Mr. Kashim Shettima, who is a senator and immediate past governor of Borno State, is receiving a fusillade of bullets not from terrorists that torment his state but from critics in the political space. Shettima showed up as one of the important guests at the 62nd Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) conference last week dressed in a suit and sneakers. There was an uproar within and outside the conference circles on this unorthodox way of dressing. A suit is a formal wear, which is often worn with laced leather shoes and socks. Since then, Shettima has been carpeted by columnists and social media activists. They have gone beyond the dress to lampoon him for the failure to save the Chibok Government College girls from kidnappers when he was the state governor. Shettima, who was a banker for many years, always dressing in smart suits and ties, says that he adopted this avant garde mode of dressing for a reason. He said he had sent a team to find out the kind of reception he would receive at the conference. He said that “he found out that one of the presidential candidates had been holding meetings for three days to plan mischief. So, he knew that he would face a hostile situation at the conference and, therefore, deliberately wore sneakers to snub at them.” He said further, “I am a banker trained by one of the best bankers in the world. I am a Jim Ovia boy.”
The hidden meaning of what he has said is that he knew, as all bankers do, how to dress well in sparkling suits and lovely shoes. In other words, he is a fashionable man who knows the etiquette of good dressing.
Shettima graduated from the University of Maiduguri with a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Economics and a master’s degree in the same subject from the University of Ibadan. He worked with several banks, including Nigerian Agricultural Cooperative Bank, Commercial Bank of Africa Limited and African International Bank. He capped his banking career at Zenith, where he rose to the position of general manager. In 2007, he left the bank when he was appointed commissioner of finance and economic development in the Governor Ali Modu Sheriff government in Borno State. He later became governor of the state, a position he held with courage and dedication.
Shettima may be unaware that what he wore, a suit and sneakers, is gradually becoming a fad among young people, especially those of them in the entertainment world. With time, it may become a trend acceptable by more people. But of course dress etiquette is determined largely by one’s age and position in society. That is why, even if the trend catches on, it will still be unorthodox and unacceptable for older people who occupy a higher social station in life to adopt it as a formal wear. By this definition, Shettima is excluded from wearing such avant garde attire to a major public event, even if he wanted to snub at those who were waiting to ridicule him. The attire demeans him, not the hostile crowd he thought were lying in ambush for him.
Let us face it. The world is witnessing a fashion revolution. People now wear torn or shredded or patched jeans and nobody ridicules them as being unable to buy new clothes. These rags are actually made that way and they are not cheap. In fact, the more ragged it is, the costlier it becomes. Some men even wear hoop earrings or chandelier earrings, wear long pointed nails. Some of them even paint them in various colours. The hair is either fried or plaited or painted in various colours. The women wear micro mini skirts that are either so extra short that they tend to expose what ought to be hidden or they simply leave very little to the imagination. At the other end of the fashion pole are women who wear extra-long skirts that sweep the floor as they go along. I have witnessed a scene where a lovely looking lady wearing a very long dress marched it as she was entering a function hall and fell headlong. People had to pick her up. That was the end of the party for her. I am wondering what difference it would make to the length of a dress if it does not have to sweep the floor. Those who think they are smart use one hand to lift the dress, thus depriving themselves of the availability of that hand for a more useful purpose. Does fashion need to deprive people of common sense in terms of functionality? But it is obvious that those fashionistas and creators of these new trends think that they can make the world to copy them and make the unorthodox clothes and designs look orthodox.
However, I am sure that Shettima knows that his unusual attire is not the major reason why he is receiving barbed shafts. The main reason is that he is in politics and as the vice presidential candidate of the APC he is a target of poisoned arrows from oppositionists. Politics is like a kitchen. Even though it is a place where delicious meals are cooked, a kitchen also has the smell of onions. There are two major reasons why this period is not a perfect postcard period for Shettima. One is that he made the adjectival mistake of positioning himself against the elite who are campaigning for the restructuring of the country. He not only opposed restructuring but did so very belligerently by saying “restructuring my foot.” That was over the top. Restructuring has both proponents and opponents and it is the responsibility of those on either side of the divide to make their positions clearly, succinctly, factually without insulting the sensibilities of those on the opposite side. In the first place, it is close to anti-party activity for those in the APC to oppose restructuring, which their party had sought to confirm its desirability from the people of Nigeria. This was done through the Nasir El-Rufai Committee, which sampled the opinion of Nigerians in all the geo-political zones. Nigerians confirmed that they wanted restructuring, including state police and the devolution of powers to state governments. Those who are opposed to restructuring have not been able to make Nigeria a workable country; they have not made it a safe country to live in, to travel safely to and from the nearest state by road or by rail without the fear of being kidnapped or killed. Nigeria is close to being a failed state and anybody who says that this is the quality of life that we deserve with all the enormous manpower and mineral resources we have is living in a fool’s paradise. Certainly, Nigeria can do better, much better, than this. Virtually all the goodies we thought we would get from our dear country when we won independence in 1960 have now become specks on a distant horizon. When Shettima pronounced the words “restructuring my foot,” he should have known without being told that such an arrogant declaration was not in accord with the mood and murmurings of the moment. Any party that does not favour a restructuring of the country does not deserve the votes of well-meaning Nigerians who know that the country is capable of being better, much better, than it is now. Nigeria as at today has gone into a holding period. We have been paralysed, rather than galvanised by the unitary government that we have had since the military took over power in 1966.
The second reason why there was manifest hostility towards Shettima is because of his appointment as Asiwaju Bola Tinubu’s vice presidential running mate. Tinubu is a Moslem from the South while Shettima is also a Moslem from the North. The argument of those who were pushing for the appointment of a Christian from the North was to provide an appropriate religious balance. That is why, when he was appointed, very qualified as he is, Shettima received only a muted applause. That is largely because the country has changed drastically. When Chief Moshood Abiola, a Moslem from the South, picked Mr. Babagana Kingibe, a Moslem from the North, in 1993, there was only a very mild opposition. The people of Nigeria knew that none of the two men was a religious bigot and they were not likely to drive Nigeria into a religious cul de sac. That was why Nigerians voted for them. It is obvious that Tinubu is not a religious irredentist. He is married to a woman who is a pastor in a Pentecostal church. In the South West, there are many such mixed marriages between Moslems and Christians and they live in harmony. I have often said that the South West remains the most refined and broadminded region in Nigeria in matters of religion. That is why you do not find Boko Haram being able to recruit children from the South West as suicide bombers. It is not that there is no poverty in the South West, an excuse that people use in explaining away the ease with which young people are recruited by Boko Haram terrorists in the North into terrorism. There is poverty everywhere in Nigeria but my explanation as to why the South West is relatively free from terrorist recruitment is education. Free education that Chief Obafemi Awolowo started in the South West, which subsequent governments continued with, has had a liberating effect on the entire region.
The reason why some people are opposed to the Moslem-Moslem ticket has nothing to do with either Tinubu or Shettima. It has something to do with how our politicians have handled religion in words and deeds since the beginning of this Republic. We have heard politicians say that Boko Haram terrorists ought to be given the kind of amnesty programme that the Niger Delta militants were given. We have heard them say at campaign rallies that Moslems should vote only for Moslem candidates. They have also played a very dangerous game in the appointment of people into senior positions in the armed forces, police and para-military forces. When you go down the line, bypass a number of competent people because they are not of your faith, you create a situation of suspicion and disharmony. My gut feeling is that one of the reasons, among others, why the fight against terrorism, banditry, etc, is not yielding appropriate positive results is that some of the personnel who feel marginalised may have decided to take a “siddon look” position. I may be wrong but that is my gut feeling.
I have nothing against the Moslem-Moslem candidacy of the APC, even though I think we should blame our politicians for elevating religion into the public space in a manner that tends to poison the relationship between Nigerians. At Newswatch, we did not include a space for the religion of our staff because we did not want to run an organisation that was faith-biased. We only wanted our staff to do their work well and be rewarded for doing so.
In deciding who to vote for in the coming election, religion will not be a factor for me. What will matter to me will be my assessment of whether or not the candidate will be able to solve Nigeria’s problems. That assessment will be based on how the candidate answers the question, How?