The race for the coveted prize in the 2023 presidential poll is getting interesting by the day, and already the turf is incrementally emitting balls of fire, which the key contenders have to literally contend with, no pun intended.
And gradually, the storm is transmogrifying to a firestorm, verging on critical and unconscionable demarketing of key opponents using direct confrontation and proxies in prosecuting dirty fights in order to gain advantage over opponents who are perceived as threats.
This is what has become the lot of the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, Mr Mohammed Bello Koko, whose hard earned reputation has come under episodic attacks by some traducers. The natural reaction is that these attacks are sponsored by those who feel threatened that Mohammed Bello-Koko’s achievements will dwarf theirs, hence the campaign of calumny against his person.
Expanding the scope of possibilities, analysts contend that the current smear campaign against Bello-Koko is largely political and a proxy war with the target being the transport minister, Mr Rotimi Amaechi.
Validation: Koko has had a long association with Amaechi, which dates back to the time he was governor of Rivers State. Koko was then the account officer managing Rivers State account in Zenith Bank.
“So, the current smear campaign is something we are taking with a pinch of salt given the context, but we are investigating. So far, we have not found anything indicting, but on his job, we know Koko has performed beyond expectation at the NPA”, says John Atteh of Anti- corruption Network in an interview with an online news publication- NATIONAL WAVES.
The crux of the campaign of calumny is this: that Bello Koko, allegedly bought a house worth £1,750,000 in the United Kingdom in 2015. But in countering the gravamen of the claim and the pedestal of the attacks by vested interest, a public affairs commentator, Olufemi Omoyele, director of Entrepreneurship at Redeemers University was quoted by NATIONAL WAVES to have said in an interview
Read him: “Why the sudden interest in Bello- Koko? Prior to the declaration of his friend, Rotimi Amaechi, he was not accused by any group or person of corruption. I don’t condone corruption, but I believe we should not in the name of politics or bring-him-down syndrome accuse a person that has not been proven by a competent court of the land to have embezzled public funds. Let EFCC say he has abused his office; he should not be judged on the basis of his association with Amaechi or his work at the Zenith Bank. Has Zenith Bank indicted him?”
Meanwhile, sources familiar with the allegations say they are “spurious” in nature, adding that the real motive is how to distract Bello-Koko and at the same time get at Rotimi Amaechi who is believed to be one of the front runners for presidential position in 2023.
The Kebbi state-born banker had risen to become deputy regional manager at Zenith Bank Plc., and in 2016, Bello-Koko was appointed Executive Director of NPA after he proceeded on a leave of absence from the bank in 2015. He was in charge of finance and administration under the sacked MD, Hadiza Bala-Usman.
Unconfirmed reports had claimed that the mansion located at 2A Beech Hill, Barnet, Greater London, EN4 0JP was bought by Bello-Koko on November 06, 2015, at £1,750,000.
But analysts and commentators are of the view that if Bello- Koko was that corrupt, he would have also been investigated along with the former managing director of NPA, Hadiza Bala-Usman since he was the executive director finance under the former managing director.
According to claims doing the rounds, Bello-Koko bought a house in the United Kingdom. But the so- called anti-corruption group, “Say No To Corruption,” which made the allegations is believed to be a front for the proxy war. The group had asked the EFCC to investigate how Koko managed to purchase the alleged property at £1.75Million.
“Our investigations revealed that the coordinator of the so-called anti- corruption, Ahmed Abubakar has links with one of the presidential aspirants and also fronting for some aggrieved former top staff members of the NPA”, Dejo Alege, an activist also told NATIONAL WAVES.
Alege said there was need to eschew politics in the fight against graft.
One commentator said since the time of purchase of the alleged property was 2015, Koko was still with Zenith Bank and had not even been appointed into any position at NPA.
Significantly, the man at the centre of the contrived storm, ever since he assumed duty as the managing director of the Nigeria Ports Authority, has made anti-corruption fight one of his cardinal programmes.
Bello-Koko had reiterated the organisation’s commitment to the elimination of systemic corruption and other criminal practices at the nation’s seaports.
He has severally reiterated the Authority’s position to operate in compliance with the standard operating procedures (SOPs) as stipulated in the Nigerian Port Process Manual (NPPM), a project it funded, to enhance operational excellence and service delivery at all Nigerian seaports and terminals.
Bello-Koko has created a more friendly atmosphere at the NPA for doing business in the nation’s maritime industry, according to insiders and stakeholders.
Not too long ago, a stakeholder in maritime business, Olusegun Ologbese, commended Bello-Koko, for his achievements within a short time he was appointed.
Ologbese said his actions were replicas of one of the best former chief executive of the NPA, Alhaji Wali Ahmed, who turned around the fortune of the Authority in his time.
He commended Bello-Koko on the recent promotions and confirmation as the substantive managing director of the NPA, stating, “For the past eleven years former Managing Directors of NPA had always gone outside to poach retiring officers to head departments.’’
The NPA is a strategic revenue-generating agency of the Nigeria Federal Government, hence whoever occupies the position of MD of the agency must be one who knows his or her onions and who is daring enough to walk where others dread to step in terms of pursuing revolutionary reforms agenda.
And in less than ten months, the 53-year-old Bello-Koko, has proved his mettle at NPA, thus affirming that he was indeed the man the NPA leadership job needed. As they say in the popular parlance: the cap fits him as the MD of NPA.
As tasking as the banking industry is, Bello-Koko walked through it and got to the peak of his career as a banker during his days in the banking industry without any blemish. If he had any issues, he would have been fished out by EFCC.
Tracking back a little, it is worth mentioning that Bello-Koko commenced his work career with FSB International Bank Plc, Port Harcourt, Rivers State; as Executive trainee-banking operations in 1996 and was there till 2004. He would later rise to various positions such as Banking Officer-Credit and later Senior Banking Officer, Senior Treasury Officer and later position of Manager.
In furtherance of his banking career, he later joined one of Nigeria’s banking giant, Zenith Bank, where he became the Deputy General Manager, Zonal Head and member, Zenith Bank management team.
In 2016, Bello-Koko embarked on a leave of absence from the bank to take up his appointment as NPA Executive Director, in service to the nation, Nigeria.
In his days as Executive Director according to insiders at NPA, he was outstanding. As a Management staff member during his days as Executive Director (Finance and Administration) of the NPA, he was very loyal to his oath of office and he was very loyal as a patriot, to Nigeria.
“He turned down any inducements of any sort; he was honest to a fault, he stood firmly against acts of corruption and he stood for what is right regardless of whose ox was gored. So, I’m surprised at the allegations, even EFCC has nothing against him so far”, an NPA staff member was quoted to gave said.
Ever since Bello-Koko took charge it has been all about how the agency will be able to improve the revenue base of the nation, improving the maritime sector and yet also ensuring that the nation is not shortchanged in anyway by anybody in the agency.
Little wonder most NPA staff members and stakeholders were ecstatic as the whiff of celebrations pervaded the air in honour of Bello-Koko when he was confirmed as the substantive managing director of NPA.
“Bello-Koko is not your run-of-the-mill government functionary; he depicts an extraordinary egghead who has set a benchmark that cannot be easily equaled. He is reputed for hard work and dedication to duty.
It is not out of place to say Bello Koko who presides over the NPA has an in-depth knowledge of his career. Little wonder, he made mincemeat of his assignments to the admiration of his superiors and subordinates.
“One will not be far from the truth to say the heroes of an epoch are often recognized as its clear-sighted ones; their deeds and words are the best of their time. They are men like Bello-Koko who exerts every ounce of his wealth of experience and energy to ensure he puts his best to achieve the desired result regarding his duties.
Bello-Koko is a perfectionist with a difference; he attaches great value to integrity and honesty not undermining a disruptive mindset and unmistaken eyes for details,” said a stakeholder in the maritime industry.
THE CONCLAVE reports that against the backdrop of his work testimonials and his anti-corruption mantra in the NPA, he is certainly at a crtical cusp in the remarkable history of the NPA, set to trump the myths and rewrite the agelong narrative that the NPA is somewhat a slush fund.