By Ismail Omipidan
it was September,2014.Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State had embarked on planned assessment meetings with school authorities in Sudan and the United Kingdom, where 70 students on the state’s sponsorship were undergoing undergraduate studies in Medicine and Geo-Sciences.He had hardly arrived his first destination, when Boko Haram insurgents took over Bama, one of the most populated towns in the state, just about 70kilometres from Maiduguri, the Borno State capital.
Palpable tension was in the air as news went round that Maiduguri, the seat of power too, was about to be overrun by the sect.Shettima immediately cut short his trip, took the next available flight and by September 4, 2014, he arrived Abuja, where he held strategic meetings on the Bama takeover and constituted a committee to oversee the distribution of relief materials to victims of the Bama attack.
Done with the meeting, he announced his intention to return to Maiduguri,the next day,an intention almost everyone around him, including this writer kicked against.As one who had known him right from his days at Zenith Bank Plc, in Maiduguri, I sought an audience with him, during which I tried unsuccessfully to persuade him against returning to Maiduguri, the next day.I advised,he should instead stay for a few more days before returning.
But the arguments he advanced,shocked me. Interestingly, he revealed some of those things in his public speeches and interactions with Journalists, sometime last year. He had told me among other things: “Mallam Samaila (that’s what he calls me), it’s better for me to be killed serving my people, than for Maiduguri, with several internally displaced persons to fall to Boko Haram, while I am away. That will amount to cowardice.”
Seeing his courage and determination to return, I prayed with him and wished him well.By the next day, Friday September 5, a day after he returned to Maiduguri, he addressed citizens of the state in a state-wide broadcast and thereafter, moved round the city, the same way, our security operatives display a show of force, just to keep the spirit of the citizens alive and to let them know he was not a runaway governor.Coincidentally,exactly two years after that traumatic and emotional day, family, friends and well wishers, numbering about 200, gathered in Maiduguri, to attend a reception in his honour, to mark his Golden Jubilee. Ironically, the event was initially slated for Friday, September 2, 2016, the same day and date he was born 50 years ago, but a presidential appointment for the same date, forced organizers of the event to shift it to Monday, September 5, 2016, thus, compelling me also to recall the events of September 5, 2014.
It will interest Nigerians and other readers to know that the reception was not the typical Owanbe kind of celebration, befitting the status of a typical Nigerian state governor, who attained the age of 50. There were no assorted drinks. We had water, soft drinks and your regular kinds of fruits- apples and pears. Not a dime was taken from the coffers of the state government,to put the event,which lasted for just two hours,together.The list of donors and amount donated, were read out to the hearing of all of us seated in the hall.The donors, 30 of them, were coordinated by his spokesman, Isa Umar Gusau.
From the funds donated to him,50 children, orphaned by Boko Haram,were given life lines, with their school fees paid upfront for the next nine years. And just before we left the hall, Zenith Bank Plc, his former employers, also keyed into the educational empowerment of the children orphaned by Boko Haram, by offering to support additional 50 children, thus, bringing the number of beneficiaries to 100. Immediate past Governor of Kano State, Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso, chaired the event. Shettima’s lovely and ever supportive wife, Hajia Nana, was also on hand to lend her motherly support.
After the presentation of the awards and cutting of the cake,which was also donated, Governor Kashim Shettima, whom I knew reluctantly agreed to be treated to the reception, thanked all those who attended, including those who stood by him, especially the kid brothers of his estranged political leader,Senator Ali Modu Sheriff,during his (Shettima) political trials.
He also told the audience what those of us very close to him, had always known about his relationship with Sheriff.Said he:“During our travails with our political leader, some of our politicians elected to stand on the side of truth and justice, I never fought Ali Modu Sheriff. Ali Sheriff fought me. He made himself a tin god, until God demystified him and put him where he rightly belongs.”
Fifty years are indeed regarded as a golden age. But as late Coco Chanel, an influential French fashion designer puts it, “nature gives one the face one deserves at 20, but it is up to one to merit the face one has at 50 and even beyond.”
With what I know about Kashim Shettima, right from his days at Zenith Bank Plc and for the mere fact that since becoming governor in 2011, he has never for once, gathered people to say he was marking his birthday and for reluctantly accepting to be treated to a reception last Monday, I think he undoubtedly merits “the face” he has at 50. He has shown courage and leadership in the last five years as Borno governor.I pray he ends well. Happy birthday to you sir!
•Omipidan is the immediate past Kaduna NUJ, acting chairman.