If there is any behaviour that triggers palpable indignation in me, it is the dismissal and trivialisation of requisite urgent constitutional reforms in Nigeria. And this was precisely the behavior exhibited by former Borno state governor (and now the running mate to Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu in the presidential ticket of the All Progressive Congress, APC) in a parley with the channels television. The gaffe has found contemporary resonance in view of his new public circumstances and the increasing imperative of decentralisation and devolution of powers in Nigeria. Significantly, it is a characteristic behaviour which would not have mattered if his public purview has largely remained Borno state with marginal national outreach.
In the said interview he unloaded “Restructuring my foot, let’s restructure our minds, let’s restructure our quality of governance. When people are talking of artificial intelligence, when others are talking of robotics engineering, of nanotechnology, we are talking of restructuring the federation...Our problem is not an issue of devolution of powers, let’s be very honest”. It appears he he got his judgment beclouded by his inability to grapple with the correlation that behind the success of those societies he cited is the appropriate constitutional rules of the road.
For good and for bad, laws especially the constitution, are a prior category to leadership and governance. And we have the case study of Nigeria to prove the point. Who can entertain any doubt on the self-evident predisposing facility of regional federalism to the development heights attained by the three comprising regions of the West, East and the North in the first republic?.
Complemented by the Obafemi Awolowo utilitarian leadership, the constitutionally enabled regionalism was the bedrock on which the Western region stood to be counted on a projected development ladder that rivals the likes of the Asian tigers.
The same observation could easily be made of the Eastern region whose economy was rated as the fastest growing in the world at the material time. The healthy rivalry meant that the Northern region was equally set on a rapid modernisation momentum. In intellectual leadership capability and political legitimacy they don’t come better recommended than the trio of Chief Obafemi
Awolowo, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and Sir Ahmadu Bello. In collaboration with the British colonialists and several constitutional conferences to the bargain these were the leaders who arrived at the reasoned conclusion that what suits Nigeria best is regional federalism.
And we have the empirical evidence of the comparative study of pre and post 1966 political history of Nigeria to make the case that the farther we deviate from the constitutional groundnorm of federalism, the deeper we sink into the morass of economic underdevelopment and political instability. It is against the logic of this comprehension that the likes of Shettima still call the abiding wisdom of federalism to question. They will tell you that leadership is the be all tell all of governance as if leadership operates within a constitutional vacuum and that leadership and constitution are mutually exclusive.
I have found myself making this clarification now and again. Scientific study of society and policy prescription proceed from the premise of the worst not the best case scenario. In order to have an error proof prescription (as much as you can) you anticipate all that can go wrong and accordingly apply a preventive mitigation encapsulated in the constitution.
Beyond the requisite legal mandate of taking insurance policy on your vehicle is the self-enlightened anticipation of theft or accident. If you encounter neither happenstance then all is well and good but if you do then your loss is mitigated by the insurance you have taken. It is the same principle with the nexus between leadership and the constitution. If for instance, Peter Obi wins the presidency and goes ahead to fulfil his potential (regardless of the constitution) what happens after the completion of his tenure? Is Nigeria guaranteed to produce a good successor?
Against the run of his rhetorics and opposition to devolution of powers it is striking that the governorship legacy of Mr Shettima in Borno state includes the establishment of state and community police as attested in the underlisted excerpts
“The Borno State government on Saturday, inducted a total of 2,900 youth volunteer force as members of a newly created Neighbourhood Watch, whose role includes sniffing out drug abusers and perpetrators of other related crimes” .
“The governor said the formation of N-Watch is part of his community policing initiatives which he said has yielded positive result in the past when it was tested with the Civilian-Jtf. The Neighbourhood Watch (N-Watch) is a replica of the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) that came into force in 2013 as a volunteer group helping the military to combat Boko Haram. Has a better argument for the decentralisation of the Nigerian police ever made?”
In similar dire straits and their backs against the wall, the governors of katsina and Zamfara states have gone a step further to call for individual citizen policing and local people’s militia. Echoing his katsina state counterpart Governor mutawallen of Zamfara state lately issued the proclamation that “Government has henceforth, directed individuals to prepare and obtain guns to defend themselves against the bandits, as government has directed the state commissioner of police to issue licence to all those who qualify and are wishing to obtain such guns to defend themselves”. And here in the South West we can bear testimony to the difference the Amotekun corps has made to the security of the region.
The notoriety of Shettima (obscured by the widespread public censure of the Goodluck Jonathan presidency) was first brought to national attention with the abduction of 276 female students in a Chibok secondary school on the night of 14th of April 2014. Prior to the abduction the federal government wrote to the then Borno State governor, Kashim Shettima to alert him on the impending danger of terrorist attacks on secondary schools in the three North Eastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa’.
The minister of education adverted the attention of the governors to the “current security challenges in the Norh East parts of the country and consequently directed that the candidates in the Federal Unity Schools be assembled in their respective state capitals where they are to sit for the examinations in a safe ocation. And enjoined the governors to make contingent arrangements for students in both public and private schools in your state to sit the examinations in safe location”
In a subsequent inquiry, the West African Examination Council, WAEC testified that “The Borno state government refused to relocate the students from Chibok to safer places like Maiduguri.. Aware of the poor security situation in Borno and worried about the safety of students, the West African Examination Council, WAEC, declined to conduct its Senior School Certificate Examination in unsafe parts of Borno, including Chibok”.
In an unbelievable rationalisation of his failure to act against the evidence of these copious prior warnings and alerts, the governor protested that “No one anticipated that attack just like no Nigerian could have anticipated attacks on the secured Police Headquarters in Abuja by the Boko Haram in 2012″. And in direct contradiction of himself he admitted “It is however true that there were security concerns raised by the WAEC on the need for security to be provided in all examination centres without any emphasis on GSS, Chibok”.
When then the calamitous abduction became reality, the same governor refused to call the president to brief him because “What happens in our unwritten protocol in Nigeria is that, in the event of major security problems, it is the president that summons a governor or calls him on phone or directs the Vice President to call on his behalf for sympathy”. Is this the nitpicking that the lifes of 276 students are about to Shettima? Is the laxity of the president sufficient justification for the wilful disregard of the governor to seize the initiative?
If Nigeria were to be invaded through Borno state by an external aggressor, would it be right of Shettima to sit back and follow his so called unwritten protocol? On the one hand, he disregarded and shunned the preventive directive of the federal government to evacuate the students and then turned around to blame the same president for not being responsive for the mess he created.
And then of course there is the extreme sense of poor judgement he demonstrated on the occasion of the Abẹ́òkúta meltdown of his principal days to the presidential primaries of their party, the APC. On the following day in Lagos, he capped his tantrums on a live television programme with the absurd vituperation on vice president Yemi Osinbajo that “nice people do not make good leaders because they tend to be nasty. Nice men should be “selling popcorn and ice cream”. According to the BBC, his credentials also include the peculiar story of the christmas day bomber, Mr kabiru sokoto “who was arrested in Abuja at a lodge owned by the governor of Borno state, Kashim Shettima” .
To recap, attitudes toward the restoration of federalism have spanned the gamut of genuine ignorance, feigned ignorance, paranoia and political arrogance. Whosoever is wilfully condemning restructuring especially those who do so in foul and obscene verbiage should know that he is implicitly attacking the founding fathers of Nigeria namely the British colonialists, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and Sir Ahmadu Bello. These were the leaders (who acting with the political legitimacy reposed in them by the peoples of Nigeria) prescribed and gave us federalism as encapsulated in the 1960 independence constitution. To be clear, once again, the meaning of constitutional restructuring advocacy is the restoration of the principle of federalism employing the independence constitution as role model
By the way, Mr Shettima has harboured a premonition for their presidential ticket. He pronounced it dead on arrival with this prophecy in 2018. “Nobody had ever aspired to be president of this country and got it. As popular as President Buhari is, with is bite-like grip among the Northern masses, on three occasions he couldn’t realise his dream. The fourth one, we literally (the governors, the party, the party leaders) dragged him to contest the 2015 election. Go down the memory lane, the Nigerian presidency doesn’t go for the person who runs after it”. Did his principal not say it is his lifelong ambition to become the president of Nigeria?