By Kola King
Kashim Shettima is a controversial politician. He has a penchant for stoking controversies. His views on the north-south political divide have earned him many detractors. Besides, there are allegations mostly unfounded that he’s sympathetic to Boko Haram. Shettima, former governor of Borno State, serving Senator representing Borno Central, and All Progressives Party, (APC) vice presidential candidate is a man of letters, an orator, and scholar. It is clear that Shettima is a bibliophile, judging by his stellar public engagements. He’s full and overflowing with knowledge. It is admirable to have politicians who place value on books, learning, and education in general. This explains his depth as a politician who appears to be on a higher pedestal than most of his peers.
Kashim is a seeker of knowledge, and he has a strong passion for education. Perhaps this explains why he picked Professor Babagana Zulum, a commissioner in his cabinet as his successor in Borno State. According to him, the surest way to fight Boko Haram is to continually provide qualitative education to more children, paraphrasing Yousuf Malala, that guns can only kill terrorists, but it is education that can kill the ideology of terrorism. Part of his strides in education includes the establishment of the Borno State University, one of his legacy projects. Also, more than forty model primary schools fitted with air conditioners were built during his tenure. Speaking on the challenge of insecurity, he said, “education is the best weapon we have to fight poverty, ignorance, and terrorism.”
Shettima’s recent outing at the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) conference where he represented his principal was adjudged brilliant, showcasing his grasp of issues and the economic fundamentals. Shorn of the distraction of his gauche sartorial adornment that became meat that social media fed upon, he gave a good account of himself at that conference. Without a doubt, Kashim Shettima is a man with the gift of gab. Denizens of social media were distracted by the shadow instead of the substance of Shettima’s message. Indeed, as they say, a man who reads is a man who thinks. Kashim Shettima studied agricultural economics and was a lecturer, but later he veered into banking before his foray into politics. Indeed, the nation needs many of these types in politics and government since it appears as if there is a deficit of strategic thinkers, visionaries, analysts, and experts who have the capacity to proffer homegrown solutions to the myriad of problems besetting our nation.
Despite the insurgency in the northeast region, his performance as governor in Borno was above average. He left a solid foundation for his successor to build upon. But for the insurgency in the northeast region, both Shettima and incumbent Governor Babagana Zulum would have achieved much more in the areas of education, health, infrastructure, and other indices of human development. It is important to note that Borno State is strategically placed being the only state with three international borders, namely Chad, Cameroon, and the Níger Republic, hence easily exposed to insurgency on three fronts.
Lately, Shettima has been hugging the headlines for the wrong reasons. It is almost contradictory that a man who is quite knowledgeable has a predilection for committing unpardonable gaffes. In a way, he appears to be a gaffe machine. The political gaffe is simply misrepresentation or overstretching of the facts, which is done unconsciously. It appears as if Kashim as a result of his learning seems to suffer from logorrhea, which is excessive loquaciousness and volubility. In short, he has a penchant for verbal excesses. Kashim Shettima’s tendency to commit gaffes was clearly displayed while canvassing for his principal as the Director General of the Asiwaju Bola Tinubu campaign during the run-up to the APC’s presidential primary. Featuring on the Journalists’ Hangout programme on TVC, Kashim Shettima waxed eloquent about Tinubu describing him as the most experienced and qualified among the cast of candidates to pick the party’s presidential ticket. While highlighting the qualities of his candidate he also unreflexively put down Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who he described both as a gentleman and decent man but who would be better off as an ice-cream seller, not fit for the rough and tumble of the presidential sweepstakes.
Not done yet, he also described Senate President Ahmad Lawan as a man who would be better off as a tomato seller in Potiskum or Damaturu and not someone who has what it takes to be president. According to Shettima, nice men do not make good leaders. Kashim Shettima’s verbal put down of Osinbajo and Lawan was roundly condemned by Nigerians. Thereafter he tendered a public apology to both the vice president and the Senate President. Despite his apology, his verbal missiles had hit home on their target, and therefore difficult to recall. As the Good Book says a word once spoken cannot be recalled; it enters the invisible to fulfill its mission, either positive or negative. Words are powerful and therefore must be chosen with care and wisdom.
Kashim Shettima’s tendency to go overboard was on full display at the NBA conference where he represented APC standard bearer Bola Tinubu. Despite his well-articulated position, he committed a faux pas when he said that as vice president he will be in charge of security and by implication the armed forces and be at the frontlines with troops in the battle to rein in insurgents and bandits, while his principal, Tinubu, will handle the economy if they’re elected to office. In his zeal and attempt to sell the APC ticket, Kashim went overboard for the simple reason that real power flows from the office of the president. The vice president derives his power from the president, and he’s assigned duties at the pleasure of the president. Part of the functions of the vice president as enunciated in the Constitution include serving as the chairman of the National Economic Council, among other government parastatals. Thus, by any stretch of the imagination, it is incongruous that the vice president will take command and control of security, for that will be a sure recipe for a power tussle between the president and his deputy. Even so, by the letter and spirit of the Constitution, it is an anomaly to say that the vice president will take charge of security. It is simply a fallacy that does not square with the facts.
Of course, the APC presidential campaign team scrambled to douse tension generated by Shettima’s blunder and quickly put out the fire of his incendiary remarks at the NBA conference, saying Shettima did not mean to say that he would be in charge of the armed forces rather that he would be fully involved along with the president, if elected, in the assault against insurgents and bandits.
Still, being a personality given to verbosity, Kashim Shettima committed another gaffe on the 96th anniversary of Yoruba Tennis Club, Lagos. In an attempt to showcase the purported star quality of his principal, he remarked that Tinubu was a combination of the qualities of former heads of state including General Yakubu Gowon who he described as a humble and humane leader, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo a dynamic and hardworking leader, General Ibrahim Babangida a generous leader as well as the hospitality of General Sani Abacha. Expectedly, Nigerians trained their guns on him firing several salvos at him describing his allusion to General Abacha as not only tendentious but patently offensive. Many commentators reminded him that the Abacha era was one of the darkest periods in Nigeria’s history. At that point in time, even Bola Tinubu had to vote with his feet to avoid arrest being one of the principal figures in the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO that was on the watchlist of the Abacha regime being that the group was opposed to Abacha’s plot to transmute into a civilian president. Later Shettima clarified his statement saying Nigeria needs a leader in the mould of Abacha who combines ruthlessness with taciturnity which is necessary to checkmate terrorists.
The tendency to commit gaffes is not peculiar to Kashim Shettima. In fact, Shettima is in good company as US President Joe Biden is renowned as a serial gaffe machine. Biden commits gaffes most of the time. In fact, there were speculations that President Barack Obama withheld his endorsement during Biden’s run for the Democratic party presidential nomination in 2019 due to Biden’s tendency towards gaffes and loquaciousness. Despite his tendency for gaffes, Biden still went on to win the presidential race in 2020, defeating the incumbent President Donald Trump.
As the campaign moves into high gear, it is imperative that the APC presidential campaign minders take steps to put Kashim Shettima on a leash to avoid a situation that may lead to a greater blunder on the part of the vice-presidential candidate. Indeed, another high-octane gaffe may put the chances of his principal into jeopardy, which invariably may torpedo the campaign. Besides, Kashim Shettima as a smart and well-grounded personality should appreciate the fact that there are times when silence is golden. Moreover, 2023 will prove to be a decisive election, therefore any major gaffe on the part of Shettima could be deleterious to the APC’s chances. He must learn to weigh and measure his words before he utters them for anything he says will be representative of his principal’s position. Because of the role the vice-presidential candidate plays in the campaign as an attack machine against the opposition it is important that Kashim Shettima does not go overboard due to his penchant for gaffes. Most importantly, Kashim Shettima must endeavour to bridle his tongue to avoid a flowing tongue, flight of ideas, and tendency towards scattershot verbosity.