Governor Shettima’s ‘first and last words’

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governor ShettimaWorking with the Daily Trust for about 10 years, I had the experience of reporting and managing reporters across the northeast, the Niger Delta, and some states in the southeast geopolitical zones. At work, I met different categories of people and seen scenarios. Of particular note, I have monitored relationships between governors and appointees in the north and south. I have seen humiliated appointees get running stomach on the mere sight of some governors. Just when I wished I never had to share the experiences of these appointees, I was appointed by a governor in February, 2012. Leaving Port Harcourt for the political office, my worse concern was never to face the kind of humiliation I had seen appointees faced under two particular Governors, one in the Niger Delta and another in the Northeast.

Incidentally, I came face to face with my fears a month after my appointment. Governor Kashim Shettima had given me some specific assignments. They were complex. The man’s standard, especially on writings, is very high. Shettima reads line by line, takes copious note of accuracy in names and dates, corrects punctuation marks, restructures paragraphs and screens every sentence in a plagiarism checker he has on his laptop. Being a University lecturer, Shettima is very tough on plagiarism and insists on citing sources even if he paraphrases what someone unknown once said. Meeting these standards, the assignment kept me indoors for a whole day. I had done substantial part of it but there was something I couldn’t achieve.

Governor Shettima was reading some document when I walked into his office one night in March, 2012. He collected the papers I brought, looked at them and didn’t say anything. It was my vest first major task under him. I stood by the side, watched him dropped the documents I gave him and shifted his attention back to what he was reading before I came in. His mind wasn’t with me anymore. I was totally disappointed in myself, thought I should leave but I didn’t want him to see me leaving. I thought of vanishing but didn’t have witchcraft or some Nollywood powers to disappear. Humanly, I decided to leave noiselessly; taking steps as soft as a cat and as quite as an unarmed thief whose safety would only rely on how quiet he is able to sneak. I retired home. Just when I had perfected plans to avoid the governor for a number of days, I got phone calls from two persons, one a security aide and a commissioner, calling my two lines.

I picked that of the security aide and he said, ‘Oga dey call you’. It was a troubling invitation. I returned the Commissioner’s call and he said the same thing in Hausa, ‘Oga na kira, kazo yanzu yanzu’ (the governor wants you now now). As I was driving to the Government House, I was recalling how aides get humiliated. Back in 2008, I had seen one governor in Borno State publicly calling his commissioners stupid. I had seen one commissioner rushing to the mosque near a governor’s office to seek divine intervention after he was told a governor in Borno was calling him. That Governor was feared like Mr. Fir’auna (a.k.a Pharoah). He was feared because he could say just about anything to humiliate his aides and he never humiliates privately but publicly. His commonest insult in public was, ‘You are very stupid. Idiot’. I just couldn’t imagine reacting to that kind of humiliation.

Finally, I arrived Governor Shettima’s office, met three persons in his office. Soon as Governor Shettima saw me approached his seat, he said, ‘Honourable, sorry, I didn’t know when you left my office. Actually when you came in, I was reading a security intelligence report, my mind was completely on the report. I called you back because I forgot to say thank you when you delivered that work. I have gone through it, I noticed the one you didn’t address but I will do it tonight when I get home. I will be closing as early as 8pm tonight so I can work on it at home. I am very grateful and I deeply appreciate your good efforts’. I was confused. So, I said, ‘Your Excellency, but I don’t know why you asked me to come back’. He said there was nothing else, he just realized he didn’t thank me and it was for that he sent for me. The governor said he didn’t want to speak to me on phone. ‘Ikon Allah!’ I sighed. When he closed a little after 8pm, I got home wondering. However, my instinct as a journalist said to me, the governor was probably acting drama.

I found it unbelievable that a governor would invite his own appointee to ‘merely’ thank him. Of course, I knew that most people, particularly politicians, have two (oftentimes, distinct) sides. There is ‘who they are’ and there is ‘who they want you to think they are’. So, I secretly decided to monitor Governor Shettima’s relationship with not just me but all of his aides. In over five years of working with him, Shettima’s ‘last’ words to aides who impress him, is ‘Thank you so much’. My monitoring led me to identifying he not only uses ‘last’ words but also a ‘first’ word. This first word is ‘PLEASE’. Governor Shettima will never ask anyone, (including his messengers and drivers) to do any task without using the word, ‘Please’. This is known to all. If he is not speaking in English, he will say ‘dan Allah’ (because of God) which is the commonest alternative for ‘please’ in Hausa.

There is the common evidence that Shettima’s ‘first’ and ‘last’, are part of his unconscious normal but perhaps unknown to him, these words define the willingness with which aides sincerely key into his vision for Borno.

  • Gusau is the Special Adviser on Communications and Strategy to Borno State Governor.

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