By Mike Awoyinfa
SHETTIMA GLORY might as well be the title of a book. A leadership book telling the story and the glory of Kashim Shettima, a man who did not allow the pernicious and calamitous evil called Boko Haram to eclipse his winning spirit—the zeal to make a mark in office and bequeath a lasting legacy. An intellectual in governance fighting the gory Boko Haram with the glory of education. That’s the kernel of the Shettima story.
Oh, what a man! A man for all seasons and all reasons. A governor engulfed in the terror of a war within our country. A war that sent millions to their untimely death in the gas chambers of modern terrorism. A war that witnessed the horror and the laments of our girls kidnapped from school and taken into slavery in a Babylon where they are married off, radicalized and forbidden from singing the Lord’s song in a strange land. A war where our girls are brainwashed into suicide bombing, martyrdom and a promise of swift passage to paradise. A senseless war that declared Western education as a bunkum and a haram called Boko Haram!
With no military training and preparation, Governor Kashim Shettima of Bornu State suddenly found himself as a war-time leader. All he could rely on in the prosecution of the war were the memoirs of war-time leaders like Sir Winston Churchill and Charles De Gaulle which he had read. A leader is a reader. Shettima has read vastly. He lives in the erudite world of books and ideas. That is what brought us together. A common affinity for books. When he speaks, his thoughts are laced with quotes from Chinua Achebe to Franz Kafka to Albert Camus to George Freeman whose book THE NEXT 100 YEARS: A Forecast for the 21st Century (2009) predicted the major geopolitical events, technological breakthroughs, culture and trends that would shape the world.
About this time last week on a Saturday morning, he had brought together under one roof senior journalists he describes as “the leading lights and crème de la crème of Nigerian journalism” to show them around and let them see how Maiduguri (and by extension other parts of Bornu State) hitherto under siege have risen phoenix-like from the ashes of war into a new future filled with hope and optimism. To unlock that future, Shettima is using education as the weapon to fight terrorism. He is building mega primary schools and erecting billboards around the schools carrying the words of Malala Yousafzai, the Nobel Prize-winning Pakistani activist for female education saying: “With gun you can kill a terrorist, with EDUCATION you can KILL terrorism.”
Leading from the front and driving a saloon car, Governor Shettima chauffeured us around Maiduguri in a convoy with no siren and no armoured trucks. The governor confidently tells us that there was no need for such appurtenances of power. In any case, he adds, Maiduguri is far safer than Nigerians think. To most Nigerians, Maiduguri (and Bornu State at large) is a no-go area, a dangerous zone associated with bombings, destruction, kidnapping and killings as daily reported in the news media.
I was in the same car with Shettima as he drove past streets lined with excited youths who had spotted their governor on the wheels and were waving and cheering fanatically. He took us to the primary schools some still under construction and some already completed. The schools are the showcase and the crown jewels of his achievements as a governor. In a country obsessed with things like medical tourism, religious tourism, cultural tourism and all kinds of tourism, Governor Shettima has added to the list what I would call educational tourism. His mega schools have become the gold standard for primary school architecture. Come to Maiduguri and see these state-of-the-art primary schools, beautiful structures that can even match any university edifice. These are Shettima’s educational Taj Mahals. Not only are they beautiful to behold with their Disney-like playgrounds for children, but with infrastructure like good toilets. Don’t take that for granted! In the past, absence of toilets used to be a major disincentive for girls who shunned school because no toilets were provided.
Everything in Shettima’s new school is digitalized, starting from the teaching board which is an Indian Cyan graphic technology that is user-friendly. These modern primary schools place Shettima on an Olympic pedestal near the great Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the visionary leader who initiated free education in Western Nigeria. Shettima at his press conference eulogized his educational and political hero Chief Awolowo saying: “The Yorubas are the most educated of all the black people in the world. This was because of the free education policies of the Awolowo era. This is why the Southwest is now the most prosperous region in Nigeria largely because of the very robust, middle-class, overeducated workforce. People who know their rights and would demand for their rights.”
Inside the colorful classrooms are pictures of celebrated world leaders and Nigerian icons (dominantly women) with their educational quotes framed aloft to inspire the pupils. There is the picture of the great Nelson Mandela saying: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
Most of the schools are named after ex-Bornu State governors and leaders who have impacted positively on Bornu State. There is a school named after President Buhari, another named after the First Lady, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, another after the Vice President Yemi Osibanjo and yet another after Aliko Dangote, the cement and sugar tycoon rated as Africa’s richest man who has contributed a lot to the development of crisis-torn Bornu State. Governor Shettima said he chose to focus on primary school “because it is the cornerstone of the younger ones.” His speech is a sermon with deep moral lessons.
“We were all brought up in the public school system but we allowed our public school to collapse in this part of the world,” he said. “We send our children to the choicest private schools and allow the children of the poor to attend substandard schools and use them as political thugs during electioneering seasons. These political thugs may end up as the Frankenstein monsters that would consume all of us.
“From the Boko Haram insurgency, we harvested 52,311 orphans and 54,911 widows. So it is in our enlightened self-interest to take care of these orphans and widows. If we fail to take care of them, certainly in the next ten to fifteen years, they will take care of us. For those of us living in the north, you don’t need a soothsayer to say that the poor are angry with us. Why the poor are in romance with Buhari is fundamentally because of the belief that he is going to lock up the elites. There is anger in the land and the only way we can assuage the anger is through education. Education is the greatest game-changer. Within a generation, the son of a peasant can be a celebrated icon. And we cannot deny them of that education and expect peace to reign. By 2050, this Boko Haram will be a child’s play. Unless we wear our thinking caps as leaders and come up with robust solutions to our problems. Because fundamentally, there is a correlation between poverty and violence.” (To be continued)