But the recent reversal seemed targeted at a particular succession agenda — to get rid of some perceived contenders for the governorship seat in the cabinet; to them more incapacitated; bring in persons who will work out the succession plot and assert control over the party’s structure. The declaration was also more of sarcasm, mocking aspirants rather than an actual consent for political campaigns to take off.
First of all, last weekend’s meeting was preceded by the dissolution of Sheriff’s cabinet and termination of appointments of all special advisers and assistants. Before dissolving the cabinet, sources had told Weekly Trust that at a hurriedly summoned exco meeting, which was the last before the dissolution, Sheriff had informed members of the Council that he was going to dissolve the cabinet and allow some of them who have political aspirations to pursue their dreams while also indicating that he was aware that some members have friction over political offices, apparently referring to the governorship seat. He also appealed to any member who is not re-appointed to take his decision in good faith. A few weeks after the announcement, the governor dissolved the cabinet, leaving only the SSG, the Head of Service and his Chief of Staff.
Sheriff apparently wanted some people out of his way but he was possibly afraid of losing control in the event that some of them become aggrieved if they are not re-appointed and then pitch tents with other political blocks which may widen internal crises within the ANPP. He was also morally burdened given his relationship with some of the perceived contenders.
In his political calculations, Sheriff thought of pushing the task of weeding out the elements to different categories so that he could manipulate decisions from the background and absolve himself of any blame in the event that any of the cabinet members does not get re-elected.
Apparently with this in mind, he summoned stakeholders for an emergency meeting, which held lasted Sunday and lasted for hours at the Government House, Maiduguri. At the meeting, Sheriff first asserted himself over every serving political office-holder including serving senators, House of Reps members, state lawmakers and the sacked commissioners when he demanded that ANPP chairmen in local governments should assess the performances of the public officers with regard to empowering the party structure in the LGAs.
Assessments were made; some were scored very high, others medium, some low and yet others far below average. It was gathered that the worst score was awarded to the younger brother of the governor’s wife, Hon. Abba Dawud Lawan representing Jere Federal Constituency, while the immediate past Commissioner for Health, Zubairu Maina Shani, was set to have gotten the loudest remark from the ANPP in Shani.
Sheriff, it was gathered, threatened to withdraw his support for anyone who fails to empower the party’s structure in his or her respective local government area ahead of the 2011 elections, even if he or she were to be his biological child. many believe the statement was directed at his wife’s brother who has in recent times become unpopular in his constituency. That remark also scored some points for Sheriff, as he gave the impression that the 2011 contest will be open to anyone with support at the grassroots. At the meeting, Sheriff was somehow able to reaffirm his control over the party’s elements, especially with the wave of cross carpeting into the PDP.
But the governor dropped what some described as a bombshell, indicating that anyone with aspiration to contest in the 2011 elections was not eligible for appointment as commissioner, special adviser or special assistant in his last two years, as he was getting ready to reconstitute the state’s executive council which he dissolved weeks ago.
The governor directed ANPP chairmen in the 27 local government areas to sit with their respective council chairmen and legislators and nominate persons for posts of commissioners, special advisers and special assistants while insisting that 2011 aspirants should not be allowed in the list.
Instead, he declared that all those with ambitions should commence their campaigns freely. In fact, he said they could establish campaign offices and put their structures in place. “I told them (the stakeholders) that we are going to give those who harbour any ambition for elective posts in the next election the chance and freedom to do their campaigns without any distraction… we would not want distraction in the remaining years of our administration”, Sheriff told journalists after the meeting.
Though the governor had pledged free hand for those he directed to nominate his cabinet, observers strongly believe that he aims at determining those he wants and weed out those he doesn’t, while operating from a background and using some people to bring on board those that will hatch any successive agenda in 2011.
Given Borno’s kind of politics where an aspirant’s popularity largely depends on how often he or she gives out free cash, Sheriff sure knows that the perceived contenders, if weeded out of government, will lack finances and hence find it difficult to sustain political support in the next two years ahead of the elections, and as a result, they will fall out.
One of Sheriff’s remaining headaches, it was gathered, is how to get rid of the state’s SSG, Ambassador Baba Ahmed Jidda from his cabinet as the recent dissolution didn’t include him. Though the SSG is said to be a key contender for the governorship seat in 2011, Sheriff is seen as either having so much respect for him or afraid that given the central role the SSG has been playing in government since 2005, forcing him out may cause rancour and make the divulgence of some state secrets imminent in case the latter becomes aggrieved and takes his grievance to another level.
However, Sheriff didn’t quite spare the SGG in the last meeting. He indeed told the gathering, which was also attended by the SSG, that he was going to ask the SSG, amongst others, to leave office if he has an ambition in 2011. The plan, it is suspected, is to cage the SSG should he stay back and impliedly denounce any ambition. Sheriff will also have a reason not to support him in case he declares his intention for 2011.
Observers have since begun to suspect that the governor’s game plan may not be unconnected to ostensible interest in handing over to his younger brother of the same parents, Mala Modu Sheriff who was a commissioner under the late Mala Kachallah from 1999 to 2003. Those who link this speculation with the last stakeholders meeting point to the fact that the governor’s brother attended the meeting even when it was strictly for those who are either serving or have held positions in government or the ANPP from the local government to state and national levels from 2003 when Sheriff was first elected to date, whereas the governor’s brother served under Mala Kachallah before Sheriff took over. Added to that was the open rivalry that existed between Sheriff and Kachalla till death did them part, which makes the meeting a no-go area for anyone that served under the late former governor.
Also, it was learned that there were whispers during the meeting on sighting the governor’s brother who was visible till all matters were concluded. Some believe that Mala’s presence was for him to be part of all decisions and to earn for himself inner circle issues ahead of 2011.
Talks about Mala being groomed to succeed his brother began last year when Sheriff was widely believed to have made substantial efforts to nominate him for ministerial position under the GNU to fill one of the then 20 vacancies created by the sack of ministers in 2008 by President Umar. While Sheriff neither confirmed nor debunked having made such a move, the Bauchi State governor, Isa Yuguda, has time after time referred to the move as partly responsible for him leaving the ANPP to reunite with the PDP even as a different person from Adamawa ANPP got the slot at the end.
It was alleged that Sheriff’s plan was to expose his brother to the workings of government at the level of the federal executive council to prepare him for the takeover of Borno Government House in 2011. His continued silence over the talks about his brother; his readiness to begin campaigns by embarking on tours across the 27 local government area of the state, which he promised to commence anytime soon, coupled with events associated with the recent stakeholders meeting, have thickened suspicions that there is a game to actualise the plot that aims at transferring power from ‘Sheriff to Sheriff’.
But there are those who still think that the ‘Sheriff to Sheriff’ issue is a mere distraction as the governor, observers insist, is bent on going to the Senate in 2011 to replace Senator Kaka Malam Yale for the Borno Central zone, and because of that single reason wouldn’t dare to have another Sheriff aspire to become governor.
Sheriff appeared to hold this view when he rhetorically implied in a recent interview in this paper that Borno people didn’t do anything wrong to him by voting him twice and hence he wouldn’t take them for granted. But then, Nigerian politicians say something and mean the opposite; hence there are those who say that with his successful re-election, thereby making him the first in the state to become governor twice; the successful installation of the person he wished as the Shehu of Borno; immense wealth; incumbency powers; political dexterity; weight in the ANPP national leadership and his alleged manipulation of some forces in the main opposition PDP in the state, Sheriff may see himself as capable of achieving any political desire and may have made up his mind to intensify a big fight for two Sheriffs to become governor and senator come 2011.