Senator Kashim represents Borno Central in the Senate. He served as governor of Borno State between 2011 and 2019. He was guest speaker at the 17th Daily Trust Annual Dialogue after which he granted this exclusive interview. Shettima spoke on different issues, among them the theme of the dialogue, ‘20 years of democracy in Nigeria’, APC crisis, Boko Haram insurgency, his support for Prof Babagana Zulum as his successor, the concept of cabal, Chibok girls among others. Excerpts:
It is 20 years since Nigeria returned to civil rule and Nigerians are saying we are still where we were in 1999; nothing much has changed. What is your opinion about that?
Well, my opinion is slightly different. We have had a turbulent 20 years of democratic experience. No matter the imperfections and challenges in the system, the mere fact that we are able to sustain continued democratic governance for 20 years is cause for celebration.
The mere fact that Nigerians could freely express their opinions has psychologically freed them from bondage. We have had challenges, no doubt about that. The Shari’a crisis that started from Zamfara; the religious and inter-communal crises that engulfed major parts of the country, but we were able to weather the storm. I would say we rather started well. The expectations were exaggerated. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo assumed the mantle of leadership while we had hangover of military dictatorship. But nobody could contest the fact that Obasanjo is uncompromisingly committed to the Nigerian project.
As I said during the Daily Trust Dialogue, his inner ruling circle was composed of Nigerians from all backgrounds, of all religious inclination, of all ethnic affiliations. That alone, at that very delicate pace in our nationhood, went a long way in inspiring confidence in our democracy. The setting up of the EFCC and ICPC in spite of all their shortcomings was a positive development in our fight against corruption.
And his successor, the late Umar Musa Yar’adua, did wonderfully well especially with respect to the rule of law. He was a pan-advocate of respecting judicial pronouncements to such an extent that he released the withheld allocation of local governments in Lagos State. He promptly instructed the IG of Police and the Director of SSS to provide cover to all the ACN governorship candidates who were able to reclaim their mandates in the courts.
After his demise, and the ascension of Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, honestly the expectations of people were not high with him, and he did not disappoint them by performing at some optimal level. He was able to clean himself by accepting defeat honourably. At the tail end of his presidency, he showed the spirit of sportsmanship because he saved the nation from a precipice. That alone did it, because ‘the truth that set men free is most often the truth that men don’t want to hear’.
I have had my own altercation with his government and with him, but we have to give it to him that at the end, he acted honourably.
When Muhammadu Buhari assumed the mantle of leadership, again, the expectations from Nigerians were over-exaggerated. Sometimes, I feel that Buhari came ahead of his time. He ought to be the President 50 years from now because some of the things that people see as his weaknesses are his major strength. Buhari appoints people into positions, and he would give you the leeway, the freedom to be guided by your conscience, and to act according to conventions, rules, regulations and values; but in the Nigerian context, it doesn’t move that way.
And one area that people are not willing to give it to Buhari is that the economy was in the lowest ebb before he assumed the mantle of leadership. The bare fact is he has brought stability to the economy. For the first time we have been having an expansionary budget, and deliberate efforts are being geared towards addressing our infrastructural deficit. I think he deserves better credit than we are willing to give him.
And most importantly for those of us from the North East, there is nothing as dehumanising as poverty. And when you add insecurity to it, you compound the whole issues. To the people of the North East, poverty and insecurity are not issues of philosophical dispute but the reality of everyday life.
And in the past 20 years of our democratic governance, nobody among the Nigerian presidents understood the peace development nexus better than President Muhammadu Buhari. By setting up the North East Development Commission (NEDC), I believe it will give a new lease of life to efforts at combating the challenges we are facing in the sub-region, and we hope and pray that with the calibre of management he has put in place, it will not go the way of NDDC.
Talking about Buhari and his predecessor, Jonathan, some Nigerians have accused you and other leaders in Borno of speaking less about Boko Haram attacks compared to your voices when Jonathan was president, how do you react to this?
I have once explained the difference in my reactions under Jonathan and Buhari. First of all, if you were to dig into media records of my public comments under the presidency of His Excellency, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, you will realize that from 2011 when I became governor up until January 2014, I never publicly criticised Jonathan’s handling of security situation in Borno State. I kept giving him the benefit of doubt and kept trying to discuss my perspectives with him privately. I rarely got the kind of attention I needed or even deserved. There was a time I resorted to writing to him and we made sure it wasn’t reported by the media. In one instance, I wrote to him over a serious security matter that had to do with suspicious plane around our air space and to Jonathan’s credit, he promptly acted.
However, I generally did not get the required attention to tell him our situation. It reached a point in 2014 that I became frustrated and decided to speak to journalists right inside the Villa. The presidency only paid attention to that; ignored my silence for three years and declared me an enemy. Unfortunately, the media became our tool of expression.
On the contrary, since 2015, I have had unrestricted access to President Buhari and he listened to me and our security problems whenever I came calling. That essentially was why I was not going public. As you know, I am no longer the governor of Borno State and there can never be two captains in the same ship. We have a governor who is supremely competent and has won the affection and respect of the president. I would rather allow him to take the lead in advancing the interests of the state. We can easily channel our inputs through him instead of grandstanding to win momentary applause but jeopardise the long term strategic interests of our people.
Because of the Boko Haram insurgency, destruction worth $9bn was inflicted in the North East. And in Borno alone, destruction worth $6bn was suffered by the people. About 956,453 units of houses, making up 30 per cent of total stock of houses in Borno were destroyed by Boko Haram. A total of 665 municipal buildings, comprising government offices, local government secretariats, police stations, post offices were destroyed; 5,335 classrooms in 512 primary schools and 38 high schools and two tertiary institutions of learning were destroyed.
They equally destroyed 726 power stations and distribution lines, plus 1,630 water sources, motorised boreholes, hand-pumps, and solar-powered boreholes. So, we suffered years of neglect, disruptions and destitution, and we believe that the coming of NEDC is a very welcome development.
Still people like you are only talking about Boko Haram destroyed this and that but overlooking the ideological issues that gave birth to the group and how to tackle it. Do you believe that even if we rebuild all these places that will be the end of Boko Haram?
I am quite glad that you asked this pertinent question. I see the Boko Haram as a phenomenon borne out of social exclusivity. There is an incestuous relationship between ecology, economy and poverty in the North East sub-region, the challenges in the Lake Chad and the desiccation of the environment. From 20,000sqKms, it has shrunk to less than 2,000sqKm. Further compounded by the poverty of the people – a hungry, angry and jobless young man is a dangerous animal susceptible to the antics of demagogues like Mohammed Yusuf and the rest.
So for us to address the issue, the root causes of Boko Haram, it goes beyond a military solution. We have to adopt a holistic approach encompassing the economic, the political, the social, and of course the military aspect because unless we want to engage in an endless war of attrition, military solution can never be a solution in the Boko Haram insurgency.
In one end, you have the real Boko Haram who are not susceptible to any negotiation, who have international affiliations, who do not even believe in the Nigerian project. And at the other end, there are the economically induced Boko Haram who are literally forced into taking up arms against their own people. Once you open your room for dialogue and accommodation and understanding, it is my fervent belief that a lot of them would lay down their arms and join the mainstream society. There are those that I call the nihilists who are hell-bent on suicidal act without any mission, without any goal. It is all about looting, destruction and killing without any basis in Islam.
The second issue of addressing Boko Haram has to do with creating jobs. Once we create jobs, once the young men can look up to a better tomorrow, this madness will disappear. And believe me, a Borno man and nay a Nigerian has no business being poor. We have 926,000 square kilometres of land. Borno is the largest state in Nigeria in terms of landmass. We are the only state that shares contiguous borders with three nations – Niger, Chad and Cameroon – and as bad as our roads are, if you leave Maiduguri in the morning, by evening you will reach most of the troubled spots in Africa. That goes to show that opportunities abound in the North East axis particularly in Borno. And for us to really engage our youths, we have to invest in agriculture and we have to adopt modern agricultural practices. The issue of hoes and cutlasses, we need to discard it. We have to adopt intermediate technology because the whole mantra as I said is on an increase in yield, and most importantly, we have to really re-strategize or reposition our security architecture because the very essence of the existence of government is to provide security to lives and properties of the citizenry.
Can you speak on why competent people are not in a position of authority?
When it comes to the leadership question, of all Allah’s gifts to humanity, power is the most ephemeral of them. You cannot remain in power forever. The maximum number of years you can spend as a governor is eight years. So, whether you like it or not, you will spend more years of your life outside power than in power.
But one terrible mistake, one terrible error of judgment that leaders make in this country is when it comes to succession – it is that issue of ruling by proxy. They believe that if they can put a weak, mediocre person in position, they would be in a position to manipulate the system from behind the scene. There is no dangerous person than a dull person with power. Even an intelligent man might be intoxicated. If you give power to a dull person, he is threatened by his own shadow; he sees everyone as his enemy, and he is vulnerable to manipulation; of course power mongers who would come and surround him and create unnecessary scenario.
How did you handle the issue of your successor in Borno?
Only a foolish leader will not care about who succeeds him but in so doing, the wisest approach is to go for the best candidate.
For instance, when it came to Borno, I had to close my eyes and do what I believed was right. Amongst the governorship aspirants, there were those much closer to me than His Excellency, Prof. Babagana Umara Zulum, but I had to detach myself from the whole thing and take an informed decision so that posterity will judge me kindly. You know Abraham Lincoln said most men can survive the extremes of adversity, but to test a man’s true character, give him power. I gave all my appointees opportunities to prove themselves and kept taking note of their capacity and selflessness. I carefully looked at the records of everyone. I first appointed Zulum as rector and after his tenure, he had no house of his own and no car of his own. Then, I challenged him by appointing him the pioneer commissioner for Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement and he did wonderfully well. He spent a total number of 156 days in Bama, sleeping in Bama with soldiers and Civilian JTF, with masons, and with labourers. In our eight years, Zulum rarely left Borno. Despite handling billions in our reconstruction works he had nothing personal. He did not empower his kinsmen to become millionaires and multi-millionaires. He was largely responsible for our reconstruction of more than 30,000 projects in many places across the state.
So, when it came to the issue of succession, I knew that most of the people that aspired to be governor of Borno were eminently qualified: Ambassador Baba Ahmed Jida is an elder statesman who has paid his dues as Nigeria’s Ambassador to Burkina Faso, and for several years as secretary to the government of Borno State. I was a secondary school pupil in 1983 when Baba Ahmed Jida was a permanent Secretary in Borno State civil service.
Abubakar Kyari is a man of integrity and eminently qualified even to become the president of Nigeria.
Alhaji Mai Sheriff is a personal friend of mine, so also is Alhaji Babagana Tijjani Banki, Senator Baba Kaka Bashir and among them, two were even my relations – Umar Alkali and Mustapha Fannarambe. Kaka Shehu Lawal and Adamu Lawan are like biological sons to me but when it comes to leadership, you have to make an informed judgment.
Some people raised fears that Prof Babagana Umara Zulum is known to have independent mindset so he could easily go out of my control. However, I knew that I was leaving office. I also came to terms with the reality that I could not be a former governor and a ‘governor’ at the same time. I needed someone who could surpass my achievement; someone that is head and shoulders above me in terms of intellect, in terms of capacity, in terms of indefatigability. I settled for Zulum for the collective good of the people of Borno and it is one of the decisions I most cherish and glad to have made for Borno. I believe posterity will in the fullness of time, vindicate me for doing or passing every judgment on Prof. Zulum.
But most importantly, let me tell you: there can never be two captains on the same ship. Never, ever! The day your tenure is over, it is advisable for you to truly and genuinely step aside and perform the role of an elder statesman. The day you feel that you can continuously poke your nose into governance affairs and dictate to the governor how he should run the show, then definitely you will have some challenges. By the way, the constitution of the APC is very explicit. The governor is the leader of the party in the state. Provided you have the best of relationship, the best of common understanding, there is no basis for any quarrel. In Borno we have enough security issues to worry about that are greater than politics.
During the Daily Trust Dialogue, you made mention of the indispensability of the cabal. Can you talk more on that?
Throughout human history, power cabals or inner caucus or whatever names you decide to call them exist in all climes – be it the Tsarist Russia, Stalinist North Korea, Democratic America, Fascist Hungary, the Junta in Myanmar or Theocratic Iran.
My own perspective on cabal is that it may have some negative connotation in the Nigerian context. I would rather call it the inner caucus or the power circle but power does not exist in a vacuum, whether under the maximum leadership of Olusegun Obasanjo or the laissez faire-free will leadership of Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. From the dawn of history, we can continue to delude ourselves and harbour the illusion that we can have a perfect set up while leadership works like an automaton but it isn’t like that. In every setup, there are people from behind the scene that are making things work. But my only prayer and wish is that the caucus or cabal, or whatever name you prefer to call it, should work for the collective good of the society and should work for positive transformation of our society.
The American press was in love with Obama, they called his own the Obama people, not Obama cabal. But his two Chiefs of Staff, Rahm Emanuel and William Daley, were from Chicago. His two advisers, Valerie Jarrett and David Algero, both of them from CNN, came from Chicago. So also were two ministers, Ann Duncan, the Secretary of Education, who is equivalent to our own Adamu Adamu under Buhari. Penny Brisket, the Commerce Secretary under Obama was also a Chicagoan. Sixteen top White House positions apart from lower-level apparatus came from Chicago. In the case of Buhari, most of those we call cabal hail from different states of Borno, Bauchi, Kano, Katsina, Kaduna and some other parts of the country; not all are from Daura or Katsina.
My favourite quote is from a speech delivered by Theodore Roosevelt on April 23, 1910 in Sorbonne, Paris. It is titled ‘The Man in the Arena’ which says: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” That quote inspired me in my eight years as governor.
You spoke about your relationship with Professor Zulum. But the problem ex-governors have with their successors is not really about governance, it usually has to do with politics. They are out there as senators or ministers but still want to control the party. The incumbent governors feel threatened by that because they don’t want to put their reelection at risk because if your ex-governor is in control of the party, then he or she can always decide to kick you out or deny you the party ticket. Are you saying apart from giving Professor Zulum the free hand to do whatever he wants to do as executive governor, is it the same politically?
We have come a long way with Professor Zulum, and our relationship is anchored on mutual trust and confidence. Once you cease to be a governor, believe me, the sooner you realize or recognize, and realign yourself to the ground realities, the better. And for me and Zulum, we have truly worked on that; we are partners for the greater good or Borno.
Your party, the ruling APC is in crisis and it is all about the leadership of Adams Oshiomhole. Some are saying he should be replaced. Where do you stand?
It is not an issue of supporting Oshiomhole or opposing him, it is about the issue of constitutionality and rule of law. If you are opposed to Oshiomhole, you have every right to support or oppose him.
Oshiomhole is not a local government chairman of the party that you can easily kick him out. He is the chairman of the ruling party, and of course the national chairman, a two-time governor, a performing governor of Edo State and most importantly, he led the largest labour movement in Africa. So, he deserves to be treated with respect, dignity and courtesy by anyone. So, if anybody has an axe to grind with Oshiomhole, there are constitutional procedures or processes of removing a national chairman.
We respect to our governors, we appreciate their grievances, but this is a party that the Hausas call ‘Hadin Gambiza’, a party that came into being through the marriage of several interest groups. So, you have to take into consideration all the different blocs that form the APC before you come to a resolution of such a major national issue.
Oshiomhole is one of the founding fathers of the APC. He was at the first meeting of the APC governors in Lagos, at Marina, where even the name APC was crafted. Oshiomhole was at the Maiduguri meeting. While the ACN governors came with this mindset that we either adopt the broom or they opt out of the merger.
When I sensed the whole situation, I gave in and I said we are adopting the broom and that was how the broom was adopted as the emblem of APC. So, when you are opposed to Oshiomhole, you have every right to oppose him but let’s follow the constitutional procedure of removing the national chairman of the party. And let’s give it to him, there are challenges in the party, but you can’t blame him solely as the cause of all the challenges. We had challenges in Zamfara, can you solely blame him for that? The loss in Bauchi, it was just the local dynamics of Bauchi politics that came to the fore, not Oshiomhole as a person. We lost Adamawa not because of Oshiomhole; we lost because of the local dynamics of Adamawa politics. So, I believe that there are proper ways of doing things. And Adams Oshiomhole came out of the ACN bloc of the APC. Yes, we want to forget about the past and move on as a family, but believe me, at every point in time, we have to recognise the fact that the different blocs came in and formed the party, and overnight.
With all due respect, some of these governors are very close to me, some that are opposed to Oshiomhole. I have had meetings, conversations with many of them and we are continuing the conversation, not in my position as a governor, no, I am no longer a governor but in my position as a senator, as a leader in the party who wishes well for the party. Every onlooker, as Frantz Fanon said, is a collaborator or a traitor. I am not an onlooker; I am in support of Oshiomhole. Whoever that the president supports, we are going to align ourselves with that presidential aspiration. When President Buhari say ‘I don’t want Oshiomhole, I want Oshiomhole out,’ then it will be another ball game. But for now, the president is solely behind Oshiomhole, he has not made any pronouncement distancing himself from Oshiomhole; and to be fair to him, was it not Oshiomhole that delivered Kogi and Bayelsa? Let’s be very fair. But by the way, it is an internal crisis of our party, those forces fighting Oshiomhole are no less members of the party, they are prominent members of the APC and we have every understanding with those leaders and in the fullness of time, I believe we will come to common understanding, to a common platform for the greater good of our party and for our nation Nigeria.
Do you share the notion that President Buhari is the unifying factor and that the party will disappear when he leaves office?
We have some strong APC leaders who have this opinion. Well, they are entitled to their opinion, but the party has the depth and the breadth to survive a post-Buhari era. Buhari is a force to reckon with in the political dispensation of this country. I can assure that Buhari will work assiduously, much more than his own reelection, because a success without a successor is a failure. I am absolutely certain that at the appropriate time, President Buhari will step in and ensure that a mechanism is put in place for the selection of a successor who will move the nation and the party forward. But I believe it is too early, people are unnecessarily overheating the polity over this thing. As I said, we don’t need an Igbo president, neither do we need a Yoruba president. We are not interested in an Arewa president, we want a Nigerian president.
You mean there should be no zoning?
Not that there should be no zoning, but a Nigerian with a pan-Nigeria vision. A Nigerian with a national vision, not a Nigerian who hardly knows other parts of the country, or hardly goes beyond his own cocoon, he only sees himself as an Igboman, or is a Hausaman or is a Kanuriman before he is a Nigerian. This is because what binds us together exceeds whatever that divides us. And if this country is to implode, believe me, we are all going to pay a heavy price. So we either learn, to borrow the words of Nelson Mandela, or to borrow the words of Martin Luther King, we either learn to live as brothers or perish together as fools. And there can only be one leader at every point in time and believe me I am speaking to you from the bottom of my heart, where the leader hails from truly doesn’t matter.
The Second Niger Bridge is being built under the stewardship of a Fulani man, not Azikiwe, Jonathan whom the Igbos were claiming to be their own. The East-West road is being pursued not under Jonathan but under a Fulani man who is being perceived as a Tutsi. The Lagos-Ibadan rail line, the major signature project of this country, apart from Mambilla, and the Kano-Kaduna rail project are largely in the South because the interest of the nation supersedes whatever primordial interest or biases we might have. So what we need is truly a Nigerian leader. At the appropriate time we will cross the bridge; whoever that emerges as our candidate, most certainly we will rally round that person.
Though you said it is too early, but you are one of those being mentioned. Do you have a plan for that?
From a historical perspective, no one has ever aspired to be the president of Nigeria and succeeded. Obafemi Awolowo spent his whole life wanting to be the president of Nigeria. Shehu Shagari wanted to be a senator but he ended up as the president of Nigeria. MKO Abiola spent his fortune and life wanting to be the president of Nigeria. Obasanjo was brought out of prison and made the president of Nigeria. Umaru Musa Yar’adua was the least ambitious of all the PDP governors but he ended up becoming the president of Nigeria.
Goodluck Ebele Jonathan was truly a lucky person. His aspirations earlier on did not go beyond his immediate terrain but he ended up becoming a deputy governor, a governor, a vice-president, and subsequently a president.
For me as a person, I should be ever grateful to God. I am one of the luckiest members of my generation. I became a governor after spending four years in politics, not because of my intellectual acumen, not because of my pedigree, not because of my political sagacity, neither because of my physical prowess because there were people who were much bigger and much stronger than me in Borno but Allah in his infinite wisdom and mercy made me the governor of Borno State. So, forever I shall be grateful to Allah and the people of Borno and the people of Nigeria. So in the country of 200 million people, for you to have that kind of inordinate ambition through whatever way, is the height of lunacy. That is my own perception but if it is the will of God that you will be the president of Nigeria, we will all rally around you.
It is the Nigerian people or our respective political platforms that will decide who should fly the flag of the party. And most importantly, the issue at stake and much more important thing, for now, is that the Boko Haram is still a threat to the corporate existence of this country. We have a crisis, a war economy has developed in the North East; a war economy is also developing in the North West as well. So how we tackle our national challenges is much more important than the issue of who becomes the next president of Nigeria because 2023 is far up. We have not spent even one year in the current dispensation and even the Hausas will say ‘Sai mai dogon kwana,’ meaning only those who have long life will witness 2023. Nobody knows tomorrow, so let’s watch as events unfold and we hope for the best.
You are a senator and many Nigerians believe the Senate has become a retirement home for past governors. And even at that, they are not doing enough especially in checkmating the excesses of the executive. What is your take on this?
My take on it is that I belong to two infamous clubs. Two clubs that Nigerians love to hate; two groups that Nigerians hate with cabalian disdain; that of the former governors with our jumbo packages and that of senators. But believe me, the legislature as the third arm of democratic structure is almost indispensable. So I find it amusing when people talk about discarding the entire Senate. If we want to go back to dictatorship, or to be ruled by an autocrat so be it. But if we truly want to practice democracy, the legislature is an indispensable component of our democratic experiment.
Coming to the issue of the relationship between the legislature and the executive, for a young nation like ours, it is absolutely essential that there should be a harmonious working relationship between the executive and the legislature. You and I knew; we are living witnesses to the fractious relationship between the executive and the legislature in the 7th Assembly. But now, in the past six months, the present crop of legislators is able to align the budget for the first time from January to December. They were able to amend the public procurement bill so that all the hiccups in our public procurement processes are eliminated. Then the production sharing contract that has not been reviewed for the past 20 years was reviewed in the last six months. And come to talk about it, the finance bill, the VAT has been increased to 7.5 per cent, it doesn’t come to the executive or the legislature, the bulk of the VAT collections go to the state governments.
People are not happy with that but the state governors ought to come out and robustly defend the increment of VAT to 7.5 per cent. We are charging one of the lowest VAT rates in the world. Do you know the VAT rate in Japan and in South Korea?
But they have strong per capita income…?
Well, they might have strong per capita income but if you look at it, our revenue base is very weak. We cannot continue to live as if the world is an Eldorado. We have to learn how to pay the bills and the oil will dry up in the next 20 to 30 years. You have lived in Britain, you know all the taxes you used to pay but here in Nigeria, people don’t want to pay even utility bills. They believe government is there to service their needs. It is a different ball game in other climes. So it is not the 7.5 per cent that matters, we hope and pray that the increment will be judiciously utilised for the common good. To provide services, schools, clinics, secure life and properties is much more important.
It is over 2,000 days, is there any hope that the remaining Chibok girls would be found?
Hope springs from eternal hearts of strong men. I am an eternal optimist and I believe that the missing Chibok girls shall be found. There was a time that former President Olusegun Obasanjo dismissed the issue of getting back the Chibok girls until quite a substantial number of them were gotten. Not only the Chibok girls, believe me, thousands of young boys and girls were kidnapped by the Boko Haram. Some conscripted into their army, some were sold off as slaves and some are serving as their sex slaves.
So, we need to go even beyond the Chibok girls, our hearts go out to them, to their families, to their loved ones. We hope we get them back. And it was the most distressing moment of my life as the chief steward of Borno.
It was particularly distressing to me because most of these girls are from the Chibok community, a seriously marginalized minority group, occupying only one local government in Borno, largely Christians. This is why the heart of every well- meaning Nigerian went out to them, and we hope that we get them back.