Written By Stanley Nkwocha
The milestone 56th birthday anniversary of Kashim Shettima, the former governor of Borno State and Vice Presidential candidate of All Progressive Congress(APC) affords me the opportunity to celebrate the life of a truly detribalized Nigerian, an unrepentant democrat, quintessential public servant and a patriot who is passionate about our country’s place in the 21st century and how we can harness the transformative capacity of our abundant human and natural resources to build a prosperous and inclusive society.
Our paths crossed about twelve years ago in the course of a media tour organized by the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) under the leadership of Ndagene Aku of blessed memory. The tour was in collaboration with Red Carpet Protocol during the tenure of Ali Modu Sherrif as Governor of Borno State. The young Kashim Shettima had left his lucrative job as the North East Regional Manager of Zenith Bank to serve his state as a commissioner in the cabinet of Ali Modu Sherrif. During our courtesy visit to the governor, I was saddled with the responsibility of giving a vote of thanks onbehalf of our team, a task I performed to the best of my ability. As our visit came to an end, a gentle hand tapped me from behind; I turned and was greeted by a friendly and warm smile.
As we shook hands, he said: “My name is Kashim Shettima, the commissioner for Health. Nice speech you gave at the chambers. Let’s exchange numbers and stay in touch.” To state that I was humbled and dumbfounded by this kind gesture from a top senior functionary of government which I considered rare in this part of the world is an understatement. As we exchanged numbers, I never knew what the future held ; there was nothing at that moment to suggest that he would later become a two-term governor of the state, a senator and now the Vice-Presidential candidate of the APC.
In the course of my professional work and interactions with public servants and politicians from various parts of the country, I have had the privilege of meeting many politicians who have made their mark in their own right. But my association with Kashim Shettima has left indelible imprint on my mind and has further enriched my understanding of the intrinsic qualities of national integration in diversity. In him, I have seen and experienced the true colour of what it really means to be a detribalized citizen of this great country. His belief in the promise of this country of many ethnicities and his preference for competence over tribe or primordial sentiments marks him out as one of the most detribalized Nigerians I have ever come into contact with. Based on my experience, I strongly believe that those who impute Islamization agenda as a result of his choice as the running mate to Bola Ahmed Tinubu are speaking from the standpoint of ignorance and hardly know the man. Apart from my revulsion at the ongoing attempts to inject religion into politics, empirical evidence based on the actions of Shettima as governor does not support the notion that Tinubu and he will execute an islamization agenda when they win the presidential election.
Kashim Shettima is a leader consumed by his love for humanity. His global or national worldview as a necessity rejects clannishness in all ramifications. Any day, he will choose competence and capacity over ethnic solidarity. Although we are of different faiths, he it was who sponsored my pilgrimage to Jerusalem. When my first child was delivered, he visited my modest home in Abuja as a serving governor. He knows that I am a Nigerian of Igbo extraction but has not even bothered to know which part of the South East that I am from.
During his tenure as governor, Kashim Shettima had a retinue of aides that were not from his state. For instance, Isa Gusau, whom he introduced me to was his special adviser on communications and strategy, and has today turned out to be more than a brother to me – with our kids sharing close bonds, is from Zamfara State. However, quite a number of Kashim’s aides were from the southern part of our country. For instance, among his aides were Kester Ogualili, his then Special Adviser on Community Relations who hails from Anambra State, Christopher Godwin Akaba from Delta State who served as a Senior Special Assistant, Lanre Obadah from Kwara State who was also a Special Assistant; Victor Izekor from Edo state worked as a Special Assistant among several others. Till date, these gentlemen remain close to him.
Recently, when Kashim Shettima adorned the traditional Igbo red cap with the full costumes, he was neither playing politics nor playing to the gallery; he was merely expressing himself as a detribalized Nigerian. He sincerely believes that for our country to flourish and live up to the dreams of our founding fathers, the interest of every part of the Nigerian federation should be factored into decision making processes of government. In both his official and private capacities, he has continued to work for national cohesion and integration.
At the height of tensions occasioned by the quit notice handed down to Igbos to vacate the North by Arewa Youths Consultative Forum, Kashim Shettima personally intervened and persuaded the Forum to withdraw the quit notice. As a follow-up to this intervention, he travelled to all the states in the South East to reassure the governors and the people that there was no need to panic because the situation was under control.As governor, he demonstrated that he is a unifier and a bridge builder. He handled inter-religious and ethnic issues with utmost caution, maturity, fairness and even handedness. He stood firmly against discrimination against Igbos, other ethnic groups and Christians in Borno State. In schools, he made sure that there were no discriminatory policies in school fees, levies and benefits against non-indigenes. This is the Kashim Shettima that I know and have come to appreciate as a mentor.He is a leader with profound vision and enormous capacity; above all he loves this country and her people immeasurably and in equal measure. His devotion to the war against terror in Borno State where he resisted Boko Haram stands him in good stead. His personal and total commitment to the war against terror even in those anxious days when the forces of evil appeared to be making inroads ensured that Borno remained intact and never fell under the control of Boko Haram.
Next year’s election will be significant and consequential. It will determine if our country will continue to move forward or regress into our old decadent ways which almost plunged us into irredeemable abyss. The vile campaign of reactionary opposition forces notwithstanding, I invite you to critically look at the unimpeachable public service record of Kashim Shettima, his selfless service and detribalized nature. In this season of heightened ethnic saliency, we need the Tinubu/Shettima to continue with democratic consolidation whose foundation has been laid by the Buhari administration. His legacies in governance are numerous, impactful and epochal. This is a man who respects all people regardless of age and status in the society.
The famous American Civil Rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr, once said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.” It is instructive to note that Shettima has always stood on the side of the Nigerian people and has never failed them in his bid to promote peace and good governance.
In Shettima, Williams Shakespeare may have foreseen the qualities of a great and virtuous leader when he stated that, “Not all the water in the rough rude sea can wash off the balm of an anointed king”.I am from the southeast and will gladly vote for the Tinubu/Shettima ticket as I am convinced that my vote for the ticket is a vote for unity, capacity, development and unprecedented national growth.
Nkwocha is an economist, journalist and media strategist based in Abuja.