ALI SHERIFF: END OF AN ERA
It is no longer news that the people of Borno state known for their high level of tolerance, resilience and fatalism for many centuries finally humbled Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, the self acclaimed ''Lion of the desert''. They deported him from the political space, just like the American electorate humiliated Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential elections because he overrated himself .This was someone who told President Jonathan to hold him responsible if he does not deliver Borno and Yobe states to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Going by the results of the governorship and presidential elections in Borno, it might take him years to recover from this shock, provided he does not end up in jail someday.
In order to understand how Ali Modu Sheriff got this far, it is important to take a historical excursion to put issues in perspective. For those who may not know, Ali is the son of Ngala born millionaire businessman, Modu Sheriff, who is also the Galadiman Dikwa. The senior Sheriff is a lesson in perseverance and hard work, having had a humble beginning as a local perfume seller to become a wealthy businessman of national repute. By Borno standards, Ali Sheriff comes from a wealthy family that humility should be his middle name. Reason, when the younger sheriff was growing up in affluence, many in Borno could barely afford the basic necessities of life. This is not because his father was more hardworking than others in Borno nor smarter, but, by sheer divine blessing and favours from Allah. Thus, many thought his administration will have a human face.
Sheriff is that Kanuri politician and defence contractor who scored many firsts in business and politics, being the first son of Dikwa emirate to become governor in Borno. He remains the luckiest politician in Borno history. He was in the senate thrice and two time governor of his state. He defeated the wife of Babagana Kingibe in the Borno central Senatorial election during the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and National Republican Convention (NRC) days. He also remains the first governor to win an election without the support of the once powerful Borno elders. His emergence as governor in 2003 through divine providence and the power of the electorate defeating Late Mala Kachallah did not surprise many. The late Kachallah despite being a peace ambassador with a genuine desire to serve his people surrounded himself with sycophants that he lost touch with the people. By the end May 2003, Kachallah's major achievements were a peaceful Borno, rehabilitation of all Borno elders and fencing of all government structures. The rest is history.
Ali Sheriff's journey to political obscurity actually began May 29, 2003. This is because he started squandering his political capital through poor judgment and belief that no-one was better than him in a state rich in human and material resources. He was very petty, mean, vindictive and crippled the economic base of every Borno businessman or politician that could be a threat to him. He drove fear into the minds of Borno elders that when he sneezes they catch cold. Not even the mercurial Zannah Dujjima,Umaru Mandara of blessed memory known to intimidate military administrators who worked against the interest of Borno elders could find his voice. Those who could not endure the ''patronage drought' resorted to sneaking into Government house at night to kiss his feet for ''crumbs'' in order to keep body and soul together.”
He also added new things to the life of Borno people, thuggery, sale and consumption of marijuana grew in geometrical proportion that one would think it was close to getting legislative approval. Sheriff also added a new word ''Yirne'' to the political dictionary of the state. Yirne is a kanuri word for ''throw', which involves him throwing money from the roof top of his jeep as he drives around the metropolis leading to the death of many children crushed by vehicles in his convoy or cars coming from opposite direction.Many were opposed to this, but could do nothing.
By the end of his first term in 2007, he had thrown sand in the eyes of all those on whose back he rode to power. The likes of Kaka Bolori, former chairman Maiduguri Metropolitan Council(MMC), Mohammed Kumalia, fomer minority leader in the house of representatives, the strong woman of Borno politics, Fati Kakeenna and one time Secretary to the State Government (SSG),late Abba Gana Terab of blessed memory were all licking their wounds. Terab, a committed party man and grass root politician sacrificed everything he had including the comfort of his family to ensure that Sheriff's desire to rule Borno materialized. In the end, Terab was among the first casualties of his highhandedness and desperate bid to consolidate his hold on power. He created the office of chief of staff which was unknown in Borno and reduced the powers of Terab as secretary to the state government to a mere political appointee that was not better than a ''flat spare tyre''. Midway into the life of the administration, Terab fell sick and died.
Surprisingly, the wise saying that once beaten, twice shy did not apply to his son AbdulRahman, a member of the House of Representatives from Borno. The junior Terab did not learn from his father's experience as he left ''certainty for uncertainty''. Here was a young man and politician with a promising career, but defied all pleas from family and friends not to be the ''stupid fly'' that follows the corpse to the grave. He ended up in ''political siberia'' with Sheriff because he followed blindly.
Another victim was his deputy governor, Adamu Dibal who could not ask that the generator in Government House be turned on when Sheriff is out of town. He carried on his duties as the number two man under the'' excruciating heat''of Borno .For most part of his eight years as deputy governor, he was the laughing stock of many commissioners in the cabinet because he could not cause a common pigeon to fly within Government House, Maiduguri. Dibal, loyal like a lamb will not complain so as not to incur the wrath of Sheriff.
Sheriff who has no ''dissent'' in his political dictionary ensured that any member the state house of assembly who opposed him kissed the dust. His major victims were Bulama Fugu,former speaker under Mala Kachallah administration ,Late Maina Yama Chibok ,Inuwa Kubo also a former speaker and speaker, and his bosom friend, the majority leader, AbdulRahman AbdulKarim. The bone of contention between Fugu and Sheriff was that the former felt that the latter had limited capacity for intellectual expression as such could not dictate to him what to do as speaker. Of the quartet, Fugu is yet to recover from the Sheriff political tsunami that swept him out of office as speaker. This is because he is yet to gain political relevance about thirteen years after. The duo of AbdulKarim and Kubo were also sent into temporary political oblivion for telling him the truth. Though, they have since bounced back, but cannot forget their bitter experiences in the hands of Sheriff.
At the local government level, the likes of Shugaba Umara (Scissors), Mohammed Kullima, Late Ali Biu and Babagana Ajari of Monguno,Marte,Biu and Bama local government areas cannot forget their encounter with Sheriff. In living up to his nickname as the ''murucin kan dutse'' that whoever disagrees with him will lose three things; political relevance, wealth and live a miserable life, he left a deep cut in their hearts that will last a life time. Of the lot, the case of Ali Biu remains the most pathetic. Ali Sheriff allegedly got the man's son to be part of the councillors who signed the allegations of gross misconduct served on Biu as Chairman. He was eventually removed from office and did not recover from the political humiliation till he died.
The traditional institution was not spared either. The trio of Late Shehu of Borno, Mustapha Umar Ibn-El. Kanemi, Emir of Bama, Kyari Ibn Ibrahim El.Kanemi and Late Emir of Shani, Modu Mailafiya were his sworn enemies. Their crime was their closeness to Mala Kachallah and that they kept the relationship even when he (Kachallah) was out of office. As a way of settling scores, Sheriff abandoned El. Kanemi despite his deteriorating health until the last minute. For the people of Borno, this was an unpardonable sin against the people. This is because Borno has three individuals who commanded respect across ethnic, religious or political divide. They are Nigeria's first Minister of Petroleum, Shettima Ali Monguno, Late Shehu of Borno and Professor Emeritus, Umaru Shehu. Anything that affects any of the three was seen as a threat of the life of all Borno people because they have sacrificed so much for the state.
In March 2010, Sheriff carved a new emirate in Dikwa out of the old Dikwa emirate, moved the headquarters to Dikwa leaving Shehu of Bama with only Bama town and a few villages. His argument was that he was out to correct the injustice meted out to the people of Dikwa by colonialists in 1942. While this position is true, it is not accurate. He was out to settle scores with El-kanemi. Like a typical Kanuri man known not to break down even at the risk of losing his life, the royal father never uttered a word.
Next on the line was Ali Ndume, the eloquent Senator representing Borno south in the National Assembly is another individual who will never forget Sheriff. Things got so bad between them that the former governor went to Askira Uba local government area in 2011 to tell the people that his ''shoes'' were better than Ndume as a person. His crime was that he refused to'' own a television set'' while Sheriff held the remote control and (Ndume) got a big scar on his face that will hurt for a life time.
Sheriff attempted to give the Senator representing Borno central, Ahmed Zannah the ''Ndume treatment'' in 2013, but he fought back like a ''wounded lion''. Sheriff was forced to beat a tactical retreat. Zannah's offence was that he enlisted the support of all known political enemies of the former governor across party lines in Borno to defeat him in the 2011 senatorial race for Borno central.
While all these may pale into insignificance when he left office in May 2011, his costly mistake of agreeing to the killing of Mohammed Yusuf, founder of Boko Haram in 2009 dealt a big blow to the home of peace. This is evident in the fact had Yusuf been charged to court, the law may have unveiled the patrons of the sect . This single act of poor judgment proved costly as the sect regrouped and grounded economic, social and political life in Borno and neighboring states for four years, leading to the death of about 13,000 people.
While, it is still a subject of debate whether Sheriff has a hand in the funding of Boko Haram. However, one thing is certain, he has something to hide about the sect's activities. This is a topic of discussion for another day .However, history will not forgive him for ''dancing'' on the grave and sorrow'' of his people with his friend, President Goodluck Jonathan while Boko Haram took the state fifty years backwards. This is in spite of the fact that the sect killed his younger brother,Goni Sheriff,cousin, Fannami Gubio,in-law, Awana Ngala and confidant,Mustapha Flawama. Sheriff could have used his closeness to Aso Rock to bring succour to his people. As a defence contractor, he could conveniently pay for the military hardware needed to crush Boko haram. He thought otherwise, closed his eyes to the sufferings of his people by getting the President to close the Maiduguri airport. The Maiduguri airport became his private ''garage' opened only when his private jet is in town . Thus, forcing many to travel through unsafe roads and eventually maimed by Boko Haram. Reason, he wanted to settle scores with his ''ungrateful godson'' Kashim Shettima and in the process ruined the state and destroyed his (Sheriff's) political career.This is why Shettima spent all his four years on paying compensation to victims of Boko Haram,burying the dead,paying the hospital bills of the injured,supporting the welfare of soldiers on and off the front line, and enduring all sorts of insult from a clueless president instead of building on what Sheriff left behind.
Like a man cursed by his generation, every step he took in the last two years amounted to a misadventure which further dented his bad reputation. Like leaving his party to the party of his people's oppressors, going to Kano to inspect the seized aircraft shortly after being linked with Boko Haram by the Austrian negotiator, accompanying the president to Chad and substituting the name of Gambo Lawan who won the Borno PDP gubernatorial primaries with that of his boy,Mohammed Imam, until a federal high court rubbished him three weeks ago. Thereby, deepening the sixteen year old internal crisis that has rocked Borno People's Democratic Party.
Sheriff knew what money could do, but, due to his limited capacity for intellectual expression he forgot that no-one can win judgment against his clan, apologies to Chinua Achebe and that indeed, after hardship comes relief. The insurgency was a great opportunity for Sheriff to erase his sins by being on the side of his people, but bungled it forever.
Change they say is the only permanent thing in life. Today, Borno is gradually getting its groove back thanks to the wind of political change blowing across the nation. Sheriff on the other hand is now a political orphan knocked out of the political ring by the same people he made life miserable for. Too bad, when next he is visiting Borno he will have his heart in his mouth because there will be no battalion of soldiers to escort him to his house neither will there be a police commissioner willing to put his job on the line by getting his men to provide security for the humbled ''Lion of the desert''.
The political tragedy of Ali Sheriff underscores the following, power is transient, one is not deemed to be successful until one is able to manage success, money is not everything and one should always pray that emotions will not becloud one's sense of judgment. He has lost both ''the crown and the throne'' like the Hausa proverb ''Ba tarko,Ba tsuntsu'' and has to face the reality of being ''homeless politically'' with an ''unknown tomorrow''. The Shettimas, Ndumes and Zannahs he vowed to destroy are now having the last laugh.Today's decisions are tomorrow's realities.
Written by Abdulrafiu Lawal, a Public commentator from Boston in the United States.