Zulum: The burden of a governor

As the reign of terror persists in Borno State, KUNLE ODEREMI, in this report, reflects on the ripple effects on governance in the state and the country generally.


ON the assumption of office on May 29, 2019, the governor of Bono State, Professor Babagana Umara Zulum, set a 10-point agenda for his administration. Top on the blueprint/template was problem of insecurity and the attendant exacerbating poverty among the citizens of the state. He acknowledged the efforts of his predecessor, Senator Kashim Shettima,  to restore law and order with a promise to consolidate the gains therefrom. In fact, the governor began the New Year with the inauguration of multimillion projects in the health sector, expressing greater optimism about improved security in 2020. He said: “Security is important and necessary for meaningful development and growth of the society. My administration will give security uppermost preference and priority.” Zulum, aside recognising the strategic place of security in the promotion of economic growth, development and prosperity, was not under any illusion about the Herculean nature of the task ahead. Thus, he promised to collaborate with other security forces along with the vigilante Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) and hunters to up the ante in the war against insurgency that has continued to done Colossal damage to the state.

To show that he meant business, Zulum adopted a multi-faceted approach in the battle to save the state from the fangs of the deadly terrorist group, Boko Haram and its ISWAP splinter faction, as well as other blood thirsty organisations. One of the strategies designed to quell the savagery was the provision of vital logistics to support and boost the fighting spirit and morale of troops at the theatre of the war. Such support came very early in the life of the Zulum administration with the release of 160 surveillance vehicles to security agencies and volunteers fighting the insurgents. A similar logistic support soon followed with the donation of 70 new Hilux vans to the military and security outfits for surveillance operations, just as he inaugurated a security rapid response squad.

“I have said a number of times that this administration will not hesitate to take any measure or make any sacrifice in order to ensure peace and security returns to our state. As the chief security officer of Borno State, it is my constitutional and moral responsibility to do whatever I possibly can in trying to secure the lives of citizens and doing that, is the whole essence of government in the first place,” Zulum said.

Beyond the physical level, Zulum took to the spiritual realm in his determination to guarantee the safety of lives and property so as to pave the way for good governance in his domain. He made an arrangement with 30 clerics who are Nigerians, resident in Saudi Arabia, to offer prayers against Boko Haram insurgents. According to Isa Gusau, the governor’s spokesman, “We need these prayers more than ever before. We are handling our problem from different approaches. Prayer is key in everything that we seek. We will continue to seek prayers from many fronts.

The governor equally promised to do all within his capacity to restore human dignity and pride to the citizenry through collaboration with the military, police, civil defence, CJTF, hunters and other security forces to provide adequate security to end the one decade of insurgency. Therefore, he said, in no distant time, his people would return to farm to produce enough to eat and even sell for their economic gains,” because, “We have all what it takes to produce food to address food scarcity occasioned by the attacks and threats of Boko Haram insurgents. Our farmers will have access to their farmlands to farm. Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement is also going to be our priority area as all the IDPs will return to their localities and resettle as well as continue with their life through collaboration with the security, national and regional authorities, international NGOs like UNICEF, UNDP, UNHCR, etc.”

The governor’s lofty ideas on revamping agriculture remain threatened; his dream of revitalising education, which he considers pivotal to growth, is seriously being undermined; and his hope for general good governance is constantly in trouble because of the climate of fear, uncertain and despair due to the callous and murderous activities of insurgents.  Yet, his ultimate desire is to take Borno to its prime place as home of peace and centre of Sahara trade. Said he, “All our schools, markets, hospitals and clinics as well as offices and other structures destroyed by the boko haram insurgents will be rehabilitated and put back to use as Borno will return to its past glory of home of peace and center of Sahara trade down to Central Africa, Cameroon, Niger, Chad and other countries as well as states of the federation.”

A report by Bloomberg, about five years ago, estimated that more than $1 billion would be needed to rebuild the infrastructure destroyed by Boko Haram in the north-eastern part of the country. In fact, the immediate past governor of the state, Shettima, had noted that, “Hospitals, bridges, roads that they mined will require about N79 billion ($397 million). If you are to quantify the homes, the figure may reach even three times the figure I quoted.” Then, the World Bank was also said to be considering a $2.1billion loan to rebuild infrastructure in the state after a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari in Washington over a conflict that has displaced more than 1.6 million people or 27 per cent of the population of Borno, and about 121,000 living in camps in Maiduguri, according to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).

With increasing threats to his primary responsibility of protection of lives and property in his vow to deliver good governance, Zulum has publicly expressed his disgust on a couple of the operational mode of the security personnel. He raised issues over allegations of extortion by soldiers of travellers without national ID cards and an attempt by the army to evacuate some villages without recourse to due process. And following the gruesome killing and act of arson carried out by Boko Haram members last Sunday, in Auno, about 24 kilometres outside the state capital, Maiduguri, Zulum, fought back emotions as he alleged that soldiers made residents vulnerable to attack by Boko Haram insurgents.

According to Zulum, soldiers meant to secure the community often desert the people around 5pm on a daily basis. Exasperated Governor Zulum told the Garrison Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole, Sunday Igbinomwanhia, at the scene of the incident: “We have to be brutal in telling the truth. I am pushed to the wall to say the truth. Since I was inaugurated as governor of Borno State, Boko Haram has attacked Auno six times. Another thing is that the military has withdrawn from Auno Town. I am not undermining the capacity of the military but we have made repeated appeal for the military to establish their unit in Auno. They are here but as soon as it is 5 pm, they close the gate and lock the people and go back to Maiduguri. This is not right.” But the commander stoutly defended his men saying the troops were conducting clearance operation at other locations when the attack happened.

Notwithstanding the unwholesome burden placed on his shoulders by the increasing terrorists’ attacks, the governor has been credited with a number of remarkable achievements so far.  Within the first 100 days in office, he said a total of 120 projects are completed, with a number of others at various stages of completion. The professor of Irrigation Engineering, said the projects spread across the senatorial zones of the state. But many local government areas in the northern parts of the state could not benefit from the governor’s new projects due to the Boko Haram insurgency.

His administration has also embarked on the rehabilitation and reconstruction of health and educational facilities and amenities, renovated dilapidated schools, hospitals, clinics, upgraded health centers and constructed new schools and hospitals in some communities, as well as fostered discipline, transparency, occupational attitude, respect and accountability in the state civil service. Above all, the state-owned university, BOSU, took off in September 2019. Zulum is constructing an 800-capacity modern vocational training centre that will offer courses on 14 different trades to address the challenge of unemployment.

In a lecture he delivered at the National Defence College in Abuja recently, Zulum had blamed part of the problems of the country to lack of will by people to speak truth to the corridors of power about issues and the unwillingness of leaders themselves to hear the truth. This, he said, was contrary to what leadership should be.  The theme of his lecture was “Strategic leadership: The Challenges of Insurgency in Borno State.”  In his opinion, “A strategic leader must be a strategic listener and reader. A strategic thinker must also be a strategic learner. A strategic leader must be willing to hear the truth and to learn. However, telling the truth and accepting the truth has been our major problems in Nigeria. Some people will never tell you the truth when you are in power and, honestly, many of us in power also do not want to hear the truth; we prefer to be told what we like to hear and that is a serious deficit in strategic leadership.”