By Petra Akinti Onyegbule
A few days ago, a Facebook acquaintance made a comment on a post of mine relating to the Presidential candidate of the APC. A commenter had said her only worry was the allegation of sympathy for Boko Haram by the Vice Presidential candidate, Senator Kashim Shettima. Another commenter, who hoped to seize the opportunity to demarket the strongest contenders for the Presidency in 2022 reinforced the often told tale alluding to a nonexistent good relationship between Shettima and the dreaded Islamic fundamentalist group – Boko Haram. When I asked for proof, I got links to stories on websites with neither antecedents nor credibility for truthful verifiable information and factual reportage. A run through the sites showed they were nothing but
tools for propaganda.
There is a reason why career propagandists and political mischief makers tell lies repeatedly about opponents whose rising profile threatens them; a reason why they construct a particular narrative and continuously repeat it through various media of information dissemination. This narrative is kept on the front burner of discourse and forced it into the subconscious of people especially neutrals to begin to unknowingly accept it as the truth. Professional propagandists know that the more they repeat the same lie, the more it is likely to begin to look like the truth. They understand the art of creating, sustaining and using perception as a ‘war’ tool and deploy it to their advantage.
A classic example of deploying perception configuration through propaganda as a war tool is the resurgence of the wild claim that the Vice Presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Kashim Shettima, is a Boko Haram sponsor, sympathiser, or has (had) a link with the dreaded sect. And in a desperate attempt to curb the unprecedented momentum Shettima has brought to the Bola Ahmed Tinubu candidacy since his unveiling, jittery opponents have resuscitated this vile narrative created in the eve of the 2015 elections to cast the veil of extreme and fanatical Islamism over the newly formed All Progressives Congress. The coterie of mischief makers have gone a step further than 2015 this time to tagging Kashim Shettima a murderous ethno-religious bigot who hates the Igbo and nurse an evil agenda against Nigerian Christians and to give this a semblance of credibility have assembled a list of photos, video and audio clips to forcefully push the narrative in advancement of their agenda. Those who have not outsourced their brain functions and are able to exercise their brain cells through critical thinking know that Boko Haram has never had to contend with a more prominent obstacle than Shettima in the course of their decade-long violent campaign.
Kashim Shettima was Governor of Borno State when Boko Haram was at their most dreadful. Borno State, northeast Nigeria, was a gateway for trade in agricultural products between Northern Nigeria and the country’s neighbours – Cameroun, Chad, Niger, Central African Countries and the Congos. The ferocious war waged on the people by Boko Haram crippled the economy and took thousands of lives. Schools were burnt and churches razed by fire. Security operatives were overwhelmed and people fled their homes. Maiduguri metropolis witnessed a daily outflux of residents. The renowned Home of Peace became the headquarters of Boko Haram terrorism. The irony of the situation was staggering beyond words.
Nothing suggests the existence of a cordial relationship between Shettima and Boko Haram as the group targeted everyone they concluded was not a fundamentalist and the former governor of Borno State was not an exception. Even when he was almost done with his second and final tenure in office, the insurgents never gave up on their plan to kill him. For instance, while traveling to Gamboru Ngala for a rally ahead of the 2019 presidential and National Assembly elections, Shettima’s convoy was attacked by members of the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), a breakaway faction of Boko Haram, and two of his key loyalists and a soldier were killed, and many others sustained injuries. In characteristic manner, ISWAP claimed responsibility for the attack the following day.
After repeated, failed attempts to kill him as sitting governor, the threats to attack him did not stop even after he left office. The then leader of the Boko Haram terrorists, Abubakar Shekau, who was later killed in an alleged suicide-bombing, warned Shettima and top government officials in a 56-minute video where he ordered his members and foot-soldiers to kill them wherever and whenever they find them. Could Shettima have a link with Boko Haram and yet be the number one on their hit list?
In the video, Shekau boasted as follows: “You former governor Kashim [Shettima], you present governor [Babagana] Zulum, listen – do not be deceived by your walking without shoes – be careful! If you sing these things we mentioned [Nigeria’s national anthem, national pledge, and the NYSC anthem], you are a disbeliever even if you recite them jokingly.”
It was not surprising that Shettima and his successor Zulum were mentioned in the video, because both personalities have consistently spoken against the evil of Boko Haram and worked assiduously with security agents and other stakeholders to decimate them. They have also been supporting Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) to recover from the damage the terrorists had done in their lives, and to also relocate them to their respective, original communities.
As governor of Borno State, Shettima was the strongest voice in calling out/ appealing to the Federal Government to intensify efforts aimed at eradicating terrorism. Beyond this, he committed enormous resources in supporting the military with security equipment and vehicles to ease mobility during operations.
Shettima aided the establishment and adequate funding of the Volunteer Vigilante Youth Group popularly known as Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) in 2013, which was later trained in counter-terrorism operations, to strengthen the fight against Boko Haram terrorists.
He also provided logistic support to over 20,000 CJTF fighters to strengthen the fight against Boko Haram elements. The motivation enhanced the crucial role of CJTF played in intelligence gathering, easy identification and arrest of suspected insurgents among others. Could Shettima have a link with Boko Haram fighters and yet fund their tormentors?
Before the expiration of Shettima’s tenure as governor of Borno State, he was relentlessly calling for the deployment of military personnel and equipment to curb the threat of the terrorist group in the Northeast. In fact, considering the cost of the war on terror, Shettima was among the few personalities who persuaded state governors on the necessity of approving the sum of $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account for the counter-insurgency campaigns. He also supported the Federal Government’s plan to ensure the judicious utilisation of the fund for the intended purpose.
When Boko Haram terrorists destroyed churches in Borno, Shettima not only provided funds for the reconstruction of the places of worship but also ensured adequate security protection of the places.
In his testimony to this, the Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Borno Chapter, Bishop Mohammed Naga, said: “During Shettima’s visit to these areas, he released N100 million for the rebuilding of some of these churches. A committee was set up for that purpose, I was a member of the committee headed by a permanent secretary, Mr. Justus Zare, as Chairman, and I am happy to inform you that presently we have used that money to rebuild 11 key churches which our people are now using.”
Another instance of a reverred Christian leader praising Shettima’s open-minded and fair-minded nature happened in November 2017 when the then President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, led Bishops to pay a courtesy call on the then Governor of Borno State.
Kaigama eulogised Shettima and admitted to being attracted to his qualities because he has proven not to be “narrow minded and myopic but rather one who is broad and fair to adherents of all religious groups as being testified by Christian leaders from all denominations living in Borno.”
At this point, it is important to verify some of the tools used in propaganda against Shettima.
Viral Photo of Shettima Dining with ‘Fulani Bandits’
After his emergence as Tinubu’s running mate, the compulsion to tie the ticket to a phantom islamisation agenda reared its head and they threw up an old photo of Shettima eating with some pastoralists as part of measures to convince them to enroll their children in his free education programme. They claimed he was dining with Fulani bandits who are members of his islamisation gang.
In the photo, they were shown eating ‘suya’, bread and bottled water. The latest caption by mischief makers however read: “Bandits having Breakfast with their master. Guess who? Tinubu’s Vice, Kashim Shettima.”
But according to a full-length video obtained by PRNigeria, the leading fact-checking and investigative journalism platform in Nigeria, Senator Shettima was actually dining with nomadic Fulani in their community when he paid them a persuasion visit in his efforts to convince them to enroll their children into his free educational programme in that remote community while he was Governor of the State.
It was during this excursion that Shettima wore the same outfit and dinned with the Fulani leaders. This is evidenced in an archived video dated October 2017, posted by Shettima himself.
PRNigeria quoted Shettima to have captioned the footage thus: “We are enrolling the children of nomadic Fulani to school under a free scholarship programme.
“Under this programme, we are enticing both the parents and the children with plenty incentives to encourage enrollment and attendance at school.”
Recall that in October 2017, the then Governor Shettima had launched a free school enrollment for children of nomadic Fulani to among other aims, win the hearts of Fulani nomads and forestall early potentials of clashes that could lead to a breach of peace.
It would be recalled that as part of the Shettima initiative, in December 2018, the wife of President Muhammadu Buhari, Aisha, inaugurated the Aisha Buhari Integrated School for Nomadic Community in Maiduguri.
The school, which was built and equipped by Governor Shettima, was meant to provide an atmosphere conducive for learning for the children of nomads.
According to PRNigeria findings, Shettima held several interactions with the parents and after weeks of intense lobbying with incentives, the nomadic Fulani gave their children for enrollment into schools. Because of such a masterstroke, today, Borno does not suffer from violent activities involving the Fulani.
PRNigeria’s final verdict after as robust investigation of the viral photo therefore read thus: “The claim that Senator Shettima had breakfast with bandits is FALSE. Based on the undisputed evidence gathered by PRNigeria from video and reports made available by credible media houses, Senator Shettima has never had a breakfast with bandit-terrorists. The claim is therefore NOT TRUE.”
‘Leaked Audio’ with Amosun
To cast Shettima as an ethnoreligious bigot who hated people of the southeast, a fake audio in which an impersonator, pretending to be Shettima, was speaking to former Ogun state governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, and plotting how to undo the people of southeast politically. In the audio which was first released in 2017, the fake Shettima was, ahead of the 2015 polls, speaking to Amosun on Biafran agitation and how the North would conspire with the southwest to isolate and torture the southeast politically.
The 20-minute audio, which was converted to video format, had the images of Shettima and Amosun with a Caption “Leaked Audio.”
However, using speech recognition freeware Deepgram, PRNigeria extracted the audio clip and converted it to text for analysis against his other speeches. The result was not satisfactory at all as certain transcribed words didn’t match his favourite words in some of his known public speeches.
PRNigeria then deployed a speech detection expert, to analyse extracted speeches from his TV presentations/interviews, his motions/debates on the floor of the National Assembly, as governor and even in public outings, and found out that some words contradicted pronouncements when matched with the voice on the alleged leaked tape.
For instance, Shettima pronounces conclusion as “conclujion” and uses the refrain “by and large” often times but this was not the case in the leaked audio.
Also, he pronounces the term job with the “b” as silent and pronounces just without a “t.” Typically, “s” is silent in his pronunciations and he pronounces “f” as “p” typical of the northern diction which was not the case in the leaked audio.
While the person in the leaked audio seemed to be a fast talker, the known Shettima talks emphatically, takes his time and pauses intermittently as if to reflect on the next words that will come out of his mouth.
Shettima is seen by his admirers as some sort of modern-day, Plato-style Philosopher-King. He is said to be very sound in reasoning and very deep in thought process. He accompanies his spoken and written literatures with a lot of wisdom bites, anecdotes and ancient quotable quotes and also gives examples from history while making arguments. But this was not the case in the so-called leaked audio, according to the award-winning fact-checkers at PRNigeria.
Meanwhile, when the audio first hit the airwaves in 2017, Shettima’s spokesman, Isa Gusau, in a press statement, made certain revelations that were similar to the findings of PRNigeria.
He said: “The caller who is being presented as Governor Shettima speaks very fast as against the relatively slower tone of Shettima. The caller didn’t have any Kanuri accent whereas Governor Shettima has some Kanuri accent. The caller had at the opening of his 20-minute conversation with a so-called Governor Amosun first introduced himself as a PDP member whereas Governor Shettima is known to be in the APC. Also in the conversation, the caller addresses his recipient as ‘Kunle’ with no respectful prefix of ‘Your Excellency’ as Shettima is known to use in most of his conversations with fellow Governors.”
After a robust and comprehensive fact-check, PRNigeria’s final verdict read thus: “The leaked audio is a voice of an impersonator who didn’t get Shettima’s intonation and diction right. It is therefore conjured and false.”
A popular Yoruba adage says ‘even if falsehood travels for 20 years, truth will meet up with it someday.’ For the purpose of this campaign season however, it is a patriotic, self-imposed duty for some of us to ensure that we don’t allow the false narratives of career fake news peddlers to survive for even 20 seconds before we thrash them.
I am saying this because I know that there are those who will not stop falsifying stories and twisting events to suit their agenda. We cannot claim to hate the (sense of) division in this country yet actively support endeavors to further widen the divides and deepen distrust.
Tinubu/Shettima duo presents the most prepared and most qualified ticket for the Presidency in 2023. And those of us who share that conviction will continue to prove to the undecideds on why they should entrust their votes to BAT/KSM.
God bless Nigeria.