ago, this is the interest. We have been paying loans, but now with the support of the Federal Government, I think we are already out of the mess now. It is now for us to start marching forward and not backwards. So, let us have hope in this administration. I’m not somebody who will deceive our people. My orientation and upbringing, I cannot be deceitful. I can tell you that this government is more progressive than any administration that has ever had the opportunity to rule Kogi State. I will tell our people that they should give support massively to this government so that it can take us to the next level.