Kashim Shettima: A leader’s uncommon courage

Former Borno state Governor, Kashim Shettima.
Former Borno state Governor, Kashim Shettima.

For the eight years that he was in power as Governor of Borno, Kashim Shettima never had a single day of let and tranquility from what has turned out to be Nigeria’s most mindless bloodletting spree. For those scary years of blood spilling, decapitation and total ruin, the man rose to the challenge, fought his way through and posted an unprecedented level of performance. How did a man that was literally walking and working through a maze of bullets and picking limbs and other chopped off body parts at suicide bombing scenes supervised one of Africa’s most cantankerous resettlement and rehabilitation programs?

How did he manage to have the presence of mind to channel men and over stretched resources to achieve the much he had churned out? How did he keep the state intact and rallied everybody around and still put the kind of infrastructure most governors could not dream of, even in an atmosphere of complete peace? We must not lose sight of the clear and unambiguous danger to his personal safety he had to battle with every day. As I once wrote, Kashim Shettima had the leeway and the begging opportunities to conveniently stay away on account of unfavorable security challenges. After all, a sitting President and Commander In Chief had found the Borno environment too hot and had refused to visit for even a minute. Shettima did not only defiantly stayed put within the prescient of the flashpoints, provided stern leadership; worked out a rebuilding process; fed the hungry, rebuilt schools, hospitals, roads, houses and prioritized agriculture to world class levels, but boldly job-hunted the best brains to help him walk his talk and looked at such mindboggling adversity right in the eye.

It is instructive to understand that the most trying period of the crisis in Borno came at a time an uncommon, selfless, courageous and visionary leadership was needed. No state or even a country would have survived the mindlessness and inanity of this kind of insurgency under a leadership that was not altruistic and very patriotic. History is replete with instances where many civilizations were lost to the indecision and poor quality of the judgment of leadership. There were arguments in informed circles that Borno remained an indissoluble and indestructible entity due mainly to the quality, selfless and courageous leadership that was in place at the very point where many states or countries will have long come down. He constantly shed tears at the sight of mangled bodies, but he never ever contemplated running away; he was always holding security council meetings to respond to the daily security breaches and emergencies, but he refused to betray any emotions in order not to panic his lieutenants who looked up to him for assurances that all was safe; he dared not sleep as he traverse the dangerous spots around the state in order to reassure citizens that since he did not elope, the state was tranquil enough for everybody to stay put. At other times, he became the last to show fear even when fear was there knocking on his door.

At a point in time, President Goodluck Jonathan had threatened to withdraw the armed escorts of Kashim Shettima for the simple fact that he denounced the apparent loopholes in the management of the crisis. The implication of the threat was to expose the former governor to the dangers and to send signals to the effect that he too was not immune to the elements that had made everyone in Borno, from top to bottom, vulnerable. Despite these open perils which the threat was meant to cause, the man never wavered in his determination to bequeath a functional and working state out of the ashes and doom it was meant to fall into.

I have severally been asked what the secrets of Kashim Shettima’s boldness to dare were and how he got his calculations right to achieve as much. I come from the North West where some states, basking in the appellation of the most peaceful states, are left in the ruin of self inflicted underdevelopment. Whenever the Kashim Shettima file is opened and discussed in offices and markets, the questions on all lips are how did he do it? Why was the Kashim Shettima benchmark of development not achievable here and why was it just unthinkable to simply hire leaders with the same level of acumen?

The lesson is that not even war can alter a people’s match to greatness if the right type of leadership is put in place. If Borno, in the midst of such violence can waltz through and develop as fast and as simple as Kashim Shettima made it look like, then no state that enjoys total peace can make any excuses for the inexcusable mediocrity and stark incompetence on display in many parts of the country.

Look at the twin advantages Borno enjoyed while the eight year administration of Kashim Shettima lasted. He fought the war with uncommon valor and grit. He led the state in the real sense of it. Secondly, he utilized scarce and over stretched resources with that uncommon transparency, patriotism and eagle eyed vision. The snag in other states is that their own leaders exploited the peace which their states enjoyed to help themselves to the resources. The situation in Borno had provided the stimulus and the latitude for an incurable thieving leader to line his pockets and vanish into the thin air. However, a leader with a mission to truly serve and leave a mark as we have seen in the leadership of Kashim Shettima, see adversities as avenues to lead their people into prosperity.

One important lesson from the Kashim Shettima leadership school is that no one will ever hide under the nebulous whimsicality of instability or resource constraints to ram excuse for his failure down our throat.

Ahmed-BK wrote this piece from Gesse III, Birnin Kebbi, Kebbi State.

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