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Full text of Gov Yahaya Bello’s address at commissioning, dedication of Government House Chapel

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I welcome all of you to this event with overwhelming joy and a deep sense of satisfaction. It goes without saying that it is only with God’s help that we found the desire, courage and resources to build the Chapel of Peace and Unity, Kogi State Government House, Lokoja. We are eternally grateful to the Almighty God for both willing and doing His good pleasure through us in this project.

When we did the groundbreaking ceremony on 22 July, 2019 we promised to finish the work in December of that year. We completed it on schedule and put it to use that same year. Today, we are here to officially commission and dedicate it. We cannot thank God enough.

I do not pretend to fully understand all the dynamics behind the failure of previous Administrations before mine to also adorn Government House with a befitting place of worship for Christians for over 25 years given the plural nature of our society. I only know that it was wrong, but I guess each leader must look to his own persuasions for his own justifications.

For me however, coming into the great responsibility of this Office in January 2016, it was clear that a situation where the people’s house provided accommodation for the devotional needs of only one-half of the people in a diverse populace was a disservice to the amazing successes which our society has recorded in the area of religious tolerance long before Nigeria moved from a colonial construct to become an Independent nation.

It is a well-known fact that with the advent of Islam and Christianity our ancestors across what is the territory we call Kogi State now were able to build huge multireligious families. The average adult Kogite of today grew up in homes surrounded by relatives, born of the same parents in some cases, who were either Muslim, Christian or even traditional animist by choice. Yet, everyone still lived in functional peace and harmony.

Surprisingly, and for reasons which anthropology is yet to fully unravel, we, the allegedly modern and enlightened descendants of these great ancestors chose to politicise and weaponise religion. That is my conclusion after giving a great deal of thought to the matter, for beyond selfish personal interests, I cannot fathom why anyone would otherwise accentuate religious dichotomies.

I have always known that such parochial thinking is dangerous in the extreme and totally antithetical to progress in any generation, especially ours. Thus, when I took office, I counted the absence of a deliberately constructed place of Christian worship in Government House to complement the decades old mosque to be a grave error which an administration led by me could not condone. By the grace of God, we have now remedied that injustice.

What this means is that the significance of this Chapel will always surpass its size. To me, and I hope to everyone else, inasmuch as it is but a small building comparatively speaking, it should also communicate a big and compelling message. If you ask me what that message should entail, I will list several things – as a testimony for us gathered here today, but more importantly, as a testament for those coming behind us in this state.

One, this Chapel declares that our constitutional guarantees of equality as citizens are binding on leaders irrespective of their personal beliefs, feelings and inclinations.

Two, this building speaks of equity, unity and the fear of God as the principal bedrocks of a diverse but egalitarian society.

Three, it proclaims that inclusivity and equal access to government and her institutions are the inalienable right of all citizens.

Four, it says that Affirmative Action is for every section of the populace and that governance is useless unless it ensures that wherever people are disadvantaged or excluded in our society, leadership makes it a point of duty to take action to balance the scales.

There are many other reasons, but the four above will have to suffice for now. On our part, we are deploying these sterling principles in other areas beyond religion. As you may have heard, in the last Kogi State local government elections which we held on 12th December 2020, I led my party the All Progressives Congress (APC) to deliberately expand the leadership space for our womenfolk. No matter what some say, you have to sometimes restrain the men for the women to make some headway.

Since my first term I have always surpassed the 35% Affirmative Action on gender inclusiveness demanded by Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but in those elections we took it several notches higher. The APC as a party reserved all the Deputy Chairperson and Council Speakership positions and at least 3 councillorship slots out of 10 per LGA for the females.

Interested women were assisted to buy forms, to campaign and to contest alongside their co-flagbearers in our party. Today, all our 21 local government areas have women as Deputy Chairpersons, women as Council Speakers and not less than 3 female councillors each. That is 105 women empowered into positions of strategic leadership at the very grassroots of our society, all by our deliberate governance decisions.

That is Affirmative Action in the real sense of it and I am indeed proud of what the APC in Kogi State has accomplished in this regard.

I am sure that by now any person of goodwill who has followed my leadership in the last 5 years must have come to the inescapable conclusion that I practice what I preach. I do not discriminate on any basis and beyond the common sense requirement that functionaries possess cognate merits for the position they are recruited for, I have achieved a diversity and spread in government that is unparalleled in any other state today. This is a governance model that I have internalised and will always replicate in my present position, and in any future ones the Almighty God will be pleased to lead me into.

I thank the Christian Association of Nigeria in Kogi State and at the national level for standing solidly with us in the actualisation of this singular project. It is my prayer that God will bless CAN and her affiliates and continue to increase her capacity to positively influence good governance, peace and righteousness in Nigeria.

I particularly wish to single out the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Rev. Samson Ayokunle for special commendation. He was here to lay the foundation stone of this Chapel and he is here again today to conduct the dedication. Rev. Supo Ayokunle has been a veritable source of encouragement. He understands, as I do, that the very soul of our nation is at stake wherever inequity or inequality of any kind is allowed to exist unchecked. Indeed deep calls unto deep and I hope that after today, the good Reverend will always feel free to volunteer counsel that will help our leadership efforts. Thank you sir and may God honour your service.

I appreciate the Deputy Governor of Kogi State, His Excellency, Edward David Onoja who bore a sacrificial burden to see this work completed on time. He gave his all. May the God Whose House it is bestow special favours on him for his Labour of Love.

The builders have done a great job in giving us a compact but beautiful house. To the architects, engineers and workers whose physical and mental labour went into the building of this House, thank you and God bless you.

My wonderful and good-hearted officials in government, both Christians and Muslims, as well as Kogites of all persuasions supported this project with a passion that was beautiful to behold. May God bless everyone of them too.

Last year, our people asked me to man the helm of affairs in the state for another 4 years commencing January 27, 2020. I want to do all that the God of heaven commands for the people and the state so, I will again bring the best of my abilities to bear on the job as I did in my first term. I humbly solicit the prayers and support of the entire Christian community.

Last week we got the opportunity to wade in and resolve the increasingly deteriorating situation which led to the imposition of an embargo on haulage of food products to the south of the country from the north.

That embargo again clarified for us our need for and reliance on one another. Hardly had the blockade begun than the South began to experience food shortages and inflation while the North began to see food wastage of unimaginable proportions with attendant economic loss. Truly, if the eyes cry, the nostrils cry with them.

However, more insidious and more dangerous than the blockade was the growing resentment on both sides over the killing of northerners in some southern cities starting from the latter parts of the hijacked #EndSARS protests. Because the violence remained unaddressed the calls for retaliation and reprisals in the North were becoming too alarming so when an opportunity was presented we stepped in. With the cooperation of the traders, transporters and other ordinary Nigerians who were directly affected, we ended the blockade and defused the tension. To God be the Glory!

Lessons abound from this incident, but the one that stands tallest for me is one that I have known and practised for long which is that we leaders must be proactive and address problems within the polity in a timely manner before they snowball out of hand. Grievances must never be allowed to fester into violence because of leadership inaction. May God guide us leaders aright always.

Once again, I welcome us to this beautiful edifice. May the Almighty God bless this Chapel and may He hear His People when they pray unto Him from within it and answer their prayers.

Thank you and God bless!

YAHAYA BELLO
Governor of Kogi State
8 March, 2021

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