BusinessDay

2023: Shettima is unfit to be Nigeria’s vice president. Here’s why

If Alhaji Bola Ahmed Tinubu, presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) becomes president next year, it is not only his exclusionist Muslim-Muslim presidency that would unsettle Nigeria, but also his would-be deputy, Alhaji Kashim Shettima.

With Shettima’s inherent tetchiness and pugnacity, he would be gratuitously rude and provocative. And with his uncouthness and indiscretion, he would be utterly divisive and toxifying. Truth is, a Vice-President Shettima would be unlike any civilian vice-president in Nigeria’s history.

But before we develop that proposition, we must first discuss a critical and related one, namely: no previous presidential candidate in Nigeria did what Tinubu has done. I’m not referring to the devilry of his Muslim-Muslim ticket. Rather, I’m talking about his deliberate decision to pick a longstanding political ally and close associate as his running-mate. None of the past leading presidential candidates behaved in that manner.

Consider the evidence. Shehu Shagari barely personally knew Alex Ekwueme before making him his running-mate; MKO Abiola had no prior close political or personal relationship with Baba Gana Kingibe; Olusegun Obasanjo was not Atiku Abubakar’s buddy; Umaru Musa Yar’Adua hardly personally knew Goodluck Jonathan; Jonathan himself had no prior longstanding political or personal relationship with Namadi Sambo, and Muhammadu Buhari wouldn’t, prior to 2015, regard Yemi Osinbajo as a political soulmate.

Nigeria is inherently volatile and prone to crisis. It needs a calm and thoughtful vice-president who can help douse tension, not one that will inflame it through reckless and provocative comments

But Tinubu puts personal friendship and loyalty above all else. As Lagos State governor, Tinubu had three deputy-governors within his eight years in office, having triggered the impeachments of two of them.

So, a plausible explanation for choosing a crony as his running-mate is that he doesn’t want to work with a vice-president with whom he has no cosy, bonded relationship. Thus, he picked as his running-mate a longstanding political ally, who ran his presidential primary campaign and was neck-deep in the shenanigans that secured him victory.

However, given Tinubu’s style of politics, this is potentially dangerous. His feudalisation of Lagos State politics and government is based on treating the state as a personal fiefdom, whereby he, the feudal lord, is surrounded by ultra-loyal serfs, who all seem to have sworn to an oath of secrecy.

Truth is, a Tinubu presidency would be utterly secretive and mafia-like because he totally abhors openness, transparency and accountability. Thus, there must be real worries that a President Tinubu and a Vice-President Shettima would put their personal loyalty to each other above open and transparent government; that their cosiness would trump good governance. Sadly, the omens are bad!

Recently, Shettima audaciously carved out functions between himself and Tinubu. He said that if they won next year, he would be “in charge of” security while Tinubu would handle the economy.

Essentially, Shettima was reversing the traditional and constitutional roles of president and vice-president. Traditionally and constitutionally, the vice-president, as chairman of the National Economic Council and head of the Economic Management Committee, leads on the economy, albeit reporting to the president. But the president, as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, is undisputedly in charge of national security.

For a vice-president to be “in charge of” security, he must have control over the security chiefs, who are usually answerable to the Commander-in-Chief. Even now that the president is in charge of national security, the security agencies lack effective coordination due to inter-agency rivalries.

What would happen if they had to report to a vice president, with whom they have no inherent loyalty. It’s a recipe for utter dysfunctionality!

Indeed, come to think of it. Why would someone who, as state governor, ignored intelligence warnings about the abduction of the 276 Chibok girls in 2014, some of whom are still in captivity, be so arrogant and insensitive as to say he would be “in charge of” security if he became vice-president?

And why would a responsible presidential candidate who prioritises the national interest agree to such a warped idea from his running-mate? No previous vice-presidential candidate displayed such a muscular and ambitious tendency.

But truth is, there are worrying parallels between Tinubu and Shettima. Both are political opportunists, with ingrained opportunistic streaks and narcissistic self-overindulgence, not to mention their ferocious sense of entitlement, a la Emi lokan!

Indeed, recently, Shettima confirmed those characterisations when he listed Tinubu’s attributes he admired. Speaking at the 96th anniversary celebration of the Yoruba Tennis Club in Ikoyi, Lagos, on September 15, Shettima said, among other things, that Tinubu has General Ibrahim Babangida’s “situational pragmatism (read crass opportunism) and Maradonic skills” and General Sani Abacha’s “taciturnity and ruthlessness.”

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Of course, Shettima was right. Considering how Tinubu manoeuvred, blackmailed and “settled” his party’s leaders, delegates, and fellow aspirants to secure APC’s presidential ticket, none would doubt his Maradonic or Machiavellian skills.

And seeing how he turned Lagos State into a captive fiefdom, his ruthlessness can never be in doubt. As for taciturnity? Well, try and ask Tinubu about his past. These are the qualities Shettima praised to high heaven, but they are not the attributes Nigerians need in their leader.

Which brings us to Shettima himself. What are his unique attributes? And are they fit for purpose? Well, first, there’s a consensus that the former Borno State governor, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agricultural economics, is well read and eloquent, with a fondness for quoting great authors. But as Isaiah Berlin says in his great essay ‘The Hedgehog and the Fox,’ knowledge is not wisdom. Knowledge is how much you know; wisdom is the ability to use the knowledge in a way that shows good judgment.

The truth, sadly, is that Shettima often doesn’t show wisdom and good judgment in his words and actions.

He demonstrated this character flaw during his aggressive management of Tinubu’s presidential primary campaign. With the verbal incontinence he displayed when talking about his principal’s fellow aspirants, you would wonder whether Shettima was a former state governor.

For instance, he said Vice-President Osinbajo was too nice, saying that “nice men like him should be selling popcorn and ice-cream,” which, of course, confirms that he, Shettima, is, as many people say, not a nice person.

Recently, Shettima sparked viral trend on social media when he wore sneakers to the annual conference of the Nigerian Bar Association. Showing no remorse, he later bragged that he did so “deliberately” to “deflect and counterbalance” his detractors, saying he wanted to “mock” them. That’s hardly a vice-presidential behaviour, is it? It’s hardly a behaviour of someone who wants to be the No. 2 citizen of a serious country!

But if you think those examples are trivial, consider this. The only defining issue in Nigeria today is restructuring. But what did Shettima say about it? In a viral video, he said: “Restructuring my foot!” Really? Dismissing such a critical national issue so uncouthly?

And why? Shettima said people are talking of artificial intelligence and nanotechnology, and wondered why Nigerians “are talking of restructuring federation.” Clearly, he doesn’t understand that artificial intelligence and nanotechnology can’t take place in an institutionally dysfunctional country, in a country where there is no unity, a sense of shared purpose, internal cohesion and stability. Clearly, despite Shettima’s seeming erudition, he lacks wisdom and good judgment!

So, why does this matter? It matters because, truth be told, if Tinubu wins next year, Nigeria would be more turbulent and divided than it has been under President Buhari.

He would try and use money and patronage to co-opt people, but that won’t work because the issues are very deep. In such circumstances, a belligerent vice-president with a tendency for rudeness and tetchiness would exacerbate a bad situation.

Nigeria is inherently volatile and prone to crisis. It needs a calm and thoughtful vice-president who can help douse tension, not one that will inflame it through reckless and provocative comments. Shettima simply doesn’t fit the bill!

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