Agricultural economist, turned banker and now politician, Gov. Kasshim Shettima of Borno State has soldiered against hope in the face of some of the most extraneous circumstances in the land. The governor has bravely countered the instruments of fear as mounted by the Boko Haram insurgency on one hand and the political conspiracy weaved from the highest areas echelons of the former administration.
Ahead of his investiture as Vanguard’s Governor of the Year, 2015, Governor Shettima in two separate interview sessions in Maiduguri and Lagos spoke on his political development among other things excerpts:
Given the circumstances and intrigues that shadowed politics in Borno State in 2007 what stimulated you to join the fray?
Edwin Burke said the only thing necessary for evil to triumph over good is for good men to do nothing. We cannot continue to keep pontificating by the sidelines, condemning the leadership, proffering solutions at workshops, seminars and the media without really getting involved in the fray to make our own contributions in bringing about the desired change we advocate at the top of our lungs. I was honestly motivated by the urge to serve the people of Borno, to add value to the living conditions of our people, because there is no better politics than the contentment of the masses. I believe that we are on the threshold of making unique contributions to humanity, Borno State and the Nigerian nation. Basically, that was the real motivating factor that made me join politics. I was very, very reluctant earlier on, but finally when I made up my mind, I said, let’s go on.
You took over from Ali Modu Sheriff in 2011, how would you compare what you met on ground and what has changed under you?
The political landscape has changed dramatically. Ali Sheriff was my boss and each time I talk about him as much as possible, I try as much as possible to refrain from making negative comments on his person. But when I assumed the mantle of leadership, I made one pledge to myself and to my God, ‘I will jealously guard and protect his interest without jeopardising the collective patrimony of the people of Borno.’ I will respect him, I will cherish him without being subservient or slavish.
But you had some problems, what happened?
Every human has something unique that God blesses him or her with. It depends on whether one is able to identify that unique skill or not. One of the gifts God didn’t bless me with is the ability to confront head on. I am not a fighter by nature but God gave me the skill to survive confrontation and the skill to make and sustain peace, I am a peacemaker. I always wished that I have the skills to fight when I see some people doing everything to hit me. So, my boss didn’t recognize the fact that God had made me a Governor, he had zero regard for me but all that didn’t really matter. I bent over backwards to accommodate him, but when somebody said he is a little god or he can make and unmake, that he would replace me in 2015 like he replaces his cap, I said I had to choose between worshipping him and worshipping God. I am not obsessed with power but given that the Boko Haram insurgency did not allow us to do what we wanted to do, I felt we needed another four years. Believe me, from the bottom of my heart, I am not obsessed with power but I felt compelled on value addition to what we have on ground.
He said he was a demi-god, so I insisted on exercising my right as a citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the rest is now history. He crossed over to the PDP, he is the National chairman and believe me I celebrated him when he got that position after all he is a Borno man, I will always support a Borno man as reasonably as possible when it comes to struggling for position of authority so long as the aspiration doesn’t negate the principle of fair representation of our diversity as a nation. I wish him well.
What did it take for you to get the famous victory over your former godfather?
I said earlier that once you are with the people, believe me, the people will stand by you. What actually happened was that the people did appreciate the modest efforts we made to impact on their lives. Secondly, and most importantly we were with them through thick and thin through the locust years, we could have run away. I was spending more time in Maiduguri than anywhere and that endeared us to the people. Thirdly, the Buhari factor I must admit, tremendously helped us. Buhari has an emotional followership in the North and people bought into that.
There was also the accusation of Sheriff by some people as having links with Boko Haram, do you think he has a hand?
Yes, that was a factor during the electioneering period, people were accusing him of having a hand in the Boko Haram madness. Though to the best of knowledge, I have to be very fair to him and we all worship the same God, I do not think that the Ali Sheriff I know has any direct affiliation with Boko Haram, he doesn’t have the guts to lead such a vicious armed group, I know what he can do and what he can’t. As a Governor of Borno, he might have made some wrong decisions in managing the Boko Haram crisis when it started in 2009 or even in failing to stimulate the economy in a way that the insurgents wouldn’t have had a fertile ground to recruit people that joined them based on economic considerations. He was a powerful Governor, the economy was booming from 2003 when he came in, he was close to the Presidency and to all the business moguls in Nigeria, if he wanted he could have established one hundred industries to create jobs, he had no Boko Haram to stop him but whether he did what is right or not is left for the people of Borno to judge.
Believe me, if he had invested in education and agriculture this kind of madness our people would have been sufficiently informed and empowered enough not to collect as little as N5,000 to work for insurgents. In terms of land mass, Borno is the second largest state in the Nigerian federation after Niger State. We are 14 times the size of Abia State, we are 20 times the size of Lagos, we are three times the size of Kano, Borno State is three times the size of the Southeast fused into one, and land is an important asset if well harnessed can provide jobs for millions of people, but unfortunately, the past leadership did not understand the dynamics and that really created the fertile ground for Boko Haram to thrive. In Northern Nigeria as a whole, there is a direct correlation between the ethno-religious strive and the closure of the textile mills; between the closure of the tin mines in Jos and the ethno-religious conflicts on the plateau. Even this cattle rustling now has a direct correlation with the economic realities on the ground and the sooner we wake up to those challenges, the better for all of us.
We would like to know, how the Boko Haram phenomenon really started?
Boko Haram became what it is today largely because of two or three factors. One has to do with the failure of leadership, secondly is the mismanagement of the crisis, management process. Boko Haram is a phenomenon born out of endemic poverty, of our youths growing up without any sense of hope for tomorrow. The current system of koranic education does not provide the students with the skills to earn a normal livelihood. Most of those students who graduate from the system are not equipped with the skills to adjust into the modern way of life and this has further compounded our problems. Basically, a hungry, angry man is a dangerous animal. It started in the year, 2002 when some young men, including some from affluent background, congregated in Kanamma, a border village in Yobe State and nicknamed their territory Kandahar and you know Kandahar is a place in Afghanistan. The group members were trying to distance themselves from the evils of modern life as they saw it, they secluded themselves in one community and they were then fondly referred to as the Nigerian Taliban and this was before they launched their first attacks on police stations in Damaturu, Gwoza and Bama. That was the beginning of the crisis. If at that point in time it was managed and monitored properly as it should have been, the crisis would have been averted. When it blossomed into this bigger crisis was when the first founder of the movement was killed in Damboa. The first founder was Mohammed Ali.
Not Mohammed Yusuf?
No, not Mohammed Yusuf. Mohammed Yusuf took the remnants of the movement. Indeed, most of the first generation of Boko Haram were even western educated. They were dissatisfied with the fact that with their certificates they were without jobs, but the next generation were the street urchins and such sorts in the neighbourhood that Mohammed Yusuf took over, groomed them into that violent sect and set up his own mosque. To be fair to the young man, he had a sweet tongue and was drawing people to himself, but a famous Islamic scholar who was a frequent visiting preacher in Maiduguri, Sheikh Jaafar Adams was constantly reprimanding him over that ideology. Jaafar was killed in Kano, right inside the mosque preparatory to the 2007 election. Initially people were insinuating that politicians killed him but it was later that the jigsaw puzzle started getting into shape and people started saying that even Sheikh Adams might have been most likely killed by the Boko Haram.
The final spark was in 2009 when the military killed some of their men going on a funeral procession because they were not wearing helmets and that was when Mohammed Yusuf was captured and killed and the rest is history. Even at that time if it was handled well it would not have turned into what it is now because Mohammed Yusuf had a great deal of influence over his followers and compared to most members of his inner team, he was a much more moderate person than even Abubakar Shekau.
So it was a big mistake killing him?
Killing him was a monumental error of judgment by the security agencies, it was a huge mistake.
It has been alleged that your predecessor had a hand in the killing given the alleged relationship with the sect through a commissioner, Buji Foi who was also a member of the sect?
I cannot claim ignorance that I have not heard those accusations. But it is such a great accusation especially taking into cognisance my strained relationship with my predecessor. I would rather refrain from making comments on that. But to be fair to Ali Sheriff, anybody accusing him of being a Boko Haram founder should adduce evidence to buttress the assertion. Buji Foi was a politician in his own right. He won election as local government chairman in his own right, so his affiliation with Ali Sheriff was more of a marriage of convenience for him to advance his political interest and for Ali Sheriff to get what he wants. It is the Mohammed Yusuf angle that I am not fit to speak on or have little to comment on. However, in a nutshell, the killing of Mohammed Yusuf was a huge mistake.
When three school girls were abducted in Lagos we saw security agencies collaborating with the state administration to effect a quick rescue. However, one would like to know if you had such collaboration in Borno when the Chibok girls were abducted?
There was never a collaboration towards rescuing the Chibok girls. The Chibok girls could have been rescued in the first 48 hours of their abduction but unfortunately, even two weeks after the abduction, the presidency did not admit it, it was claimed as a conspiracy conceived by his enemies to embarrass his person and that the girls were kept in the Government House in Maiduguri.
The whole scenarios in Lagos and Maiduguri were different. My heart was touched because when I heard of the incident in Lagos it immediately brought back memories of the Chibok saga. The Chibok girls for the first 48 hours were kept at the bank of a river before they (Boko Haram) got directives from their leaders or whosoever on where to move them to. Some 56 of them were able to run away. Some of them jumped off the vehicle, you know the lights were off and they were going through a forested region and some were jumping off the vehicle and some even ran away from the bank of the river and were rescued by Fulani herdsmen and were brought back to the village. Most of them are now attending some private schools in Jos and about 13 of them who are of Muslim background are attending one Islamic school in Katsina. By and large they are picking up the pieces of their lives, but it is very sad.
In what way are you mobilising the forum members to consolidate the stability of the country?
We are one people. As an attempt to reach out to our brothers across the Niger we are going to attend the burial in Ebonyi of the mother of the governor. One thing people fail to appreciate is that the Ibo nation played a silent but extremely strategic role in the emergence of President Buhari. You may not believe it, but the statistics are there. In 2011, the Ibo nation gave Jonathan about 8 million votes, so when people start accusing Ogbonnanya Onu or Chris Ngige of not doing their own part of the job, people are not being fair to them. In 2015 Jonathan got 300,000 votes in Ebonyi, go and juxtapose the quantum of votes he got in 2011 in the Ibo heartland with what he got in 2015! If the Ibos had produced the quantum of votes they gave him in 2011 in 2015, the story would have been different.
Was it not because of card reader?
Not only because of the card reader, but of the vigilance of the APC politicians. There was card reader in Akwa Ibom and in Delta when PDP scored the votes they got. I think the Ibo nation deserves special commendation and respect for the efforts they made. What was the difference between Buhari and Jonathan? It was about 2.5 million votes.
What is your reaction to the emergence of your predecessor, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff as the national chairman of the PDP and his vow to kick out the APC from power in 2019?
His Excellency, Senator Ali Sheriff is my boss and is someone that I am eternally indebted to. I always tend to shy away from commenting on issues directly involving him. He is a very consummate politician who is presiding over a dead horse, and I am absolutely certain that he will see to the total annihilation of the PDP. The PDP is an idea whose time has elapsed. The mind disturbing revelations about how funds meant to acquire weapons to prevent Boko Haram insurgents from their scales of murder, were siphoned is enough to erase the PDP from the minds of the party’s founding fathers, those who drafted it’s constitution and those who designed the party’s if they have conscience. I don’t see majority of good Nigerians ever accepting the PDP again except perhaps, a different political affiliation but certainly not PDP as it is known.
Given his antecedents, do you expect to politically engage him in the immediate future?
My boss is a very consummate politician, he can survive in any political terrain. He will certainly find his way and will successfully destroy the PDP to the better glory of the APC.
Are you satisfied with the direction the present administration is handling the economic situation in the country?
Well, given the circumstances we have found ourselves in this nation, I think Buhari deserves special kudos for the way he has managed the economy so far. You might be amazed, but those of us managing states can attest to the fact that in 2014 when oil was going for $114 per barrel we were getting N4.5 billion per month as statutory allocation. Now even after oil has plummeted to less than $40, last month we got N2.8 billion. So, if you look at the way oil plummeted you would expect a corresponding decline in the inflows by that magnitude but believe me because of his integrity, states are still managing to pay salaries. I know he is getting his acts right and very soon, he will come out with some very large pronouncement on how to move the nation forward