BY BRIGHT JACOB
When he was presiding over the affairs of Borno State from 2011 to 2019, Nigeria’s Vice President-elect, Kashim Mustapha Shettima, was probably the most vilified Nigerian Governor who came under fire for his handling of the Boko Haram insurgency that was ravaging the Northeastern state.
Like cancer left untreated, the insurgency had spread to other states in Nigeria. This was possible because the terrorists saw lax government security architecture and began exporting their brand of destructive religious intolerance to Yobe and Adamawa States, and partly to Abuja, where they masterminded a car bomb that hit the United Nations’ building, and eventually to the other parts of the country where they took their bloodletting to.
However, despite the many criticisms that trailed his government’s efforts at crushing the insurgency, Shettima has, against all the odds, risen from the ashes of the wanton kidnappings and destruction of lives and properties perpetuated by the anti-western education jihadi extremist group, to become the second-in-command to President-elect, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, in an incoming government that has pledged to deliver a Nigeria of renewed hope.
This is why from his humble beginnings and unassuming role as an Agricultural Economist to becoming the Manager in one of the Zenith Bank branches in Maiduguri and later to being called upon in 2007 by his predecessor, former Governor Ali Modu Sheriff, to help paddle Borno State through the turbulent waters of governance as the Commissioner for Finance, Shettima is no pushover, and neither are his storied business and political antecedents a ruse.
“Shettima has a glorious opportunity now to tell every doubting Thomas that he had and will have nothing to do with Boko Haram. It won’t be easy. Only results will convince Nigerians”
The 56-year-old Shettima will also be aware that becoming the second most powerful person in Nigeria is no mean feat. In this quest, blood, sweat and tears are some of the requirements to attain such height and the Senator representing Borno Central in the 9th National Assembly will, in all sensible and wise judgement, be ready to take governance to the next level.
One way or the other, too, the position of Vice President will offer Shettima the opportunity to bring about a paradigm shift in the fight against terrorism even though he will not be the Commander-in-Chief.
The position will also enable him to atone for past mistakes, if there were any. And being under the spotlight now, he will be expected to seize the moment to correct the public misconceptions about him and impress upon cynics how important the fight against terror is to him and that he is not a Boko Haram sponsor.
At this point, a walk down memory lane will suffice. In 2011 after Shettima’s ascendancy as governor, his political party, the now defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party, and, later in 2013 after its formation, the All Progressives Congress, were in the opposition. Because of this, Shettima and the PDP-led Federal Government were always at daggers drawn over what best could be done to remedy the spreading Boko Haram disease.
In 2013, too, former President Goodluck Jonathan was the Commander-in-Chief of Nigeria’s armed forces and led the assault in the North East against the Boko Haram sect which Yusuf Mohammed formed in 2002. At the time in 2013, Book Haram had outlived the Presidency of both Olusegun Obasanjo and Umaru Yar’Adua and was giving Jonathan and his henchmen countless sleepless nights.
Being the Governor at the epicentre of Boko Haram activities, Shettima was in charge in 2014 when over 200 Chibok girls were abducted from Government Secondary School in Chibok Local Government Area of Borno State and taken into captivity.
Shettima’s political opponents blamed him for the abductions. Specifically, former President Jonathan said he was frustrating the war against terror and didn’t heed the Federal Government’s warning for students in affected Boko Haram States to be relocated elsewhere for their final exams, nor did he secure the Chibok girls in their school.
In 2017, sequel to Jonathan’s conspiracy theory, Convener of #BringBackOurGirls movement and former Minister of Education, Oby Ezekwesili, urged Nigeria’s outgoing President, Muhammadu Buhari, to ask Shettima to publicly disclose all he knew about the Boko Haram saga. Ezekwesili said even if heads would roll, it would be a disservice to Nigerians if the matter was politicised.
Though more than half of the Chibok girls either escaped or were rescued from their abductors by the military, not a few had babies in tow. Obviously, the Chibok girls were made “trophy wives” in captivity and birthed children for the insurgents. It is likely the scar of captivity will remain with them for a lifetime.
Asides the abduction which generated international condemnation by local and foreign celebrities and eminent persons worldwide, other heinous atrocities like the decapitation of prisoners and “infidels” became the trademark Boko Haram and resulted in the death of thousands of Nigerians.
Asked for his opinion about what Shettima would bring to the table in the fight against Boko Haram and insecurity in the North East, a medical practitioner, Hart Ikechukwu, said that the former Borno Governor “now has a glorious opportunity” to convince those who doubted him when he said he had no links with the violent Islamist group.
Ikechukwu said Shettima’s situation had turned one-eighty degrees and that the former Governor “can now do what he couldn’t do in the past.”
On the Chibok girls who escaped from Boko Haram captivity, Ikechukwu said that scholarships should be given to them, so that the insurgents wouldn’t feel “triumphant” they halted the girls’ education.
“Shettima has a glorious opportunity now to tell every doubting Thomas that he had and will have nothing to do with Boko Haram. It won’t be easy. Only results will convince Nigerians.
“The man has come a long way. I still remember how he was moving from pillar to post, Maiduguri to Abuja looking for ways to address the insurgency. His situation has turned 180 degrees now. As Vice President-elect, he can now do what he couldn’t do in the past.
“There will be no more waiting to see ‘oga’ somewhere or telling those in Aso Rock to come and rescue his state. More than ever now, he will have the ears of the President. He will also be influential in the new government.
“He has some level of power now…he cannot be as powerless as he was in the past as governor, and Nigerians will not expect anything short of a total annihilation of Boko Haram.
“As for the Chibok girls, it is true that most of them have returned. Of course, I know there were some other people who were also kidnapped by the terrorists. But the Chibok girls were symbolic in some ways.
“Shettima and his Federal Government must take up the education and welfare of the ones who may want to return to school. They must not be abandoned. The new government must give them scholarships if they are not yet on any. Boko Haram must not feel triumphant; they stopped the education of those poor girls,” Ikechukwu concluded.
Many Nigerians blamed Shettima for most of the chaos associated with Boko Haram.
However, the embattled former two-term Governor had fought back. Unfazed, he washed his hands of any wrongdoing and laid the blame for the mayhem squarely on the doorsteps of the Federal Government and other Northern Governors.
In one of such salvo during a security summit, Shettima spoke of the culpability of Jonathan’s Federal Government and those of the governors when he said, “The Federal Government and the governors of the North are to blame for the insurgency of Boko Haram in the North East of the country because the region has been marginalised.
“The federal allocation to the North East is very small compared to other regions in the country and this has given rise to high rate of unemployment, insecurity, educational backwardness and political thuggery in the region.
“The Federal Government is to be held responsible for the current insecurity and crisis in the country because they have not displayed sincerity in resolving the lingering issue at hand.
“The northern governors on their part have not been forthcoming in articulating issues that concern them and presenting them at the Governors’ Forum meeting. There is a lack of unity among northern leaders; they don’t speak with one voice and they just do whatever they like,” he had lamented.
This accusation levelled against the Federal Government and Northern Governors, notwithstanding, Shettima had also tackled his former boss, Modu Sheriff. The latter left the APC in 2014 to join the PDP where he became a factional Chairman of his new party, and the pent-up anger boiled over from there.
In 2016, both men accused each other of having links with Boko Haram. While Sheriff said that Shettima created and funded Boko Haram, Shettima through the Borno State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Kaka Lawal, called for Sheriff’s arrest and prosecution for creating the Islamist group.
Shettima had also gone on record to blame past PDP administrations for the insurgency.
He alleged that over the years, the North East geopolitical zone had been neglected by successive PDP administrations. In his assessment, it had led to the Boko Haram having a sea of youths they could use as foot soldiers.
After Buhari emerged as President and Commander-in-Chief following the defeat of the PDP in 2015, the insurgency continued unabated even though the new sheriff in town had promised to use his wealth of military experience to overrun the marauding Boko Haram occupiers who at this time had already made some 14 Local Government Areas in Borno State their fortresses.
In 2019, the blood-thirsty insurgents in an epic frenzy renewed attacks in the North East, killing those who dared to question their authority and raping women in the process. Confronted with this reality and why he was yet to criticise Buhari’s government, Shettima said unlike Jonathan’s government, he had “unfettered” access to Buhari, whom he claimed listens to him with keen interest and in most cases, takes measures when he (Shettima) raises issues concerning Borno State.
Shettima said, “Some persons have asked why I have not criticised the Buhari government or the Nigerian military over situations in Borno. My response to them is that unlike in previous years when I was treated as an enemy of the Presidency, I have from 2015 to date, gained unfettered access to the President.”
Speaking further, he said, “I see the Commander-In-Chief at the shortest request and I tell him my concerns, he listens to me with keen interest and in most cases, he takes measures. I have not had reason to be frustrated with the Presidency, unlike previous years.”
In 2014, Shettima also made a brutal assessment of the war against terror when he said that Boko Haram forces were better armed and motivated than the gallant troops of the Nigerian Army. This was after another raid carried out by the outlawed group bent on establishing an Islamic State in the predominantly Muslim North had exterminated the lives of over 100 Nigerians at a border town in Borno State.
Shettima told journalists at the Presidential Villa where he went to meet with Jonathan after the attacks that given the present state of affairs with the military, it would be absolutely impossible for Nigeria to defeat Boko Haram.
The Presidency faulted Shettima and insisted that Nigeria was winning the war against terror.
According to Jonathan’s then spokesperson, Doyin Okupe, Shettima didn’t have the expertise to categorise or classify the effectiveness of any weapon and so couldn’t be an authority in military matters.
Furthermore, Okupe said that the Nigerian Armed Forces was one of the best equipped in Africa and that in 2014, the Federal Government made budgetary provision in excess of N1 trillion for the military and other security agencies.
In Okupe’s words, “This definitely belies the suggestion in certain quarters that the Federal Government is not doing the needful in prosecuting this war.”
However, contrary to Okupe’s position, the embezzlement of about $2.1 billion through the Office of the National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, may have proven Jonathan’s Spokesperson wrong. As it emerged after Jonathan’s exit from office that some alleged corrupt politicians had starved the military of much-needed funds to prosecute the war on terror effectively.
Before the last general elections, Boko Haram/ISWAP were relatively “quiet” and seemed to have gone under. However, after the elections, some pockets of violence were reported, which may have reminded Nigerians that it was not Uhuru in the North East.
Also, as Buhari’s government continues to come to a close, the administration has said through the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, that the President kept his promise to degrade the insurgents.
Though Nigerians are divided over the government’s position, what is unilaterally agreed upon today is that Boko Haram has an offshoot called the Islamic State West Africa Province, or ISWAP, and it was the internecine conflict between the two factions that led to the death of dreaded Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau in 2021.
On inauguration D-Day on May 29, Shettima will occupy the exalted seat reserved for Nigeria’s number two citizen. From then on, the new government will likely begin planning a new offensive to remove the remaining flags of the defiant Islamist group and flush them out of Sambisa forest.
Owing to this, the fight against terror will take a new meaning with Shettima’s involvement. And analysts have said that unlike when he was a governor and “achieved” some semblance of “notoriety” for always complaining and blaming others for the insurgency, he will now be directly involved with proceedings and play vital roles in Tinubu’s war room.
A legal practitioner, Fred Aigbadumah, said that it would be important for Nigerians to note that Shettima would not have the constitutional powers to fight or eradicate Boko Haram if the President did not “cede” some power to him. According to Aigbadumah, “there is a limit to what Shettima can do as Vice President after he is sworn-in.”
Continuing, Aigbadumah, who is a Notary Public of the Supreme Court, said that those who said Shettima could fight Boko Haram were only trying to deceive Nigerians.
Asked what Shettima would do differently in the fight against Boko Haram if he eventually got some powers from his boss, Aigbadumah said “nothing,” and alleged doing so would amount to “biting the fingers that fed him (Shettima).”
“Shettima does not have the constitutional power to do anything. Even if he was appointed the Chief Security Officer or Security Adviser to the President, he would not be able to do anything because the buck stops on the President’s table”
Aigbadumah said, “Shettima does not have the constitutional power to do anything. Even if he was appointed the Chief Security Officer or Security Adviser to the President, he would not be able to do anything because the buck stops on the President’s table.
“I have been saying it….under this present constitution, the power of the President is quite overwhelming. It is glutted. So, Shettima doesn’t have anything to do in that respect (fighting Boko Haram), except if the President decides to appoint him or cede some power to him, maybe on a ceremonial note, to be taking care of that.
“The President could also add to his duties as a Minister….he (Shettima) could be made a Minister. But even at that, he will not be the Commander-in-Chief. So, there’s a limit to what he can do.
“So, anyone coming to say because he will be the Vice President and will fight Boko Haram….they’re bunkum and they’re subterfuge. They want to deceive the people,” he said.
Continuing, Aigbadumah said, “Assuming he even got the power from the President, there’s nothing he can do ab initio, far less differently, because it will be difficult for him to bite the finger that fed him.
“He rode on their (Boko Haram) back to emerge, not just as a Senator or Governor, but even now. So, the power that was able to move him to this level, he will still be the people taking decisions,” he added.