June 6, 2024

Presidency: Where is Senator Shettima?


VP Shettima

By Yushau Shuaib

Senator Kashim Shettima, a charismatic and eloquent politician, demonstrated exceptional leadership by proactively spearheading the Bola Tinubu presidential campaign, even before the aspirant’s official declaration.

At the time, some long-time loyalists of Tinubu, including those he had appointed to offices during his governorship of Lagos (1999-2007), those he had influenced their appointments in strategic positions (2007-2015) and those he had endorsed for top public offices during the presidency of Muhammadu Buhari (2015-2023), were opposed to the Jagaban’s aspiration.

Undeterred, Shettima, a skilled political strategist, championed Tinubu’s brand, defying the presidency’s body language and the APC leadership’s political machinations.

Shettima’s journey is a testament to his unwavering dedication and resilience in pursuing his beliefs. From his humble beginnings as an Agricultural Economist, earning his BSc and MSc from reputable Nigerian universities to his transition from academia to banking and eventually politics in 2007, his path is a shining example of inspiration and recognition.

During his tenure as Commissioner under Governor Ali Modu Sheriff, Shettima oversaw various portfolios, including Finance, Education, Agriculture, Health, Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs. Significant achievements marked his leadership as Governor of Borno State from 2011 to 2019.

His commendable efforts in tackling the Boko Haram insurgency, such as establishing and funding the Civilian JTF, a youth volunteer group supporting the military in counter-terrorism efforts, are a testament to his capabilities. His peace-building initiatives included rehabilitating victims of terrorism, remodelling schools, and building new boarding primary and junior secondary schools to accommodate over 50,000 unaccompanied orphans whose parents were killed by insurgents across the state’s 27 local government areas. As Chairman of the Northern States Governors’ Forum, he was pivotal in promoting national unity and driving critical changes in the region.

As he sought a Senate seat at the close of his tenure in office, Shettima showcased selflessness and trust in his protege, Professor Babagana Umara Zulum, who he groomed to succeed him as the Governor of Borno State in 2019. Both men emerged victorious in the election as a testament to their effective partnership. He resisted the temptation to micromanage or exert undue influence over his successor, instead allowing Zulum to lead independently. This exemplary relationship between a political godfather and a godson starkly contrasts the often contentious dynamics between governors and their successors, making it a shining example of harmonious transition and leadership.

During his time in the upper legislative chamber of the National Assembly, Senator Shettima discreetly championed Tinubu’s presidential aspirations before launching a robust and inclusive campaign in 2022. His efforts contrasted with the apparent apathy of many Northern politicians, governors, and cabinet members from the previous administration toward Tinubu.

The Senator passionately advocated for the North to reciprocate Tinubu’s instrumental role in actualising Buhari’s long-held presidential ambition, framing it as a moment of payback and political reciprocity.

One of the three governors of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, that merged with other parties to form the APC, Shettima repeatedly told his audience that Tinubu not only supported Buhari through thick and thin, he had also previously shelved his ambition to support two Northern presidential aspirants former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, and former EFCC Chairman, Nuhu Riyadh, even when Northern elements were against both of them. His repeated political catchphrase, targeted at the conservative Northern elites, was: “We are people of honour; we should honour our pledge and promise. This is payback time for the North to support Tinubu.”

He pointedly stated that Buhari’s popularity in the North was not enough to secure the presidency until he was repackaged, rebranded and resold by Tinubu to Nigerians, especially in the South-West in 2015.

His relentless campaign and pivotal role influenced Northern politicians in his party to soft-pedal and embrace Tinubus campaign team.

After winning the convention, Tinubu nominated Shettima as his running mate, and they eventually won the election in 2023.

It’s intriguing, therefore, to note that after President Tinubu’s inauguration, the Shettima we now see in the Presidency, as the Vice President, is not like the ebullient person we knew. This stark contrast in his demeanour has left some of us deeply unsettled.

Since Tinubu’s government was inaugurated in May 2023, the vibrant and outspoken Shettima seems to have become a shadow of himself. Unlike previous holders of the same office, his current position as Vice President seems less defined. Some agencies that should be under his supervision have been merged with other ministries that relate directly to the President, raising questions about his current influence and responsibilities.

Despite this, Shettima has earned a reputation for exceptional leadership and hospitality towards people of all faiths and ethnicities. He is the most detribalised public officer in Tinubu’s government, with at least 70 per cent of his aides from diverse backgrounds. A Kanuri man, he exemplified the same inclusive leadership while he was Governor by assembling a diverse team that reflected his values, consisting of individuals from various tribes and faiths, including Hausas, Fulanis, Igbos, Yorubas, Muslims, and non-Muslims, among others.

However, while some ministers are becoming more powerful and influential, it’s disheartening that Shettima could not do much for his people. For instance, he could not defend a renowned incorruptible female Chartered Accountant and a sister from his state, who was unjustly and prematurely retired from a senior position in an agency he supposedly supervised as the Vice President.

There are widespread speculations that a kitchen cabinet of Yoruba from the Lagos axis is running the affairs of the government and that they are responsible for the routine assignments passed to Shettima, such as attending to condolences and other inconsequential visitations.

While Shettima remains loyal to the President, Tinubu should be mindful that some of his major supporters before his inauguration are now bitterly disenchanted, including some retired military generals, former governors, and party chiefs. Many others need to be persuaded and wooed back into the political fold, not because of the ongoing alliance building up between former Vice President Abubakar Atiku, Peter Obi, and other dark horses across the political parties towards 2027, but because it is the right thing to do.

The President should also endeavour to erase the impression of the Yorubanisation and Lagosation of his government. Some claim that once you can speak Yoruba, especially with Lagosian accents, you are sure of getting the right connection with this government.

The Presidency needs to painstakingly evaluate its performance in office in the last one year and make serious amends where necessary, especially regarding its relationships with critical political and government stakeholders.

*Shuaib, a publisher and an award winning author, wrote from Abuja