NIGERIA: Middlemen Setting Presidency, Borno Govt on War Path

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Special Adviser on Communications to Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State, Isa Umar Gusau spoke on the state as an active player in the system. Akinbami Faloye presents the excerpts:

It appears all is not well between your boss, Governor Kashim Shettima and the military in Borno State, perhaps and even the Presidency because we just read in the media that on Friday, the Maiduguri airport was abruptly closed despite the intervention of your boss as governor of the state, two aircrafts were forced to take-off empty leaving behind pilgrims going for Umrah and a serving Senator from the state going to Abuja with a flight that was chartered by your overnment?

Let me start by saying that Governor Kashim Shettima has a perfect relationship with the military that is both the Army and Air Force, Police and DSS commands as well as all the para-military structures working in Borno State and each of these establishments can testify to the overwhelming support they have received from the governor both in terms of material logistics for their operations, sharing of intelligence, personal relations and support for families of troops and policemen who are caught in battle fields, so it really baffles me when some people in Abuja create that very satanic impression that the governor doesn’t cooperate with the military. As at last year, when the Director of Operations in the Defence Headquarters, Major General Lawrence Ndugbane visited Borno, he said no governor gives the military the kind of support that Governor Shettima offers both in terms of material logistics and what he called “credible intelligence” if I should use his words.

The then Commander of the 21 Armoured Brigade in Maiduguri even said that the governor treats the military as the 28th local government area in the state. There were times the governor personally released cheques of one million to each family of soldiers killed in combat, only two weeks ago, families of sixteen policemen killed by insurgents were given one million naira. When the governor was sworn in in 2011, his first special guest was the then IGP, Ringim who was invited by the Governor to receive 20 ultra-modern Armoured Personnel Carriers donated to the police. The Governor has absolutely nothing against security agencies or the presidency.

So, where did the relationship go sour, especially if one looks at the closure of the airport on Friday despite the governor’s plea?
I do not want to believe that any relationship has gone sour. The closure of that airport in the manner in which it was done was quite strange in governance, especially if one considers the fact that the two aircrafts were made to abandon the people they were to pick. If for instance there was a fear that flying straight to Saudi Arabia from Maiduguri as it was the plan of the airliners, could cause some risks, may be in a situation where the pilots fly over the airspace towards the North, Chad or Central African Republic, one would expect a directive that for instance, the plane should fly the pilgrims to Kano since it safely came through that route, before taking off to Saudi Arabia from Kano. The aircraft that came from Abuja also returned to Abuja empty without carrying anyone even when the state government had paid for the services. However, the Defence spokesman, General Olukolade has issued a statement saying the decisions were for security reasons and Governor Shettima always gives people the benefit of doubt, such is his kind of person, he didn’t hold what happened on Friday against the military or Presidency, I know him very well.

It appears there is something you don’t want to tell us concerning what looked like a sour relationship between the Presidency, the military and the governor, for instance…?
(Cuts in) Something cannot stand on nothing, I cannot hide something where there is nothing to hide. My suspicion is that there are some very desperate middlemen, evil men who are hell bent of causing cross-fire between the presidency, the military and the Borno State Government and I think all three parties need to carefully identify and mark-out these agents of doom. In any crisis, however small or big, there are those who stand to benefit materially for it, either by design or by coincidence. There are people that can only be relevant where there is crisis that they have to pretend to be addressing by defending a party to that crisis. If the relative peace enjoyed in the major towns of Maiduguri, Biu, Monguno, Bama, Damasak and a host of others, is truncated today, the president, the governor and the military have more to lose, they will next to the victims and their relations. I think if the Presidency and the military have three genuine friends in Nigeria, Governor Shettima should be one of them. The youth volunteers called the civilian JTF work very closely with the military, their combined efforts with the military brought about the peace in Maiduguri, Biu, Bama and other places today.

The civilian JTF even went to Giwa Barracks to support the military when insurgents attacked the Barracks in March this year but people seem to ignore that Governor Shettima inspired these youths, he approved the funding of their monthly salaries, he approved the funding of their training by the military and other experts at the NYSC camp and gave logistics for their three weeks camping, he approved the funding of their kitting, the procurement and allocation of patrol vehicles to them, fueling and other logistics. When crisis erupted on two occasions first between the Civilian JTF and the police when a policeman shot their member, the Governor walked for almost five kilometers from the airport to the police headquarters calming the youths not to wage war against the police, he attended the funeral of the youth volunteer, released N3.5  million and  an apartment to his parents and held peace meetings with leadership of the volunteers, that was how the Governor addressed what would have been a catastrophe. Again, when soldiers had fracas with the civilian JTF, it was the same governor that addressed it when he quickly deployed the attorney general and commissioner of justice to the scene and invited the leadership of the youth volunteers.

All of these efforts point to one thing, that the governor is genuinely working to ensure peace and I think the military has acknowledged that but like I said there are middlemen who want to benefit either materially, politically or may be functionally where disagreements exist between the Presidency, the military and the Borno State governor. I do not know whether there are those who do not want the presidency and the Borno Government to compare notes on the funds they separately inject in the counter insurgency or whether there are those who need the Presidency and the military to support a certain political bid in connection with either the governor’s seat or the National Assembly and what have you. There is underlying interest being pursued by an interest group and I think the presidency, the military and the State Government need to realize that some people want to use some of them.

Talking about interest, there are some observers who suspect that the military may be under instruction to work against the Governor perhaps to even ensure he is not re-elected in 2015. The APC has already it is heading to court over what it calls the militarisation of Ekiti ahead of the election and with the happenings in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States, there is the likelihood that a different date could be set for elections in those states and there could massive deployment of soldiers whether or not the elections hold in separate days, what is your take on these?

Like Governor Kashim Shettima has repeatedly said from the spiritual point of view, it is Allah that gives power to anyone and it is He that keeps one on it or otherwise. No amount of intrigues or lack of it can guarantee the take-over of power or otherwise. Ekiti State is not the same thing as Borno.  Like you know, the APC is a combination of three political parties, the defunct ACN, ANPP and CPC. The ACN was the biggest brother in the merger since it turned more controlled State Governments but I tell you today from my little analysis as a political reporter, that the APC’s popularity in the north today by far supersedes the party’s popularity and chances even in the South-West where the ACN that is the biggest brother controls more States.

Three factors contributed to the strength of the APC in the north and these are the grassroots popularity of General Buhari, the zoning issues of the PDP that heated up in the build up to the 2011 elections and which is being carried over psychologically in the north and also the presence of the APC highly populated areas like Kano, Borno and places like Edo and Rivers which are the two southern States with the highest number of northerners either resident or doing business. Another element is the utterances of some people who think they are drumming support for the President but who in actual sense, attracting greater support for the APC in the north.

The scenarios in Borno and Ekiti are completely different. Governor-elect Ayodele Fayose was there under the PDP before he was forced out of office in what many people see as a state against him. That incident might have attracted some inherent public sympathy for him. Majority of Nigerians seem to support anyone that is oppressed by the powers that be. Unlike Ekiti which was once won by the PDP, Borno has always been under the control of the APP which became the ANPP and now APC. The INEC conducted elections for State Assembly seat for Konduga, it was won by the defunct ANPP, the same thing with the recent one in Yobe which the APC won.

The track records of Governor Shettima in Borno State as a stabilising factor, his humanitarian policies and programmes, he connects exceedingly well with the youths, women and vulnerable persons, he carries communities along, we have a Niger Deltan from Delta State appointed as a Special Assistant working directly with the Governor’s office, we have an Igbo man from Imo State as Special Adviser, he has been with the Governor of many years, I am from Zamafara State and I speak for the Governor as Special Adviser, we have someone from Gombe, a Fulani man, he is  Special Assistant, all of us were appointed in 2012. The governor’s extreme humility, respect for people, old, young, rich and poor, his policies of jobs creation and welfare approach, his numerous achievements in the state despite our security problems will make it impossible to beat him in 2015 insha Allah if he declares for re-election.

How about the possible mass deployment of soldiers to Borno ahead of the elections given the suspicion by the APC on Ekiti?
Governor Shettima doesn’t regard the Nigerian Military or police as partisan. He sees them as professionals who are committed to internal and external security operations. Apart from that, it will be disrespectful on the intelligence of the Chief of Army Staff for instance, if people will assume he will make the mistake of being partisan in 2015 when he knows very well that typical of Nigeria, politicians will open their eyes well on him given his background as someone from Bayelsa, the same State the President hails from. Naturally, politicians would want to see whether he will unprofessionally work for the President and the PDP because they are from the same State.

I think the Chief of Army Staff is too smart to destroy his reputation at the peak of his career because of a seat he must leave someday however long he stays after all, there were others before him. All the service chiefs are professionals from Governor Shettima’s point of view. Their predecessors were not accused of directly being political actors, it will be tragic if they start such an ugly trend especially at a time like this and I am so sure they will not venture into politics while in khaki attires because they have shown professionalism and patriotism since their appointments. They surely wouldn’t want to be on the bad sides of history, they would aspire to be remembered not as polluters of the Nigerian Military but as those that strengthened the military’s professionalism and capabilities.

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