Some of the reactions to Senator Kashim Shettima’s recent explosive interview on Arise TV, which have been trending on social media, betray the authors’ faded memories of the former Governor of Borno state. At the time an echo chamber was built by the Jonathan administration to isolate the government from public opinion, Shettima’s was the voice that rippled through. He called attention to the costs of that dereliction of duty, which enabled persistent cycle of explosions in urban centres, indiscriminate and targeted killings, and loss of vast territories to the Boko Haram, as the decision-makers weaponized pedestrian conspiracy theories to polarize the citizens left for death.
Recalling those dark years of his failure to protect the country in his 2018 book, My Transition Hours, former President Goodluck Jonathan didn’t miss the essence of Shettima, who was his haunting conscience then. Only that, typical of his style, he still refused to take responsibility for his inaction, especially on the abduction of Chibok girls. His version of the accounts of what transpired under his watch would’ve been an easy sale if Shettima had not been his notable outspoken critic, and unwilling to overlook the President’s casual indifference to a crumbling country.
Ironically, it was Shettima who gave perhaps the most concise review of the book when he described it as “a book of fiction designed to pass guilty verdicts to anyone but himself…” He should know better. When, as Governor, he appealed for reinforcements to redeem the military, at the time they were compelled to “tactically manoeuvre” following a clash with the advancing Boko Haram, Jonathan went as far as threatening to withdraw the troops from the northeast to demonstrate the anarchy likely to set in. Even Shettima, he said, would flee without the military. This politicizing reaction to a logical demand is the metaphor of the Jonathan years, and the revelations that have trailed it, from the diversion of funds meant for arms purchase to the corruption of service chiefs on trial, have validated Shettima’s helpless quests for a safer Nigeria.
The recent spotlight on Shettima is a reminder of his past rebellion, only this time the President is a member of his party. But, as passionately expressed in his Arise TV interview, “Buhari is not God. If there are things that need to be corrected, we are going to point it out to him.” This is the quality of patriotism that has been out of circulation in Nigeria, and the certainty of it breaking the echo chamber is not in doubt. Shettima’s message isn’t antagonistic, he acknowledged his people’s solidarity with the President. Only that, it’s obvious, the loyalty isn’t blind.
His was not all words—a case of empty talks. He criticised but also provided the way forward. “The current crop of service chiefs have outlived their usefulness,” he said in the Arise TV interview, “It’s high time President Buhari gets rid of them. We do appreciate their efforts in the past, but their efforts and game plans are not working and it’s high-time we fine-tune the strategies, inject some new blood and there has to be some synergy in the different arms of the security forces.”
Buhari’s indifference is more telling than Jonathan’s. Perhaps because he no longer needs the people, he finds solace in his echo chamber. Unlike the predecessor, who had to embark on a desperate campaign to liberate areas under the Boko Haram for electoral advantage ahead of the 2015 general elections, Buhari can afford to just pick his teeth in Aso Villa and casually read newspaper cartoons until his tenure elapses. The gravity of this indifference is intensifying that Shettima’s successor, Governor Babagana Zulum, who recently praised Buhari’s counterterrorism records, cried out that the police and military personnel manning checkpoints in Borno, are extorting the residents. The personnel are forcing those with no national ID cards to pay N1000 or N500, he said. He would later pass a vote of no confidence in the military’s will, and capacity, to take the people of Borno out of the woods of insecurity.
Since reading the presidency and the service chiefs the riot act, Shettima has become a recurring subject of antagonistic rejoinders. This couldn’t have been the position of rational thinkers, who would have taken note of the breakneck disintegration of the nation’s security system under Buhari. A friend shared some of these rejoinders on a WhatsApp group, and they were as bizarre as they came. The lack of coherent motive for the rejoinders, focusing on personalized attack, instead of weighing the merit of Shettima’s case against the service chiefs, are easy clues to discern the works as done by mean-spirited hacks.
But, even with persons of suspicious or fake identities as authors of such rejoinders, it still scares that a call to action in the protection of lives and properties of a nation at a crossroads would trigger a resistance. The origin of these rejoinders has to be the very profiteers of our security breakdown. One blog, reporting the statement of a faceless group named Arewa Citizens for Good Governance, says the group even “called for the arrest of Senator Kashim Shettima for attempting to instigate mutiny against President Muhammadu Buhari.” In the thinking of one semi-literate Op-Ed writer, Shettima’s political rise is a “thank you” gift from the Boko Haram, and this makes one wonder if the hare-brained administrators of the Metro Watch Online blog had any idea of the role Shettima has played as the alternative voice in the cascade of events that’s led Nigeria to this brink of anarchy.
The transition from Jonathan to Buhari was fast-tracked by the promise to “lead from the front if elected,” and Shettima’s assertion of that pledge, and storm in this thick-walled echo chamber, is desirable. As an experienced politician, Shettima knows very much the implication of his open truth-telling, including possible extrication within his party, All Progressives Congress (APC). But, as active citizens, we must underscore the importance of internal reform champions, and laud those who dare stick out their necks to save us all.
Any government surrounded by sycophants eventually implodes. Dictators are cheap inventions of undeserved praises and the insincerity of aides, and this is even especially so in Nigeria where the political class prefer their echo chamber to the truth of their stewardship. The implication of the war against dissenting views and critiques is this culture of perceiving the pursuits of truth as personal hatred or a partisan agenda.
To be sure, Shettima is not the first to call out the service chiefs for their stark failures. All those who did in the past, noting how their overstaying had also sparked fears in military circles as junior officers were being forced into retirement, received similar bashing from the obviously sponsored army of ghostwriters, and a disdainful silence from Aso Villa. It makes one wonder why a country this turbulent is left to suffer at the pleasure of a few worn-out officers.
Mr Kakanda is an Abuja-based public affairs analyst.