SENATOR ALI MODU SHERIFF WAS THE GODFATHER OF BORNO STATE POLITICS, UNTIL HE WAS DEMYSTIFIED DURING THE 2011 GENERAL ELECTION. A CERTAIN MAN, AHMED ZANNA WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS. ZANNA, THE FLAG BEARER OF THE PEOPLES DEMOCRATIC PARTY FOR THE BORNO CENTRAL SENATORIAL SEAT DEFEATED THE MIGHTY SHERIFF AT THE POLL TO BECOME A SENATOR. IT WAS A MUDSLINGING CONTEST, WHOSE VENOM IS STILL MUCH AROUND IN THE STATE. THE SHERIFF VS ZANNA RIVALRY, WHICH STARTED BEFORE THE 2011 ELECTION, HAS CONTINUED IN THE STATE, OFTEN LEADING TO SQUABBLES AMONG THEIR SUPPORTERS. THE RECENT ARREST OF ALLEGED CHIEFTAIN OF THE BOKO HARAM SECT, SHUAIBU MUHAMMED BAMA IN THE HOUSE OF ONE OF THEM HAS BROUGHT TO THE NATIONAL CONSCIOUSNESS THE BITTER WAR BETWEEN SHERIFF AND ZANNA. MICHAEL OLUGBODE REPORTS
In the beginning…
Before the 2001 election, Borno State was embroiled in a major crisis caused by the killing in 2009 of Mohammed Yusuf, the feared leader of the extremist Boko Haram sect. Mamman Yusuf and his followers had declared a war on government after a crack down by security operatives. They held the state hostage for more than three days before they were dislodged by the military. Many, including their leader were summarily executed.
A year after the 2009 crack down, they were back and more dangerous. This was close to the 2011 election, and some politicians especially those in opposition in the state took advantage of this. The Peoples Democratic Party that had before then played a second fiddle to the All Nigeria People’s Party in the state also took advantage of this. Their song was that Sheriff was the cause of the insecurity in the state and that the Boko Haram attacks was fallout of the broken relationship between the governor and the sect.
The rumour then was that Sheriff during the 2003 election entered into a relationship with the leadership of the sect to Islamize the state. Based on this, he was allegedly assisted to win the election and that he initially had a good relationship with the sect which he rewarded with the appointment of one of its staunchest members, Alhaji Buju Foi, as the commissioner for religious affairs.
The story went further that when Sheriff could not be made to keep his word to Islamise the state, Buju Foi was withdrawn and this became what could be described as the beginning of the beating of the war drums, Sheriff became the sect number one enemy and was lampooned at the sermons of Mamman Yusuf.
Boko Haram and Zanna…
The popularity of the sect grew as the 2011 election draw closer. The PDP in the state took advantage of this and used it to get political mileage. Zanna led this drive. Hitherto an unknown person in Borno politics, Zanna who was only known for his Hajj-by-Road programme washed Sheriff who was the governor then in the dirty mud of Boko Haram and claimed to have the magic wand to send Boko Haram to the abyss or keep them in check. Based on this, Borno Central voters embraced him and he won. Sheriff was shocked that he lost the 2011 Borno Central senatorial election battle to Zanna, a political neophyte. Thereafter, both men have been at each other’s neck.
Politics of Shuaibu Bama’s arrest
The current war between the two senators started when the Joint Task Force in Borno, Operation Restore Order came out with a release that it has arrested one, Shuaibu Mohammed Bama, a Boko Haram chieftain in the residence of a serving senator along Damboa Road, GRA Maiduguri.
The statement by the spokesman of the JTF, Lt. Col. Sagir Musa said Bama had been on the wanted list of terrorists operating between Bama and Maiduguri. Musa said Bama’s arrest led to the recovery of two AK 47 rifles, 55 rounds of 7.62mm special ammunition and large quantity of Improvised Explosive Device materials.
Though Musa statement did not disclose the name of the senator, but Zanna all the same came out to deny the allegation, stating that he acknowledged that the said Boko Haram Member is his nephew.
The JTF claimed that Bama was one of the commanders of the sect, who had been under watch. Zanna was quick to point out that Sherriff was behind his indictment and that it was all politicised so that Sheriff could score a political; goal.
Zanna, was later invited the Director-General of the SSS, Mr. Ekpenyong Ita, for interrogation.
“Since my house was searched and the JTF made the announcement, I have not been contacted by security agencies. But it was only this morning (Sunday) I saw a text that the SSS DG will wanted to see me on Monday. I will honour the invitation.” Zanna admitted that Bama was his sister’s son. He described Bama as a “drug addict”, who frequently threatened to kill members of his family.
He said: “I really do not understand why they did all this. I am confused. If they want to frame me up, they have failed in that one because they did not get that boy in my house. I have nothing to do with it. Let them go and ask the person where the boy was staying. So, they should not have mentioned my house. Yes, he is my sister’s son. As for his behaviour, he is a drug addict. He beats up my children; he abuses my friends. He came to my house and I sent him away. That was about almost a year ago. And for whatever reason, I don’t know, he came to my house last week and I told my wife that he should leave the house.”
“They did not arrest him in my house; they went to my house but did not find him and instead they arrested children in my house and put them inside hot sun and started beating them. And they asked them whether they know Shuaibu Bama, and one of the boys answered yes. He then took them to where they arrested Bama.’
The senator further claimed that he was targeted because he amplified his accusation of the JTF, for alleged extra judicial killings in Borno State. He said it was ploy by the JTF to brand him a Boko Haram member, financial, sympathiser, and supporter in order to nail him so that Sheriff, his political rival and former Borno State governor “will take over at the Senate.”
Sheriff equally came out to say that Bama was found in Zanna’s house rather than his. He called on the security authorities to thoroughly investigate the incident and “Senator Zanna’s possible ties to Boko Haram.” He drew attention to Zanna’s “Hajj-by-Road” programme for which he said Zanna was suspected to have used “as a front for the importation of arms and window of opportunity for the training of potential terrorists.”
“Senator Zanna in a comic u-turn told journalists in a face-saving interview that while he could not deny his relationship with his nephew, he disowned his house where the JTF arrested the suspect, stressing that the house belongs to Senator Ali Modu Sheriff the immediate former governor of the state.”
The former governor noted that Zanna who has had a “recent political encounter with me now appears desperate to settle scores by dragging me into the controversy.”
Sheriff added: “Zanna’s inconsistencies in trying to defend himself are clear indication of a sinking man’s desperate attempt to hang himself on anything available in order to save his neck. If not so, what would his nephew be doing in the so-called house of Senator Ali Sheriff, the man he said is his political rival?”
The ex-governor said Zanna has “obvious involvement with Boko Haram, given his past antecedence where people finger him as illegal importer of arms via his Hajj-by-Road programme.”
He said it was common knowledge in Borno State that “Zanna takes some hapless Nigerians on a seeming religious voyage by road only to put some of them into terrorist camps and illegal arms importation.
“It is very much on record that 27 of such pilgrims are still missing till date.”
He refuted the Zanna’s claims that he had parted ways with his nephew, Shuaibu Bama, saying he can authoritatively confirm that “the man was still his associate up to the time of his arrest.”
He further queried why Senator Zanna never spoke against the atrocities being committed by Boko Haram, noting that instead, he has been calling for the declaration of state of emergency or disbandment of the JTF.
The former governor also declared the People’s Democratic Party in Borno State as “the engine room behind Boko Haram,” arguing that Zanna being the second senator fingered as having links with Boko Haram confirms “the wildly believed theory.”
He wondered how the senator who he accused of not having visited Borno or his constituency even since his inauguration can afford to play politics with the serious issue at stake by sponsoring terrorism against his own people.
“At his age and with the position he holds as a senator of the Federal Republic, we felt it is the height of irresponsibility for Zanna to not only fuel the crisis in Borno, but to attempt to drag the names of descent citizens, like Ali Sheriff in the mud,” the statement from Sheriff’s camp said.
Logic dictates that it would be difficult for Bama, a nephew of perceived enemy of Sheriff to be in his house talk less of a Boko Haram member unless the former governor is playing with his life. It is a known fact that a price has been placed on Sheriff’s life by the sect who boasted that he was only alive because they did not want to just only kill him but “capture him, caught his throat like a ram and record all this as if it were home video.”