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BORNO: FROM SHERIFF TO SHERIFF?

By NBF News
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Undoubtedly, 2011 will be an interesting political year in the ancient Kanem-Borno Empire. This is not only because the incumbent governor, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff (SAS) will be leaving the Government House, having served for two consecutive terms, it is also an opportunity to test whether or not he and his party are indeed in control of the politics of the state.

In Borno, the fear of Sheriff's political prowess is the beginning of wisdom as since 2003 when he ousted Mala Kachalla to emerge the first elected governor outside the Borno emirate, his political profile has since been on the ascendancy. He has maintained that until recently when a combination of factors bordering on indiscretion and poor image management made his influence to plummet. Today in Borno, the easiest way to lose political following is to be backed by SAS.

The governor's influence did not just shoot out from the blues. Sheriff remains the only politician in the state that was elected thrice to the upper chambers of the National Assembly. He also prides himself as the first to break the jinx of not being elected governor for two consecutive terms.

But pundits are of the opinion that 2011 will be a true test of Sheriff's political strength for many reasons. One, he is rumoured to be interested in the senate seat of Borno Central currently held by Senator Kaka Yale. Political observers said that could be a terrain paved with landmines as Senator Yale is said to be a consummate grassroots politician who is in total sync with the people of his senatorial district.

Complicated as Yale's case may look, it is just one of the numerous hurdles Sheriff would face ahead of the polls. The main challenge is perhaps how to contain the contending forces within his party, the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), before thinking of how to face the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Conference for Progressive Change (CPC), which could emerge ANPP's biggest headache in Borno.

Internal opposition
The internal dissention, which Sheriff is facing comes in the mould of dissatisfied allies, who want to save their party from electoral doom, and are already on the field canvassing for support. The move presents the governor with the headache of how to satisfy his numerous aides who have signified interest in his seat. The incumbent Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Ahmed Jidda and deputy governor since 2003, Aminu Yuguda Dibal, fall into this category.

Jidda, a former Nigerian ambassador to Burkina Faso hails from Marte Local government in the northern part of the state. It was said that the political bait extended to Jidda before he crossed to the ANPP was for him to contest the then 'vacant' Borno North senatorial seat occasioned by a court judgment nullifying the election of Senator Sanusi Daggash. However, the plan failed as the plaintiff, Fati Bulama, who contested the 2003 senatorial election against Daggash, decided to withdraw her case, which effectively allowed the latter to continue in office

However, the romance between Sheriff and Jidda might have come to a halt as the governor seems not in any way ready to allow Jidda succeed him in 2011.

On the other hand, Dibal, who sources say is privy to most of the deals of the Sheriff administration, may not take it lying low if he realizes that his boss threatens his ambition. Although the governor is said to be unhappy with his aspiration, those close to the vortex of power in the state claim that Dibal remains the best option for SAS and ANPP in 2011.

From Sheriff to Sheriff?
Another question the governor will have to find answer to is why he thinks his brother, Mala Sheriff, is the best person to succeed him in 2011.Although SAS's media aide, Shehu Liberty, denies that the governor is plotting to foist his brother on the state, it was gathered that 'the Sheriff to Sheriff' project is already generating a lot of heat in the state. It is said that the patriarch of the Sheriff lineage, Galadima Modu Sheriff, is behind the plot to keep the governor's seat in the family till 2015.

The plan is, however, said to be meeting brick wall even from SAS as the governor was said to have once told his younger brother that it will be foolhardy and impossible for him to become the governor now. But those close to SAS warned that he won't mind having his brother as a successor but that he is scared of the likely backlash of such plan on his political future.

Indeed, the plot is said to be thickly gathering opposition with several key partymen warning of the danger of the plan. Some who cannot discuss the danger with the governor are said to be making private political plans should the ANPP suddenly become unsellable.

State Chairman of PDP, Baba Basharu, described Mala's governorship project as 'a big joke.' Basharu said, 'the Sheriff family might have assumed they could take the Borno people for a ride,' adding that no amount of money could induce the people to act in a way that would be detrimental to 'the unity of the state and the sanctity of its cultural or moral values.'

PDP was not the only one against the plot, Borno elders were also said to have vowed to stop the Sheriff family. While the governor was attempting to manage the challenges posed by his family, several Borno elders close to SAS were also said to be advising him to settle for Dibal. They were said to have told him that rather than put the ANPP in jeopardy by fielding his brother, the deputy governor would ensure continuity having stayed with the governor through thick and thin for the two terms.

Dibal, who is known for his unwavering loyalty, was said to have initially distanced himself from moves to drag him into the race for the fear of being seen as challenging the political decision of his boss to anoint a successor himself. But with persistent pressure, the once-upon-a-time unwilling Dibal caved in.

The snag with that idea is, Sheriff, it was gathered, has never hidden his dislike for the possibility of his deputy succeeding him. An aide to the deputy governor who spoke on condition of anonymity claimed his boss was 'starved of funds by the governor to ensure he does not have enough money to pursue any political ambition.' He claimed: 'Only a meager N1 million is released to our office monthly as overhead cost and the deputy is often broke by the middle of the month.'

The state of opposition parties
Though the main opposition in the state is the PDP, the party has continued to wallow in crisis despite numerous reconciliatory meetings. Minority leader of the House of Representatives, Hon Mohammed Ali Ndume, said the PDP is a party of 'many warlords,' and that the number of factions in the party is as many 'as the number of local governments in the state.'

The lingering crisis within the party, according to keen political observers, has been the main factor behind the continued deterioration of its fortunes since the good showing in 1999. That year, the PDP won two senatorial seats, six House of Representatives seats, 11 state House of Assembly seats, produced12 chairmen and several councilors, but as at 2007, it could not boast of a single councilor in the state.

Ndume, who attempted to x-ray the state PDP said, 'everybody in Borno PDP is a warlord and in that situation you can't have any meaningful progress. Everybody is pulling in different direction and progress can't be achieved like that. '

The intrigues and power play within the state PDP had led to factionalisation of the party which has pitched incumbent Works minister, Senator Sanusi Daggash, and the party's gubernatorial candidate in 2003 and 2007 elections, Kashim Imam, against each other with both politicians seeking the soul of the party.

But Ambassador Saidu Pindar said all the factions in the party have been harmonized.

Perhaps the biggest treat to the continued dominance of ANPP in Borno is coming from the CPC, a breakaway of ANPP members supportive of General Muhammadu Buhari's cause.

Keen observers of political events in the state hinted that the CPC might be the giant killer in Borno should SAS attempt to impose unpopular candidates on the party ahead of the 2011 polls.

An observer claims that should Sheriff decide to impose candidates on the ANPP, the result might be mass defection to the CPC. In fact, many ANPP chieftains, including some of the governor's loyalists who are aspiring for elective offices, are said to have reached out to CPC as the next port should their dreams be frustrated by their boss.

Ethnic politics
Borno, though predominantly Kanuri, is peopled by other homogenous ethnic groups. The northern and central parts of the state are occupied by an admixture of Kanuris, Shuwa Arabs, and Hausa/Fulanis, while the southern part is populated by Baburs,Buras and Marghis.

Borno State, which was created in 1976, has been governed by five civilian governors namely Mohammed Goni (1979-1983), Asheik Jar'ma (Oct.,1983-Dec.1983), Maina Ma'aji Lawan (1991-993), Mala Kachalla (1999-2003) and Ali Modu Sheriff (2003- till date). Kachalla and Sheriff are both from central Borno, who between themselves, ruled for12 years, while Goni, Jar'ma and Ma'aji, who are from the northern part of the state ruled for a total of about six years and three months.

It is only the south that is yet to rule the state.

The clamour for power shift to southern Borno is an issue that would be difficult to ignore in 2011.

Interestingly, SAS had, allegedly, promised the people of the area during his campaigns for re-election in 2007 that he would hand over to a politician from their area.

'Some people say it was impossible for somebody from this emirate (Dikwa) to become the governor of the state but I have broken the jinx as I did not just become the governor but got re-elected to serve another term. It is just reasonable that I allow somebody from another emirate that is yet to get this office succeed me,' he was quoted to have said.

The feeling is so strong that it is said that some ANPP members in the area had resolved to vote against the party should the governor go back from his promise.

The Southern Borno Development Association (SBDA) while weighing into the zoning controversy insisted that zoning of the governorship seat to the southern part would ensure fairness. Leader of the group, Mallam Yahaya Gaya, said the area was not marginalized but was 'politically underutilized,' noting that it has credible, tested hand who can perform if given the opportunity.

Interestingly, southern Borno is not without quality representation on the gubernatorial field. But the question is, would the majority ethnic group in the state be willing to allow a non-Kanuri to be the governor of the state?

Political permutation
Although Borno is today firmly under the grip of the ANPP, political pundits believe unless the party is careful in its choice of candidates for the election, the situation may spin out of control. The CPC, not PDP, may be the immediate beneficiary of such development. The CPC in the state, according to those in the know, is waxing stronger by the day. Keen watchers of the politics of the state, in fact, warn that should SAS impose candidates on the ANPP, there could be exodus to CPC.

The gladiators
The list of gladiators from the ANPP includes: Alhaji Kashim Shettima, who until his appointment as commissioner by Governor Ali Modu Sheriff, was the Area Manager of Zenith Bank Plc in Maiduguri.

He is seen as very close to the governor and is even said to be the only one who knows all the financial secrets of the state.

Ambassador Ahmed Jidda is the Secretary to the Borno State Government (SSG). He hails from Marte Local Government Council in the northern part or the state, and belongs to the minority Shuwa Arab tribe.

The romance between Jidda and the ANPP started when he dumped the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the ANPP. Jidda was the governorship candidate of the PDP in 1999 and lost to Kachalla in his bid to be elected governor.

Though he was later appointed Nigeria's Ambassador to Burkina Faso, Jidda eventually decamped to the ANPP in 2003. He was later made the SSG after the former occupant of the position, Abba Gana Terab, died. Since then, he is said to be nursing the ambition of becoming a governor of the state and it appears time is now ripe for him to vie for the position.

His political experience and exposure may count against him because some power brokers in the state feel he is 'too smart' to be made the party's flag bearer. Many in the ANPP suspect he may head back to the PDP once he achieves his aim.

Alhaji Mala Sheriff is brother of the incumbent governor and Commissioner for Finance in the Mala Kachalla administration between 1999 and 2003.

The appearance of his posters in the streets of Maiduguri was said to have sparked anger, as many believe the Sheriffs would be pushing their luck too far with his ambition.

The incumbent deputy governor, Adamu Dibal has also thrown his cap in the ring. Although his posters dot many public places in the Maiduguri metropolis, it is said that the deputy governor was not responsible for the posters as his supporters on their own are said to be financing the printing.

Dibal, who is gathering support the manner magnets gather iron filing, is said to have the larger supporter base across the three senatorial zones.

Ibrahim Ali, a brother to the late Kachalla, may be contesting on the platform of ANPP. He is a former Chairman of Maiduguri Metropolitan Council (MMC) and a former member of the House of Representatives and a one-time Managing Director of the Federal Housing Authority, Abuja.

From the PDP also comes a host of aspirants, one of whom is Ambassador Saidu Pindar. He was the former Nigerian Ambassador to Sao Tome and Principe. He is highly educated and intelligent; Pindar's strength is being an in-law to the Kanuris and coming from the southern part of the state, which has been involved in agitation for power shift. Should the state be willing to assuage the people of the South, Pindar could spring a surprise if his party can get its acts together.

Waziri Bulama, a former member of the ANPP and an ally of the late Kachalla. He was quite influential in ANPP because of his closeness to Kachalla. He moved with Kachalla from ANPP to Alliance for Democracy (AD) in 2003, when he contested and lost the House of Representatives seat from MMC. At the beginning of the electioneering for the 2007 election, he moved again with his godfather into PDP.

Hon. Mohammed Kumaila, who gained political prominence in his days as the Minority Leader in the House of Representatives when he spearheaded the move to impeach former President Olusegun Obasanjo. The governor allegedly edged him out of ANPP. His critics believe he also exhibited similar level of 'inordinate ambition' at the last primaries of the PDP in the state when he made moves to displace Imam.

He could not stay in the party after he was denied the ticket. He defected to the Action Congress (AC) where he contested the governorship and lost.

Now he is back in PDP and many political watchers are of the opinion that he is in PDP to contest governorship again, but many doubt whether he has the financial stamina to last the distance.

Kashim Ibrahim Imam: He was PDP's governorship candidate in the 2003 and 2007 elections but lost in the two elections. He is a name that is synonymous with PDP in Borno State, he has the resources to vie for the post and this has largely been responsible for why he remains a factor in the party.

The former Parliamentary Liaison Officer to ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo is said to be the major financier of the party for the 2003 elections and until the conclusion of the 2007 election.

Senator Mohammed Abba-Aji. He was elected in 2003 under the platform of ANPP as a Senator after he defected from the PDP when he could not secure a senatorial ticket. He is presently the Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters.

Abba Aji is an astute politician who will always give Sheriff a run for his money. Though the former NSITF boss was a friend of Sheriff's who assisted him to win the Senate seat during the 2003 election, they later parted ways. Now 2011 is at the corner and they may have to be involved in another firefight to determine who gets to the Government House.

Although Abba-Aji is well read, he is said to be too standoffish bordering on arrogance that could alienate him from the people of the state.

Hon. Mustapha Baba Shehuri, a member House of Representatives representing Maiduguri Metropolitan Council (MMC) would be contesting on the platform of the newly formed Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) for the governorship seat. Shehuri, a grassroots politician and a one-time MMC chairman, later represented the council as a member of the Borno State House of Assembly between 1999 -2007 before he was elected into the lower house under the platform of the ANPP. He has since defected to the CPC ahead of the 2011 polls.