Until 2015, it was generally thought impossible for any politician other than one of the Igala ethnic nationality to get elected as Governor of Kogi state. This is because of their strong demographic dominance over the Okun and Ebira ethic groups. That thought became reality as the first three successive civilian Governors of the state – Abubakar Audu, Ibrahim Idris and Idris Wada – were all Igala. In 2015, Audu was on the verge of returning to power to continue the Igala political hegemony when he suddenly dropped dead while leading in the votes tally in the Governorship election.
There was a temporary impasse occasioned by Audu’s sudden demise: who would inherit the leading votes of the late gubernatorial candidate? The leadership of APC, invoking the provisions of the Electoral Act that only a political party can submit the name of a candidate in an election to the electoral body decided in its wisdom that Yahaya Bello, who came second in the primaries, should be the candidate of the party for the supplementary election.
Thus, Bello, a young Ebira politician, a civil servant and businessman stepped into Audu’s shoes as APC candidate in the supplementary election where he defeated Captain Idris Wada, then incumbent Governor and candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Bello went on to win all the court cases instituted against his candidacy and became the governor of Kogi state.
That development marked a watershed in the history of Kogi state politics and the emergence of Bello as a political force in the state. He was re-elected Governor in 2020 and has, ever since, established his political influence in the state, and extended same to the national level. The 47-year-old Governor tested his popularity nationwide by contesting for nomination as the presidential candidate of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) last year. At 47, he is the youngest second term Governor of a state in Nigeria. No one gave him the slimmest chance in 2015 when he aspired to become the Governor of Kogi State.
Abdullahi Haruna Haruspice, an Abuja-based writer, said of Bello: “In spite of the turbulence that heralded his coming to power in 2015 and the teething problems that characterized his first term in office, Bello weathered the storm with such philosophical calmness that when he made an attempt to secure a second term in office, it was an overwhelming victory never before seen in the political annals of the history of the state.”
Governor Bello sought his party’s nomination to run for the presidency in 2023 but lost. Instead of challenging the process and outcome of the primary election, as is common in the Nigerian polity, he wrote to congratulate the winner, Bola Tinubu. Apparently in appreciation of his loyalty and influence in the party, especially among the youths, Governor Bello was appointed as National Youth Coordinator of the Tinubu presidential campaign. In the main general elections, Governor Bello led APC to a resounding victory. Tinubu was declared winner with APC in Kogi State delivering overwhelmingly for him. The party also won the three senatorial seats, six of the nine House of Representatives seats and 22 out of the 25 House of Assembly seats.
There are speculations that Governor Bello, ever a dogged fighter with an enduring capacity for a durable or marathon race, is on course to being appointed as a minister in the incoming APC Federal administration of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. This may probably be in recognition of his growing influence as a powerful power player and a youth mobilizer who contributed immensely to the victory of Tinubu in the last presidential election. Such an appointment, even though considered as a reward for his contribution to Tinubu’s victory, can only provide the young Governor the platform for the expansion of his sphere of political influence not only in Kogi state but also nationwide.
In the process leading to the state Governorship election scheduled for November, Bello’s preferred choice of successor, Ahmed Usman Ododo, won the party’s primaries easily, courtesy of the Governor’s influence who was able to persuade many leading contenders to step down from the race. Ododo’s victory in the forthcoming November election would provide yet another prospective platform for the Governor to further cement his political influence in the state.
Bello’s acceptability and rising influence are attributed to his outstanding performance as Governor and on assignments he executed for the party at the national level.
For instance, according to Haruna Haruspice, the Governor met an over-bloated civil service in the state populated by a chunk of ghost workers feeding fat on the lean resources of the state while doing nothing for the state in return. He made an attempt to correct the ills, had some stumbling blocks from vested interests, made some unforced errors on his own but by and large, he succeeded in shunting out a significant number of the ghost workers. Today, according to Haruspice, “the Governor who had difficulty in paying workers’ salaries initially now pays without tears and even up to date.
Aside finding ingenious ways to streamline the state civil service, as a finance expert, he also enunciated radical measures to shore up the internally generated revenue of the state through the State Internal Revenue Service beyond the perilously parlous state it was in before he assumed the reins of power.
For the first time in the history of the state, upwardly mobile young men and women were appointed into positions to run the affairs of the state unlike in the past when they were mere errand boys for the political operators. Under Governor Bello, the youths took charge of their destiny.
He was also a gender-sensitive Governor. Under him, Kogi state, for the first time since its creation, produced a female Secretary to the State Government (SSG), who by her portfolio, is the most senior unelected appointee of the state government. In his first term in office, even for the first time in the history of the state, the Governor had a female Chief Press Secretary. In his second term, his Aide De Camp, perhaps the first of its kind, is a female cop. Similarly, under his gender-friendly watch, the state had two female Heads of Service in four years.
Governor Bello engineered a fierce crackdown on criminal elements in the state, ordering the demolition of even the ancestral homes of proven criminals and forfeiture of the landed property to the state. Haruspice said only a man with zero tolerance for criminality could do this. “If the present national leadership had paid heed and borrowed a leaf from that unique effort to rid his state of criminal elements, the country would not have been engulfed in crass insecurity as has been the worsening situation now,” he said.
The Governor also proved his mettle when he was given a herculean role in his political party’s membership drive and revalidation of its teeming faithful. He galvanised the youth of the land to robust patriotic activities, though resisted by his political party. He did not sit back in his office, ordering people around. Rather, he picked the gauntlet and hit the ground running.
Bello was born on June 18, 1975, in Okene, Kogi State, the youngest of six children. He attended Local Government Education Authority (LGEA) Primary School, Agassa in Okene LGA beginning in 1984. He attended high school at Agassa Community Secondary School, Anyava, Agassa-Okene and obtained his Junior Secondary School Certificate Examination (JSSCE) and Senior Secondary Certificate Examination (SSCE) certificates from Government Secondary School, Suleja-Niger State in 1994.
Bello studied at Kaduna State Polytechnic, Zaria, in 1995 and obtained an accounting degree from Ahmadu Bello University in 1999. Yahaya Bello further enrolled in Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, where he was conferred with a Masters degree in Business Administration (MBA) in 2002. Bello became a chartered fellow of the Association of National Accountants of Nigeria in 2004.
Bello was declared winner of the 2015 Kogi gubernatorial election after he was chosen on the platform of APC. On November 16, 2019, Bello was elected to a second term after he defeated PDP candidate and incumbent Governor, Idris Wada, by over 200,000 votes.
His profile has risen rapidly over the course of his Governorship, partly due to his relative youth when compared to other Nigerian politicians along with his controversial statements and actions.
In Abuja on April 2, 2022, Bello formally declared his interest to run in Nigeria’s 2023 presidential elections. Bello was supported by a socio-political group known as Bello Ambassadors Network founded by Edogbo Anthony. The group had over two million registered Nigerians.