Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima, in an interactive session with journalists spoke on diverse issues including the Boko Haram insurgency, abduction of Chibok schoolgirls and his future plans. KAYODE IDOWU was there
The last four years of your administration have been quite eventful especially in the area of security. How have you been coping?
Honestly how I am coping is a secondary issue; what is more important is how the over six million people of Borno State are coping. These are people, who even in the best of time were poor and now further pauperised by the Boko Haram insurgency. Parents were killed, their sons and daughters slaughtered by some demented monsters who were trying to impose their alien ideologies on the beleaguered people of Borno, now turned to beggars; rendered homeless; orphaned, and widowed. My heart goes out to them. I do not care about my feelings, security or comfort; I am more concerned about the welfare of the victims directly affected and how we can get them back on their feet. We have 1,000 years of recorded history – I believe that there is a silver lining in the horizon. I believe that we shall very soon get out of our problems especially with the successes recorded in the on-going counter insurgency operations. Yes, we have won the first phase of the war; but the battle is still on. The insurgents have melted into the hinterland. Two days ago, they killed 25 people in Kwajaffa. They have refocused their energy now towards the periphery of Sambisa, from there they have been launching attacks on the Askira Uba Local Government Area. They killed quite a number of people in Chul village; they have attacked several other communities along the corridors. But by the grace of God we shall get out of it.
What other efforts are being made to get your state and the North-East geo-political zone out of the clutches of insurgents?
We have always made support for security agencies our number one priority. We have inspired our sons to support the military. We trained, equipped and employed them and they are working. We have created a strong political will. We coordinate community involvement in fighting insurgency and we provide modest leadership. This was why when there were strong fears that Maiduguri was to be attacked in December last year, I flew into Maiduguri from the United Kingdom where I went officially in order to be with the people of Borno State who had nowhere to run to and this was against security advice. I was ready to go through whatever it was with them whether to die or survive. I had mentally bid farewell to my children when I decided to come into Maiduguri that day because the fears were so intense that Boko Haram insurgents were coming in through Konduga. I didn’t want to be remembered as a governor that abandoned his people to their fate. I do not want to be remembered as a governor that stayed in the UK while Maiduguri was taken by insurgents and people killed. It is better to die for something than to live for stupidity. Luckily, the military and the youth volunteers worked very hard, we gave them all the support, citizens prayed ceaselessly and with Allah’s help, the insurgents were repelled from entering Maiduguri which is the most populated place here. I am proud to be part of the success story and of being responsible for coordinating counter insurgency operations. But the most important thing now is that hope springs from our hearts. I am by nature an eternal optimist. My candid belief is that tough times do not last forever but tough people do. I believe that we have a people that have the resilience and the indomitable will to chart a peaceful course for our people. But I want to assure you that the government and the people of Borno will continue to partner with the security agencies in bringing everlasting peace to this part of the world. I cannot but commend security agencies, the army in particular for their unflinching commitment towards restoring peace in our fatherland. The Chinese have a word for danger, the word for crisis that means danger and opportunity. This means that despite the challenges we face it also provides us with an opportunity for social reengineering; to reposition our state to meet the challenges of the future.
It will soon be a year that over 200 schoolgirls were abducted in Chibok. Are there other efforts being made other than what we have heard in the past towards rescuing them?
The Chibok girls’ issue is really very sad; no responsible parent would be happy with what happened to those poor girls. I am a father of two little girls. Any time I look into the eyes of any of my daughters, I fight to hold back tears because I remember that girls like them, born and so dearly loved by parents, are missing and worst of all, in the hands of people that love to kill. It is one issue that has caused so much heartache not only for the parents of the girls, or the people of Borno, but the people of Nigeria as a whole. It is so sad. Last year, when I read an account of one of the parents of the missing girls, I couldn’t sleep all night long because he said he would prefer to pick up the corpse of his daughter and bury her rather than have her in the hands of some misguided vandals who do not have limits to what they can do. Imagine a father preferring to see his daughter’s corpse? Look at how the leader of the insurgents said he wanted to sell the girls into slavery, that some were married off etc. It is disturbing because their capabilities for committing heinous crimes are beyond human comprehension. But like I said earlier, hope springs eternally from the heart of men. Only an insane parent will give up on a missing child. We believe quite passionately and realistically that these poor girls will be found. We have been working hard with some international agencies towards their rehabilitation, trauma management and how they can be made to pick up the pieces of their lives once we get them. We believe that at the risk of compromising their safety, the hopeful assessment of most security agencies, is that probably they may be in the Sambissa forest which is very large. Hitherto we heard they were being held around the Gwoza and Damboa axis. But for now Damboa, especially the township has been recovered and is relatively safe. Gwoza too has been recaptured. Thus, our hopeful assessment is that probably the girls are in the Sambisa forest and we hope that they would be found in good shape – the most important thing is to get them alive; and alive we shall get them.
How right is the assertion that the initial attitude of the government to the news of the girls’ kidnap may have been responsible for their long stay in captivity?
This is correct. Vital hours were lost soon after the attack. Hours that might have paid off if the search for the girls was vigorously done within that time frame. For about two or three days they were at the bank of a river and some of the commanders were said to have gone into the hinterlands of Sambisa to get directives from their masters. That could have been a golden opportunity for us to recover the girls. But scepticism and sheer indifference really compounded our problems. Some were even compounding theories that it was the Borno State government that abducted the girls and kept them in the Government House. I found it quite amusing; why should we abduct our daughters for whatever political gains and keep them in the Government House? But there is no need to cry over spilt milk. It took some time for the Federal Government to invite us over the issue. Even when I was invited, I was really delighted that at last some solutions would be proffered as to how to rescue these girls. But it was amazing that the whole crux of the meeting was geared towards scapegoating. The Commissioner of Education, the principal of the school and others were being railroaded to make phantom confessions which were alien to our knowledge. But what is important is what we can do to bring back these girls. We have succeeded in rehabilitating the 56 that escaped; the state government has committed N100 million for their education in some of the best schools in the country so that they can realise their full potential. These girls, like many of us here, are from the humblest of background; some are the first generation girls to be educated in their families. Therefore, we will do whatever it takes to see that they are rescued; and once they are recovered we will spend whatever resources to ensure that they are rehabilitated.
The Boko Haram insurgency has virtually brought the education sector to its kneel. Now that peace is returning, how do you intend to getting this sector back on its feet?
Yes, it is absolutely true we have challenges; but we have a robust framework. Once peace is established, we are going to pick up the pieces of our lives and restore education to its enviable status. It pains me so much because most of us are from the humblest of backgrounds; and it is because most of us have access to public schools that is why we are who we are. Posterity will judge us harshly if we allow the public schools to collapse. With all sense of modesty, what we spent on education in the last three and half years were not spent in the last three governments that came before ours. We have renovated public schools more than the ones renovated by the governments of Mala Kachalla and Ali Sheriff fused together. We have sent our teachers to India to learn the modern Kayan technology and using projectors to teach in secondary schools. We have increased funds in feeding of our students from N20 million to N100 million every month. Today, students get very nutritious meals. We have set up a quality assurance team to monitor standards in our public schools. We have invested about $3 million on the Kayan technology alone – all geared towards addressing the issue of education. But I want to assure you that with the re-emerging peace we are going to address our problems soon. ?
How far has the Federal Government Safe-School-Initiative gone in your state?
I am sorry to say that the project like most projects of the Federal Government here in Borno is more of hype than action. We have been attending several meetings to that effect but till now there is nothing on ground to show for it. We believe on our part that things are in the pipeline and will start yielding dividends very soon.