The genesis of the rift between Shettima and Modu Sheriff, by Bwala, ex-commissioner
By Lekan Bilesanmi
Since he was relieved of his position as Commissioner for Information in Borno State, INUWA BWALA has maintained a low profile.In this interview, he alleges a plot to denigrate a former governor of Borno State, Ali Modu, by linking him with Boko Haram, while telling the story of his experience in government:
You have seldomly spoken since your exit as commissioner. How is life outside office?
As you may be aware, I have been in and out of political office since 2001 when I was appointed Special Adviser to the former Governor of Borno State, the late Mala Kachalla. I was the pioneer occupant of that office in the state and in Nasarawa State under Senator Abdullahi Adamu. I was invited by Senator Ali Modu Sheriff to become his Commissioner for Home Affairs, Information and Culture, before I was called into the cabinet of Kashim Shettima. Getting into or leaving office is not a new thing to me. Above this, I have an attitude to public office by always being ready to leave the moment I get appointed into it. I foresaw my sack long before it came, and was prepared for it. It may sound denigrating the way it was announced, as if I committed one heinous offence, but those who knew what was going on will agree with me that I merely paid the price of loyalty. I have since put that behind me and I am pursuing other endeavors. As you can see I look even fresher than when I was in office and I give God the glory.
People are curious to know what really happened as we had the impression that you were amongst the most valuable assets to the government given your experiences.
I would have loved to keep my peace and ruminate in silence; even though I may have been personally hurt by the manner I was sacked. I have met the governor on two occasions after my exit and he tried making me understand how he was misled into asking me to leave. I was humbled when he personally apologized to me, and resolved to let matters lie. But the truth is that, against the background of the deepening rift between the governor and our leader, former Governor Ali Modu Sheriff, whom I am perceived to be close to, and for which Governor Shettima was not comfortable with, the stage seemed long set for my departure. I admit that I have been close to Sheriff, and I have no regrets. I have a principle of trying to keep relationships with my bosses, long after we part. I did not want to go against that principle, that was why I refused to team up with others against Ali Modu Sheriff. I was under tremendous pressure to abandon him, and align forces with some people who he had problems with in the past.
I tried my best in seeing that we stayed together as a group, and not engage in unnecessary acrimony, but people with an axe to grind with Sheriff had hijacked the governor, to the effect that he could not see anything good in Sheriff, even as his benefactor. Some of us were torn between the devil and the deep blue sea; having to choose whether to betray Ali Sheriff and enjoy the patronage of Governor Kashim Shettima, or stick to Sheriff and sink into oblivion. It was unfortunate that we allowed people who added no political value to the entire process to influence Governor Shettima, to the extent of dictating to him what he should do.
Even beyond that, I had my own problems with the governor, which made him to hate me. Oftentimes he remind me that even as a commissioner, there was another commissioner he held in higher esteem and wanted me to pay homage to. At every point, he would remind me that I am a minority, a non believer, and does not belong. I have always revolted at each point he did that, but I knew that deep down, he was bent on undoing me. The opportunity presented itself when I went for the holy pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and, while there, I disagreed with some officials over the welfare of pilgrims.
On my return, they told the governor all imaginable obscenities about me, including that I called the governor names. And without even waiting to hear from me, he took that decision, to satisfy them and fulfill his own long term agenda.
The truth is that I never belonged, as my principal felt I was forced on him by Senator Sheriff. He never wanted me to be his commissioner, as he had his own plans which I may not have fitted into. I suppose, his problems with his own boss, Sheriff, started even long before it was noticed. We tried denying that there was a friction, but we knew we were playing the ostrich. I was accommodated for as long as I could deploy my goodwill in the media to the advantage of the government. When I began to see and know more than I ought to know, the logical thing to do was to put me aside, and that was what happened.
When we newly came on board, the relationship looked cozy as each tried to impress the other that we were friends, but the undercurrents were very much at play. When I was eventually asked to surrender my schedules to his aides, it then became clear that I had overstayed my welcome. I hanged on, and I continued doing my best, but not as my colleagues know me to be doing before. Having worked with three other governors before him, it was not possible to accuse me of failing in my duties, and he needed an alibi to fulfill an agenda that turned out to be longer than I imagined.
What are the underlying currents firing the rift between your two former bosses, and what specific things did Shettima do to indicate he was fighting his former boss?
I don’t think you have the space to capture the full story, but in a nutshell, I think Governor Shettima is being ungrateful, and most uncharitable to his mentor and political godfather, Ali Modu Sheriff. In his seeming desperation for a second term, he felt he needed to build his political machinery, and in doing so, he has to take people from Sheriff. In doing that he feels his benefactor must first kiss the dust. He surrounded himself with people who urged him on to fight his boss and the rest is now history. Some of us have tried making peace between them in the past, Shettima attempts to undo his boss.
From the start, he always made us understand that having left government, Sheriff was on his own, and those of us who served under him did not owe him any further loyalty or service. He gave me the impression that with the resources available to government we could join forces against Ali Sheriff and push him into political oblivion. At every point, Kashim Shettima was planning to rubbish his benefactor. He started lavishing money on people, forgetting that politics transcends money. I cannot remember one incident at which Sheriff showed signs of fighting back. From the very onset of Governor Shettima’s administration, there have been plans to denigrate Sheriff. This is evident in Shettima’s romance with people believed to have one axe or the other to grind with Sheriff. Shettima personally told me that I should never defend Ali Sheriff in the media any time he was attacked. He mentioned it that he expected me to rather coordinate media propaganda defending his own positions, outside the normal schedules and N10 million was provided for some time and later stopped when I showed signs of reluctance. Several attempts have been made to convince me that I will be better off if I joined the forces against Sheriff. From all indications the plans to denigrate Senator Ali Modu Sheriff by linking him with Boko Haram.
What is your position on this blame game going on about Boko Haram and the attempts to link Sheriff with the group?
Even Ali Sheriff’s enemies will concede to him that he left legacies for the government of Kashim Shettima to build upon. It is on record that he left behind over N60 billion in the coffers at the time of his departure. It is also a truism that all the projects Kashim is laying claims to having executed were actually undertaken by Sheriff. We know that he took far reaching initiatives to contain Boko Haram even from the point of its outbreak, by extraditing the original brains behind radical Islamism. He set up the Operation Flush to specifically control the menace and even banned the group from preaching publicly.
On the other hand, Kashim Shettima’s leadership has been an era of lamentations, self pity, blame shift, kleptomania and deception, without any concrete initiative to complement Federal Government efforts to address the issue. Sheriff is known to have bequeathed to us a robust political structure that we could have used to safeguard our future political outings, but we squandered that too. On our part, as stakeholders, we must stop politicizing this very delicate matter. I am sure the moves to batter Ali Sheriff have more to do with politics than with finding solutions to the problem.
What have the experiences been serving as government spokesman in Borno which has been the theatre of war of the Boko Haram insurgency?
It was very tasking and challenging. One needed to balance between the attitude of a traumatized citizenry with the mentality of a merciless sect, and present positions that will tend not to cause further problems. I tried to balance between the perception amongst some people that I was a renegade in the government of my own state, and my own position as a stakeholder who helped to put the government in place. As you perhaps know, I came in at a time everybody was afraid of even mentioning the name of Boko Haram, because it was the height of the selective and targeted killings of individuals. I came in at the time of delivery of threat letters and bullets to individuals. It was also the time Christians were particularly more vulnerable. But I persevered and survived the tackles.
At the time I took over, there was mutual suspicion amongst citizens, against the background that some of the killings were masterminded from within. These are some of the facts I lived with until my sack. I had seen so much and was at the verge of knowing things I ought not know, hence my unceremonious exit.To further compound issues, I was left at the mercy of that volatile environment, as I was never given a place to hibernate like other appointees. Until I left, I never had anywhere to hide, rather I was moving from one hotel to another, trying to cover my tracks. Most of the time, I had to move to Marama my home town to ease off tension. On several occasions, I took refuge in friends’ houses. All these were not enough to secure me, but it gave me that psychological respite, that I was doing something to survive. I had only two friends I confided in amongst my colleagues, and very often they offered me useful advice.