The former governor of Borno State has debunked claims that he his a financier of terrorist organisation, Boko Haram and aslo chided a National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for running the party like his personal estate.
He disclosed this in an interview days after being named as one of the key sponsors of Boko Haram by an Australian negotiator with close links to Bko Haram.
Read the no holds barred interview below
Governor Ali Modu Sheriff, it is nice to have you with us on this interview session. You must have read the story by the Australian negotiator on Boko Haram, which claimed you were one of the major sponsors and financiers of the group. What is your reaction to that?
Well, first and foremost, I was shocked. The whole story looked senseless and baseless. Number one, the man that purportedly gave the interview said he was an Australian, who said he came to Nigeria, and spoke to Boko Haram.
I thought that really, if he is a professional mediator or negotiator, or whatever he calls himself, his report would have been given to the security agencies of Nigeria.
That is number one. Number two, also, if at all he spoke to Boko Haram, before making his views public, he should have known that I have a right of reply. He should have asked for my reaction or views on his findings, because I am a Nigerian, I am in Nigeria, I didn’t go anywhere.
Number three, I was the former governor of Borno State for eight years. The Boko Haram war as we know it today, started in 2002 in Yobe. The first attack of Boko Haram was in 2002 in Kanama, from there they ran to Borno State. And in 2002, where was I? I wasn’t a governor.
There was a sitting governor in Borno State, and there was Boko Haram.
They ran away from Kanama and moved to Gwoza hill! But come to think of it, who is Mohammed Yusuf (first leader of the group)? Yusuf had been in Maiduguri, doing his preaching and later taken to court by the Federal Government, and prosecuted in Abuja, ever before I became a governor.
And who was the first casualty of Boko Haram in Borno State?
It is me. I was the first victim of Boko Haram in Borno State. In their first attack, they killed my brother, the same father and mother with me. That was when they fought with the military in Borno. The first casualty was me.
Then, they killed my cousin. They killed my candidate for governorship; they killed my party chairman.
Two of them were direct relations of mine. Why did they do that? Because I made a law prohibiting Boko Haram in the domain of Borno State.
The law said anybody practicing or associated with what Boko Haram was doing, was banned by law from so doing, and if caught will be prosecuted and jailed for 25 years
Are you saying that Boko Haram attacked you because of the law you promulgated against them?
Exactly. They saw me as their attacker, that I was against them and fighting them. But I did so, because I had a responsibility to the state. I was a governor of Borno State, and it is my duty to make sure that what is not tenable in law should not be tolerated. Because you cannot just go and kill human beings and go free. Now, for anybody to turn round and accuse me, or say that Ali Modu Sherriff is Boko Haram, is insane, because… Look, I left government three and a half years ago, they have prosecuted many Nigerians, prominent ones, who were dragged to court, prosecuted by the Federal Government as being connected to Boko Haram, if for any reason I am connected to Boko Haram, I am not above the law, I would have been prosecuted like any other person. It is not for an Australian to come and say that I am a Kwara: APC, PDP differ over ban on rallies / PAGE 17 | Jonathan’s presidential stake / PAGE 18 13 member or sponsor of Boko Haram. And if you look at the interview, it would clearly show that it was a preplanned agenda. It was a sponsored work. Somebody wanted to tarnish my image.
Why did they choose to do that now? I was a member of the APC (All Progressives Congress), I was one of the founders of the APC. I have been in opposition (parties) all my life. Why didn’t you write then that I was Boko Haram. It is only now that I want to join the ruling party that you now publish that I am Boko Haram.
It is totally a smear campaign! A campaign of calumny. Because why is it that the interview carried on television, and also the newspaper they carried it, came at the same time?
If you check, there’s something under it. Because United Kingdom is a European nation that has a lot of source of information dissemination, not for a medium owned by a Nigerian to be the medium he would use to propagate his opinion.
He didn’t speak with BBC, VOA, CNN on such a sensitive issue. There are too many contradictions in that interview by the Australian. He talked about Boko Haram; then he said I was corrupt, in the same interview. You wonder what he was actually looking for: my corruption or Boko Haram?
He said my government was not properly run; that he doesn’t understand why I was not arrested by the Economic and financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). I don’t know when he became a criminal investigative bureau for the EFCC or negotiator for Boko Haram?
The whole thing does not make sense.
Were you jolted when you read the damning report?
I was shocked. I was completely shocked. Because, there is no consistency for one minute on what he was trying to do. He was scrambling.
A scrambling, faceless person. They said he was struggling to talk on telephone in the TV interview.
But this is not the first time you are being linked to Boko Haram. Part of the accusation is that you armed a group of youths during your election and didn’t disarm.That was the group that turned into Boko Haram?
You know, unfortunately…
Did you arm some people during your election or re-election?
Why should I do that? Let me tell you the history of my elections in Borno State. I was elected into the Senate of Nigeria three times, as a senator of the Federal Republic, by the people of Borno State three times. I was elected as a governor twice.
I am the only indigene of Borno State that has ever been elected by the people of Borno to that level. Before I came into government, there was Boko Haram. Now, if you say it is the youth that metamorphosed to Boko Haram, whose youths? Because every political party in Nigeria has a youth wing.
To my knowledge there are over 15 parties that ran for positions in the last election in Nigeria. Therefore, whose youths?
You know, I didn’t bother myself [about the accusations] all along because to start talking about…the Federal Government of Nigeria, two different administrations set up more than three committees to investigate this matter. And all the investigations came out clearly to say that I have nothing to do with all these people, the Boko Haram.
On the contrary, I am a victim of the Boko Haram onslaught. I am a victim who they are now projecting as sponsor. I don’t know how I will be a victim and also the sponsor of Boko Haram. It is just a pure imagination of some people.
If you are not the sponsor, did you succeed in fighting Boko Haram during your tenure as governor of Borno State?
Yes, I did.
You drove them out of Borno?
Yes, I did.
So, how did they return?
Well, I left government. I wouldn’t know what happened thereafter.
How did you then curtail them during your tenure?
First, I did a law. Second, I had the cooperation of all the security agencies, who were working 24 hours round the clock to ensure that Boko Haram did not operate. My responsibility (on security) ended when I left office as governor. What happened thereafter I cannot be responsible for it.
As a private citizen and leader in your own right, why has Boko Haram become so hydra-headed and more vicious now, than in your time as governor…
Much more than it was.
Is it so difficult or impossible to flush them out?
No. The truth about it is that terrorists all over the world everyday device different methods. Let me give you an example: The Americans moved out of Vietnam without succeeding. America is today the strongest country on the living earth. If they didn’t succeed in Vietnam, and moved out, one wouldn’t be surprised whenever terrorists fail to stop terror act. You are fighting people that you don’t know.
Terrorists all over are people who know their target, but you don’t know them. So, it’s like guerrilla warfare. I don’t live in the insinuations that our military are not fighting or capable. That is not true. When I was a governor, our Operation Flush, the military, police and SSS, they curtailed them effectively.
How come they are not doing that now?
I am not in government, so I wouldn’t know.
If you were in government or being a governor, what would you be doing?
Well, I would exactly do what I had done in the past to curtail them. In Maiduguri during my tenure, there was no curfew for one day.
They had never taken over any local government or anywhere in the state. They started their operations in an enclave and the soldiers were able to crush them.
Now, they are everywhere, capturing over 200 chibok schoolgirls.Nobody can find them or say precisely when they would be freed. As a former governor, are you not worried?
I am more than worried. I am more than worried…
Three-time senator and two-term governor, what are you doing about it. Even as a private citizen?
As a citizen right now, what I have tried to do as a person is to make sure that all my contacts, who I interacted with as governor, in the neighbouring countries, to ask them to provide security information to relevant security agencies in Nigeria, on what they know about the group and how to get them. We are praying. And every day, we spend our time in praying, that God should bring us out of this terrible mess. And the girls are still there?
Not only the girls. Every day, human beings are dying.
Are you in touch with your successor, Governor Kashim Shettima, on how to fight Boko Haram. Do you give him advice?
Well, as someone who took over from me, who succeeded me. I did advise him. How come he is not following what you said you did during your tenure?
Advice is what you call it. You are free to accept it or not to accept.
Did you put him in power?
God installed him, through me.
Are you still the best of friends?
We have no issues between us. But we are no longer in the same party.
Why are you not working together on the insecurity in Borno State?
Security matters should be above politics. The word itself is advice.
It is left for the person you are advising to evaluate if your advice is worth anything or nothing. He has a right to decide on how he wants to run the state. I don’t interfere in any matter of government. He is the governor of Borno State.
I am a former governor. And I wish him well. I advise him on matters he requires my advice.
At the national level, are you satisfied with the way President Goodluck Jonathan is prosecuting the war against Boko Haram?
The president is trying. The truth about it is that Boko Haram issue is a matter that is very complicated.
And you should know that it didn’t start during his tenure. As the president of a nation who came and inherited this issue, to me personally, I believe he is doing his best, because like I told you, America could not succeed in Vietnam because of the difficulty in dealing with terrorists; what happened in Iraq? Up till today, there has been no solution. What happened in Afghanistan?
Despite his efforts, the fact remains our girls are not back?
Unfortunately, our girls are not back. I know he is trying. I am not trying to hold brief for him.
But the information that I have is that he is doing everything within his power to get the girls out. I know so, because some of his aides and lieutenants are my friends, and they tell me the serious efforts being made to free the girls.
Let’s leave Boko Haram for a while.
All your political life, you have been in opposition parties: NRC, APP, ANPP and APC. Now, you have joined a ruling party, PDP. What is the motivation for you? Did you quit APC to avoid prosecution over corruption charges by EFCC?
How would you join others to form an opposition party only to dump it? (Laughs) The opposition that I used to know and APC are two different things. I choose to be in opposition purely on principle and my beliefs.
All the beliefs that I have in opposition parties, APC has none of them, no single one. I want you to understand that APC is a culmination of many parties coming together. And our v i e w s are dif-ferent.
People that we thought have the same thinking with us, they are not near our thinking. What is in APC of today is not what I believe in, at all.
How come as an experienced politician you didn’t notice you were not ideologically compatible before joining them or founding the party with them?
The thing is that I was the chairman, Board of Trustees of ANPP. It was one of the three political parties that came together to form APC: ANPP, CPC and ACN. Some of the people that we met, we had never worked together. We were only seeing them from a distance. What I found out was that a lot of people there today are people that I cannot work with.
You discovered it early in the day or much later?
Not early in the day.
Later in the day, I would say.
What were the signals you saw?
The party I used to be in, the ANPP, every decision of the party, we sat down and took it collectively. Unfortunately, today, APC has only one driver. And Nigeria is too big for that.
Are you talking about Asiwaju Bola Tinubu?
If he became the sole driver, could it not also be that he is the major financier?
It is not true if they say Asiwaju is the major financier of the party. Everybody financed, everybody, when we were there. Everybody made his own contribution.
You were opposed to one person owning the party. That was your major grouse?
Yes. Decisions are made by one person, rather than the collective. When you have that kind of situation, that is no longer a political party. It is a personal estate. I don’t believe in that.
You could have gone to any other party aside PDP? Which party?
Tell me which party I could have gone. There are technically two parties in Nigeria today. You are either in APC or PDP.
Look at the people in PDP today; it is a party more democratic than my former party, APC. They say to avoid being prosecuted, I left APC. All the people involved in Boko Haram are already being prosecuted in court. You see it on TV. All the people suspected to be involved in Boko Haram are already being prosecuted.
Therefore, it is absolutely nonsense to say what they are saying. Even if you are in PDP and you are involved in Boko Haram, the state will prosecute you. So, it is senseless for anybody to think that because you have something to hide that’s why you joined the ruling party.
Did you have any deal with the presidency or more specifically President Jonathan before agreeing to dump your former party for the ruling party?
What deal? Listen, I do politics on principle. To propagate and defend the interests of the people I represent, to have the benefits of democracy. I have been a governor already.
The party that elected me is no longer in existence. By surrendering our certificates, ANPP is no longer a political party.
And looking at the APC today, I stand to be corrected, it is not a political party. What is it? It is a limited liability company owned by a single majority shareholder!
Tell Nigerians a bit about yourself. We just know you were a governor and an ex-senator.Not many people know who Ali Modu Sherrif is?
Let me tell you, all my life I have been a businessman. My father and my grandfather were all businessmen, successful businessmen for that matter.
Half of my years on earth, I lived in Lagos. I only went to Maiduguri during the NRC/SDP days to run for election as senator. My life and orientation have no place, no relationship with people or those inclined to religious fanaticism.
I will never be associated with such people. I have friends across different divides: religious and social. My friends, my best friend, who was best man at my wedding is a Christian. Not even a Nigerian, but a Christian. He is a European-Chinese.
He was best man at my wedding. In my home, there is no basis for religious discrimination. This man sitting down here, my former commissioner, is a Christian. He is one of my most trusted aides. He can go anywhere in my house, even up to my bedroom. My wife treats him as a brother and a member of the family.
The Ali Modu Sheriff family has no relationship or correlation with religious fanaticism. It is just that in my state, there are people who believe that as long as I live, they cannot realise their political ambition, either they are with me or they lose, because I led my people well, I enjoy their confidence. That is really a problem to a lot of people. And that is the genesis of trying to link me with Boko Haram, just to tarnish my image.
One day, somebody asked me, that one of your ex-commissioners, was a member of Boko Haram. I said do you know that this person you are talking about was chairman of his local government before I became a governor?
He had been a politician for a long time. And he left my government three years before Boko Haram started.
How can I be responsible for the way of life of somebody, an adult? It is just that people are just looking for a way to see how they can tarnish another person’s image.
You feel pained?
A lot of pain. My children are pained.
They tell me, ‘Daddy, talk to the world. Tell them we are not like this. We are not Boko Haram.’ Every day, my friends, my family, are disturbed. What do I stand to gain by sponsoring Boko Haram? To do what?
I made money before I joined politics. The house I am staying today in Abuja, I built before I joined politics. I moved into this house in 1986. Where is politics in it? The house I am staying in Lagos, I bought it since 1990.
I was not in politics.
What business are you into?
I am into oil.
You’ve always been in the petroleum sector?
I was a defence contractor. I supplied naval materials to the Nigerian Navy and did work also with other arms of the military.
But I stopped that when I joined politics, and moved to oil business. Right now, I am involved in drilling oil in Chad. That’s what I do for now. So, all my life we are business people. And there is no reason for any kind of extremism.
So, what’s your next political move?
For now, I want to really concentrate on my business, and watch politics. We will help the younger people who we brought into the political arena to achieve their ambitions. But, for me, personally, I don’t plan anything for now. May be, in the future.
2015 is few months away. Where would you stand in the choice between a president of northern extraction and one of South-South ?
I am a party man.
If I join a political party, I always believe in the doctrine and ethics of the party. So, whoever emerges as the candidate of the PDP, that is where I would stand. For us today, Jonathan is the president, and we will support him. I will support him.
I believe he is trying. There are too many issues he is tackling. At another time, I will give you one million reasons why I am saying he’s done well to be re-elected. He has not formally declared.
When the time comes, if he decides to run, that’s the time we will talk about it. But for me, I see nothing wrong in Jonathan running again. Nothing absolutely wrong. Do you nurse the fear that Nigeria will disintegrate in 2015?
No. I don’t have such fears. We have a strong will. Nigeria is a nation that can strive under any difficulty. Our people are resilient. Nigerians are self-confident and determined. We are different from any nation. Nigeria will not disintegrate. We will overcome our challenges.
What is your final take on Boko Haram?
I want to tell Nigerians that I am not Boko Haram. I have nothing to do with them. What do I stand to gain from doing so?
I did not arm any youth that transformed to Boko Haram. Like I said, I was the first casualty of Boko Haram in Borno State. From their activities so far, the Boko Haram do not believe in any politician.
Their beliefs are different. Even the youths they are talking about, they are targets as well. Their views, beliefs are different from what you and I believe as human beings.
What can we do to stop them?
What we can do to stop them is to ensure that the orientation of the gullible youths is changed.
They go to villages to look for and recruit gullible youths, and indoctrinate them. What we should do is to change the psyche of our youths. Remove them from this indoctrination.
They say there is mass poverty in Borno and the North-East, which makes Boko Haram recruitment fertile?
Poverty is everywhere.
But more in your zone as statistics reveal.What did you do as governor to reduce poverty?
When I was governor, I created ministry of poverty alleviation and eradication, and I floated a scheme. I was giving money to all the local governments to train the youth.
After training them, set them up in business on what they trained in. And that is what I would really advise the Federal Government to do.
Empower the Ministry of Youth Development so that they can change the psyche of these gullible youths.