Kashim Shettima: An optimist in a lion’s den
BY Soni Daniel
“If the desire of the leader is for good, the people will be good”-Confucius
Like a farmer with precious seeds to sow in due season drawn back by a gloomy sky growling with fits and fury, and his steps viciously altered by a heartless quicksand drifting with darts and hailstones, famine is likely the harvest of such a terrain.
In Borno State, North East Nigeria, where Boko Haram insurgents have been waging relentless assaults on everything in sight for the installation of its Caliphate form of government since 2009, killing, maiming, destroying lives and property, leaving behind millions of displaced orphans, widows and widowers on their trail, there are justifiable reasons for the government of the day to retreat from the front-line, retire to its cocoon and engage in endless melancholy.
In a state where more than half of the local government areas were already in the hands of malevolent elements as at 2013 and many paraphernalia of governance destroyed or rendered impotent, the only reasonable route to take by those in the saddle of power would have been to resign to fate and vilify the attackers.
Why? The destruction has been unprecedented in the history of the state and the North East, brutal and wicked in execution and inexplicable to even scholars and adherents of the major religion in the North.
As at the last count, according to official figure released during the week, no fewer than 5335 classrooms, 501 primary schools and many other secondary schools were destroyed by the terrorists during their relentless bombings. In the same vein, a total of 248 primary health care centres, 19 general hospitals in various communities across the 27 local government of the state were destroyed long with hundreds of their workers just as the terrorists did to numerous police stations, banks and security outposts before they were pushed out by superior fire power of the military.
A visit to the state capital last week revealed that there is serious improvement of security in Maiduguri, which has also encouraged many of those who had been forced by the terrorists to flee the town to return to the state capital. There have been some recent happenings but they are nothing to compare with what happened in the past. As a result, life is picking up gradually with everyone displaying cautious optimism that it could get better. Street life has also resumed with traders displaying their wares on strategic points in Maiduguri Township just as commercial motorists, commuters and fun seekers are back on the streets.
With the revival of social activities in the town, the Borno State Government has intensified its effort at rebuilding the ruins and resettling the displaced who were left stranded by Boko Haram. In Maiduguri itself, the town is grappling with five camps with internally displaced persons whose population is at least 1.6 million women, children and young men, whose means of livelihood rests squarely on the shoulders of the government and some kind-hearted individuals and organisations, such as the Dangote Foundation, United Nations High Commission for Refugees.
The sheer number of the IDPs and the huge provisions they need daily in order to survive as humans, is a herculean task that the Borno State Government must learn to live with as long as the people find it difficult to return to their homes and communities. It is like a pain on the neck of the government.
But Governor Kashim Shettima, who is in his second term in office, and focused on the blueprint he developed for his people, says he remains undaunted and that he will successfully pursue his development agenda to the end. Shettima, who describes himself as an incurable optimist, believes the state will never and can never surrender to the terrorists.
“We will certainly defeat the terrorists and create a conducive atmosphere for the displaced people to return to their communities to re-start their lives,” the governor vowed at the opening of the 2017 Press Week in Maiduguri, during which Vanguard Media Limited, Dangote Foundation, UNHCR, Ministry of Defence, Borno Radio and Television and Daily Post, an online newspaper, were honoured for their contributions to the rebuilding and resettlement communities ruined by Boko Haram.
Governor Shettima praised the media for helping to highlight the atrocities waged against the society by the Boko Harm insurgents and helping to draw federal government attention to the menace for appropriate action.
“Without the media, Boko Haram would have overrun Borno in 2013,” the governor said, referring to the expose of the takeover of 15 of the 27 LGAs in the state by the insurgents, which prompted then President Goodluck Jonathan to declare a state of emergency in the affected areas and deploy the military to drive out the terrorists.
As daunting as the task of rebuilding the state and resettling the multitudes displaced by the terrorists may seem, Shettima is settled in his mind that most of the people will return home by next year and he is working assiduously to wipe away their tears. In the capital, the state government has begun fencing the University of Maiduguri, which has become a major victim of Boko Haram onslaughts, an institution which the governor describes as the second largest employer of labour in Maiduguri.
With the federal government not forthcoming with any cash for the urgent security job, Shettima needs to cough out at least N2.8 billion from the state’s coffers to complete the fencing of the tertiary institution between now and October when the university would have resumed academic session or seek help from the federal government, who owns the institution. Besides the fencing, the provision of a trench to prevent Boko Haram terrorists from driving bomb trucks directly into the premises has also begun.
While the state wants UNIMAID to continue to run unhindered, the terrorists want the school, the only of its kind in the state, shut in order to put an end to western education and achieve its agenda of stopping the acquisition of such knowledge.
As part of that effort to stabilise the education sector and create room for many, particularly, the children of the poor and the weak to study, the governor has built many mega model schools in Maiduguri. They boast fire-resistant facilities to pave the way for uninterrupted studies for those who have found their way to the capital. “We are going to put air conditioners in all the model schools so that the children of the poor will also enjoy the privileges that the children of the elite also enjoy,” Governor Shettima said.
He said that while the conditions in the state are ripe for a normal person to lament and complain, he has consciously chosen to take the situation with equanimity and work out a way around it to save the people of the state from harm and shame.
The governor says, “As an unrepentant optimist, I believe that where there is a will there is a way, and I insist on getting the best out of the very situation we have found ourselves. Our people cannot just surrender to the terrorists and stand back to lament over our fate. It will not happen.”
Perhaps, to prove a point, he has refused to be taken in by the distraction, destruction and state of fear and insecurity created by Boko Haram and embarked on many capital and social projects now dotting the landscape.
The state has many housing estates, schools and quarters for workers and other categories of officials in the state. The only major problem that has cropped up is that insurgency has cost the state a fortune in terms of providing security infrastructure for its key functionaries and those coming to transact business with the state. But that notwithstanding, Borno has undertaken some key projects and programmes that even states that do not have such security challenge have not contemplated while also not paying regularly salaries to workers.
For the sake of his people, the governor says, he has deliberately ensured that civil servants are paid before the end of every month to mitigate their problems and give them a sense of hope and security despite the serious distraction by the insurgents. According to him, with a monthly wage bill of N2.8 billion, he has deployed the services of biometrics to cut it down to about N2.2 billion and save some money for the state for other development purposes.
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