I happen to be in Ayingba, Dekina Local Government of Kogi State on the weekend when it was rumored that Yahaya Bello’s Chief of Staff, Edwad Onoja had been arrested by the DSS. I was in front of Kogi State University trying to buy some fruits when pandemonium suddenly broke out. From afar it looked like a caravan of motorcycle and keke-napep operators who were staging a protest. Could it be that one of their members had been killed? Or they were protesting against the oppressive tendencies of the regulatory bodies.
As the caravan drew nearer, it became clear that it was an advance parade for a big politician in the State. After the caravan, came the actual show piece. A chubby personality was seen waving through the sunroof in a well-guarded black armored Mercedes Benz G-Wagon. He also had as backup, a Toyota Land Cruiser armored SUV and a Lexus LX-570 armored SUV in his convoy. Both vehicles were empty with only the driver and a police escort in front.
After the show of force in the city, I inquired from the locals if the vehicles he rode in belonged to the Governor. There where divergent views. The majority claimed they were the Chief of Staff’s official vehicles, while the minority claimed they belonged to the Governor. Going by the later, I further asked why a Governor will allow his Chief of Staff use his official vehicles. Their responses were in line with the Chief of Staff being the defacto Governor of the State!
This experience got me thinking. There were many unanswered questions and so I began to make further investigations.
My quest for more answers got me to interact with civil servants in Lokoja. I learnt from them that the Chief of Staff has five armored vehicles namely: Mercedes Benz G-Wagon, Lexus LX-570, Mercedes Benz S-Class, Toyota Land and a BMW 7-Series. They also stated that some Commissioners and Special Advisers in the government also ride armored Mercedes Benz G-Wagon as their official vehicles. Prominent among them is the Commissioner for Finance, Hon. Asiwaju Idris.
After ascertaining the existence of the fleet of luxury armored vehicles owned by the appointees of the Governor, I made efforts to investigate the acquisition cost.
The responses I got from various sources were consistent and staggering. For the Mercedes G-Wagon the prices range between N200 Million and N250 Million Naira. The Lexus LX-570 cost N150 Million Naira. The Mercedes Benz S-Class also goes for N150 Million. The BMW 7-Series and the Toyota Land Cruiser both cost a paltry N140 Million each.
From the aforementioned it means a total of about N830 Million Naira of Kogi tax payers’ money was used to provide transportation for the Governor’s Chief of Staff. No wonder he is referred to as the defacto Governor. Furthermore, an average of about N250 Million was used to provide transportation for each commissioner.
Now for a State which non-payment of salaries has been the policy thrust of the Yahaya Bello Administration, one can clearly understand why Bello will never pay salaries. Kogi State’s allocation is too meagre to fund his insatiable appetite for vain luxury.
I made further inquest about the fleet of vehicles owned by the first family and the revelations were depressing. I was made to understand that Governor Bello rides a similar type of official vehicle with the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
As fate will have it, I happened to be around Nataco Junction when police out-riders cordoned off the roads. Behold it was the Governor-General of the confluence riding in his armored Mercedes Benz S-560. As if to let the bystanders know that he had arrived, he opened the door and threw money at them. They in turn screamed white Lion while the scampered for the crisp N1000 notes. No Governor in the history of our democracy has attempted to match the President’s vehicular fleet. Yet Yahaya Bello being the acclaimed “political son” of the President has once again adjusted the “Status Quo”, to no condemnation from his Party.
A governor who is concerned about the welfare of civil servants, won’t make acquisition of armored vehicles a top priority. He will preach the doctrine of sacrifice to his aides and lead by example. A chief of Staff is a non-constitutional position in Government and hence shouldn’t be a major cost center. In the case of Kogi, the running cost of the Chief of Staff’s office cost more than that of the entire the Civil Service. While the civil servants wail in penury, he drives around the State in reckless and intimidating Opulence.
To date, Kogi State Government has acquired a total of about 59 armored vehicles. Comprising of SUVs, Sedans and Hilux. This has cost the State a whooping sum of N12 Billion. More than what the Presidency has spent on vehicles since 2015. To put it in context, N12 Billion can pay 4 months’ salary to the State’s Civil Servants.
Finally, Yahaya Bello is fond of bragging about the security reforms he has introduced to the State. Since Kogi is so secured, the Chief of Staff and Commissioners should lead by example by riding in non-armored vehicles.
Usman Okai Austin
Social Crusader, Political Analyst
Written from Abuja .