Kashim Imam: Prometheus Unbound

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By Taiwo Olujimi

The story of the Greek culture hero, Prometheus, is not new. He defied the gods by stealing and giving the fire of civilisation to humanity, thereby availing mankind that which the gods never wanted it to have. For his nonconformity; for his commitment to mankind and its betterment; and for his exceptional intellect, Zeus, the king of the Olympian gods, condemned him to a life of eternal agony.

Prometheus was chained to a rock and an eagle was sent to eat off his liver, daily, as the eaten parts grew back overnight. The torment was endless until Heracles, another hero in Greek mythology, freed him.

Kashim Imam is not a strange name in the Nigerian political space. Born into the political family of the late Kashim Ibrahim, former Secretary of the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC), Member of the erstwhile Northern House of Assembly, and later, the impetus behind the defunct Borno Youth Movement, a progressive and revolutionary force at the time, Imam has himself evolved into a big political masquerade in his own rights.

Passing through the prestigious Kings College, Lagos, when men were men, he bagged a degree in Political Science from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, and another degree in International Economic Relations from the University of Maiduguri before venturing into the banking industry where he carved a niche for himself. A businessman, he has his hands in various sectors of the Nigerian economy.

Imam emerged the Chairman of the Borno State chapter of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) during General Ibarahim Babangida’s inconclusive transition programme. He was a staunch member of the Abiola campaign movement, Hope ’93, as it was popularly called.

At the eventual birth of democracy in 1999, Imam was appointed the Presidential Liaison Officer to the Senate under the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo presidency.

However, like all progressives and revolutionaries, Imam has also had to deal with many political challenges. Be it the design of fate, be it the fear of allowing a no-nonsense progressive like him to assume power, and be it a combination of both, one thing is sure: if intellect, competence, and popularity alone were all that matter in life and politics, the man Kashim Imam would have since completed his two-year tenure as Governor of Borno State. He could also have become the National Secretary of the ruling All Progressives Congress. But life is not a straight journey.

The Kanuri-born politician had his first political baptism of fire when Governor Maina Ma’aji Lawan unceremoniously removed him as the Chairman of the SDP in the Third Republic.

Having served as Presidential Liaison Officer in Obasanjo’s first term, Imam won the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ticket to square up with Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, who had snatched the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) ticket from the then incumbent Governor Mala Kachalla, who now fell back on Alliance for Democracy (AD) ticket. He eventually lost to Sheriff in an election he described as “anything but free and fair”, and “characterised by an unprecedented and massive level of thuggery, rigging, fraud and other irregularities”.

Even more surprising to political pundits was his loss to Modu Sheriff in 2007.

Unlike in 2003 when the Borno PDP family was divided, PDP had come together and strengthen by forces from ANPP and AD. Big names like Ex-Governor Kachala, Abba Gana, Seidu Pindar, Ashek Jerma, Babagana Kingibe, Shettima Mustapha, Ibrahim Bunu, Ina Ciroma etc. as well as Sheriff’s brothers, Mohammed and Dalara Sheriff were all queued behind him. But he lost.

The Borno PDP was already very divided in the run up to the 2011 general elections, with Second Republic governor of old Borno State, Alhaji Muhammed Goni, emerging PDP flag bearer in a highly divisive process. Kashim joined forces with Borno ANPP to produce the Kashim Shettima-led administration. Imam’s running mate in 2007 emerged the deputy governor.

Fast-forward to the epic mergers that birthed the All Progressives Congress (APC) ahead of the 2015 general elections. Imam joined forces with the progressives and gave his all. He was just whiskers away from emerging the National Secretary of the party before the twist, which now confirmed the reasons for his failed governorship bids.

Speaking ahead of the 2019, he recalled: “It is for the fear of the fundamental difference that people know we can make, that I was not allowed to become the APC National Secretary. Yes.

“On the final day to the convention, I was in my house and was counting – and I counted 11 APC governors coming to my house and the last three that visited, came around midnight. And what was their message? ‘Kashim we know you are the most competent of all the contestants, everybody will testify to that, but…’

“And I asked them, if I was so competent and the right man for the job, they said ‘We came to appeal to you to withdraw’. And it was like that. They said I was the most competent person and they came to appeal to me that I should withdraw. So all this while, it has been the fear of Kashim Imam becoming the governor, even my opponents will attest to that”.

“I could remember, during the run up to the APC convention, my friend, Governor Ibikunle Amosun, called me on the phone and told me that he was in front of the Holy Kaaba in Makkah, Saudi Arabia and that he had asked for God’s forgiveness, and he went further to say that he knows God will not forgive him until he asked me to forgive him as well. He said he felt guilty because of the role he also played in the issue of selecting the APC National Secretary. He said it was because of the fear that if Kashim Imam becomes the APC National Secretary; they don’t know what may happen”.

Although Imam had decided not to run for governorship again after the last experience, political heavy weights and supporters pressured him to run again in 2019. Asked why he changed his mind, he said: ‘I personally thought that I was done with this. (But) I have yielded to the voice of the people, which they say is the voice of God Almighty’.

And indeed, his popularity was not in doubt. For instance, on the day he submit his nomination form in 2018, he paid homage to the Shehu of Borno, who confessed that no indigene of Borno, in its entire history, had done more for Borno, than Imam, who had, among numeorus contributions, donated N200 million to building the central mosque.

Nevertheless, Imam could not clinch the APC gubernatorial ticket. He described the primary election as “hijacked” to anoint Governor Kashim Shettima’s choice, Prof. Babagana Zulum as candidate. Although he and many other aspirants boycotted the exercise and petitioned APC national headquarters, noting came out of it. The rest, they say, is history. But as a true party man, he nevertheless worked hard for the party’s victory in the presidential and governorship elections.

No doubt, Imam has been through the political rain and thunderstorm. He has seen betrayals. He must have severally felt humiliated, used, and dumped. But as a Muslim, he must have also averted his mind to the fact that Allah drives the destinies of men.

This no doubt underscores the joy across party divides that greeted his appointment as the Chairman of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund, TETFUND. It is instructive that President Muhammadu Buhari equally called Imam to serve in an area of his passion- education. He had promised scholarships for tertiary students, free secondary education, and free and compulsory primary education ahead of the 2019 elections.

“For primary schools, secondary school, it is not going to be a matter of choice. If you like it, I will send your child to school; if you don’t like it, I will still send your child to school. The best thing that has happened to me was the privilege that I had of going to school. And I love the fact that I went to Kings College. And we are going to make our schools here in Borno as good as Kings College, Lagos, Insha Allah” he had vowed.

Now, the Prometheus is unbound and called to help reposition education at the centre. With Kashim Imam, one thing is sure: President Buhari has made a good choice, the tertiary educational sub-sector will never be the same, for there is no limit to what the imaginative and erudite mind of this Prometheus can do.

Congratulations, Mutawalin Borno. More grace to your elbows.

––– Olujimi is Senior Partner at P&P Consulting