Barometer

Should Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State’s recent prophecies be believed, then the country’s political mould would soon be dramatically recast. According to the governor, the defection of his Ebonyi state counterpart, David Umahi, from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC) was only one of a decadal of defections. Sworn enemy of APC, Governor Nyesom Wike, would be the last of nine more in the coming years, divined Mr Bello. But why did he fail at divining the bread levy plot in Kogi state?

The bread levy plot refers to a series of accusations and denials occurring between the Kogi state government and the state civil service, starting with the outbreak of reports in the media on November 11 that the state government had introduced a levy on every loaf of bread baked in the state. The state’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry noted that the aim of the levy was to improve Kogi’s internally generated revenue. On November 14, the state’s commissioner for information and communication would explain that there was nothing new about the levy and that the whole idea of the thing was to protect the indigenous bakers from those “who bring bread into the state without paying any form of levy.” Somehow, there are conflicting reports that the levy is on only bread sold in the state, not bread baked in the state. This nebulous journalism would mean that someone somewhere is displaying a mastery of truth manipulation concerning whether the levy was to be imposed on “every loaf baked in the state” or “every loaf sold in the state”.

Whichever it was, there was still no way that the indigenous bakers would not be affected by the levy, and the divining governor soon saw this. Assisted by a healthy sense of trepidation at the backlash his government faced, he contracted his deputy, Edward Onoja, to congregate all the linguistic materials requisite for a proper denial of the affair. The deputy governor took full measure of the situation, and finding that things were going to get warm if the denial was wanting for strength, delivered the following stiff remarks: “It is well-documented in the media that Governor Yahaya Bello has fought powerful forces, more than any other governor perhaps, to keep his people safe.” That would, of course, be a sentiment that Governors Wike and Obaseki of Rivers and Edo states respectively would take strong exceptions to.

He went on to add that, “For the records, neither the governor nor the state executive council has imagined or proposed such a devilish tax regime, how much less imposing same on any food or essential commodity, not to mention bread which is a table staple and the basic lifeline of many a household.”

Here, the affair becomes murky. What type of protocol is operative in Kogi State that the ministries impose taxes without the governor’s ratification? How badly has Mr Bello lost respect in his own government that a commissioner would contract a private firm, Musag Enterprises, to collect bread levies without the knowledge of the governor? Why did it take the governor over two days and a statement by proxy to put the lie to the bread levy plot? What exactly is going on in Kogi that the governor can divine the defections of other governors but cannot immediately fish out the party responsible for the bread levy if he is as exculpable as he wants everyone to believe? It was only last month that he was sagely warning EndSARS protesters on the need for leadership and even offering himself provocatively as their leader; it may appear that there’s a ripe, healthy-sized clog in his own eye begging to be picked.

A head was, therefore, needed to satiate the guillotine so that the administrative mess would go away, and from the look of things the head poised to roll for this bread levy plot is that of the hapless Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Usman Ibrahim. He has already been forced to answer a query asking why he signed the letter addressed to the chairman, Association of Master Bakers and Caterers of Nigeria (AMBCN), Kogi State branch, on November 9, wherein the bread levy was communicated. Indeed, the query informed him that investigation showed he acted without obtaining his commissioner’s blessings and could not provide any file documenting the approval for the dissemination of such information. This would mean that he had contravened Public Service Rules, Section 4  030402 (1), (N) and (o). (Insert other appropriate civil service exotic lingo).

Whatever the case, Governor Bello has positioned himself to slither out of this one with what may be just a few scrapes and a battle scar. He may even return to divining, which pursuit he would do well to immerse himself in deep enough to address the rising cases of leprosy infections in Kogi state.

The Nation