•Governor Yahaya Bello
It’s hard for a lightweight like me to look at the current Kogi State governor and not turn green with envy. He is young, vibrant and stands tall with a sculptured frame. For someone who self-describes as a lover of sports and fitness, especially boxing, the only thing that matches his appetite for power is his exaggerated machismo. And who could have predicted this path for him, a few years ago when he was just the kid next door, as a junior at Agassa Community Secondary School, Okene.
At 45, Yahaya Bello is the youngest governor in Nigeria and easily one of the most recognisable brands of the ruling party. Early in his tenure, he was quick to reach out and closely aligned himself with the Ogas at the top. In return, he got rewarded handsomely with an unfettered access to Aso Rock. Of course, he was among the first to embrace President Muhammadu Buhari’s ranching vision and has no qualms yielding a swath of Kogi land to Mr. President’s nomadic tribesmen. Who cares!
Senators Dino Melaye and Natasha Akpoti, the opposition gubernatorial candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in the last election were among the first to taste the enormous power at the governor’s disposal. The garrulous Dino thought he could wrestle power from the anointed one, only to escape death by the skin of his teeth. Barrister Akpoti’s house was razed to the ground. That was the hefty price to pay for daring the lion in his den. That same election took the life of a woman, Salome Acheju Abuh, a PDP woman leader, who was burnt to death in her own house. As expected, the Federal government of Nigeria looked the other way, but in the aftermath of his role in the 2019 general election, the U.S State Department slammed him with a visa restriction.
And so, stories like the above leave no one in doubt who wears the pant at Lokoja. But upon watching the video clip of his Excellency’s latest anti-vaccine tirade however, one had to conclude that in exchange for a great physique, limitless power and influence, God emptied out his cerebral cortex and stuffed the whole place with spongy toilet papers.
For starters, Governor Bello posed a “very serious” question to those of us that advocate vaccination against Covid as a way to contain this monster of a virus. The main premise of his argument being that scientists still do not have a vaccine for headache, cancer and other sundry illnesses. And so, he queried how covid vaccines were produced at the breakneck speed of less than one full calendar year. Great question, except he forgot to include the vaccines against motor vehicle accidents, killer herdsmen and armed banditry. I think those would be nice to have and asking for it would even make him more popular than the Grand Mufti himself, our very wise Sheik Gumi. It definitely would endear him more to his Ogas in Aso Rock.
But the whole thing is starting to get more interesting since many are now asking why Oyibos have not been able to come up with a vaccine against ignorance, stupidity and to fight the league of morons and charlatans that keep making their way to power, all across the continent of Africa. This group argued that the African has an existential need to vaccinate against that bigger virus that has made the continent a laughing stock in this planet. My guess is that somebody in the western world is yet to realise the enormous economic potential therein, otherwise some blue-chip companies in Silicon Valley would have invested heavily and cashed out big time.
Putting jokes aside, the problem is not that the Kogi governor is sceptical about the safety and efficacy of a vaccine. Far from it. There is a whole tribe of anti-vaxxers that exist out there, even among health professionals. The problem is that the man is pushing his argument from a position of unpardonable ignorance. The type you cannot excuse a state chief executive who should utilise the services of top-notch medical people at his beck and call. A simple briefing by an expert would have schooled him on the subject and saved him the embarrassment of coming out in front of a televised national audience to spew gibberish.
The reason why positions such as Special Assistants (SA) and Senior Special Assistant (SSA) exist in the first place, is to make sure that men in power could have a quick access to top-level technocrats whose expertise in specific areas will help them navigate unfamiliar territories. It’s expected that before a high-profile figure such as a governor would make a media appearance, he ought to have been well briefed by his assistants. This is because people will take whatever he says seriously. Unfortunately, today, such positions have become one more way to compensate party loyalists.
But by the look of things, it’s obvious that the governor is enjoying his new show. How could one watch Gov. Yahaya Bello’s Covid speech and not notice how he regales in his newfound celebrity status as a populist anti-vaxxer. For a long time, the likes of Sen. Dino Melaye and Pastor Chris Oyakhilome cleverly edged everyone out and shined bright on the spotlight. And so, it’s time the amiable governor takes a bite off the apple of stardom.
A student of philosophy once asked her teacher what he thought was wrong with people. The professor responded that If you ask an average guy in the street if there’s life on the planet mars, he definitely will have an opinion.” Even in the book, “Think Like a Freak” by Stephen J. Dubner and Steven Levitt, it turns out that the authors identified the hardest words for human to say to be “I don’t know.”
Humans get caught up in this delusional fantasy of being wise and popular and continue to bullshit their way through for personal fame, popularity, and other social perks. In Governor Bello’s case, we could have easily laughed it off as a tasteless joke by another comedian in power, same way as when Pastor Chris or Senator Dino tried to sell to us the 5G chip implantation theory. The huge problem here is that actively launching a campaign to dissuade folks from taking a life-saving vaccine from a position of unparalleled ignorance would definitely cost lives.
In today’s world, it’s not much about what you know. What matters is having the ability to convince people that one knows what one is talking about. This perhaps explain why the opinion of an accountant talking about a virus he has zero understanding of, stands way better chance of being accepted as the gospel truth, much more than whatever experience I have to offer as a trained medical doctor in the frontline of the fight against the deadly virus. Sensationalism sells and truth is boring. We have to be reminded that it’s illegal to bore people.
Today I am incensed. I’m boiling to the point of exasperation that after having scores of Covid patients die right in my very arms, a sitting state governor will carelessly dismiss a universally fatal virus as just another western hoax. It is sickening that he continues to use his celebrity status to misinform a gullible public. I am pretty sure that perchance he contracts the virus, he will have by the snap of his fingers, world class experts attend to his medical needs. The tragedy is that such privilege will not be extended to the class of people he is now filling up with a lethal dose of gobbledegook.
If by tomorrow someone refer to youths as the leaders of tomorrow, it’s crucial that we clearly define the kind of youths we have in mind. If we are going to continue in the habit of fielding dolts and Potato Heads and having them in positions to make consequential decisions, just for the reason of being young, Nigeria will forever be doomed. Ignorance is not a virtue, it costs lives.
How I wish the governor would concentrate his effort in ridding Kogi State of the hundreds of kidnappers’ den that in the past, had earned him praise. Henceforth, Yahaya Bello should cease and desist from dabbling into the science of Covid-19.
•Dr. Agbo, a practicing physician, is also the coordinator of African Center for Transparency and Convener of Save Nigeria Project. Email: [email protected]