Members of the political class play a central role in our lives. They attain positions that allow them to shape and make crucial decisions about our national life, and are supposed to represent the hopes and interests of every one of us at both the national and local levels. This then calls for a careful attention to examining closely whether someone serving in, or running for any political office has the personal attributes it takes to be an effective representative.
The qualities and skills that set good politicians apart ought to draw more attention, in our society today, but fringe and primordial personal considerations take center stage instead.
Though society may be right in believing that politics is a dirty business, a careful examination can at the same time prove that some politicians are in the country, effective, trustworthy and do understand that to work for the people over the course of years, they must level with the people.
While most Nigerian politicians are adept at identifying and seizing on issues that will work to their own or their constituents’ benefit, a few others possess the additional skill of knowing how to use the system to achieve results. By every standard of assessment, Kashim Shettima, the outgoing governor of Borno state fits in this category.
Here is a man, a banker, an intellectual and core financial expert whose single drive in politics is to have a hand in contributing to the success of the society and in finding ways of making life better for the people he seeks to represent.
While Kashim Shettima governed the ordinarily ungovernable Borno state for the past eight years, he deployed a rare attribute of understanding where to get help for distressed constituents, and creatively uses politics and his colleagues’ interests to advance the goals of a state in turmoil.
He tactfully manoeuvred through the turmoils by employing an in-depth understanding of the limits of influence in terms of both what, as a politician he can realistically accomplish, and the fact that he might react to events but rarely can control them.
Down-to-earth, Kashim Shettima genuinely likes all kinds of people and is comfortable talking to anyone in all kinds of environments. Unlike most other political players in his ranking, he makes himself accessible to the big and the humble alike, is sensitive to the mood of the people, knows how to read people’s problems, and is quick to respond.
By shunning the politics of rigid extremism, even as he combined the primary demands of his position as governor with those of the chairmanship of Northern Governors’ Forum, Shettima remained generally flexible to other points of view, believing that while he may differ with someone on one issue, he will likely be working with that same person on another issue in the future.
Most importantly too, Shettima possesses a deep understanding that politics involves give and take, and the ability to find common ground in contrast to others who are tempted to think of holding a political seat as an entitlement, as something to be held by right.
An eminently tactful conflict manager, he listens very carefully to those on the other side, not only to learn their arguments, but especially to learn how far he can move them and how far he has to be moved in order to reach consensus.
“If you approach a problem by saying that all the good is on your side and all the bad lies with the the other side, then you will never accomplish anything,” are the words Kashim Shettima is known to utter to even his most ardent opponents.
This accounts for why even in the face of persistent antagonism by his predecessor Ali Modu Sheriff and his handful of cohorts operating from outside Borno, Shettima insists on trying to forge agreements on fundamental party goals without jeopardizing the larger interest of the people he leads.
Yet while Shettima is willing on one hand to take defeat in stride knowing that setbacks and criticisms go with politics, on the other hand he never forgets where he is from and fights hard not to succumb to undue intimidation that could lead to betrayal of people’s trust.
He defies persecution by making it a point of duty to identify with the masses of the people, to remain loyal to his constituents, and to have an abiding faith in playing the game with decency, intelligence and patriotism.
“Without this much conviction, it is almost impossible to be a true politician and leader, able to express the hopes, dreams, and interests of the ordinary man,” Shettima insists as he offers himself for a national assignment as Senator of the federal republic.
Suleiman, a journalist, writes from Abuja.