Kashim: The Perfect Deputy
Few of us know him more than his being a former Governor and Senator of the Federal Republic. But in my personal association with him, His Excellency and Vice-President elect, Alhaji Kashim Shettima, has proven to be a gentleman that is characterized by humility, accessibility, responsiveness, respect, equity, hard work and generosity. This is not surprising given his background and the political pathway he treaded so far.
I once had my money withheld by a renowned merchant in Maiduguri. I sent Kashim the Governor, whom I never met then, a text message asking him to plead with the businessman to release the money. He instantly replied me with an assurance, took action promptly and even remembered the incident 6 years later when we met for the first time. To date, the VP-elect responds to people’s messages with the same speed, either on WhatsApp or sms, despite his schedule.
Kashim, as a Governor in Maiduguri, would be invited to a wedding fatiha in Bauchi by a former junior colleague of his when both were working at a Bank. He would drive into Bauchi quietly and sit unnoticed at the gathering until he is sought after to serve as the waliy of the groom. Leaving his seat as a Governor 400 km away to attend to a simple request from the ‘son of nobody’ but just a junior colleague, and do so without the fanfare of an intimidating entourage, is a record in humility which most of our elites cannot match. I can add that he often drives his car, as we saw on his election day; serves his guests coffee; appreciates the little things others do for him; acknowledge the talent in others; etc.
His humility has not made him a lazy person. We have seen him crisscrossing the North during the presidential campaign, visiting every palace, notable scholars, businessmen and other stakeholders in their homes, selling the Asiwaju ticket, non-stop. During the tour, one cannot help but marvel at his display of humility and the northern tradition of respect for elders and institutions. It was so successful that I count it as one of the three most important reasons for the success of the ticket in the North. I doubt if any of us northerners would have done it better. Last week, he was in Kaduna for the condolence of our father, Alhaji Musa Musawa. Good. That is the empathy we want to see.
Tinubu would not have gotten a more perfect deputy than Kashim. His loyalty, hard work, humility and outreach, have successfully played positive roles in the journey of the President-elect so far and they will continue to do so when both assume office. Like his master, the Jagaba, Kashim is not afraid of merit. This is best illustrated in his choice of Professor Zulum as his successor, when he would have easily chosen from the easy-going cronies of his party and while his counterparts were preferring loyalty to merit. We are all happy that our friend Zulum has not failed him. With the same mindset as the President-elect, there would not be any conflict in their choice of the team to work with.
I have always attributed Kashim’s qualities to his background. Borno people today are a product of a civilization spanning 1,300 years, starting with the Doguwa in the 7th Century, through the Seyfuwa and the Kanem-Borno dynasties. Managing people and crises has become almost a natural attribute of the Kanuri in peace and in war times. The entire North is indebted to them for the foundation they gave to the region in knowledge, tradition and art of administration.
That background also gives Kashim his other side. Looking into his eyes, typical of most Kanuris, one cannot fail to notice his intolerance for disrespect. The Kanuri are the river you can safely cross when it is calm; but which you must avoid when it is turbulent, as Mutanabbi would say. You must not take them for granted. True, when you see the lion open its teeth, Mutanabbi added, do not think that the lion is laughing. That is true of Kanuris too.
Now the Tinubu/Shettima ticket has drawn a political diagonal from Lagos straight to Borno, for the second time in 30 years. From the south, the Yoruba have proven to be the largest, hardworking and most accommodating tribe, as exemplified in the cosmopolitan nature of their towns. It is no surprise that among them would twice arise sons that would win the presidency due to their nationwide appeal and by sheer coincidence, when teaming up with the Kanuri. There is no reason why the Tinubu presidency would not be among the best.
The victory of the Tinubu/Kashim ticket is coming with a lot of challenge. Apart from the national issues of economy, security and political stability that both the President and his deputy will face, Vice President Kashim will carry on his shoulders the onerous expectation of the North, as its leader, being the highest placed northerner in the government. Here, he must be guided not only by the personal attributes that we mentioned above, but also by history. Someone, my brother Atiku Abubakar, was there before him.
Atiku was the Vice President to Obasanjo, another southwesterner, who was widely perceived as persecuting the North right from the start of his administration in 1999. In those early days, the North looked up to Atiku for succour. However, Atiku turned it down, saying that he was the ‘briefcase of the President’. He came to Kaduna to launch a book of Sa’adu Zungur at Arewa House, where he lambasted northern elders. Commentators like me took on Atiku and reminded him that he will one day, after the demise of the Obasanjo administration, return to his home base—the North—and find that he has helped to raze it down with no place for him left therein.
The prediction came to pass. The discriminatory attitude of Obasanjo and the disregard of Atiku led to the formation, for the first time in Arewa history, of a northern elders’ pressure group—the Arewa Consultative Forum. During the last elections Atiku sought the endorsement of northern elders but they refused. I heard one of them reminding Atiku of his Arewa House speech in 1999. So, while not openly supporting his southern opponent, the elders did not stick their necks out for Atiku.
When we started selling Tinubu to some northern opinion leaders, one of their reservations was that he will concentrate development more in his native southwest and neglect other regions—part of the fear that the PDP had instilled in northerners especially with the skewed statistics of projects distribution in the current administration. At every moment, we had to assure them that Tinubu is not Obasanjo. Kashim, like Atiku before, is therefore faced with expectation of equity from the region. He is not unaware of the challenge. He has promised that the ticket will be equitable to all Nigerians. Speaking to someone in the campaign team in Abuja last week, he told me how a great sheikh reminded him, saying, “Ku ne idanunmu a gun fa.” (We look up to you people to protect our interest there)
I have no doubt that the background and personal attributes of Kashim will help him retain the feeling he requires to play the role of the father-figure expected. He has a competent President to team up with and, together, the duo, along with the team they choose to walk with, can cultivate the empathy for Nigerians that is necessary for the success of their presidency.
We Nigerians, after years of thorough beating, have learned to dwarf our ambitions: let peace return by the leadership being tough on troublemakers and reconciling our communities; lifting the burden of unnecessary charges from our shoulders; provide electricity, fuel and diesel at affordable prices; improve standards of healthcare and education at all levels; repair our roads and railways and revamp our agriculture. Then show empathy by listening to us and addressing us directly when we need to hear your voice at crucial moments of difficulty or crises, not just through media assistants or treating us with the indignity, disdain or contempt that we have endured for so long.
Fortunately, the goals of both the President and his Vice are the same. They share the same political fortunes, being governors and senators alike. They have administered Nigerians at the common man’s level and belonging to the same camp within the APC. With that synergy ensured, the ever loyal and humble Kashim will be to the our Jagaba what Aaron was to Moses—A perfect deputy.
Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde
14 March 2023