Rumours swept Kogi State in the past week that Governor Yahaya Bello was very sick and had been flown to a foreign hospital. Fairly late in the day, his aides tried to dispel the rumours and said the governor travelled abroad on medical grounds but that he had informed the State House of Assembly of his two-week travel plans. If indeed he did so, this information was never made available to the people of the state, hence the wild rumours.
Governor Bello’s foreign trip without a proper transmission of powers to his deputy, Mr. Simon Achuba was a repeat of the past when governors travelled out of the country to pursue unofficial tasks without handing over to their deputies. As a result, he created a vacuum that grounded government activities in Lokoja. Section 190 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria clearly states what should be done if a state governor is to be away from his desk on a casual or annual leave. It says, “The Governor [shall] transmit to the Speaker of the House of Assembly a written declaration that he is proceeding on vacation or that he is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office…. [If] he transmits to the Speaker of the House of Assembly a written declaration [in this regard] such functions shall be discharged by the Deputy Governor as Acting Governor.”
The Constitution does not envisage that this transition of power from a governor to his deputy should be done in camera or under the cover of darkness. President Muhammadu Buhari set a very clear example in this respect earlier this year. He transmitted a letter to the Senate intimating the lawmakers of his intention to travel abroad on a short vacation, which lasted for only five days. He stated clearly that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo would perform the functions of the president while Buhari’s vacation lasted. The media reported this development, which nipped rumours in the bud.
While the president was away and Vice President Osinbajo took charge, government business did not suffer. Osinbajo carried out several state functions, among them a meeting with a Senate delegation to discuss issues related to the 2016 budget with him. If Governor Yahaya had actually transmitted a letter to the House of Assembly intimating them of the need for him to travel abroad on health grounds, the lawmakers should have read the letter on the floor of the House and told the people of Kogi State through the media that their governor would be away, and that the Deputy Governor would be Acting Governor.
It is the governor’s right to seek medical help abroad but it was wrong of him to hide his health condition from the people he governs. In the process he breached the expectations of the 1999 Constitution and caused undue anxiety and wild rumours in his state. Leaving a vacuum in the leadership of Kogi State is a disservice to the people, a clog in the wheel of governance. For instance, in the last 10 months the payment of salaries to civil servants in the state has been irregular. The staff audit Governor Bello initiated has left the civil service in chaos, with many genuine employees suffering the fate that should be reserved for ghost workers. The governor should have empowered his deputy to carry on the task of resolving this crisis.
In terms of security, Kogi State is a flashpoint of kidnapping, armed robbery, rural banditry and killer secret cults. Being the Chief Security Officer (CSO) of Kogi State, the governor cannot afford to fly out without surrendering the powers to act on urgent security matters to his deputy. In future we urge all state governors to avoid this type of mistake, properly hand over their powers and also keep their subjects well informed before they vanish from the public scene.