opinionBy Isa Gusau
Of Nigeria’s 36 incumbent Governors, one is a small boy. He was small boy when he first became Governor in 2011, still small boy after reelection in 2015. Meanwhile, the Governor is not small by physique. His height and body frame are very normal. He is also not a boy by age. He is approaching 53. He was 45 when he first became Governor in 2011.
You may at this point ask, is it that the Governor behaves childishly? The answer is capital NO. There is nothing childish about his behaviours. On the contrary, the Governor is definitely one of those who commands respect, he exudes statesmanship and measures his words. He is extremely brilliant, courageous, articulate yet humble. His nearly eight years in office have been outstanding.
So, what makes the Governor a small boy? He is a small boy because one political godfather calls him so. The godfather calls him Tada-gana, which in Kanuri language, means a small boy. He was too small a boy to be respected by the godfather. He was too small to be addressed with the title, ‘Your Excellency’. Tada-gana was the Governor’s second name. Before then, the godfather openly called the Governor by his first name, Kashim! He called him so in a crowd merely to dishonor him.
In one of Borno’s subcultures, it is a sign of respect that one does not sit on chairs in the presence of powerful elders, especially those who prefer to see others beneath them. There can be many empty chairs but only the elder uses one. A category of persons may also sit on chairs, but when they do, they sit on the edge, to appear reluctant and pose less. Only the elder poses in sign of authority.
To keep peace with an overbearing and hypersensitive godfather, Governor Kashim Shettima adopted that subculture in 2011. Whenever he visited the godfather’s houses in Abuja or Maiduguri, the Governor would sit on the floor like his many aides and the godfather sits on big chair, crossing his legs. The Governor’s aides were always sad seeing their boss on the ground. They hated more, the godfather’s rude habit of addressing the Governor as ‘Kashim’ in public. The godfather never for once showed respect for the Governor’s office even when the Governor regularly received him at the airport and followed his orders. In the godfather’s protocol, a political god-son was a fully owned slave, designed for worship. No respect!
Relief came in July 2014, when the godfather declared intention to defect from the newly formed All Progressives Congress, APC, to the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, which had an incumbent President, Goodluck Jonathan.
Governor Shettima saw it as a bad decision. He did everything to dissuade the godfather from crossing to the PDP. The godfather was hell bent. He was even boastful that any party he belonged was sure to produce the next Governor of Borno. So he joined the PDP and declared the Governor his enemy. As expected, the godfather waged war. It was during that period that the godfather moved from a derogatory use of Kashim to using ‘Tada-gana’ in referring to a small boy, soon to be politically crushed. Aided by the PDP led federal government, the godfather deployed countless heavy onslaughts aimed to humiliate the Governor. At the end, the Governor survived, won his reelection and all elective seats for the APC in 2015.
In April 2018 however, the godfather became homeless in the PDP. End of the road! He returned to the APC with promise of peace. The Governor welcomed him with open mind. Unknown to the Governor, the godfather came with a different motive. He was to anoint any potential enemy as the Governor’s successor. In desperate plot to ensure the Governor was humiliated in the 2019 elections, the godfather endorsed a politically naive billionaire for the governorship. The wiser Governor endorsed very popular Professor Babagana Umara Zulum. After tussles, the Governor (like 2015) trounced the godfather. Zulum is now Governor-elect. The first Professor-Governor in northern Nigeria.
Pundits would, in one or more years to come, spy into the relationship between outgoing Kashim Shettima and incoming Professor Babagana Umara Zulum. However, considering antecedents, I think one can predict their relationship.
The first time I came close to Zulum was in October 2012, in Karachi, Pakistan. We were part of Governor Shettima’s delegation to the Pakistani Agricultural trade expo and to India and Turkey. Zulum was member of Borno’s Agricultural Transformation Team created by Governor Shettima. Though Zulum was rector of the state’s Ramat Polytechnic, he offered expertise in Irrigation Engineering.
Wearing a grey safari suit, Zulum sat near me at the lobby of Sheraton-Karachi and we began talking. One of the things he told me was happiness with the way Governor Shettima respects and made him independent as rector. “His Excellency gives me respect, support and freedom to achieve anything for Ramat” Zulum said to me.
After excellent performance at Ramat, Zulum in 2015 became pioneer commissioner for Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Re-settlement. Shettima’s respect for him only kept growing.
At another trip in Germany, Zulum told me that as Commissioner, the Governor (again) accorded him tremendous respect with full independence to operate. Shettima has displayed greater respect.
Atypical of godfathers in Nigeria, the Governor openly describes Professor Zulum as being head and shoulders above him in all respect. Shettima has even declared that in post May 29, there won’t be two captains as he intends to follow Zulum as his leader rather than see him as god-son. By the way, Shettima forces aides to sit on chairs and he addresses them with dignity.
Governor-elect, Zulum and Governor Kashim Shettima seem to have shared simplicity and a mutual respect that is deep. Such mutual respect which should basically define relationships between Governors and their successors, is the new protocol of ‘tada-gana’.
Gusau is Special Adviser on Communications and Strategy to Governor Shettima.