Borno: Witness to leadership in a season of killings

June 5, 2014
4 mins read

IF I say I was not petrified travelling through that 135km of road to Gwoza, I would be lying because that road had been designated a no-go area for about two months now due to incessant attacks and killings that occur there. But leadership requires courage and sacrifice. Courage, I believe is not the absence of fear but the belief that there is something greater than that fear”- Kashim Shettima, Borno state Governor

We had not left the Abuja airport last Friday, when news broke of the attack on the convoy of three Borno emirs. The initial story, which online news sources carried, was that these traditional rulers were kidnapped by Boko Haram; that was as scary as it could get. But then, things got clearer, but not less tragic: the elderly Emir of Gwoza, Alhaji Shehu Idrisa Timta, had been killed in the ambush and those of Uba and Askira, managed to escape. This is the Boko Haram crisis at a new low for the people of Borno, Northern Nigeria and our country in general. It was the point that everyone in the group I was travelling with was discussing, as we were called for embarkation.

The backdrop made for a tense flight and my mind turned around all types of subjects, especially because we were flying into Maiduguri airport, which had been audaciously attacked by Boko Haram, late last year. The knot in my belly resembled the one I felt when we flew in a similar turbo-prop plane from the Sudanese capital, Khartoum to El-Fasher, the capital of North Darfur, at the height of the crisis in 2006.

Shettima in tears

Shettima in tears

This is my first visit to Maiduguri since the middle of last year. I have planned to visit severally but just couldn’t manage to pull it through. Travel by road had become too hazardous, with Boko Haram brutally slaughtering wayfarers. The joy I get from driving around the different geographical spaces of our beautiful country has increasingly become subverted by the dangers that haunt Nigeria today; from Boko Haram, to kidnappers through to the familiar robbers, who not only take property but often stuff out life.

The other dangers of drivers-made-in-hell and lunatic government convoys merely spice up the danger on Nigerian roads. Hobbes must have had Nigeria in mind, when he railed against a reality, where life was “nasty, brutish and short”. It sums up the tragic paradox of an incredibly rich country; an enterprising people who nevertheless suffer the consequences of tragic choices in leadership; faulty economic projects and a notoriously persistent level of corruption. This heady mix has finally caught up with the country, threatening to tear it apart at a time when there seems to be a terrible deficit in leadership. Our country resembles an old Mammy Wagon; the break is failing, tyres are not good, our driver is notoriously incompetent and we are stuffed into that contraption, about to travel down a steep hill, on both sides of which are deep ravines! We are in trouble if we don’t become vigilant co-drivers, to assist us navigate our way safely downhill!

Well in Maiduguri last Friday, I was privileged to sit through a fascinating debate between the Governor, Kashim Shettima and a group of officials, that included the Deputy Governor; Head of Service; Chief of Staff; a commissioner and two advisers. It was on the appropriateness or otherwise of travelling to Gwoza, for the burial of the Emir. It was clear that the governor was determined to go. He argued that not to attend the funeral was to concede defeat; dampen the spirit of the people and betray their sacrifices. Without attempting to sound heroic, Kashim Shettima vowed that he would attend the funeral ceremony, in order to provide leadership from the front.

For those on the other side of that debate, they argued that the governor must not be endangered; while there was the need to seek the opinions of the security forces on the advisability of such a trip so soon after the killing. We dispersed because they had a meeting of the state security council for that evening, but I knew in my mind that with the resolve I saw, Governor Shettima would convince his colleagues to do the trip. And they did on Saturday, as the media has reported. They went accompanied by soldiers and policemen; members of the civilian JTF and local vigilantes.

When we saw again on Monday afternoon, I asked why he didn’t ask his people to pick me up for the trip, he answered that he did not have the right to endanger my life. He didn’t know that what I wanted most of all, was to be able to experience the rush of adrenaline which comes with danger, that seems to be wired into the life of every true journalist!

Again he re-iterated his views that there are certain steps that a leader must never be afraid to take. Self-preservation is vital; but in moments of trying crises, when the ordinary people are being called upon by their circumstances to make sacrifices, then leaders also have an obligation to show that they can share the privations of followers and provide hope that no matter the length of the night of despair, it must give way to the light of day.

It is particularly poignant, at a time when there are political circles who still believe that the Boko Haram insurgency is a Northern conspiracy against President Goodluck Jonathan. It is a narrative that even the president does not shy from exploiting. That mindset has paralyzed the administration and has led to a benumbing befuddlement that has cast a frightening pall on the Nigerian state. This is the basis of the serial missteps that continue to dog the administration, the most recent and certainly most incomprehensible, is the ban of all #BRINGBACKOURGIRLS demonstrations, which Abuja police chief, Mbu Joseph Mbu, described as “nuisance” and “lawlessness” he “cannot fold my hands and watch”.

On Monday, the Chibok abduction became more than an event in far away Chibok, when I was also invited to attend a meeting the governor held with 27 of the girls that escaped by jumping from the vehicle which Boko Haram used to convey the girls and the three that ran away from Sambisa Forest when they told their abductors they wanted to urinate, and their parents.

They were typical teenagers, who obviously felt ill at ease in the setting of the Government House, but whose presence brought home so graphically the events of the past fifty days! The Borno government is organizing counseling sessions and has plans to take their education to very high levels. In a tragic season of killings in Borno, Governor Kashim Shettima is providing the leadership that Nigerians also expect from President Goodluck Jonathan in Abuja.

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