He took over from the 19th Shehu Mustapha bin Umar Kyari Al-Amin El-Kanemi who died on 21st February, 2009 in Cairo. Humble and easygoing new Shehu has good memory, which made him to easily recall some happenings about his life as he quoted dates without much thinking in this interview. He speaks on issues dear to his heart among other things. Excerpts:
Your royal Highness, can you give us an account of yourself?I was born to the family of the late Shehu Mai Ibn Abubakar Garbai Al-Amin El-Kanemi, the 18th Shehu of Borno in Damagum in Fune Local Government of the present Yobe State in 1957. At that time my late father was a village head there.
After a year, my father was transferred to Maiduguri, which is now referred to as Old Maiduguri in 1958. We stayed there up to 1968 when he was appointed as the 18th Shehu of Borno following the demise of the 17th Shehu of Borno who was the father of the immediate late Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Mustapha Umar Ibn El-Kanemi of blessed memory.
I commenced my early education in 1964 at Gamboru Primary School, Maiduguri due to the fact that there was no primary school in old Maiduguri. And by 1968 after the appointment of my father as the 18th Shehu of Borno, two of my brothers and I had to be transferred to Shehu Garbai School between 1968 and 1970 where I concluded my primary education. Then I went to Government Secondary School Maiduguri, which is now Government College, Maiduguri for my secondary education which I completed in 1975.
Shortly after that, I then proceeded to Staff Training Centre, Potiskum now Institute of Management Studies for Intermediate Local Government Certificate Course, which I successfully completed in 1976. From 1978 to 1982, I was in Kaduna Polytechnic, College of Administration and Business Studies (CABS) for my Ordinary and Higher National Diplomas in Local Government, which I completed and was awarded Diploma and Higher National Diplomas in Local Government Administration. Having completed this course at Kaduna Polytechnic, I proceeded to Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria for Advanced Diploma in Local Government Administration between 1985 and 1986, which I also successfully completed.
I have passion for the advancement of education, so I never got tired of improving my educational status. I had to enrol into the University of Maiduguri between 1996 and 1997 for Postgraduate Diploma in Industrial and Labour Relations. On the completion of the course, I proceeded for my master’s programme and was awarded master’s degree in Industrial and Labour Relations in 1998. I still had to return to the university between1999 and 2000 to obtain my second master’s degree in Public Administration.
How was your work experience like?
My working career started with the Local Government Reform of 1976 when I was posted as a Clerical Officer with the Ministry of Local Government in July 1976. I was later upgraded as Assistant Inspector, Bama Zone. On 9th August, 1982, I was transferred to Zonal Inspectorate Office, Potiskum to assist the zonal inspector there and was later appointed as zonal inspector of the zone before my transfer to Gubio/Nganzai local government areas as Special Assistant to Sole Administrator in 1983. Having gained the requisite experience and training in local government finance and administration, I was appointed Head of Administration, Konduga Local Government on 5th December, 1984, where I served till 4th January, 1985 when I was transferred to Monguno Local Government in the same capacity and later moved to Maiduguri Metropolitan Council in September 1986…
On 13th August, 2003, I was appointed as Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Finance and Economic Development by the Governor of Borno State, Senator (Dr) Ali Modu Sheriff, and ten months later, I was posted to Ministry of Works and Housing and thereafter posted as Permanent Secretary to Ministry for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs in August 2008. While I was the Permanent Secretary, Ministry for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, I was also appointed as the District Head of Magumeri on 30th October, 2008. And by the will of Almighty Allah, in March 2009, I became the 20th Shehu of Borno following the demise of my father and brother, the late Mustapha Umar El-Kanemi.
In your recap, you went through series of transfers. Were they normal?
When I was local government secretary, I went through many hurdles and difficulties in the discharge of my duties. I suffered so much. Surprisingly, more than anyone else in the annals of local government administration in the state, I had the most transfers and postings; and surprisingly, even though I was a staff of the Unified Local Government Administration and answerable only to the Local Government Service Commission, my transfer and posting letters were usually copied to the Borno Emirate Council for whatever reason.
Normally, it is not supposed to be like that because I was not a staff of the emirate council. I could remember there was a government directive backed by the resolution of the House of Assembly directive that all local government secretaries should work in their home local government. But surprising to me, by then, I was in Ngala Local Government, so I was hoping to return home to Maiduguri Metropolitan Council to work again for my people, but just two days later, I was made to understand that the posting had been reversed.
And this affected only me while other local government secretary colleagues of mine were allowed to remain in their home local governments. And during that time within the period of 10 days; that is, between 27th May and 6th June, I was posted to three local governments, all of which rejected my postings with the excuse that I should exercise patience until further clearance; but later on, I was asked to remain in Ngala Council Area. On several occasions, armed robbers impeded me on the way, but I was never hurt by them.
What was your secret as an administrator? We learned that your tenure was once investigated?
A committee was inaugurated by the Borno State Government to investigate the activities of the local governments in the state between September 1993 and April 1994, which was the period I acted as Chairman and Chief Executive of Kaga Local Government between November 1993 and March 1994. As Allah wished, I was not found wanting in discharging the functions of my former office, which like I said, earned me State Productivity Merit Award in 1996. One of my weapons is my attitude to team work; I don’t work in isolation. Wherever I am posted to, I carry people along in the discharge of my responsibility. I always make sure that the interest of the public is protected…
I may not be a technical man, but I carry experts along to ensure that things are done properly. And before I signed checks for the completion of contracts, I make sure I go there to inspect and verify that specification was followed to the letter. That is why today I enjoy the goodwill of most of the local government areas I worked in. Even when it came to finance management, I never relaxed until I verified all financial status of the treasury and make sure that all our books were intact and correct.
From time to time, I would call on the accountant and treasurer and the internal auditor and we would all sit down at weekends to ensure that all our documents were correct and up to date.
Let us look at your domain, the Kanem Borno Empire. Could you let us into what are unique about the Kanem Borno Empire?
Well, the Kanem Borno Empire as you know is known uniquely for its strength, unity, peace and cohesion. If you were at the event of my official Coronation and Presentation of Staff of Office, you will not miss the fact that virtually all the sons and daughters of Borno both at home and outside the country were fully present to grace the historic event. That alone is a demonstration of our collective unity and brotherhood. Never was there an event so organised to host all notable and illustrious sons and daughters of the emirate.
I was highly moved and blown apart by the avalanche and support my fellow brothers and sisters showed me during the event, which to me is a strong indication of our collective willingness to uphold the virtues of our culture, which is enshrined in peace, cohesion and love. And as long as Allah permits me to live and rule as the Shehu of Borno, I will continue to promote peace and unity within our people and amongst other people in this country.
How do you intend to run the palace?
Simple, through team work approach. I believe in leadership, not rulership; I believe in being a chief in council and not chief of council. I don’t like dominance. I want cross-cutting of ideas. I want to hear the views of everyone I work with and I do not want to be misled. I believe in transparency and I hate deception or hypocrisy and I can be angry with anybody with such characters.
Since my appointment three months ago, I have always tabled every matter before the Emirate Council for deliberation and I do not talk until after asking everybody to comment, because when you present your views first as a leader, you make others to either support you or hide their views. We made some appointments of kingmakers not long ago, I brought the matter before the council for deliberation and everyone made input before we settled for those appointed. That is the way I want to lead as the Shehu of Borno and not to make unilateral decisions.
Speaking to those who know you well, we are able to understand that you are a person of culture and tradition; perhaps that explains why you were said to have had in your stable over 50 horses as a district head. Why this extreme love for horses?
The love for horses is a tradition I inherited from my father. I remember he had even more than that because they symbolise the splendour of our culture and tradition. You must have gotten it wrong with your figures; what we have in our household right now are 80 horses and not 50. Because of the love I have for my collection, if somebody asks me to give him a horse, I’ll rather order for one in the market than give him out of the ones I have. I love horses and I’m passionately attached to them because they remind me of our history.
That is why I impress it on our district heads to make it part of their responsibilities to acquire horses as the custodians of our tradition. It will not be well heard of a district head who does not command a stable of horses. What happens if he is called upon to a grand durbar or any other traditional event that demands his coming out in his regalia? Would he go cap in hand begging to borrow a horse or two? Even if they succeed in borrowing from neighbouring states, what happens at a time when all states are invited to an occasion that will demand horse-riding?
And honestly, I will not take it kindly with a district head that shies of neglect his traditional responsibilities like not owning horses and not acquiring horse decoration materials when he should have them. My love for horse-riding, horse race and durbar cannot be over-emphasised. Even my children are encouraged to appreciate horses. That is why they too participated in the recent durbar held in my coronation.
Your Highness, we understand that before your appointment as the 20th Shehu of Borno, there was one particular ancestral drum that used to beat itself each time you entered the palace, which indicated that you would be a future Shehu. How true is this?
(Smiles) … Well, this is what people say. But honestly, it is not an issue I am disposed to comment about in any forum. You newsmen are truly too nosy sometimes; I wonder how you get to hear of certain things, but please, I will prefer not to comment on this.
Borno is known as the home of peace. How would you continue to promote this peace amongst your subjects?
As the president of the council of chiefs here in Borno, we do and will continue to meet from time to time with other emirs and chiefs to discuss the issue of peace and harmony amongst our subjects in our respective domains. Topmost on our agenda will always be the maintenance of law and order in our communities.
And we also impress it on ourselves to educate and preach the message of peace and abeyance of law and order and encourage Muslims, Christians and even those of other religions to see their fellow ones as their brothers/sisters and live in peace with one another.
Where do you stand on the clamour for constitutional recognition for traditional rulers?
I am solidly in support of it and I’m using this medium to call on our lawmakers to include our functions clearly spelt out when they amend the constitution as they are now preparing to do. We are middle leaders who relate with the grassroots and we need to have specific roles mentioned in law so that we will be empowered to perform better in mobilising people towards public peace, individual and societal development and national unity.
In your acceptance speech during your coronation, you spoke about the worsening state of poverty amongst the people in Borno State. Could you tell us your view on the issue?
Of course, the issue of poverty in Borno State is really very unfortunate. It is not that government is not doing its best, but people have sadly developed the attitude of folding their arms and expecting bread and butter to fall on their lap. Instead of engaging in ventures that are profitable, they’re begging and lazing around the homes of politicians or government offices. That is why I am calling on the youth to make themselves available and take advantage of the numerous opportunities that can help to better their lives.
Also, we must redirect our attention to agricultural development being a veritable venture that could mop up the residue of unemployed youths in our societies. We have vast fertile land that could comfortably engage thousands of our youth.
Still on your acceptance speech. You described the situation as shameful, that while Borno State prides itself as a centre of Islamic learning, it has no single central mosque; most especially as the state mosque project had been abandoned for over two decades. How do you intend to pursue the completion of the mosque located right behind your palace?
The issue of Borno central mosque and its completion is a problem of all the people and government of the state. It needs only some commitment. You see, my grandfather, Shehu Abubakar, was the first Shehu of Borno who constructed this palace we are in now at the cost of nine hundred pounds; I still have some of the documents to that effect. And it was the same time he constructed that mosque outside the palace.
The mosque has been there since then; it only witnessed series of renovations. But to the present new mosque that commenced about 20 years ago, I know an appeal fund was raised with various individuals and even local government councils contributed to the rebuilding. But up till now, I don’t know what went wrong that it’s still in its present state.
I know that after the launching of the appeal fund, various committees were set up but nothing was done. So as far as I am concerned, it is a shame for the people of Borno State that a single central mosque designed to be built 20 years ago cannot be completed in spite of the fact that we pride ourselves as Centre of Islamic Learning.
In my capacity as the Shehu of Borno, I have already commenced my move to see that we start the completion of the mosque; I have appealed to the state government and other illustrious sons and daughters of the state to come to our aid. And by this time next year, we shall be praying in our own central mosque insha Allah.
What do you hope to be your greatest achievement as Shehu?
I pray to Allah to give me the wisdom and assist me to ensure the completion of that mosque, to work for the enhancement of unity and peace in Borno, to cement our royal houses and princes, because right now, I have adopted the policy of nominating any prince in any of the ruling houses to represent me in functions I cannot attend; I hope to seriously mobilise the fight against poverty amongst the youth especially and generally work for the betterment of Borno and Nigeria.