It is no longer news that His Excellency, Alhaji Yahaya Adoza Bello of the All Progressive Congress (APC) has been sworn in as the 4th Executive Governor of Kogi State on Wednesday, 27 January 2016. What has raised not a few eyebrows among some political stakeholders in Kogi State are the first political appointments made by the Governor in the immediate aftermath of his inauguration. In a statement released in Lokoja, the State Capital and signed personally, Governor Yahaya Bello announced the appointment with immediate effect of Mr. Edward Onoja as his new Chief of Staff. Also appointed is Mr. Abdulkarim Abdulmalik as Special Adviser, Media and Strategy, and Mr. Kingsley Fanwo as Chief Press Secretary to the Governor.
The appointments to neutral observers reflect the stated aim of His Excellency, Alhaji Yahaya Bello in his well-received inaugural speech, to run “an all-inclusive and equitable administration which shall exist for the sole purpose of serving the superseding interests of the people of Kogi State”. The staunchest critic will agree that the three (3) key appointments are truly “all-inclusive”. Mr. Edward ‘Eddy’ Onoja, the new Chief of Staff hails from Ogugu, Olamaboro Local Government Area in the Eastern senatorial district of Kogi State; while the newly-appointed Special Adviser on Media and Strategy, Mr. Abdulkarim Abdulmalik is from Ihima, Okehi Local Government Area in the Central senatorial district, and lastly, the Chief Press Secretary Mr. Kingsley Fanwo is from Takete Ide Amuro, Mopamuro Local Government Area in Kogi West senatorial district.
However, the appointment of Edward Onoja from Kogi East as Chief of Staff has caused quite a stir amongst some supporters of the Governor and competing political interest groups in the State. In line with the general belief that the position of Chief of Staff is akin to that of an all-powerful ‘administrative usher’ who determines who have access to the Governor’s eyes and ears or not, some have opined that the position should have been filled by an individual from either Kogi central-the Governor’s senatorial district- or Kogi West as appointing an Igala man; never mind one who has demonstrated so practically his depth of loyalty and whom Governor Bello perhaps in an unprecedented manner acknowledged his “doggedness” and “forthrightness” during the course of his inaugural address, negates the spirit of the power shift that has just been achieved in Kogi State.
While Fairwin, a political support network of friends and associates of His Excellency Alhaji Yahaya Bello have pledged their total support for Mr. Onoja’s appointment hailing it as ‘’a just reward for his unquantifiable loyalty’’, another political pressure group known as Old Kwara Initiative Forum- a forum comprising political stakeholders from Kogi West and Central Senatorial Districts who came from the old Kwara State into Kogi State- has kicked against the appointment as in their opinion, the position of Chief of Staff to the Governor must be ‘the exclusive preserve of old Kwarans from Kogi West or Kogi Central Senatorial Districts’ and warned against any appointment that undermine the longstanding partnership and confidence-building between the two senatorial districts.
In the view of this writer, the slight tremors over the appointment of Mr. Onoja stem from a misconception of the roles and functions of a Chief of Staff. According to the online resource site Wikipedia, ‘the title ‘Chief of Staff’ identifies the leader of a complex organization, institution, or body of persons, who is the coordinator of the support staff or a primary aide-de-camp to an important individual such as a President, Governor or a Military Officer.’
Administratively, the Chief of Staff provides a buffer between a chief executive and the executive’s direct reporting team. He generally works behind the scenes to solve problems, mediate disputes, and deal with issues before they are brought to the attention of the chief executive. Additionally, the Chief of Staff acts as a confidante and adviser to the chief executive, acting as a sounding board for ideas.
From the foregoing, it is clear that the multifarious roles and functions of a Chief of Staff necessitated Governor Yahaya Bello appointing a politically tested, trusted and proven strategist in Mr. Edward Onoja to the position. The position of a Chief of Staff in Nigeria’s present political dispensation is too sensitive to be filled by all but one in whom the chief executive reposes deep faith and confidence.
Since 1999, the trend among successive Presidents and Governors has been to appoint trusted and loyal lieutenants as Chiefs of Staff. From 1999 to 2007, former President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed Major-General Abdullahi Mohammed, a long-time aide from his days in the military as Chief of Staff. Major-General Mohammed distinguished himself in that capacity as a loyal, competent and adroit ‘behind-the-scene’ administrator during the eight years of the Obasanjo administration. His expertise in that role was such that the administration of Late President Musa Yar’adua deemed it fit to retain him in that capacity until his voluntary resignation on May 30th, 2008.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan also picked as Chief of Staff a long-time associate in Chief Mike Oghiadome SAN. It is instructive that Oghiadome’s eventual removal in 2014 was occasioned by his perceived inability to smoothen the frayed political relationship between his principal and some State Governors, thus underlining the extremely dicey political balancing acts required of a Chief of Staff. He was replaced by former President Jonathan with Brigadier-General Jones Arogbofa, another political ally and close associate. Presently, the Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari is Abba Kyari- a lawyer, former banker and trusted lieutenant of many years standing.
The most famous Chief of Staff in contemporary Nigerian political history is arguably Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola SAN who served as Chief of Staff to former Governor of Lagos State and National Leader of the ruling APC, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu from 1999 till May 29, 2007 when he succeeded his principal as Governor of the State. It was a veritable reward for his selfless loyalty, dedication, competence and administrative dexterity as Chief of Staff in Nigeria’s most complex State.
The days of parochial political appointments based on ethnic and tribal sentiments are over in Kogi State. It is no longer about where a man is from, but his capacity to make meaningful and positive contribution to the development of the State. Governor Yahaya Bello stated in a recent media outing that he intends to run an inclusive government where every citizen of the State has a stake. If it is anything to go by, the Governor’s initial appointments have shown that he is ready to match action to words in this regard.
Change has indeed come to Kogi State. Champions of petty ethnicity have no role whatsoever to play in the current dispensation. The era of ethnic politics is forever condemned to the wasteland of history where it belongs, never to be revisited! Governor Yahaya Bello quoting President Muhammadu Buhari’s now famous apophthegm “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody” during his inaugural speech declared it his “guiding principles for fair action and equitable governance in Kogi State”. It follows then that every action, policy and programme of the Yahaya Bello administration must be viewed by supporters and critics alike, in this light.
The enormous social and economic challenges that his administration inherited has made it imperative for well-meaning citizens of Kogi State to close ranks and support the youngest Governor in Nigeria in the onerous task of bringing Kogi State out of gloom into the sunshine of sustainable development and growth once again.
Governor Yahaya Bello having taking the oath of office is now sworn to a binding contract with the people of Kogi State for the next four years. What he needs now more than anything is the peoples’ prayers and support for him and his chosen team to lead a responsible, people-oriented government that provides good governance, leadership, and the enabling environment for every citizen to fulfill his dreams and her aspirations.
Muhammad ‘Din Shehu, a writer and public affairs analyst wrote in from Lokoja, Kogi State
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