The good times and the bad times, he has seen them all. He remembers the good old days when as a manager of Zenith Bank in Maiduguri, his branch was harvesting a daily cash collection of one billion naira.
“Around 2003 and 2004, we were processing one billion naira of cash per day,” Kashim Shettima revealed, reveling in the pride and nostalgia of better times and a paradise lost. “We were the highest cash-processing branch of any bank in Nigeria. Not in Onitsha. Not in Kano. Not in Balogun Market… Dangote once confessed to me that 50 percent of his products pass through Maiduguri.”
Then came Boko Haram. “Because of Boko Haram extorting money from traders, they were castrating their businesses. And most businessmen in Borno became beggars overnight. I know of people who were worth 200 to 300 million but they were reduced to the status of beggars.”
From a banker who entered politics to become the two-term governor of Borno State, I asked Shettima: “What are the leadership lessons you learnt from the Boko Haram crisis?” He replied quoting Vivien Greene, wife of the celebrated atheist novelist Graham Greene who converted to Catholicism just to marry her only to separate from her for life.
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass,” Vivien Greene famously said. “It is about learning how to dance in the rain.”
Shettima expatiated: “You don’t fold your arms and say until the whole peace is restored before you start performing. Yes, there is crisis. It could be worse than what it is now. So you have to make efforts to invest in the future. You have to be a merchant of hope. You have to make efforts to add value. We were making preparation for post-Borno conflict in the midst of the crisis. I picked the best staff you could get anywhere. Audu Ogbeh was in the ACN by then. Ibrahim Ali was my opponent in the 2015 gubernatorial election. He contested under ACN. But I know Ali has a lot of potentials. I appreciated the in-depth knowledge that Audu Ogbeh has on agriculture. Then I brought in this gentleman: Prof. Babagana Umara Zulum who is a professor of irrigation engineering. I brought in the best team that one could gather anywhere. We went round the world in search of agricultural materials. Experience is not something you can buy in the marketplace. You have to pay the price.”
Prof. Zulum would be sworn in on May 29 as the new governor of Borno State. In choosing Zulum as his successor, Shettima has shown that he is not your typical vainglorious Nigerian governor who wouldn’t want a Saul and David jealousy and rivalry scenario playing out after his exit. He is the first to admit that his successor, in all respects, is better than himself: “To be quite blunt with you, he is head and shoulders above me in terms of intellect, in terms of capacity, in terms of indefatigability, and even in terms of integrity. He was the first Rector of Ramat Polytechnic here in Maiduguri. He transformed the institution into a world-class citadel of learning. He was the pioneer Commissioner for Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement. He was the one who rebuilt Bama, Gwoza and so many communities. Here is a Nigerian who had the opportunity of handling 20 billion naira and doesn’t have a car or a house of his own. In Things Fall Apart, one elder said: ‘He whose palm kernels were cracked by benevolent spirits should learn to be humble.’ Achebe observed that Okonkwo cracked his own kernel. This gentleman (Zulum) somehow was riding a pickup van. He financed his own education. His life history resonates with the common man. And most importantly, no one understands development nexus more than him. He is our gateway to the World Bank, European Union and to most of our development partners. They have invested their confidence in him. So having him as a governor is a blessing. Just yesterday, he went and mobilized 20 million euros for us. I can assure you that in the next four to eight years, by the grace of God, this gentleman would take Borno to where Lagos is now. He is somebody who is passionate about the state, who will work for the state, who is very committed to the common good. There is no cause for alarm.”
As May 29 approaches, Governor Shettima is receding to the background and pushing Zulum to the forefront. “I would rather allow him to take charge,” he said. Even when a journalist Sam Omatseye tried to bring two of them together for a TV interview, Shettima declined, saying: “This is the time for me to take a backseat.”
Digging into his rich repertoire of lofty quotes and anecdotes, Shettima recalled: “When Charles De Gaulle resigned from the French presidency, he was asked: ‘Why did you resign?’ And he replied: ‘I want to withdraw from events before events withdraw from me.’”
“Power is the most ephemeral of all gifts to humanity,” Shettima continued. “Whether you like it or not, you will spend more years outside power than in power. So I said to Sam Omatseye: ‘Invite Prof Zulum. Give him all the limelight. Give him all the support.’ For me, I am an expired politician heading to Abuja. So on the 29th of May, with all humility and loyalty, I will pledge my allegiance to Prof Zulum. As per the constitution of our party, the governor is the leader of the party in the state. My relevance would be a function of my humility. My relevance would be directly proportional to the way I conduct myself. The maturity I exhibit. That is when I may be relevant from behind the scene. If I try to hoist myself and say I would have a third term, that he is a university professor, he knows nothing about politics, then, I would end up paying a heavy price. I have the best of relationship with him. He is my partner and friend. And now he has become my leader. So definitely, we would support him. I want to thank the media from the bottom of my heart. By God’s grace, I never had any media scandal all through my tenure. I want you to extend the same friendship to him. As I said, he is more upright than I am.”
Without any doubt, Senator Kashim Shettima is a man to watch at the Senate. The good times and the bad times. He has seen them all! From his corporate governance experience as a banker and a crisis manager, he has acquired wisdom and the capacity to enrich debates in the Senate and on Senate Committees.
“To walk toward the future, the past is needed,” Pope Francis once said. Senator Shettima, an intellectual lover of quotable quotes is probably familiar with this. One thing he can be rest assured of is his educational legacy which will outlive him. Generations of Borno children will remember and benefit from the legacy of a governor who built modern, air-conditioned primary schools and equipped them as a bulwark against Boko Haram dragging Borno and Nigeria into the Dark Ages.