The rising tension in Borno State polity was brought to fore on Saturday when the state governor, Kashim Shettima, was pelted with stones during a visit by Ali Sheriff, his predecessor.
Mr. Sheriff, a former governor of Borno State, is a leader of the All Progressives Congress in the North East part of Nigeria.
The stoning incident which happened when Mr. Shettima was on his way to the airport, according to the governor’s spokesperson, Isa Gusau, was orchestrated by politicians who used hired thugs brought in from outside the state to embarrass his boss.
“Some thugs believed to have been hired outside Borno State, were smuggled into Maiduguri for the sole purpose of breaching the emerging peace in the city”, Mr. Gusau said in an email on Sunday to journalists. “Governor Kashim Shettima was on his way to the Maiduguri International airport on Saturday, for the purpose of inspecting facilities brought in from Lagos by the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, NAMA, to speed up the opening of Maiduguri’s airspace for use by air travellers. The visit was meant to be a follow up to the Governor’s meeting with the M.D of NAMA as well as Chairman, CEO of Arik airline in Lagos, two weeks ago, towards the reopening of the airport which had been closed down.”
The attack on Mr. Shettima happened at a time thousands of supporters of Mr. Sheriff were preparing to welcome him to the state after a long time.
Regarded as a foremost politician in the state, the former governor’s visit attracted the presence of many top Borno politicians, including National Assembly members, state assembly members, serving commissioners, and advisers of Governor Shettima’s cabinet, amongst others.
PREMIUM TIMES gathered that Mr. Sheriff, being the god-father to many politicians in the APC-dominated state, and a known benefactor of the incumbent governor, is engaged in a cold war with the latter. It is also rumoured that the APC leader has already started shopping for Mr. Shettima’s replacement from amongst his loyalists in the ruling party.
It was also learnt that Mr. Shettima in the past used his office as governor to frustrate such visit by Mr. Sheriff.
According to testimonies from various witnesses who saw the governor being attacked, Mr. Shettima’s convoy was heading towards the Maiduguri International Airport at the time some youth were on their way to welcome one Muhammed Imam, who is touted as a possible challenger of Mr. Shettima for the APC governorship ticket in 2015.
Mr. Shettima’s convoy drove into the crowd of young people who angrily started pelting him with stones and sachet water, while calling him names.
Yahaya Wakili, an automobile mechanic who lives near the airport junction, told journalists that it took the intervention of policemen of the nearby Police Crack Squad to disperse the angry youth by releasing canisters of tear gas at the mob.
“We really don’t know what was happening on Saturday morning but we saw youth, who were obviously political thugs, gathering on the way to the airport. Some said they were expecting the arrival of former Commissioner called Alhaji Muhammed Imam. The youth, who wore various T-Shirts and caps with APC and Imam’s logo printed on them, were at a point chased away from the road leading to the airport by the police of Special Squad Division whose office was located along the airport road. Some of the youth thought it was Governor Shettima that ordered them to be chased. Suddenly at about 10am or so, we heard the siren of the governor blaring past towards the airport and we also heard shouts ‘mai chin amana, mai chin amana’ (betrayer, betrayer) as they continued to haul stones at the governor’s convoy”, Mr. Wakili, whose workshop is along the airport road, said.
Mr. Gusau said the incident did not perturb his boss who urged his security details to be calm and insisted they moved on to carry out their assignment at the airport.
“While the Governor was heading towards the airport, the hired thugs attempted to breach his convoy by exhibiting all manner of behaviour true to the job they were hired to do. If Governor Kashim Shettima were to be violent, he could have directed his security detail to descend on the thugs but instead, he calmed nerves and ensured that there was no breach of peace with no injury. He calmed members of his entourage and security details,” Mr. Gusau said.
He said the police dispersed the youth and the governor went on to complete his inspection at the airport.
“He spoke with NAMA officials and to his credit, Maiduguri’s airspace is now open to all flight operations. After the inspection, Governor Shettima trekked for 2 kilometres from the airport acknowledging cheers from residents who obviously appreciated his effort in gaining peace and progress in Borno State,” Mr. Gusau said.
When asked whether he subscribed to the rumour that the attackers were hired by Mr. Sheriff’s loyalists to ridicule Mr. Shettima, the spokesperson said, “We do not know those behind that attempt. It is the responsibility of security agencies and journalists to identify them. But (what) we do know is that Governor Shettima’s focus is entirely on delivering projects and programmes to better the lives.”
Meanwhile, the ex-governor, Mr. Sheriff, made a triumphant entry into the city amidst a choking convoy that halted the city’s traffic for about two hours.
Interestingly, Mr. Shettima was not around to welcome his fellow APC member and predecessor.
The deputy governor, Zannah Mustapha, and five members of the Federal House of Representative accompanied Mr. Sheriff from Gombe State airport to condole the Emir of Shani’s family in Shani Town before they made the 250km trip to Maiduguri on Sunday. At the entry to the city, all members of the state assembly, led by their speaker, Abdulkareem Lawan, turned out to welcome Mr. Sheriff along with hundreds of party loyalists including some serving members of the state executive council.
Mr. Sheriff, who was visibly elated by the tumultuous welcome and reception, said his visit to Maiduguri was unplanned. He said he decided to come to Maiduguri after his visit to Shani to condole the family of the late emir, Muhamnadu Mailafiya, who died recently.
“I have not visited Maiduguri for the past 11 months now, but the demise of our Royal father, the Emir of Shani, actually created an opportunity for me to visit and see my people. I am deeply happy and humbled by this huge welcome you gave me from Damboa up to Maiduguri. I also thank the people of Bayo, Kwayakusar, Biu, and Hawul whose huge turn out to accompany me to Shani and back to Biu yesterday was unprecedented,” he said.
He declined further comments on whether he was planning any major political move ahead of 2015.
Shettima carves new niche for himself
Mr. Sheriff led Borno State as governor between 2003 and 2011, making him the only person to have governed the state for two-terms. After his tenure, he virtually installed Mr. Shettima, a banker with little political pedigree, as his successor. Mr. Shettima became the flagbearer of the then All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, Mr. Sheriff’s party, and eventually won the governorship election. The choice of Mr. Shettima as the ANPP flagbearer was opposed by many members of the party. Both men became members of the APC when the ANPP merged with other parties to form the former.
Mr. Sheriff, who was a senator before winning the 2003 governorship election, lost a 2011 senatorial seat to his Peoples Democratic Party challenger.
The current governor has used every opportunity to distance himself from Mr. Sheriff’s government; perhaps to appease many residents who blame Mr. Sheriff for the insecurity in the state.
And at every political forum available, Mr. Sheriff’s years of stint is being used as a metaphor for bad governance, in spite of the fact that both Mr. Shettima and his political benefactor are of the same political party.
Befriending the enemy
The fight for supremacy between the two politicians has split the Borno APC into two factions.
Mr. Shettima’s loyalists want him to form his own political structure, different from the already existing and rooted structure of his boss ahead of 2015; a move the governor appears to be towing.
The governor is becoming increasingly popular among Borno residents for what some describe as his simplicity, humble disposition, and style of development. Also, in the past three months, Mr. Shettima has been receiving defectors from the opposition PDP into the APC. Most of the new entrants were once political rivals of Mr. Sheriff, who challenged him in his two-terms as governor.
“Courting friendship with the enemies of your benefactor could be the worst treachery committed by Governor Shettima”, said a serving adviser in Mr. Shettima’s cabinet, who asked not to be named so as not to be victimized by the governor.
“We all know why Senator Sheriff had to deal with some politicians politically; and we all know how it assisted us to remain in power since 1999. If you now come and try to befriend these people who claim they love you because you are different from Sheriff, then be sure of a venomous bite, because you invited vipers into your home”, said the politician.
During Mr. Sheriff’s grand entry and rally in Maiduguri on Sunday, the posters of Mr. Imam, a former ANPP state chairman, who also served as Commissioner for Water Resources and Education during the eight years tenure of Mr. Sheriff, was seen pasted all over the town, touting him as a possible replacement for Mr. Shettima. Some of the inscription on the posters and billboards read, Muhammed Imam for 2015.
A serving member of the House of Reps for the Chibok, Damboa, Gwoza Federal constituency, Peter Guptha, described the sour relationship between Messrs Shettima and Sheriff as unfortunate.
“The best thing I expect from Governor Shettima is to avoid people who would incite him against his god-father”, he said. “I believe Sheriff meant well when he brought him in and made him a governor. Building one’s political structure is a very difficult task; it takes more than two years or the days of a four years tenure to achieve. That is why we have to rely on existing structure. Shettima is a nice gentleman, but those advising him towards the path of war are the evil ones”.