Our Dream Is Tall, Achievable — Gov. Shettima

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As Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima marks his first year in office amidst security challenges, the governor opens up on why the state cannot be described as a failed state. He also speaks about Nigerian leaders’ obligation to provide honest and effective leadership not only to salvage the masses from poverty, but also to escape their wrath. He spoke with STANLEY NKWOCHA.

Your first year in office was characterised by litigations up to the Supreme Court. Has that distracted you from serving the people?
Well, I cannot deny the fact that it was highly distracting because we went to the Supreme Court three times and to the Appeal Court two times. This is apart from the time we wasted shuttling between the Government House and (Governorship) Election Tribunal.

And our Tribunal was later relocated to Abuja and you know all the wear and tear of shuttling between Maiduguri and Abuja, but Alhamdu Lillahi, it has ended well and one cannot but pay tribute to the Nigerian judiciary. Truly, it is the last hope of the common man and the judiciary people, including men and women are of impeccable credentials.

Honestly, I dove my hat for the judiciary because it was a battle between a weak David and a very powerful, all conquering Goliath. But God is on the side of truth, God is on the side of justice.

At the end of it all, we are all sons and daughters of Borno, we are all Nigerians. I cannot but appeal to the opposition to join hands with us for the greater glory of Borno because at this material time, we cannot afford to be fighting one another.

We have to coalesce into a single force and face the monumental challenges confronting us as a people and as a government.

Honestly, there was no victor and no vanquished. I hold no malice towards anyone for all the trials and tribulations we saw at the hands of the PDP.

Governor (Mohammed) Goni is like a father to all of us. In his own days, he did his best for the people of Borno but there is time to move on, there is time for merry making and there is time to work. Charles De Gaulle resigned suddenly as the President of France. When he was accosted by his accolades, he said he wanted to withdraw from events before events withdraw from him.???

That was the fundamental truism that Governor Goni failed to realise. When you overstay in a party, you may end up dancing with cooks and the cleaners. There is time, as I said, for everything. He did marvellously well as the governor of Borno State between 1979 and 1983.

But the world withdrew from our dear old Goni in 1983 when Asheikh Jarma defeated him in the gubernatorial race. Goni contested under the platform of the UPN but Asheikh Jarma won under the platform of the NPN. The world withdrew from Goni when he could not make it to the Constituent Assembly; he was defeated by Aji Master Lawan.

The world withdrew from Goni when he contested for the Vice Presidency in a joint ticket with Jim Nwobodo and Goni could not garner even 20,000 votes for the UNPP in Borno.

But I expected our grand old man Goni to come on board and join hands with us because power ultimately comes from God. He gives power to whom He will at His own appointed time and this is the time for our generation. This is what I fervently believe.

General T.Y. Danjuma (rtd) recently described Borno State as a failed state. Was he fair in his assessment?
This is a very tough question. General T. Y. Danjuma is an elder statesman whom I hold in very high esteem and, honestly, I have no plan to join issues with him. He is somebody who is passionate about Nigeria and passionate about the developmental challenges we are facing and he has never meant bad for the North or for the nation.

Anybody who has known his antecedents will attest to the fact that he is a very fearless and forthright gentleman who doesn’t mince words in echoing his views on issues of the day.

But with all due respect, despite all the challenges we are facing, Borno is a component unit of the Nigerian federation and there is a lot of subjectivity in defining the concept of a failed state. Noam Chomsky, one of the grand theorists of a failed state syndrome funnily enough described the United States (of America) as a failed state.

So, one man’s failed state is another man’s success story. To us, the US is the ultimate state in the world. Nigeria may bear some of the attributes of a failed state but, believe me, Nigeria is not yet a failed state. And Borno, certainly, is just a component of the Nigerian federation.

We are not denying the fact that we are facing challenges but I believe that the challenges are not insurmountable and it is foolhardy for anybody to separate the Borno problem from the Nigerian equation. And a problem in Borno or any part of the federation, if not properly handled, will certainly be cascade down to other parts of the federation.

Right from the onset of this insurgency, I was repeatedly saying that if this was not contained, it had the capacity to snowball into a bigger conflagration that might consume the whole North. I am afraid it is assuming a much wider dimension, but with the collective effort of all of us – we are all stakeholders in the system -? with our prayers, with our efforts, I believe we shall solve the problem.

All those who are predicting doom for the country will not succeed. But, honestly, I believe that General T.Y. Danjuma means well and I believe that as a young man I cannot afford to join issues with him. And the fact is that when the thing happened, I was actually looking for a way to reach out to him so that his foundation will come and invest $200million in Borno (laughs).

Let me take you back to the issue of security, especially on what people are saying should be done or not to be done. Are there open or underground peace talks going on between the northern government and members of the Boko Haram on how to solve the lingering problem?
Yes. The peace process is an ongoing business and is being pursued at several angles. I don’t want to put the cart before the horse but, honestly, we are making genuine efforts to reach out to the leadership of the Ahlus Sunnah (Lidda’awati Wal Jihad). Believe me, in the not too distance future, it will start yielding dividends.

But right from the campaign days, I was very adamant in my position that there has to be dialogue with the Boko Haram elements. Unless we want to engage in an endless war of attrition, we do not have any other option than to talk to them.

They are our sons and daughters and, to address the problem of Boko Haram, we have to adopt a holistic approach, an all-encompassing approach that will attack the root cause of the insurgency. If you look at it realistically, beneath the venom of Boko Haram, behind all the killings, the nihilism of the insurgency, lie the underlining cause, which is extreme poverty in this part of the world.

According to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics 2012 Report, 65 percent of Nigerians are classified as poor. And poverty wears a northern face: it is more endemic in the northern part of the country than in the southern part. So, believe me, once we engage the youth, once we create jobs, once we attack the underlying cause of the insurgency, all this venom of nihilism will evaporate.

I still recall what you said last year – that Borno people have no business sleeping in thatched houses; how far have you gone in empowering them, in renewing the villages and giving them a sense of belonging?
Honestly, you can call me a paranoid character on the verge of lunacy but I have some big dreams; honestly, I want to build, if possible, as many as 100,000 houses for the poor. It’s worth it -?? empowering the poor, building schools, building clinics, building homes – than carrying bags of money during electioneering and going to the countryside.

If you empower them, I am sure the people would be faithful to you. And what is the essence of governance? And, as I said sometime ago, the people are angry. The youths are angry, and an angry and hungry young man is a dangerous animal. We have very few years, five to ten years to make amends or these young men will descend upon us.

There is a gap about 50 years in terms of development between the northern and southern parts of the country. We have to make genuine effort to really develop our communities. It is in our enlightened interest to do so. It is our duty to really work.

It is more of a religious obligation on all of us to see that we make things work in this country. The hottest place in the hell fire will be reserved for the northern Nigerian elite who are living in islands of affluence and extravagance in an unending ocean of poverty and deprivation where over 80 percent of our people that are extremely poor.

We take our own wards to posh private schools, abandoning the children of the poor to become ‘ECOMOG’, ‘Yan kalare’, ‘Yan Tauri ‘and sundry elements to be used during electioneering campaigns. Ironically, all of us were products of the public school system but, believe me, posterity will judge us harshly if we allow the public school system to collapse. Insha Allah, in the next couple of months, we would invest heavily in the education sector. I want to go and teach because you must be the change you want to see. I would teach in a secondary school.

Talking about investments, surely the business and economic fortunes of the states must have been affected; is this the case?
The current climate of insecurity, I must admit, has affected business in this part of the world. I am in the best position to pass judgement on this because of my background as a banker in this state. At a point in time, in one of the branches of Zenith Bank, I was superintending and I was the number one in terms of processing of cash.

That is a parameter for assessing the level of cash. A branch that was processing at times N1billion in a day is now processing less than N100 million in a day, with most people eating up the capitals. So, in this regard, the government must come in.

We are partnering with the Bank of Industry to our people in their businesses. We are right now in the process of setting up a microfinance bank and I have just appointed an adviser on special projects whose responsibility is to midwife the take-off of that bank, and we are going to give the sum of N2 billion and we hope to also get N2 billion also from the bank.

We also want to set up an independent scheme that will be insulated from politics so that genuine, deserving people are availed such funds something modelled after the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh with a? special reserve and target for the womenfolk, with loans of N50,000, N100,00 to at least sustain their families. In the next couple of months these projects will come to fruition.

The federal government has promised to assist in the fight against poverty in Borno and other parts of the North East; have you started receiving such interventions?
Maybe. sometimes governmental pronouncement is worlds apart from the ground-zero reality. Maybe very soon, we would see the influx but, so far, we are relatively left on our own. But, we believe that the federal government meant well and in the fullness of time they would come and assist the people of the North East in combating endemic poverty because we are the most marginalised segment of the Nigerian polity.

States like Borno have been completely delinked from the federation. Borno is the only state that does not have a federal polytechnic; it is the only state that does not have a federal college of education. In the past 12 years of democratic governance, states like Yobe have virtually witnessed nothing; absolutely.

There is no federal government presence. I am talking from the bottom of my heart. There is absolutely no federal presence even in terms of appointments. Tell me a single son of Borno or Yobe occupying any prominent position in any federal parastatal? or organisation apart from the two ministers of state we have.

Against all odds, you have kept the ANPP flag flying in the country, alongside the governors of Yobe and Zamfara states. Are we going to see an ANPP that will hold forth in 2015, or should we look forward to a merger?
I am of the opinion personally that the country needs a viable opposition. If the ACN, ANPP and the CPC are to fuse into a viable opposition, then I am for that.

What would you like to be the hallmarks of your administration?
My greatest achievement will be the restoration of peace in this part of the world. Without peace we will achieve little or nothing. I want to transform this state to a just and egalitarian society where everyone shall have a sense of belonging. A state where our children will not go to school hungry, where our health care system is functional, effective and affordable.

We want to make sure that the children of the poor are off the streets by creating jobs for all and sundry. We really want to show Borno as a symbol of tolerance and reclaim our 1,000 years of glory and take our people off the poverty line. And, honestly, from the bottom of my heart, a Borno man has no business being poor.

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