By Abel Audu
At a time when an average Nigerian politician appears to have taken courses in film acting and stage performance, the tears shed by Borno state governor, Kashim Ibrahim Shettima when he led the state elders on a visit to President Muhammadu Buhari, were suspect. Not even his bawling and cracking voice, when speaking with State House Correspondents, could convince one that he is not an alumni of sort with Ayodele Fayose the former theatrical governor of Ekiti State and the entertaining Dino Melaye, who recently suffered a fainting spell when he turned himself in to the police.
Shettima is clearly not a dullard. The timing of his visit to the President could not have been more strategic. The visit was calibrated to coincide with a time when the country direly wants to be done with Boko Haram insurgents, the group’s birthplace is Borno. It is coming at about the fourth year anniversary of when the 2015 elections were postponed to fight the group. It is a time that the combined military is on an onslaught to dislodge the terrorists – and the military is reporting success in the wake of a directive to wipe out the vermin.
The Borno governor, who is outgoing by the way, choses now of all times to present a ten-point demand to President Buhari. These demands were meant to be under wraps so that they would have been acceded to before Nigerians become any wiser, by which time it would have become too late to roll back whatever concessions have been made to Shettima and his chosen successor. But much of the classified demands have become subject of public discourse since that which is hidden inexplicably become revealed in line with the tradition that has now become commonplace even for military secrets.
Before touching on Shettima’s demands, it is appropriate to revisit the past if only to refresh memories and put certain facts in proper perspective. The first thing to remember is that Boko Haram has its roots in the political misadventure of someone that once occupied the position that Shettima is about now vacating. Street urchins that were recruited as political thugs, infamously called ECOMOG then, were the founding blocks that were later brainwashed and radicalised into the first generation members of Jamā’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’wah wa’l-Jihād (derisively referred to as Boko Haram until the name took hold and the stigma it was meant to connote was stripped away). This Shettima’s political forebear was complicit in the killing in custody of Yusuf Mohammed, Boko Haram founder, which paved way for the decade of violence that has been visited on Nigeria. It must be noted that the then Borno Governor paid similar cloak and dagger visits to the Presidential Villa to confound issues with the late President Umaru Yar’Adua.
It must be similarly recalled that the virulent group had its founding demand as the strict implementation of Sharia law across the country. A few years of fighting has taught them that this is a pipe dream that will never materialized – the international news network and media that used to intone this objective have since dropped it from their reportage. With its recent association with the Islamic State, Boko Haram’s objective in this regard has changed from desiring a sweeping implementation of Sharia to carving up a caliphate administered to its own barbaric taste. This would be an interim goal of a few decades since the larger objective of the Islamic state is to have a single caliphate spanning from the Mediterranean to Central Africa.
To Shettima’s demand, the memo he submitted to the President included asking for the Civilian JTF to carry automatic weapons and for all Borno State Indigenes in the Police and military to be redeployed to their home state, Borno, to fight for him. He premised these demands on the grounds that he no longer trust the current Nigerian Military. He also made points that the Borno state government already pays the allowances of the Civilian JTF members in addition to procuring the hardware they use in their operation against Boko Haram terrorists.
These demands are innocuous of the surface. A dispassionate review would however reveal that Shettima has, through these demands, revealed an ambition that is worse than the initial proposition of Boko Haram and comparable to the terrorists’ current quest for a caliphate. By presenting these demands, Shettima has practically served Nigeria a notice of secession of Borno state to become an independent country, which is the same objective that Boko Haram has been pursuing. Any iota of doubt should be removed by the request to set up a Borno Military Service with a compliment of the state police, since that is what will happen by default if all the indigenes of the state are posted there.
He has indicated that the state can pay the salaries and allowances of these Borno indigenes while he is already paying the allowances of Civilian JTF, which he implies he is prepared to pay the standing military for the state. When Borno state has its own army, can it still be regarded as part of Nigeria? Is Shettima and indeed the entire Borno prepared for the nightmarish scenario he is trying to bring about?
Another question to ask is how long before Shettima hands over his dream “Republic of Borno” to his Boko Haram overlords for it is now apparent that his sympathies has been with the terrorists all along? If not, why would he be attempting to accelerate the achievement of their objective at lesser cost to them? What has been the contributions of the elders that accompanied him in terms of leveraging their positions to stop recruitment, indoctrination, brainwashing, radicalization and recidivism of youths in their jurisdiction?
There are even more questions. Has Borno state not learnt enough lessons from the misadventure of its one time governor, Ali Modu Sheriff, whose indiscretion laid the foundation for today’s horror? Other than buying gadgets and paying Civilian JTF members, what did Shettima do with his eight years as governor by way of addressing the underlying factors that sustain Boko Haram? Has Shettima suddenly discovered himself?
If Shettima has any strand of humanity left in him then that should make him realize that he needs to own up to his failure, openly accept that he has failed the people and his maker by pursuing a narrow agenda when he could have teamed up with the federal government to end the scourge in the land he presided over. It is the height of unrepentance for him to continue to make it appear like the federal government failed his people when he has been an obstacle towards restoring peace in the state. This unrepentance takes on a soullessness with his now seeking to sever Borno state from Nigeria, maybe he wants to be the first president of Borno Republic.
With the elders he led in tow on this recent visit, Shettima has one more visit to the Presidential Villa, but without the tears and fear mongering. He should go before president Buhari to apologise for the irresponsible demands he made of the Nigerian state. Or, Shettima should arrive the Villa with the black flag and coat of arms for his new republic so that Nigeria can better define the enemies in the war against terrorism.
Audu contributed this opinion from Lagos Street, Maiduguri.