So Yahaya Bello is upset

Tunji Ajibade

Technically this piece is a continuation of the past two series titled, Buhari’s successors, their dreams and the reality. In them, I made reference to three aspirants in the All Progressives Congress’ presidential primary. There is a fourth—Yahaya Bello, the Kogi State governor—and ultimately I shall look at five. Here, I focus on matters as they were widely reported before, during, and after the primary. Then I state my view regarding them in terms of what’s obtainable in our polity as against what doesn’t. This is my contribution towards encouraging clear-headed reasoning in our discourses, rather than some of the sentiments sometimes presented as political analyses.

Back in 2015, Yahaya Bello was one of the well-noised names in Kogi politics. Whoever travelled through the state at that time wouldn’t miss his billboards, which announced his desire to be governor. But former governor Abubakar Audu clinched the APC ticket and took James Faleke as his running mate. Audu died after that election was pronounced inconclusive. The thinking was that Faleke would become the governorship candidate. But Bello was the person party leaders selected. Whatever was the reason for that decision would be told to us one day by those who were privy to it. But Bello was a beneficiary of the unbelievable power that those within party structures sometimes wield, the favour they sometimes bestow.

Hardly had the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), begun his second term when Bello made it known he wanted to be the successor. His marketing point was that he was young. He did get followership on that score. He gathered his followers in a stadium where he showed off his popularity; he followed it with virtual adverts. Then came that time when intrigues began. Many other worthy northern politicians didn’t go near the APC presidential form obviously due to the political realities they had aligned themselves with. In an interview on Channels TV, shortly after party positions were zoned ahead of the election to select members of the National Working Committee, Gov. Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State said the presidency had been zoned to the South. He said southerners would decide among themselves which part of the South the party candidate would come from. Strange things began to happen thereafter. Comments were made by other party members that the presidency hadn’t been zoned anywhere. Meanwhile, we know the reason APC party chairmanship was zoned to the North was so that the presidential candidate would come from the South.

There was to follow the controversy over whether or not the president would anoint a candidate. Bello was known to be a favoured man by the president. Did this spur him and his campaign on at that point? The talk of a possible anointed candidate continued. If Bello dreamed he was the anointed, he wasn’t alone. Did anyone notice that some of the aspirants who came out from the South much later were also known to be very close to the president? Then there was the aspirant from the North, whose name caused the greatest alarm when the APC national chairman mentioned it. He had supported the president to the extent that he would also expect to be anointed. The intrigues became thicker as some made efforts based on the remote possibility that the ticket could remain in the North, contrary to what northerners such as El-Rufai, who were within the party structure, had projected. El-Rufai and other northern governors countered the intrigue by publicly announcing that they supported the APC ticket going to the South. Later they added that they prepared a shortlist; everyone on it was from the South. The governors met with the president over the list. They gave a press briefing thereafter. We were to learn that Bello walked away from their meeting. We did see him on TV, looking upset and saying he would address the press as he walked rapidly past the Nasarawa State governor, Abdullahi Sule, without acknowledging that one’s words of consolation.


Bello was later quoted as saying he wouldn’t recognise any shortlist, that he would contest the presidential primary and that only the president could tell him to withdraw and he would. He had his day at the primary like other aspirants from the South and North, who weren’t on the shortlist and didn’t step down. None of them came second or third in an election in which the winner got about half of the total votes. It was one outcome which made everyone know where they belonged. After the election, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu visited Bello and the latter said he only “test the mike” and that he would return again one day. But did Bello simply “test the mike?” I don’t think so. He must have his doubts all right, but he also dreamed that what worked for him in 2015 might work for him once more. Besides the possibility of being anointed, nothing in this nation’s political reality indicated Bello could emerge as party standard-bearer.

From day one when Bello declared his interest, I had enumerated in private conversations what the odds were against him, not because he wasn’t a good material, but because the sums didn’t add up in his favour. An understanding of the geo-politicking is needed for one to understand the dilemma of any presidential aspirant from the North-Central, where Bello comes from. He’s from a minority tribe, Igbira, which is far down in the reckoning of the northern political establishment. He’s also from the same zone as the APC national chairman, Senator Abdullahi Adamu. It’ll take some extraordinary summersault of political circumstances for a civilian president to emerge from the North-Central when the North-West is such a huge factor regarding who emerges from the North in general. There’re other factors that play against aspirants from the North-Central but I won’t go into them here.

Now, I make some observations regarding how Bello went about pursuing his ambition. He was approved at the highest level to become governor of Kogi State in 2015. When this one went against him, he made an untidy show of it, making disparaging comments about some leaders within the party structure even. Bello went about his campaign in a manner that whoever wants to be president shouldn’t. How many states did he visit before the primary and who were the heavyweight politicians in his camp? Something felt rather lightweight in his effort; I mean this not in the sense that he wanted the highest office but in the sense that he went about this like he thought he could get it done while ignoring the reality of our polity.

Bello is relatively young in politicking. The only president who ever emerged in Nigeria without having been part of the political structure for long was former President Goodluck Jonathan. We all remember the peculiar circumstances that produced him. Those circumstances don’t always happen. Bello hadn’t been playing within the political structure and among members of the political establishment for long such that he would have erected the needed durable political bridges. So when the party’s structure gravitated towards a politician, who had for long been operating within that political structure, Bello failed to play the party man as experienced and battle-hardened politicians would. I did wonder if Bello thought getting to be elected party candidate was solely dependent on enthusiastic youth whom he said followed him.

Bello said he would return one day. But he made disparaging comments about northern members of the same political structure whose support he would need. He said the shortlist was prepared because some politicians wanted the VP slot, when in fact these politicians were saving Nigeria from the uproar and resentment that would follow if a northerner also emerged as the APC presidential candidate.

When it mattered most that he respected the party hierarchy, seized the occasion to obtain concessions if possible, and integrated himself more into a party structure he would need in any subsequent pursuit of his ambition, Bello grandly mismanaged the situation. He publicly disparaged the same structure that once favoured him at the expense of Faleke. I found it really curious that Bello put up all that show of being upset even when he knew both presidential and chairmanship seats wouldn’t go to the same geo-political zone. This is no mature way to play politics.

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