By Olu Fasan
If Alhaji Bola Ahmed Tinubu, presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, becomes president next year, it is not only his exclusionist Muslim-Muslin presidency that would unsettle Nigeria, but also his would-be deputy, Alhaji Kashim Shettima. With Shettima’s inherent tetchiness and truculence, he would be gratuitously provocative. And with his uncouthness and indiscretion, he would be utterly divisive and toxifying. Truth is, a Vice-President Shettima would be unlike any civilian vice-president in Nigeria’s history.
But that proposition stands on another critical one that we must discuss first, namely: no previous presidential candidate in Nigeria did what Tinubu has done. I’m not referring to the devilry of his Muslim-Muslim ticket. Rather, I’m talking about his deliberate decision to pick a long-standing political ally and close associate as his running-mate. None of the past leading presidential candidates behaved in that manner.
Consider the evidence. Shehu Shagari barely personally knew Alex Ekwueme before making him his running-mate; MKO Abiola had no prior close political or personal relationship with Baba Gana Kingibe; Olusegun Obasanjo was not Atiku Abubakar’s buddy; Umaru Musa Yar’Adua hardly personally knew Goodluck Jonathan; Jonathan himself had no prior long-standing political or personal relationship with Namadi Sambo; and Muhammadu Buhari wouldn’t, prior to 2015, regard Osinbajo as a political soulmate.
But Tinubu puts personal friendship and loyalty above all else. As Lagos State governor, Tinubu had three deputy governors within eight years, having triggered the impeachments of two of them. So, a plausible interpretation is that he doesn’t want to work with a vice-president with whom he has no cosy, bonded relationship. Thus, he picked as running-mate a long-standing political ally, who ran his presidential primary campaign and was neck-deep in the shenanigans that secured him victory.
Given Tinubu’s style of politics, this is potentially dangerous. His feudalisation of Lagos State politics and government is based on treating the state as a personal fiefdom, whereby he, the feudal lord, is surrounded by ultra-loyal serfs, who all seem to have sworn to an oath of secrecy. There must be real fear that a President Tinubu and a Vice-President Shettima would put their personal loyalty above open government; that their cosiness would trump good governance. Sadly, the omens are bad!
Recently, Shettima audaciously carved out functions between himself and Tinubu. He said that if they won next year, he would be “in charge of” security while Tinubu would handle the economy. Essentially, Shettima was reversing the traditional and constitutional roles of president and vice-president. Traditionally and constitutionally, the vice-president, as chairman of the National Economic Council and head of the Economic Management Committee, leads on the economy, albeit reporting to the president. But the president, as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, is undisputedly in charge of national security. For a vice-president to be “in charge of” security, he must have control over the security chiefs, who are usually answerable to the Commander-in-Chief. A feasible proposition? No, it’s a recipe for utter dysfunctionality!
Indeed, come to think of it. Why would someone who, as state governor, ignored intelligence warnings about the abduction of the 276 Chibok girls in 2014, some of whom still remain in captivity, be so arrogant and insensitive as to say he would be “in charge of” security if he became vice president? And why would a presidential candidate that prioritises the national interest agree to such a warped idea from his running-mate? No previous vice-presidential candidate displayed such a muscular and ambitious tendency.
But, in truth, there are worrying parallels between Tinubu and Shettima. Last week, Shettima listed Tinubu’s attributes that he admires. Speaking at the 96th anniversary celebration of the Yoruba Tennis Club in Ikoyi, Lagos, on September 15, Shettima said, among other things, that Tinubu has General Ibrahim Babangida’s “situational pragmatism and Maradonic skills” and General Sani Abacha’s “taciturnity and ruthlessness”.
Of course, considering how Tinubu manoeuvred his party’s leadership, delegates, and fellow aspirants to secure the presidential ticket, none would doubt his Maradonic or Machiavellian skills. And seeing how he turned Lagos State into a captive fiefdom, his ruthlessness can never be questioned. Taciturnity? Well, try and ask Tinubu about his past. These are the qualities Shettima praised to high heaven, but they are not the attributes Nigerians need in their leader.
Which brings us to Shettima himself. What are his unique attributes? And are they fit for purpose? Well, first, there’s a consensus that the former Borno State governor, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agricultural economics, is well read and eloquent, with a fondness for quoting great authors. But as Isaiah Berlin says in his great essay ‘The Hedgehog and the Fox’, knowledge is not wisdom. Knowledge is having considerable information; wisdom is using it in a way that shows good judgement.
Unfortunately, Shettima often doesn’t exercise wisdom in his words and actions. He showed this character flaw during his aggressive management of Tinubu’s presidential primary campaign when he insulted virtually every opponent, including saying that “nice men” like Vice President Yemi Osinbajo “should be selling popcorn and ice-cream”. He showed it when he wore sneakers to the annual conference of the Nigerian Bar Association, later boasting that he did so “deliberately” to “mock” his detractors. Hardly vice-presidential!
But if those examples are trivial, consider this. The only defining issue in Nigeria today is restructuring. But what did Shettima say about it? In a viral video, he said: “Restructuring my foot.” Really? Dismissing such a critical national issue so uncouthly?
All this matters because, truth be told, if Tinubu wins next year, Nigeria would be more turbulent and divided than it has been under President Buhari. In such circumstances, a belligerent vice-president with a tendency for tetchiness would exacerbate the situation. Nigeria is inherently volatile and prone to crisis. It needs a calm and thoughtful vice-president who can help douse tension, not one that will inflame it through reckless and provocative comments. Shettima simply doesn’t fit the bill!