By Yusuf Alli
When ex-Governor Kashim Shettima opted to make Prof Babagana Umara Zulum as his crown prince for the coveted seat of the Governor of Borno State in 2019, it was with shock and disbelief. Many politicians and gubernatorial aspirants in the state had professed closeness to Shettima as his boys and were almost sure to be anointed as the next governor. But the erudite and philosophical Shettima, who is now a Senator, kept his game plans to his chest until he unveiled Zulum.
The Borno State governor created a record as one of those who earned his governorship mandate on merit having been a workaholic, a product of Spartan discipline, a symbol of honesty and an embodiment of service. He has exhibited all these qualities over the years. When he was appointed as the Rector of Ramat Polytechnic in Maiduguri in 2011, Zulum gave a condition that he would still continue to teach at the University of Maiduguri where he was a Professor of Agriculture Engineering. Also, as Commissioner of Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement under Governor Kashim Shetima, Zulum was the only cabinet member who managed many “juicy” contracts without owning a personal house. He was hated by most cabinet members for “being too prudent, devotion to quality jobs and always returning unexpended funds for contracts.”
While Zulum was being natural, he did not know that he was sowing the seed for his future. Politics was less on his mind, but fate was awaiting him in the gubernatorial suite. Ex-Governor Shettima confided in one of his close friends on why he opted for Zulum. He listed Zulum’s attributes as his young age (he became a governor at almost 50), exceptional hard work, honesty, intellectual capacity, fearlessness, and God-fearing nature.
Zulum’s personal traits have once again been brought to bear on governance in Borno State. Despite the rough terrain and landmine infested insurgency, Zulum placed priority on the people of the state as the centre point of his administration. He has defied all odds to identify with all those displaced by Boko Haram and thrice he escaped being ambushed or killed by the insurgents on July 29, November 26 and November 2020. The most deadly attack on his convoy was on November 26 by Boko Haram near Lake Chad culminating in the death toll of 30 soldiers, police officers and civilians. When the insurgents could not entrap Zulum, they tried to use a donkey on November 29, 2020, to harm his convoy leaving many of them dead.
Yet, the governor is undaunted. Like a cat with nine lives, he has refused to abandon his people. Every minute, he gives them hope that the insurgency will end one day. When innocent citizens were killed like fowls by Boko Haram elements, Zulum was always part of the burial to drive home a message of “we are in it together.” To Zulum, his life is as equal as that of any citizen of Borno State. A cosmopolitan Nigerian, who bagged a master’s degree in Agriculture Engineering from the University of Ibadan, the governor visited a deserted primary school early in the morning where he met an Igbo female teacher only around. Apart from giving a cash of N100, 000 to the teacher, he also promoted her to an Assistant Headmistress on the spot for being diligent. His greatest asset is in speaking the truth to power, no matter whose ox is gored, on the plight of his people. He once said: “I am being pushed to the wall to say the truth. Since my inauguration as the governor of Bono State, Auno town has been attacked about six times. And the reason is that the military has withdrawn from the town. We have made repeated pleas to the military to re-establish a base in Auno since it is one of the flashpoints of the Boko Haram (insurgency), but nothing has been done to that effect.”
Recently, he also came up with six options to end the insurgency. He said: “Our second recommendation is to engage the services of our immediate neighbours, especially the governments of Chad, Cameroon and Niger Republic, in clearing the remnants of Boko Haram hiding in the shores of the Lake Chad.
“Our third recommendation is for him to engage the services of the mercenaries to clear the entire Sambisa forest.
“Our fourth recommendation is for him to provide the police and the military, with armed resistant armoured personnel carriers and other related equipment.
“If the federal can fix the bad roads in Borno and the North-east, the insurgency would be reduced by 60 per cent.”
More than anything, Zulum’s defining signature as public servant his landmark achievements in the midst of insurgency. In less than one and a half years in office, Zulum executed and completed 375 projects, of which 326 are physical projects with the remaining 49 as capital-intensive programmes and policies. It was also awesome that out of the 375 projects, he delivered 120 under 100 days in office. The projects are aside from the purchase of 300 patrol vehicles which were distributed to the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), the military and other sister agencies. He also established security trust fund, rapid security response team and special protection component for farmers which was tagged agro-rangers. He procured security gadgets for CJTF and reviewed their allowances.
On why he is performing, the governor once said: “I swore with the Holy Qur’an to do whatever I can to protect lives and property and to raise the quality of governance in terms of delivering projects and programmes and executing policies that will impact positively on the lives of Borno people”.
Zulum is no doubt an exemplar of public service because he dreams nothing than public good. He is incorruptible and he rolls out projects in a manner that there is value for money spent. Above all, he is an apostle of a democracy with people as the pivot of development.
Culled from The Nation