Why Jonathan Must Protect Shettima, By Zainab Suleiman Okino
When information crept into town last weekend that President Goodluck Jonathan had hatched a grand plan to replace the governor of Borno state, Kashim Shettima, many a Nigerian would rather believe it than the half-hearted denials that followed. The President’s open display of emotion and anger over the issue at the Monday media chat is further proof of his contempt for the governor’s gutsy outbursts.
These days, Nigerians exercise a lot of circumspection on matters that involve Mr. President. Confidence is eroding, dictatorship is creeping in and the very institution, the Nigerian Constitution on whose crest the president rode to power, in addition to the doctrine of necessity invoked by the Senate, is being threatened by the president’s actions.
The recent case of the firing or suspension of the Central Bank governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, has given further impetus to the suspicion that the president derides institutional framework of government and governance. Sanusi had just about three months to serve out his tenure but the president was impatient. By that action, the president defied and defiled the Nigerian Constitution, where the CBN’s autonomy and insularity reside.
This in no way is a defence of Sanusi, who ran himself out of town with his arrogant disposition and conflicting figures, that rubbished all the fine arguments he had marshaled against NNPC and its duplicity. But if the president could accommodate Sanusi for four years, he could as well ignore him for the remaining three months, compile his sins (if any) and use same against him at the appropriate time. The president was eager to prove the point that he was in charge; and constitutional provision or not, he could fire anybody, and heavens would not fall.
Again, the president recently reshuffled the military hierarchy to favour some ethnic groups that suit his agenda and, criticisms did not dither him. He sacked some of his ministers, nothing happened. He asked the PDP chairman to step down, Nigerians cheered; nobody reasoned with Bamanga Tukur, who had earlier said that only the party’s national convention could remove him.
Another conspiracy theory in Shettima’s travails is the former Governor Modu Sherrif’s angle. The former and serving governors are at daggers drawn over the control of APC machinery in the state, as it has become customary with godfather-godson relationship in Nigerian politics. Sherrif is a close pal of the president. Perhaps, it was reasoned, the political punishment (of removing the governor) is being contemplated at the ex-governor’s whims for a recalcitrant godson. The president must avoid falling into this trap.
There was also a news report few days ago that the president would declare in May. Between now and May, and even beyond, a lot would happen in the polity. The president is now like a wounded lion; anybody that stands between him and the realisation of his ambition would be devoured. With Sanusi and other examples, Governor Shettima’s criticism of the government’s handling of the Boko Haram insurgents’ renewed boldness and wanton killing in the North East expectedly and typically drew the ire of the presidency, followed by Okupe’s mindless reaction and the governor’s planned ouster.
In the recent attack on Izghe, the death toll had risen to 100. The governor is in the thick of things. Every attack requires his visit to the scene of death and face to face with victims who cry to him for help. Understandably he was compelled to voice his angst against a seemingly uncaring government at the top. The victims neither see Jonathan nor Okupe, not even the army chief until lately; it is only Shettima they see and ask questions. Sadly, the military task force in charge of the operation is not answerable to the governor in our skewed and peculiar federation.
The governor’s life too is in danger. His security can be overrun, (God forbid). If Boko Haram could overrun the army and air formations in the Yobe/Borno axis, whose security cannot be reduced to rubbles? The governor’s tears should call for concerted efforts and renewed vigour in the fight against Boko Haram, instead of making a scapegoat out of him. They say there is no smoke without fire. But I’d rather give the president the benefit of doubt than believe he was hatching a sinister plan against Governor Shettima. He has a responsibility to protect Shettima and anyone who picks holes in his actions, criticizes him objectively or makes an observation. He‘s our president and father of the nation and has a constitutional duty (constitution again!) to protect all of us.
However I should add that even democracy can herald the advent of dictatorship. Though, I will not accept the perception in some quarters which goes thus; “fear not the constitution but President Jonathan”. This assertion portends danger for all of us. But I’m not unmindful of the fact that would-be dictators start as democrats. Go down memory lane; Adolf Hitler, whose superior Aryan race doctrine led to the Second World War, was elected into office.