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Conversation With Comrade Bello – By Ogadimma Machikwe

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Conversation With Comrade Bello – By Ogadimma Machikwe

Conversation With Comrade Bello – By Ogadimma Machikwe

One evening a few months ago, I found myself at the executive lounge of the Kigali International Airport, Rwanda waiting for my flight to Prince Said Ibrahim International Airport, Moroni in the Comoros Islands. As I settled down to watch a podcast of the Pelican Brief, my best movie of all time, a man greeted me. I nodded a response in his direction, believing that this nonverbal dismissive gesture will buy me the solitude to enjoy my movie before the flight. The man however stood close. He asked, “where are you from?”, I raised my head from my movie and took a better look at the man. I surmised that he may be from Senegal or Zambia. In response to his question I asked, “Do you mean where I am traveling from or my country of origin?” He answered, “both”. I let him know that my country of origin is Nigeria but I was traveling from the United Kingdom, where I have lived for the past few years. His eyes lit up, as he said “so do I”. He then said that he was from the Middle Belt of  Nigeria and that his name was Comrade Bello.

He wanted to know how I felt about things going on in Nigeria. I confessed that I had not been keeping up, maybe that I had lost a little bit of touch,  numbed by so much negative news from Nigeria. “You have been missing out a lot my friend”, he said. He related that a mass movement was in the making, involving the youth of Nigeria, the trade unions, academia, market women, mostly ordinary Nigerians who  have felt disenfranchised. They have come together, to wrestle power from the small clique of Nigerians, the cabal that have dominated the Nigerian political and economic landscape for many decades, embezzling and appropriating the money belonging to all of us,  and in the process building private empires. He said, “our party has issued red cards to APC, PDP and all the other political contraptions that for decades bequeathed a culture of endemic corruption to Nigerians. By this time in 2019, my people will taste the same freedom the Israelites felt,  when God rescued them from the bondage of the Pharaohs of Egypt.

I took a closer look at the man standing in from of me. He explained that he was quietly contacting select African Heads of  State to acquaint them of his Party’s proposed policies to be implemented once he took over as President of Nigeria. His visit to the Comoros Islands was a part of this ongoing sensitization tour. Knowing that I have heard it all,  as most Nigerians when it comes to the empty promises of politicians, out of curiosity, I asked him what new if any, this new political entity has to offer Nigerians. It was then that he unfolded the following Manifesto.

ON CORRUPTION

Comrade Bello stated that the foundation stone  in building the strong  new Nigerian State is to eradicate corruption at all levels. Immediately after being sworn in as President of Nigeria, Comrade Bello’s first overseas trip will take him to Equatorial Guinea. There he will formally request President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo to grant Nigeria a one hundred year lease on  200 hectares of  land. It is here that he hopes to quickly construct the Nigerian Maximum Security Prison at Fernando Po. This world class maximum security prison will form the centerpiece of the new war on corruption, embezzlement, theft of public and private funds and other vices plaguing Nigeria. According to him, Nigerians had since lost any respect or fear for Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison, which recent inmates compared to a luxury hotel, especially for those with means to grease the palms of willing officials. Not so this new proposed prison at Fernando Po, which Comrade Bello hopes to staff with international personnel especially the Prison Warden, whom he hopes to recruit from Australia, New Zealand, Netherlands or some other foreign country with proven zero tolerance for corruption. He plans to advertise the position of Chief Prison Warden in the Economist, the New York Times and the London Times. The local staffing will come from Equatorial Guinea and other African countries. No Nigerians he said.

As the construction of the building is taking shape, he talked about assembling a world personnel comprising Judges, Prosecutors and investigators. Surprisingly, he said that those may not come from Nigeria also. He gave as an example the Nigerian Football Federation that hired a German, Mr. Gernot Rohr to coach the national team, the Green Eagles. He reasoned that corruption had so eaten deep into the Nigerian fabric that it had spared no institution of government, and that to do a holistic cleansing, one must look offshore. Moreover, he believes that  Nigerian corruption is  an international war crime which has caused the death of thousands of Nigerian youth both in Nigeria and overseas. He referred to the thousands who have perished crossing the Sahara desert, buried in mass graves in Libya, crossing treacherous seas, in foreign jails and refugee detention centers, all because of the wide scale corruption which has made Nigeria a failed state.

I asked him what his party hoped to achieve at the end of the day with his version of war against corruption. It was at that time that he opened his brief case, retrieved a note book and read the following:

The exercise will not be complete without purging corrupt public officials and recovering their ill-gotten wealth, since the days of oil boom till date. Even these hard times when Nigerians are dying from hunger, trekking many miles to work for lack of transportation, a few other Nigerians with complete impunity are living in unbelievable affluence, both inside and outside the country.

We are extremely determined to recover all ill-gotten wealth back to the public treasury for the use of the masses of our people

This clique that has an unabated penchant for domination and unrivaled fostering of mediocrity and outright detest for accountability have been our undoing as a nation…” Major Gideon Okar, April 22, 1990.

Comrade Bello then expatiated that he was bent not only to recover all ill-gotten wealth, but all the fruits derived there from. As an example, if one embezzled government funds to set up a private airline, the Nigerian Government will seize the airline, and all the profits emanating from it. I reminded him that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC) was doing this already. He waved his hand dismissively and explained that EFCC, ICPC , the courts and other organs of the criminal justice system were totally ill-equipped to tackle the cancer of corruption that has permeated to the bones of Nigeria. He gave as examples the case of the forty three  million dollars found hidden at 7B Osborne Towers, Ikoyi, Lagos Nigeria, a property purportedly bought by the wife of a former Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency for $1.658 million. The purported back door reinstatement and promotion  of a former head of the Pension Recovery Task Force, Mr. Abdulrasheed Maina who was accused of N2.7 billion fraud, the N233 million   grass cutting scandal involving the then Secretary to the Government of the federation, were other  cases mentioned. More telling is that in all these cases, the Nigerian Criminal Justice Agencies, EFCC, DSS, ICPC, NIA are rumored to be working at cross purposes, sabotaging one another. He challenged me to point to one case in the face of all the glaring, brazen corruption and embezzlement where anyone has been successfully prosecuted and given a deserved long prison sentence. I told him that I was the wrong person to ask, since I have been gone from Nigeria for too long. He explained that the stolen funds were monies meant for security, hospitals, schools, infrastructure, social welfare, all of which are not provided,  with the result that except for a few, majority of Nigerians are trapped in this failed state. The lucky ones have their children and families living overseas, have their medical checkup overseas in London, Dubai, India, South Africa, USA,  anywhere but Nigeria, for things like tooth and ear ache. The children of these lucky ones do not have to be put through the debased academic curriculum of the Nigerian education system. They are  not subjected to the indignities of the ordinary Nigerian whose life is now worth less that a sachet of pure water in the hands of the all conquering, marauding herdsmen, the kidnappers, ritualists, armed robbers,  cultists, the failed healthcare infrastructure among others.

To illustrate his point on why he needed to hire non Nigeria personnel to fight corruption, he invited me to read a case that has been making headlines in Nigeria. The case of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission against Justice Hyeladzira Nganjiwa, a Judge of the Bayelsa Division of the Federal High Court who was accused of unlawfully receiving $260,000 and N8.6 million in bribes. In that case, the Lagos Division of the Nigerian Court of Appeal ruled in December 2017 that  the EFCC does not have statutory powers to investigate or prosecute serving judicial officers except where such individuals have first been dismissed or retired by the National Judicial Council, the body saddled with disciplining erring judges. Comrade Bello saw this ruling as the final nail in the coffin of the comatose fight against corruption by this and previous administrations.

In his concept of the fight against corruption, crack investigators will use all modern and forensic tools to find every ill-gotten, embezzled and stolen wealth hidden in any part of Nigeria or overseas. This quest will be total and non selective. It will not be targeted against any particular ethnic group, section of the country or political party. It will not be an instrument of witch-hunt against political opponents or critics of government. It will be against thieves who have robbed Nigeria blind. The money and assets recovered will be promptly returned with transparent published accounting and expenditure. The perpetrators will have fair trial by an incorruptible legal establishment. The panel of judges could come from different countries in the world. Once convicted, culprits will face long, hard prison terms, sometimes life imprisonment at the New Nigerian Maximum Security prison in Fernando Po. Only then, can we usher in the era of deterrence that will protect our public funds from the kleptomaniac fingers of corrupt public officials. What surprised me was his statement that this recovery could be extended to 1960, especially since it grieves his spirit that a few individuals can by executive fiat, allocate the commonwealth of a nation to themselves and their cronies in the form of oil blocks. Comrade Bello believes that this brazen transfer of public wealth, oil the main stay of the Nigerian economy to a few individuals was an open theft of public wealth. The same for the sale of public assets without due process or in sham transactions in the guise of privatization programs which neither created the touted efficiency of private enterprise, nor created the anticipated employment that was promised. In some cases like the sale of the assets of Power Holding Company of Nigeria(PHCN), parts of the power sector was said to have been transferred to cronies who did not pay up their bid sums but worse, lacked the capacities to develop such critical sector of the Nigerian economy that bothers on national security. What they offer the public is brazen theft in the form of estimated electric bills for  months of darkness. Against all agitation, these purveyors of darkness,  have rejected all entreaties to make prepaid meters available to the public.

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I shook my head in  confusion not knowing  whether to believe this grim assessment and proposed cure, or  my doubts that such a Nigeria can emerge in our life time.

At this time, the airport public address system crackled to life and announced a one hour delay to our flight to Moroni. I was wrapped up listening to Comrade Bello that I forgot that I was watching my movie. The hot green mint  tea served by the very hospitable lady at the executive lounge had since gone cold.

“Comrade , don’t you think that Nigerians are weary and tired of the broken promises and tall tales of politicians over the years, what makes you think that they will believe you or your political party?”, I asked. Comrade at this point outlined what he called quick gains to shock and awe Nigerians and win their trust in his fight against corruption. First is his plan to make high level corruption a death penalty offence such as in China, Singapore and Bangladesh. While he did not define “high level corruption”, I understood it to mean embezzlement of Naira running into some high numbers. What that number could be in today’s Nigeria when theft of public funds in billions of naira is common place is any one’s guess.

Secondly, he talked about bringing back to the country, those accused persons who escaped the Nigerian justice by hiding overseas. He outlined multiple approaches to accomplish this, by legal extradition, forceful rendition, what he called “the Alhaji Umaru Dikko Formula“, and shockingly, by neutralizing such people where there is overwhelming evidence of economic sabotage against Nigeria. I could not believe what I was hearing,  but I remember vividly that in July 1984, Alhaji Umaru Dikko, the former Minister of Transport under former President Shehu Shagari was kidnapped from his house in London and put in a crate in an attempt to fly him out from Stansted Airport in London to Nigeria. That kidnap attempt was widely suspected to have been sponsored by the then Nigerian government, who wanted Alhaji Dikko to answer to allegations of embezzlement in a Federal Government  rice distribution scam. See Bruce Weber, Umaru Dikko, Ex-Nigerian Official Who Was Almost Kidnapped, Dies, The New York Times, July 8, 2014.  I must confess that I was shocked that Comrade Umaru could advocate the assassination on foreign soil, of people who stole the money belonging to ordinary Nigerians, who escaped to foreign countries to live in  gloating luxury.

 I informed Comrade that while I understand his passion to eradicate Nigeria of corruption, I believe that in Nigeria of today, security of life and property is the most pressing need of the people. At this he smiled, motioned to the Lady to bring me fresh tea and said, “let me tell you our plans on security”.

 

ON SECURITY

Comrade Bello said, “I told you about my first official foreign trip to Equatorial Guinea  once I am elected President, now let me tell you about the second foreign trip” Comrade stated that his second foreign trip will take him to Burkina Faso. His plan is to take top political, religious and civic leaders on that trip to dialogue with the leadership of  BILLITAL MAROOBE with headquarters in Burkina Faso. “Who is that?”, I asked. He explained, ” Billital Maroobé is a network of organizations of farmers and pastoralists in Africa, that works for the advocacy and promotion of its members in economic, political, social and cultural development in seven countries in West Africa: Burkina Faso, Benin, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal”.

According to him, Nigeria is represented in this Regional Organization by Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, (MACBAN). It is this Organization that Comrade Bello proposes to meet on his second foreign trip. I asked Comrade what he believed that trip will accomplish. He looked at me like a Professor will look at an ignorant student. He again reached into his brief case and read the following:

” This Association of Pastoralist Organizations as part of its strategic plan, aspires to install friendly governments in all the countries where they operate, as well as friendly legislatures in all tiers of government. They have been accused of complicity in the removal of governments, and fomenting trouble for governments seen to be adverse to their interests. They influence the appointment and promotion of top civil servants that will be sympathetic to the goals and aspirations of pastoralists also known as herdsmen. They fight for the free movement of herdsmen and cattle across borders, the unimpeded access of cattle to pasture and fresh water sources like rivers, streams and other  water bodies. They are predominantly Moslem and seem to have added the spread and propagation of faith to their agenda. In that way, they have steady access of slush funds from wealthy Arab Nations. Some of the youth embedded in the Herdsmen are involved in armed robbery, kidnapping and other illicit means of raising money for personal and organizational sustenance. The upsurge in kidnapping in Nigeria can be attributed to the Fulani Herdsmen. They are not from the same country, but from diverse countries but mostly belong to the Fulbe Tribe. They speak a common language all the way to the Central African Republic and as far North as Libya”. Ogadinma Machikwe, Nigeria: Before We Drown in Rivers of Blood,  247Ureports, June 4, 2016.

Comrade Bello seeks to negotiate a truce, or peace treaty with this organization in the hope that the lives of thousands of Nigerians being slaughtered by the rampaging herdsmen may be spared. At the moment he said, Nigeria is at war , something the government is trying so hard to hide from the public. He believes that the place of the hard working, ordinary herdsmen who coexisted peacefully with other tribes for centuries, had since been hijacked by  jihadists seeking to impose their religion across the country down to the creeks of the Bights of Biafra and Benin. I was shocked by Comrade Bello’s perspective. He said, “There are prominent Nigerians and their followers who do not believe in a secular country. These people do not believe in religious freedom and are bent on imposing their faith on the rest of Nigeria. What has held them back all this while is the allure of oil flowing from the Niger Delta. They were able to endure the situation since they controlled the bulk of the oil proceeds. Unfortunately, the dividends from the oil economy never trickled down to their followers. With no improvement in education, wealth, healthcare, infrastructure and social welfare, the masses became restless,  and defaulted to establishing a puritan society as dictated by their religion. That gave birth to Boko Haram, a quest to carve out a pure and pristine Caliphate” I shook my head in awe. He continued, “By the way, are you aware that as of Nigerian independence in 1960, there were communities that refused to be a part of Nigeria? Those communities in the North Eastern part of Nigeria, were part of Northern Cameroons and did not become part of Nigeria until 1962. Are you not aware that at some point, some Governors declared Sharia in their states. There must be an honest dialogue about the structure of Nigeria, whether we really need to coexist, if so, in what manner”.  Comrade Bello believes that some prominent Nigerians owe more allegiance to their tribes than the Nigerian State. From the interaction with Billital Maroobe, he will ascertain whether ceding of territory will pacify the marauding and conquering herdsmen and cause them to pull back and spare the lives of Nigeria.

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I asked Comrade Bello if he was sure of what he was saying. He said, “you may have forgotten too soon how on April 25, 2016, killer herdsmen ransacked Nimbo, Opanda,  in Uzo Uwani Local Government of Enugu State killing hundreds of people, destroying their properties and displacing them from their homes. The Governor of Abia State, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu in a preemptive measure resuscitated the dreaded Bakassi Boys Vigilante Group so that Abia State may be spared the indignities visited on Enugu State. A few weeks later, the Governor was removed ignominiously by a questionable judgment which some people believe was at the instigation of Miyette Allah Cattle Breeders Association. He was restored as Governor by another court, the very minute he made Abia Town Unions to sign a Peace Accord with the herdsmen. See: Hausa, Fulani herdsmen sign peace accord with Abia communities, Sunnnewsonline.com, September 9, 2016. Look at Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue. He has not known peace since he signed an Anti Open Grazing Law banishing the herdsmen from Benue unless they agreed to keep their cattle in ranches. One does not need to be a political guru to know that he will be denied a return ticket come 2019. The issue of Kogi State is a case study in the modus of the group.  Following the untimely death of Prince Abubakar Audu just before his victory was announced as Governor of  Kogi State, Governor Bello was nominated to replace him. This  Kogi State Governor is pushing their dream measure, the indigenization of the herdsmen, which assimilates them into the state with the rights and privileges of the native communities. See, Fulani herdsmen to be accommodated as indigenes of Kogi, John Akinfehinwa, Nairaland, January 7, 2018. As you know they fought tooth and nail to prevent Rt. Hon. Abiodun  Faleke from becoming the Governor. It is this Kogi experiment which was perfected in Jos, Plateau State many years ago, that they want to implement all over Nigeria, the planting of colonies of herdsmen across Nigeria. Except in the Western states of Nigeria, any governor who opposes the Fulani herdsmen will not be given a ticket in either APC or PDP come 2019.”

I told him that I believe in one Nigeria although at this time, the country is going through significant challenges, but so did other developed countries. He said that I was naive, and not well informed as to  the true picture.

He said that once in power he will vigorously advocate for each state to have their own police force. He said that a police force dominated by one section of the country, which is susceptible to abuse to satisfy tribal and sectional interests, was unacceptable. Like other developed countries, each state should build up a vibrant police force so as to fulfill the most important of government  duties to its citizens, “the security of life and property, none of which is guaranteed today”

Comrade supports the formalization of the six geo-political zones as a foundation of the modern Nigeria State. The President should serve for one term, rotated among the geo-political zones. He believes that command of the security forces should be spread among the six zones,  and must never be concentrated in the hands of one tribe since it will lead to oppression, repression and possibly genocide.

After his dialogue with Bilital Maroobe, he plans to energize the security services, and  rid them of any iota of corruption. He will move to drastically reduce the money currently allocated to the National Assembly and ensure adequate remuneration to the military, the police and other security agencies, especially the men and women on the front lines in  the fight against Boko Haram, the rampaging herdsmen, kidnappers and armed robbers. He wants to make sure that they are very well paid. The families of those who die in the line of duty will be taken care of very well.

Comrade said that there are 774 local governments in Nigeria. He will find money to empower the Community Neighborhood Watch Organizations in all these local governments such that indigenous communities will not lose their ancestral lands, farmlands, livelihood and lives to invading herdsmen and jihadists. He wants to turn every Nigerian into a security agent until the war with the invading herdsmen is won. I could not believe what I was hearing. Then, once convicted criminals face long commensurate prison terms at the new Nigerian Maximum Security Prison at Fernando Po, a new Nigeria will sprout.

At this time, the airport public address system crackled to life. We were advised that our flight to Moroni, the Comoros would be boarding in forty five minutes.

Comrade said, ” I wish we had more time, so that I can share more of my party’s agenda with you. just know that with the ground swell of support that we have, we are sure to win the next election.” I gave him by business card and requested that he email me whatever information he wished to share.

He said. “let me just say this. My party does not believe in two houses of parliament. No responsible government can afford to appropriate so much of its annual budget to support the luxurious lifestyle of a few Nigerians while millions of others wallow in abject poverty. We will call for a single legislature of part time law makers of patriotic Nigerians. These dedicated men and women will only receive stipends or sitting allowances. The money so saved will be used to build hospitals, schools, infrastructure, social amenities and job creating schemes that will benefit great number of Nigerians. This will be replicated in all tiers of government, states and local governments included. We have calculated the money appropriated by parliament since 1999. If we publish it, Nigeria will witness a massive upheaval and unrest that will make the Arab Spring a child’s play”.

“Comrade what is the name of your party?”, I asked. He said the name of the party was still under wraps but I should take it to the bank that they have mass appeal, and that neither APC, PDP or the other know political parties associated with business as usual, can withstand the coming political tsunami.

I wanted to know how Comrade and his group hoped to address the mushrooming agitation for restructuring and self determination. He smiled and said that most of those are rooted in sectional beliefs of decades of injustice and deprivation. That once his party ushers in a regime of transparency, honesty, inclusiveness and equitable allocation and distribution of national resources among states and citizens, the agitations will dissipate like smoke.

He said, “look, Nigeria is a country endowed like no other. Are you aware that as of 1977, we were sending food aid to the United Arab Emirates and that foreign students including Indians, came to Nigeria to study medicine, Nigerians were Chief Judges in courts in Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, the Gambia among others, even today, there are over 26,000 Nigerian doctors working in America, with many others in England, Australia and South Africa. Once we wrestle the monster of corruption to the ground, address the insecurity and the other inequities that have eaten deep into the fabric of Nigeria, the Unicorn will rise from the ashes and Nigerians in forced economic exile will begin to return in droves”.

As I started to gather my belongings in readiness to boarding the flight, I said Comrade, “if you want to imprison corrupt Nigerians, make sure that your prison  in Fernando Po is enough to accommodate the millions of very corrupt Nigerians”. He said, “no my friend, we must learn from others what has worked for them. When South Africa gained independence, they convoked a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to address the many years of apartheid and the indignities that blacks suffered in the hands of white South Africans, as well as the atrocities by all,  during the fight for liberation. The same happened at the end of the Rwandan civil war. A commission was set up to address the genocide.  We hope to set up such a Commission,  where all Nigerians within an allocated time,  in exchange for amnesty,  can confess all their sins and return their ill gotten wealth. Whistle blowers and conspirators will be encouraged to report cases to the Commission.  Even those presently in exile can take advantage of this liberal policy. I know that you did not tell me your tribe,  but I suspect that you are Igbo. It pains me that after the Nigerian civil war, no such thing was set up. To this day, there has been no formal apology to the Igbo for the genocide that exterminated millions. My party will correct that gross oversight.”

At this time, our boarding was announced. Comrade Bello inched close to my right ear and whispered, “my friend, mark my words today, Nigeria is at the dawn of a rebirth. One that will sweep away the corrupt cabal that has held the country hostage for years. Our party has served them with a quit notice, and issued them a red card as we are poised to reclaim Nigeria for the ordinary citizen. We have told them like Moses told Pharaoh, let my people go. Have a safe flight” As I said, “you too”, he was already walking away and I noticed for the first time, a hint of a measured disciplined military gait. I cannot wait to receive his party’s full manifesto.

*The Author is a Developmental Consultant for Sub-Saharan Africa

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