Shettima, Sheriff and Boko Haram as campaign tool
There is no doubt that the renewed hostilities between Borno State governor, Kashim Shettima and his predecessor, Sen. Ali Modu Sheriff over who takes responsibility for the unending Boko Haram insurgency in the state appear to be opening another vista of a prolonged political battle.
The governor, at a recent forum, identified what he called self-ego and gross leadership failure by Sheriff as part of the major factors responsible for the escalation of the insurgency that has claimed over 100,000 lives and cost the state economy no less than $6 billion.
Shettima is of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) while Sheriff is the factional chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the main opposition party in the country.
Sheriff had reportedly issued a statement, claiming that Boko Haram did not hold any territory in Borno when he handed over power to Shettima in 2011; that their activities did not spread beyond the Maiduguri Metropolitan Council (MMC). Thus, insinuating that the insurgency festered under Shettima.
This however did not go down well with Shettima, who ascribed political meaning into the comments; that it was meant to belittle him politically and perhaps downplay his achievements and influence as the chief executive of the state.
But in a keynote address at the 2017 edition of the Murtala Muhammed Memorial lecture organized to honour Nigeria’s former Head of State, Gen. Murtala Ramat Muhammed in Abuja, Shettima argued that if Sheriff had taken a retroactive step at the initial state of the crisis, it would not have degenerated to the level that it is at the moment.
In a paper titled: “Managing the Boko Haram crisis in Borno State: Experiences and Lessons for a multi-party, multi-ethnic and multi-religious Nigeria,” he insisted that on the contrary, it was under his predecessor’s watch that the insurgency blossomed and turned into a monster, that it is currently.
However, beyond the tantrums over culpability for the insurgency that was once tagged the deadliest in the world, watchers of political trends in the state see the renewed accusations and counter-accusations between the two former political allies as a battle for control of the political levers of the state ahead of 2019 elections.
They noted in particularly that the timing of the renewed onslaught against the governor by Sheriff and the choice of the forum by Shettima to respond was indicative of the manner of the tussle ahead.
Until the weekend when the Court of Appeal affirmed his chairmanship of the PDP, Sheriff seemed to be losing political relevance both at the state and national levels. As a result, observers maintained that it was imperative to target Shettima to neutralize the governor’s influence and stranglehold over Borno.
There was no love lost between Shettima and his political godfather prior to his emergence as governor in 2011. Indeed, Shettima, the banker-turned politician is Sheriff’s political creation.
He served as commissioner in five key ministries in the two-term administration of Sheriff. Starting as Finance Commissioner in the first term of Sheriff, thereafter he moved to Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Education, Agriculture and Health ministries.
His emergence did not come to many as a surprise, because before he was picked as the governorship candidate of the defunct All Nigerian Peoples Party, (ANPP) in February 2011, to replace the earlier standard bearer (Modu Fannami Gubio) who was assassinated alongside Sheriff’s younger brother, Goni in January of the same year, Shettima has been seen in the political circle as one politician with a prospect.
Though the question of who played what role in the surfacing and nurturing of Boko Haram has been a subject of conjecture in the public domain for a long time, this is the first time a key figure in the administration would come open with such charges; even when he may not have said anything contrary to the perception by some sections of the public.
Sheriff himself had on several occasions denied alleged involvement in the entire Boko Haram saga and had to voluntarily submit himself to security agencies to clear himself of the allegations of involvement in the insurgent group.
Nevertheless, the assertion by the governor has only served to further create doubts over the innocence of Sheriff in the whole matter. According to Shettima, the late Boko Haram leader, Mohammed Yusuf took advantage of the former governor’s failure to provide leadership, to declare a jihad.
Speaking to the audience, among whom were, the acting president, Yemi Osinbajo and former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the governor recalled that he was aware that Yusuf was always critical of the Sheriff’s administration, but claimed not to know the basis of their disagreement.
“Between 2008 and 2009, the late Mohammed Yusuf was a regular critic of Sheriff’s administration in some of his sermons. I do not know the basis of their problems. Then, in June 2009, there were disagreements between Yusuf’s followers and an anti-robbery squad code named, ‘Operation Flush.’
“I have restrained myself from blaming the previous governor but the fact of the matter is that Governor Ali Modu Sheriff allowed his ego to override his actions by failing to amicably settle the violent disagreements that ensued between a group of armed forces and followers of the Boko Haram sect in 2009, who at that time were known as Yusufiyya.
“Two years before I came into office, specifically, in July 2009 when the Boko Haram launched its first major, concurrent attacks in Maiduguri, its cells carried out similar attacks in Damasak, headquarters of Mobbar Local Government Area in Borno State. Cells, then yet to become active, existed alongside visible followers in other local government areas.
According to him, Sheriff failed to settle the differences between the armed forces and members of Yusuffiya movement at the time, stressing that the then governor should have at least visited victims of the shooting to lay foundation for peace and set up a commission of inquiry just like what Governor Nasir El-Rufai did in Kaduna state recently.
In contrast, Sheriff accused Shettima’s administration of creating and funding the Islamic group. “Those who are making the allegation should know that three of his (Sheriff) brothers were killed by Boko Haram, his family is being threatened by the Boko Haram,” his special adviser on Media, Inuwa Bwala, stated.
Sheriff and Shettima have come a long way politically dating back to 1976 when their parents were both ward councilors in Maiduguri Metropolitan Council under the chairmanship of Shettima Ali Monguno.
Sheriff’s father was councilor representing Ngala ward while Shettima’s father represented Lamisula ward. The relationship reportedly went awry in 2014 following the intrigues that heralded the congress elections for the 2015 elections. Sources claimed that the governor used the congress to dismantle Sheriff’s political structure and entrench his own.
Besides, Sheriff wanted Shettima to dissolve his cabinet and sack a few commissioners who the former governor felt were not loyal. The governor did not oblige instead, he sacked the state commissioner for Information, Mr. Inuwa Bwala and two other senior special assistants considered to be empathizing with the former governor.
The Islamic terror group, which the federal government asserted has been defeated and largely degraded, has been waging war against innocent civilians. It is believed to have claimed no less than 20,000 deaths since 2009.