2015: Borno’s Ali Sheriff in Limbo?

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Mariam Musa, just back from Maiduguri against the backdrop of Borno’s political pendulum, captures the balance of power in the forthcoming gubernatorial race of the state

  • Treachery dominates Borno Politics
  • Electorate spoil for war

And it happened that Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, Borno’s “BaoBab,” who was regarded as an icon by his admirers, has finally ditched the All Progressive Congress (APC) for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), when he arrived in the Maiduguri International Airport on Monday, 14 July, 2014 en-route Gamboru Ngala where he formally registered and obtained the party’s registration card. His decision to formally decamp to the PDP has confirmed DESERT HERALD’s report of over five years that the man popularly called SAS is indeed an opposition member just by name and that he is actually an agent of the PDP since when Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was at the helm of affairs of the nation from 1999 to 2007. His special relationship with the former president can attest to that.

He was received at the airport by what many keen political observers of Borno politics regarded as rented crowd of perceived loyalists and supporters. Those that monitored the political gathering and the unceremonious opening of the hitherto closed Maiduguri International Airport for the exclusive use of SAS said amongst the crowd that welcomed him include some aggrieved members of the APC in the state who felt alienated by the government.

It would be recalled that Maiduguri International Airport was closed to air-traffic since 30, June 2014 but was surreptitiously opened for Senator Sheriff who landed with his private jet on that fateful Monday, July, 14 and after his departure from the city; the airport was again closed down. Not even the chief security officer of the state, Governor Kashim Shettima, was allowed by the federal authorities to use the airport. Even the last Umrah Pilgrims from the state were not allowed to use it for their operations. The action of denying both the governor and the Umrah pilgrims the use of the airport has worsen the suspicion and hatred the people of Borno have for Sen. Ali Sheriff and they now see the ex-governor as highly insensitive to the crisis of insecurity and wanton killings in the state which they accused SAS of funding and instigating. The action was hugely criticized by Nigerians and the opposition political party, APC, as the height of impunity and abuse of office by the PDP’s President Goodluck Jonathan.

In view of the devastation caused by the dreaded Boko Haram sect, coupled with the murder of over 13,000 innocent citizens since 2009 and the controversy surrounding the role of SAS in the saga that resulted in the bloodshed, pundits believe that it remains to be seen the magic the ex-governor will play as a PDP man to win the support of the highly aggrieved and traumatized citizens that are willing to teach him the political lesson of his life. They said even though incumbent Governor Shettima is part of the “disastrous SAS cabinet that bred Boko Haram and instigated the uprising, the present governor has no power under the authoritarian regime of SAS to change anything,” and that the security challenges the governor is experiencing today was inherited from his boss, SAS and that all that was done by Boko Haram under Kashim Shettima was done under emergency rule where he has no power over security decisions and that the commander in chief is directly responsible for any success or failure of the mission against Boko Haram and the protection of lives and properties of the people which the federal government has woefully failed to secure and which is why the citizens have vowed to support the opposition APC in all the 2015 elections.

Pundits said considering how poverty has ravaged the citizens of Borno as a result of the insurgency, the poor citizens will naturally turnout to welcome SAS as long as money will be shared but that they are certain that same people that besieged the airport to welcome him and other electorates will turn their back at SAS and President Jonathan whom they accused of worsening their condition during the election no matter how much money they collected. “SAS has abandoned us and left us at the mercy of Boko Haram for over three years without coming or even sending relief materials to us, but now that the election is approaching he is willing to do what the state government cannot do with the support of Jonathan. This is clear deception and we will deceive him too. If he thinks we are that stupid and senseless he is making a huge mistake. We know how Boko Haram started and those behind it.

“No amount of media propaganda can deceive us. Is he not the same person that brought us Kashim Shettima? Why is he now against what he brought? It is only because may be Kashim is not willing to do what he wants? And if he sent Kashim parking in 2015, is he bringing an angel not a human being to govern Borno? Why is he supporting President Jonathan despite the failure of the president to stop the killings of our people? Just imagine what happened in Chibok, now the whole of Gwoza is under Boko Haram. Many souls were slaughtered like animals and now over 200 teenage boys were abducted all under the watch of the commander in chief he (SAS) wants us to blindly support. SAS is an enemy of Borno and it will take an insane person that doesn’t know what he is doing to support him”, one of the pundits, Mala Aji, lamented.

But to those close to SAS, who they believed single-handedly and effortlessly made Mr Kashim Shettima the Governor of Borno State in 2011 through political manipulations and maneuverings, had rattled the government and sent jitters down the spine of the incumbent Governor who they said not only became restive but also pensive and reductive. “The mammoth crowd that welcomed SAS at the airport and traversed through major roads on their way to the “Leader’s” Gambole Road residence and later the old UTC campaign office, was enough to throw the former political protégé – Governor Shettima – into frenzy,” Mustapha Gambo a supporter of SAS said.

Mustapha said that the APC government in Borno State under the leadership of Governor Shettima had expected that Senator Sheriff’s political career had reached its end following his decampment from the APC after the party’s convention. He said the decision of SAS to decamp to the ruling party at the centre, PDP, will ensure the ousting of Mr Shettima in 2015.

But supporters of Mr. Shettima believed that the APC and the chances of winning the governorship election and in fact all other elections in the state is better strengthened by the fact that SAS is no longer in the party, as according to them the unpopularity of SAS will spell doom for the party in 2015 if he is in the party. They said if SAS is indeed powerful and has the almighty powers his blind supporters thought he has he would have won for himself the senatorial seat he woefully lost as an incumbent governor in 2011 and urged Governor Shettima to believe in Allah and go for reelection in good faith.

Even though Governor Shettima has now “dominated” Borno’s  politics and has succeeded in wooing every one that matters in the state to his side, thus making it exceedingly difficult for SAS to make any headway, especially in the APC, it is not yet certain whether the political atmosphere will remain as it is, especially given the fact that Senator Sheriff had visited former Governor Mohammed Goni and the PDP’s candidate in the 2011 election in the state in his house when he came to town and where posters have started emerging in some locations indicating his interest once again for the Gubernatorial seat. But insiders and those that are privy to the political intrigues in Borno told DESERT HERALD weekly that Governor Shettima is for now closer to former Governor Goni than SAS and that even if Goni will not officially decamp from the PDP to APC he will certainly support Governor Shettima’s reelection in 2015.

With Mohammed Goni’s possible backing of Mr. Shettima in 2015 many did not see any threat in SAS or the PDP. They considered Goni as very popular, charming, and charismatic and that the people of Borno believe in him strongly so much that even if he decides to back a particular candidate they will willingly support him. They said Goni remains a legend in Borno politics “due to his politics of total development transparency, probity, fear of God, selflessness and love for the people which are mainly lacking in today’s politics”. Perhaps the shrewd Shettima understands that value in Goni and many others in the state hence the adoption of a policy of reaching out to them and extending largesse, coupled with his humble disposition and respect to all those that mattered which his boss, SAS, is lacking.

But despite the likely chances of Governor Shettima, many described him as highly inconsistent and unreliable and that he remains dependent on SAS notwithstanding the handwriting that appears conspicuously on the wall. They said it is high time for the governor to come to terms with the reality that SAS is all out to oust him and that loyalty to him will never make SAS change his decision. They said it is either he confronts the challenges as a strong leader without the usual double standard or he forfeits his right to contest for second term in 2015. They lamented that “Governor Shettima’s recent transformation from his former position of extreme opposition to a turncoat who was seen on national television recently defending President Jonathan over the Boko Haram saga which he said, “started long before President Jonathan became president”, will not draw sympathy for him from the PDP and will make him even more unpopular than SAS in Borno because of the deep grievances of the people of the state against anything under PDP.

Apparently, they said Mr Shettima is now singing a different song from that of the opposition he was singing before in which he always blamed the federal government; either for lack of “motivation and incentives to the Nigerian army” which made the insurgents better equipped and motivated, or of “neglecting Borno to suffer its fate.” He has since become one of the supporters and defenders of President Jonathan because of his fear of the unknown in 2015 with SAS now in the opposition and knowing too well the “Vindictive nature of his former godfather” now turned exponent and detractor. “To further underscore the fact that Governor Shettma has mellowed down his opposition and that if he will have his way will decamp enmasse with his cabinet to the PDP, as being speculated, he shunned the APC’s Mega Rally in Oshogbo on Thursday, August 5, 2014 where the APC had assembled in support of the Governor Rauf Aregbesola’s second term- bid and election on Saturday, August 9, 2014. While most of the APC governors where in solidarity visit, both Governors Shettima and Gaidam of Yobe, or their representatives were conspicuously absent”, Mustapha said.

But those close to Mr. Shettima said the last thing he will do even if he will not get second term as governor is for him to decamp to the PDP or any other party. They said Shettima is not power drunk and that he did not consider the 2015 contest as a do or die affair. The governor’s major concern, they said, is to restore the security and dignity of his people by seeing an end to the Boko Haram uprising. One of the who preferred not to be mentioned told DESERT HERALD weekly that the governor told them that “what impression or lesson will I give to the future generations if I decide to go from one party to another due to lust for power?”  Many political Kongomas, such as Malam Sani Mohammad who is a public affairs analyst and commentator on national political affairs, told this reporter, “it is belated for Governor Shettima to now contemplate or even consider defecting to the PDP because he will certainly not win election in the PDP as far as Borno politics is concerned. They will not even give him the ticket in PDP as long as SAS is their leader in the state”.

Malam Sani alleged that there are many instances of political alienation and discrimination across the state being perpetrated by the government in the state under Kashim Shettima who once boasted during a stakeholders meeting in the Government House that, “there is no PDP in the state; over eighty percent of the PDP are now in the APC, including Alhaji Garba who is the heart of the party in the state. This was shown on state television during a programme “Government House Diary” shown every Monday on the NTA.

The usual complaint against Governor Shettima has been reechoed by Mohammed Sani. Sani said as a person and politician Shettima is very humble with a very large and magnanimous heart but is being “surrounded by political hawks, sycophants and jesters who mill around him praising his name to high heavens, as if he is the best thing to ever happen to Borno State but in reality they are not honest to him”.

While SAS has opted to decamp to the PDP at a time of perpetual insurgency that continues to take its toll on the impoverished and displaced people of the local government areas who have been killed, maimed, lost their houses and property and displaced many who now live in squalid camps without adequate food and shelter, the ex-governor wants the same people of Borno under such condition and squalor to reelect same government that has woefully failed to protect their lives and properties even under emergency rule. But the people of Borno are also accusing the dissolved cabinet of Mr. Shettima of wanton corruption and insensitivity. They alleged that cabinet members under Mr. Shettima’s watch are hiding under the Boko Haram insecurity to siphon public funds, buy every available property for sale, which they said is well known to all. “Corruption with impunity persists in the midst of losses, pains, sorrow and trepidations among many displaced persons. Governor Shettima must bring in sets of patriotic people that are committed to the welfare of his people in the next cabinet if he wants to maintain people’s confidence and win reelection in 2015”, Sani said.

He said further that there is too much indiscipline and infighting amongst the dissolved cabinet members due to greed, envy, supremacy of ego and quest for relevance and recognition. But, according to the people, “everybody will reap only what one sows.” They added that if you plant wheat, you reap wheat not rice. “So be it with the government that is now frantically running from major players in the PDP for easy passage and safe landing in 2015, because the forces against the government in 2015 are becoming stronger and now directly opposed to the governor and his “yes men” have become disturbed”, Sani stressed.

Most people interviewed but who craved for anonymity told our reporter that the government of President Jonathan has woefully failed the state and its people as far as peaceful co-existence and security of lives are concerned three years on. The insecurity situation has rapidly increased because the rural areas have become homes to insurgents who have occupied them and subjected the people to their whims and caprices while the federal government is becoming helpless by the day. Farming is no longer practicable due to presence of insurgents who have taken over the bushes and villages in areas such as Damboa, Gwoza, Kala Balge, Mafa, Chibok, Mamok, Beni Sheikh, Konduga, Banki, Gamborun Ngala and other places where the locals had been displayed and relocated elsewhere such as Gombe State, Biu, Adamawa as well as Niger, Chad, Cameroun Republics. Many citizens of Borno are now refugees in these countries and help is not forthcoming.

Their fundamental rights of movement, dignity of human person, right to life and quality of life free from servitude and forced labour have been impelled. The relative peace in the state capital and the success of containing the rampant bomb explosions is credited to Mr. Shettima’s effective idea of creating the Civilian JTF which not almost eliminated the insecurity in Borno but has created job for potential recruits as Boko Haram.

Investigation by DESERT HERALD revealed that since the Civilian JTF was formed by Mr. Shettima and despite the peace they succeeded in restoring in Maiduguri the federal government has never complimented the effort and initiative of the state by way of giving financial support to sustain them. It is only the state government out of its statutory allocation that used to provide them with training, salary, allowances, feeding, logistics and all forms of support to boost their work. Pundits said the commitment of the Borno State Government in the Civilian JTF and the success they are achieving have increased Mr. Shettima’s public rating amongst electorates and will be among the major campaign issues that will increase the chances of the governor if he decides to contest in 2015.

What remains to be seen ahead of 2015 in Borno in view of the tensed political atmosphere and the violent insurgency that has ravaged the state and its people is how far the two political gladiators (Sen. Ali Sheriff and Governor Kashim Shettima) – at the centre of Borno political imbroglio can go – to actualize their dreams in 2015. What is however clear to pundits and keen political observers of Borno politics, considering the crisis of insecurity effecting almost everything in the state since 2009, is that the man generally accused of being at the centre of the Boko Haram crisis, which resulted in the killing of conservatively 13,000 citizens of the state and crippling the economy of the state.

Ali Sheriff, considering his political suicide of decamping to a very unpopular political party (PDP) in that zone, he is now politically at the receiving end if the incumbent Governor Shettima does his home work well ahead of the titanic battle the table can turn against his godfather. But will Mr. Shettima weather the storm in view of the enormous power play awaiting him from the camp of SAS that has not yet begun? Only time will tell. For now he has the upper hand in terms of state and federal legislators. The capacity and ability of SAS to woo the APC dominated state and federal lawmakers of Borno to the PDP will determine how far he can go.

But if by divine providence Mr. Shettima emerges as governor in 2015 that will be the end of SAS’s political dynasty that has manipulated affairs in Borno for over a decade now.

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