Garlands for “That Zenith Boy” at 50, By Abdulrafiu Lawal

As he winds down his second term, my prayer for him is that he does not come across those political associates who give second term governors the drink that intoxicates them and makes them play God. His interest should not be about installing a successor, but laying a solid foundation for the rebuilding of Borno.

I first heard the phrase, “That Zenith boy” in Abuja in February this year when a Borno man who was a already a member of the Federal Executive Council when Governor Kashim Shettima was still a junior student at Government Community Secondary School, Biu, described him contemptuously to someone who claims he does not know him in the politics of the state.

For people in Borno, especially those in political circles, this is a familiar phrase. For those who may not know, the phrase “That Zenith boy” (Yaron Zenith d’in nan) is another name some people have been calling Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima in the past five years. This is not because they do not know his name, but because they find it difficult to come to terms with the reality that he is their governor without an establishment background and a silver spoon in his mouth. After all, they knew him when he was shuttling between offices in the North-Eastern states and beyond as General Manager, Zenith Bank, in search of business for his bank.

Some may even tell you they knew his father who was a middle class person some years back. This is the story they have been telling in the past five years, that they are unable to do something productive with their lives, but the “Zenith Boy” has been growing in age and wisdom. This is not surprising in a conservative society like Borno, where “Ndu ba’an3 wo?” (Who is your father?) is the yardstick for measuring success and the height one attains in life.

As God will have it, “that Zenith boy” has attained the golden age today, wearing two caps, one as governor of Borno State, and in his second term at a difficult time in history, and also as chairman of the Northern Governor’s Forum (NGF). His story underscores the fact despite a humble beginning, with hard work and God’s grace, one can attain the zenith of one’s career. He has seen different sides of life in his five decades on earth, and this has shaped his philosophy about life. Hence, those who believe he has not paid his dues to get to where he is today should pray that they experience half of what he has gone through in life. Probably, they will understand that the finest steel has to go through the hottest fire, apologies to Richard Nixon.

Some years ago, a couple of bankers despised him in Maiduguri because they believed Shettima was getting all the juicy accounts in the North-East for Zenith bank. They forgot the other name of the business is ‘competition’; you either shape in or shape out. A few of them have come to respect him today, seeing that he bore no grudge against them, but was just striving to excel in what he did, because all he received from his father was a good upbringing and education.

There are many who have been nursing the ambition of ruling Borno for close to two decades, but have not been lucky to have the opportunity to do this. The fact that he never nursed the ambition of being governor, but providence threw it on his shoulders following the death of Modu Fannami Gubio, Ali Modu Sheriff’s anointed candidate for governor in 2011, is humbling enough. It is not by sheer coincidence that he is governor at a time the state is passing through colossal challenges, but a design by providence for him to appreciate that Allah gives people opportunities to test them.

Hence, his rise from relative obscurity in the banking hall to national politics is a trust accorded him by God and the good people of Borno State. How he discharges his responsibilities as chief executive, going by the humanitarian crisis being experienced in the state at this time, will determine his place in history. The people of Borno who are just recovering from the pains of six years of insurgency, and the international community, are watching him closely. It is an opportunity he must not lose to write his name in gold. Trust the Kanuris with their rich oral tradition, his children and grand children will be reminded by their peers someday about his actions or inactions as governor of Borno State for the eight years he was opportune to serve.

Going by his unassuming nature, not many will give a second thought to Shettima becoming a governor, not to talk of leading his colleagues in the nineteen Northern states. He has come of age politically, learning from the bitter experiences of a baptism by fire from a ruthless godfather and a group of miscreants hiding under the guise of religion to unleash mayhem and terror on Borno people.

If you meet Kashim Shettima, the father and husband, you will see humility, patience and the advantage of sending a child to school outside his community. The child grows up with a broad perspective on life, becomes urbane and keeps a network of friends who will baffle one who keeps to himself.

One thing that continues to strike many about him is how he sees his former boss, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, as his benefactor and one through who providence designed his journey into politics, despite all that has happened between them. This is unusual in the Nigerian political arena where you easily see the Ganduje/Kwankwaso sort of politics. This trait underscores a man with compassion, one full of gratitude and who never throws away the baby with bath water. This is because he sees the larger picture of life.

On the other hand, Shettima is an enigma of sort to friends and foes. His quiet mien is seen by many as a weakness, but for that who know him well, know it as his strength. This is because it is difficult to predict him. Perhaps, this is one of the reasons he has survived in Nigeria’s dirty politics where several newcomers crash out of the game early.

I know one thing that saddens him as governor is the consequences of the six year insurgency that almost marred his first term in office. About eleven years ago, I stopped by his office one evening at Zenith Bank, Maiduguri and met him in the company of his most consistent friend, Mai Sheriff. I asked why Zenith Bank was opening a second branch in Maiduguri. Shettima took time to explain to me the untapped gold mine in Borno due to its proximity to the three neigbouring countries of Niger, Chad and Cameroun. He talked about economic potentials that can be derived from commerce by the government’s creation of an enabling environment, but unfortunately the Boko Haram challenge has rubbed him and the state of the opportunity of realising this dream at the moment.

However, he can still make best use of the little time he has to make enduring impact on the lives of his people. Mohammed Goni, the first civilian governor of Borno State (may Allah continue to grant him good health and many more years), is still a reference point because he served his people to the best of his ability. Shettima needs to start asking himself and working towards how he wants his people to remember him for.

As he winds down his second term, my prayer for him is that he does not come across those political associates who give second term governors the drink that intoxicates them and makes them play God. His interest should not be about installing a successor, but laying a solid foundation for the rebuilding of Borno. The case of Adamu Muazu and Ali Sheriff in Bauchi and Borno States are good examples. The ball is in his court.

As Governor Kashim Shettima clocks the golden age, it is a time of celebrating Allah’s favours in his life and also a period of sober reflection on what he has done with the opportunities given to him by God in the last five decades – the pains and gains and what needs to be done to make tomorrow better. This is because as human beings we tend to lose the future by forgetting where the rains started beating us. I say, more garlands for the Zenith boy at 50; I wish him many more years of good health, divine favours and long life in the service of his people.

Abdulrafiu Lawal, a Public Commentator can be reached through Twitter @AbdulRafiu19


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