It is no longer news that one of the off-season gubernatorial elections in Nigeria will be held in Kogi State on 11 November 2023. Yahaya Bello, the unpopular and atrocious incumbent Governor of Kogi State is seeking to install his crony and bogey clansman as his successor on behalf of his political party, the ruling APC. The uncanny and devious governor had ignored his poor governance record and arrogant disregard for his party elders, including the leader of his political party and current President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to rely on violence and rigging to install one dour but equally vicious Usman Ododo as the next governor of Kogi State.
However, Yahaya Bello’s plan began to unravel before his own very eyes when the current administration of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu announced that it was committed to credible off- season elections in Bayelsa, Kogi and Imo States come 11 November, 2023.
To show its commitment to facilitating good democratic governance in Nigeria henceforth, the Federal Government of Nigeria deployed security agents in the three States that the off-season gubernatorial elections are to be held; particularly in parts of Kogi State where Governor Yahaya Bello had raised and armed militias that he uses to rig elections and intimidate or exterminate opponents.
The deployment of security agencies had brought relief to many disenfranchised electorates that have been living in perpetual fear of Governor Yahaya Bello’s militias. They were poised to come out enmass on 11 November, 2023 to exercise their universal adult suffrage. This however is not sitting well with Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State as that would surely mean that his candidate, Usman Ododo of APC stands little chance of winning based on Yahaya Bello’s poor record of performance over more than seven years in office.
Consequently, he resorted to his usual antics of blackmailing the Presidency and his party hierarchy, including doling out huge sums of money to politicians and persons of influence around Mr President to help sway the support of the President behind his candidate as former President Muhammad Buhari did.
He was not lucky this time around as the President’s men failed to convince President Tinubu to ‘wet the ground’ for Yahaya Bello to enable him run roughshod over innocent citizens as he did in 2019 and install Usman Ododo as his successor against the overwhelming wishes of majority of citizens of the State.
The exuberant governor therefore decided to take matters in his hands by resorting to wanton violence, murder and arson in Igala land where majority of votes in the forthcoming election will emerge from. In the early hours of Tuesday, the 7th day of November, 2023, Yahaya Bello’s political thugs operating under the leadership of Navy Commander Akalezie (yes, you heard me right! Same notorious Commander Akalezie) with troops of the Special Boat Service (SBS) of the Nigerian Navy stormed the residence of one Sheikh Jibrin Usman, the Director General of Muritala Ajaka of SDP’s campaign organization at Anyigba.
In the ensuing confrontation with some policemen guarding the house of the said Sheikh, it was alleged that Commander Akalezie and his men killed no less than 5 innocent persons; including some policemen. Navy Commander Nicholas Uchendu Akalezi a.k.a Akalieze with service No: NN2880 NDA Course54 a native of Imo state who is a tool assassinating Kogi people and his men also took away some innocent lads from the house whom were reportedly seen being led into the bush naked along Okabo-Anyigba road shortly after they left Sheikh’s house.
My worry is not so much for Governor Yahaya Bello’s executive recklessness as the involvement of Nigerian Navy forces and Navy Commander Akalezie in particular in political criminal activities of the arrogant Governor. All keen observers of Kogi politics must have heard reoccurring accounts of how Governor Yahaya Bello has been using the said Commander Akalezie with his SBS troops to intimidate and eliminate political opponents, most of whom are branded as criminals and terrorists.
To put the whole mess in a proper perspective, there is need to recount how the Nigerian Navy Special Forces ended up in the hands of Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State. The SBS forces were deployed to Kogi State sometimes in 2020 when the Nigerian Army under its former Chief, General Burutai (RTD) withdrew all Army troops from internal security duties in order to rejig his war efforts in North East and North West areas of the country that were being ravaged by insurgency and banditry.
Consequently, Governor Yahaya Bello approached retired General Burutai to give Kogi State a special consideration and return the Army troops to the State. Gen Burutai (RTD) declined Yahaya Bello’s request, citing national security and defence imperatives of that moment as more important.
The former Army Chief however referred him to the Nigerian Navy for possible assistance. Former Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) Vice Admiral Ibok Ibas (RTD) obliged Governor Yahaya Bello’s request as insurgents and kidnappers were taking over parts of Kogi State on the heels of the departing Nigerian Army troops.
A platoon of the SBS led by Commander Akalezie was deployed to hold the ground vacated by the Army troops in Kogi State but before long, Commander Akalezie and his men ended up being part of Governor Yahaya Bello’s personal security details. The vehicles of naval SBS troops were seen among Yahaya Bello’s official and unofficial convoys to the chagrin of conscious Nigerians that quickly raised concerns about the aberration.
The former naval chief, Ibas quickly recalled Commander Akalezie and his men back to Barracks in January of 2021 and refused to listen to any further entreaties from Governor Yahaya Bello to return Commander Akalezie and his men. However, Vice Admiral Ibas (RTD) was replaced by Vice Admiral Awwal Zubairu Gambo (RTD) in February of 2021.
Being a person in the ilke of Yahaya Bello and on account of some cultural affinity between them, Vice Admiral Gambo returned Commander Akalezie and his SBS troops to Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State promptly as he assumed office. Yahaya Bello did not waste time in employing Commander Akalezie to do his dirty political jobs and despite public outcry of the many politically motivated intimidation and assassinations of real and perceived enemies of Yahaya Bello by Commander Akalezie and his men, the former Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS), Vice Admiral A.Z. Gambo (RTD) left Commander Akalezie and his SBS forces in the hands of Governor Yahaya Bello to do what he liked with them.
Similarly, former President Muhammad Buhari did not care a hoot what Vice Admiral Gambo (RTD) and Governor Yahaya Bello did with members of the Nigerian Armed Forces that he commanded as long as it pleased his naval crony and his devious party man.
When the current CNS, Vice Admiral Emmanuel Ogala assumed office, it was reported that he withdrew Commander Akalezie back to the barracks to the relief of most peace loving and law abiding people of Kogi State; particularly in Igala land. Many Nigerians are therefore surprised to wake up on 7th November, 2023 to hear that same Commander Akalezie with his SBS troops led some of Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State’s thugs to the house of the SDP gubernatorial campaign Director General in Anyigba in the early hours of the days to kill and maim innocent people, just a few days before a gubernatorial election is scheduled to be held in Kogi State.
What is happening for God’s sake? Why is the Federal Government of Nigeria and the hierarchy of the Nigerian Armed Forces, particularly the Nigerian Navy allowing Governor Yahaya Bello to turn Kogi State and by extension, Nigeria into a Banana Republic? Is the current CNS who happened to be an Ibo man from South East trying to shield his kinsman Commander Akalezie wily nilly? Why would Commander Akalezie and his troops that are not part of the military task force currently deployed to Kogi State for election duties just pop out of the blues to cause political tension that could result in chaos and break down of law and order in parts of Kogi State?
How would have the Nigerian military justified death of Army personnel that are legitimately deployed by the Federal Government of Nigeria for election security duties and Navy personnel on illegal assignment from friendly exchange of fire at Sheikh’s house at Anyigba in Dekina Local Government Area of Kogi State in the early hours of 7th November, 2023 had the Army Commanders that are unfortunately junior to Commander Akalezie not acted more maturely to call their higher authorities that asked them to withdraw from the scene? And why did the Army higher commands ask their troops that were carrying out legitimate duties to withdraw instead of disarming Commander Akalezie, his troops and those of the DSS as well as the accompanying Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State’s thugs?
Have they also been bought over by the corrupt governor of Kogi State? Too many questions to ask around one desperate governor and the many corrupt public officials that are are all bent on causing chaos in Kogi State for their selfish aims and ultimately jeopardize democracy in Nigeria.
Nigerians and indeed the people of Kogi East demand a cogent explanation about involvement of Navy Commander Akalezie with Governor Yahaya Bello from the incumbent Naval Chief failing which, he should vacate his seat as a matter of urgency. I will like to conclude by stating that the world is watching all of us as events leading up to the off-season gubernatorial elections in Nigeria and Kogi State particularly unfold.
There is no escape for all those that are culpable in the ongoing politically motivated extra-judicial murders and arson in Kogi State. Not even Governor Yahaya Bello who will soon be an ordinary citizen will escape justice for all the crime that he used his executive powers and constitutional immunity to commit. Like the villain of the famous ‘day of the jackal’ classic thriller, a day of reckoning will soon be here for him and his cohorts.
Ogacheko Opaluwa is a Social Critic and Public Affairs Analyst. He contributed this piece from Cape Town.