In Praise of A Governor Who Acts and Listens
With Kashim Shettima bound to step down as Governor of Borno state and chairman of Northern Governors’ Forum in the coming few months, it becomes apt for both his admirers and opponents to look back on some memorable moments of his leadership in those capacities.
His numerous accomplishments include unifying the North and consolidating its diversity while guiding Borno through a devastating security and financial crisis, increasing its inclusivity and being a forceful champion of one strong, united and prosperous Nigeria.
While Shettima’s achievements make it difficult to summarize his legacy simply, it is still non-debatable that his personal qualities stand out.
Any attempt to cite his accomplishments must thus begin by mentioning the rare characteristics he brought to every challenge: integrity, honesty, and compassion.
These are character traits that made him excel as a leader across all domains, from the intellectual and the organizational to the ethical and the human, standing him out as a model who exemplifies and stewards organizational values of honesty, responsibility, empathy, and public service.
He has earned a place as a role model of kindness, thoughtfulness, and integrity; he is enormously receptive to the concerns of the people and supportive of the women and children development system about which he is always out front as a thoughtful listener and leader.
He must also be praised for his willingness to tackle the sometimes difficult legacy of correcting past wrongs, like indirect youth enslavement in a way that helps the northern youths make sense of what came before.
Similarly, Governor Shettima deserves credit not only for a steady brand of leadership, but also for a forward-thinking and value-driven one — as bold as it is thoughtful.
True, Shettima had little time to settle into the job after being elected and sworn-is as governor in 2011, as Borno and most parts of the northern region plunged into a devastating security crisis, a key test in which he displayed a steadying hand.
Though the security crisis, especially in Borno predated his assumption, Shettima has managed to earn the most credit for managing the state through that trying time, and for preserving important priorities such as financial aid for reconstruction and resettlement of refugees.
His work to open up communities earlier locked down by insurgency was critically important, as was his work to get the destroyed economy of the state which he inherited, working again.
These multiple challenges potentially makes leading Borno really a matter of character. But then in many respects, Shettima’s most important management tools are intellectualism, politeness and integrity, which he used to tremendous effect over the last seven years.
One of the major success stories of Shettima’s government in Borno is therefore swift manner in which he mproved security in the state capital, Maiduguri and surrounding local government areas.
He made it a point to continue to give support to the federal troops and other national security agencies while solely funding the activities of the volunteer vigilante group called Civilian-JTF, which helps to check and control insurgent attacks.
Shettima’s efforts in this regard have helped restore normalcy in most parts of the state especially in Maiduguri where night life has since returned after years of curfew.
Amidst the turmoil, his government was able to create jobs via several initiatives targeted at addressing the insurgency-induced socio-economic problems.
For instance thousands of youths have been engaged in the making of interlocking bricks that are used in landscaping most parts of the State capital. Thousands of young men and women more are also engaged in various capacities under the Borno State Environmental Protection Agency (BOSEPA).
Similarly, the management of camps for internally displaced persons, IDPs, which proved initially a challenge for the government, later turned out a success with the introduction of a household feeding system for IDPs by Shettima.
He also led an aggressive campaign for support within and outside the country, which made agencies like the Dangote Foundation donate N2 billion in support of IDPs welfare and the reconstruction effort.
Yet another major achievement is the reconstruction of towns and villages destroyed by Boko Haram.
He committed to the resettlement effort — from working together to improve public schools, to creating and fostering collaborative efforts regarding the human and environmental security and sustainability, to ensuring that the resettled communities continue to be able to access all that government has to offer.
In the pursuit of this commitment, Shettima’s government in 2016 created the Ministry of Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement that was saddled with the task of rebuilding all public buildings and homes of the displaced persons.
Work has been completed in several villages within the most affected areas of Kaga, Bama, Gwoza, Askira Uba and Gamboru-Ngala.
The government has since commenced the relocation of IDPs back to some of the liberated communities.
Members of these displaced communities cannot forget Shettima for a long time to come for working to resettle them comfortably through collaborative programmes and new initiatives.
Another success story of Shettima’s administration is the completion of the popular Lagos street road and bridge, which was started in his first tenure in 2011. The completed road has eased traffic gridlock along the route leading to the University of Maiduguri and the teaching hospital.
Remarkably, in the seven years that Shettima has led the most troubled place in Nigeria’s history, he has made economic viability and sustainability a prioty of government marking him as an invaluable leader that will leave a stronger Borno state to his successor.
Shettima’s success in creating an intellectually generative economic environment in a tumultuous region can therefore, certainly not be overstated.
His exceptional leadership has strengthened every sector of Borno’s economy and positioned the state well for the rapidly developing challenges and opportunities of the coming times.
Beyond the borders of Borno, Shettima’s inherent resolve as leader of the NGF revolves around a pledge to carry forward the principles of such past northern leaders as the late Sir Ahmadu Bello and Abubakar Tafawa Balewa by working for communal harmony.
His great love for the people of the North, close association with regional and national leaders and his soft corner for the coming generations account for his success in ensuring that northern communities and all sections of Nigerian society live in harmony.
Shettima had always believed in communal harmony and urged the younger generation of the North and the whole of Nigeria to bury their mistrust and communal differences and work for the overall unity and development of the country.
An excellent bridge-builder, Shettima has proven his commitment true by serving his state and intervening in the affairs of the whole North during some of the most challenging times with tremendous grace and substance, bringing strategic and creative vision to the NGF and moving it forward as one.
With this, it becomes safe to conclude that since the first republic, the North might not have known of a leader with such gifts of mind and heart, who has made governance a more excellent and a more compassionate business, not least by insisting that compassion itself is a quality that admits of excellence.
And the diverse Nigerian ethnicities and tribes cannot help but admire his inspirational leadership and selfless perseverance towards the peaceful resolution of the ethnic hostilities that reared its head mid last year which severly threatened the very existence of the country.
On a wider plank, Shettima’s initiative and support for an expanded and collective war on drug abuse reaching across the entire country, well beyond the borders of northern Nigeria, is another achievement of no mean proportion.
From next year, Borno state would doubtlessly miss the good fortune of being stewarded by such an innovative, forward-thinking man unless he is given the unconditional benefit of solely recommending a worthy successor.
The northern region and its people as well as all Nigerian ethnic nationalities are also bound to miss Shettima’s role as NGF chairman, but will heartily welcome him in the company of federal legislators from next year.
Abdul-azeez Suleiman, a journalist, writes from Abuja, Nigeria.