By Ochereome Nnanna, Editorial Board Chairman
PROFESSOR Babagana Umara Zulum, Governor of embattled Borno State, continues to live up to his reputation as a leader who leads from the front since he was sworn-in on May 29, 2019. This was the quality that endeared him to his predecessor, Senator Kashim Shettima, who supported Zulum, his Commissioner for Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, and Resettlement, to succeed him.
A few hours before the handover of the reins of power on May 28, 2019, Shettima, in a solemn mood, told the media that Zulum would surpass his own widely applauded achievements. As a commissioner, Zulum had shunned materialism, choosing instead to focus with missionary zeal on service delivery as he pursued the reconstruction of communities destroyed by the Boko Haram terrorists, an assignment handed to him based on his track record as a former Polytechnic Rector.
As Governor, Zulum has been seen on television and in the social media inspecting communities being cleared of Boko Haram and ISWAP terrorists (without fear of being hit by enemy bullets), personally distributing food, money, and other relief materials to thousands of displaced and vulnerable persons in their communities, even in the dead of the night, and receiving multitudes of surrendering Boko Haram terrorists and their families, who are encouraged to stop fighting and benefit from the government’s rehabilitation and resettlement policies.
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Vanguard’s Board of Editors voted unanimously to once again recognise Zulum, the winner of the newspaper’s 2019/2020 Personality of the Year due to this quality of direct personal touch and leading from the front, a quality that Nigeria needs at the national level. Borno, Nigeria’s second-largest state by landmass (70,898 square km) has been battered by Boko Haram terrorism since 2009. According to the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, GCPEA, the Boko Haram jihadists were responsible for the destruction of 900 schools and so many health facilities. They created a humanitarian crisis that threw over two million people into internally displaced persons, IDP camps and abducted thousands of people, especially women and girls, including the famous Chibok schoolgirls. In addition to this enormous challenge, the coronavirus pandemic, COVID-19, that swept the world further compromised the people’s welfare.
Therefore, in the past year or so, Zulum’s government has spent much of its resources to sustain, rehabilitate, and resettle the people while restarting and stimulating the economy through financial disbursements, grants, and awards. One of the programmes was Borno Cares (BO-Cares), a domestication of the Federal Government’s NG-Cares aimed at minimising COVID-19’s impact on the poor and vulnerable. N814 million was distributed to 9,154 beneficiaries in the micro, small, and medium enterprises scheme. Zulum explained that the scheme was meant to reduce youth restiveness and encourage people to work in cooperative groups for collective wealth creation and sharing. A total of 4,024 tricycle operators, 3,130 mobile phone repairers, and 2,000 tailors were among the fund’s recipients.
In the past three years, Zulum’s government has spent N4.2 billion in economic stimuli on various groups. Worthy of particular note was the implementation of the policy aimed at providing succour to the families of members of the Civilian Joint Task Force, CJTF, who lost their lives to protect the people from Boko Haram. Zulum has increased the N20,000 monthly stipend hitherto paid for the welfare of the 300 orphans to N30,000, while N300 million was released to cater for their education. The amount was approved for their scholarship from primary to university level over a period of five years. The mother or guardian of each orphan was given N50,000 and a bag of rice, along with bundles of clothing. Zulum personally distributed some of these items himself to check for corruption or diversion by officials.
The state government has also rehabilitated 300 health centres and constructed 64 new ones, as disclosed by the Commissioner of Health, Professor Mohammed Arab. “The sector,” said Arab, “was grounded to a halt, but we are now witnessing a total rehabilitation and transformation by this administration with the support of our partners.” Zulum continued his predecessor’s vision of building massive, mega schools — well-equipped primary and secondary schools that look like universities. Since 2019, 24 such schools, each capable of holding 1,500 pupils, have been completed, with 1,000 teachers recruited. Boko Haram had killed 176 teachers in Borno State.
The massive construction and rehabilitation of schools by the Zulum government sends a message that Boko Haram’s sworn mission to kill western education in the state has failed. Education has bounced back, bigger than ever. Also, the steady flow of funds to the MSME sector is aimed at restoring the economic lives of the people to levels higher than they were before the insurgency. A caring government like Zulum’s is just what everyone in the state, including the returnee insurgents and the ones still in the bush, needs to abandon religion-inspired crimes against humanity and channel their energies into creating a better future that works for all.
Buoyed by Governor Zulum’s achievements so far, the Chairman of the Borno State chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Malam Bukar Dalori, showered encomiums on the governor in a recent public event. “We are proud of our Governor, Professor Babagana Umara Zulum, for his dedication to our people’s plight. “ At least, this government has executed more than 300 people-oriented projects across the state.” Despite the ongoing (though dwindling) terrorism of Boko Haram and ISWAP.
Zulum’s extraordinary performance under pressure and his compassionate, personal-touch leadership style have resonated at the national level, such that his name featured prominently among the preferred choices of the Nigerian people from across the divides just before the presidential primaries of the APC. Zulum proactively ruled himself out of the race, as he had more pressing work still to do in Borno State. Eventually, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu won the primaries and picked Zulum’s predecessor, Kashim Shettima, as his running mate, based on his track record of performance as Governor of Borno State. True greatness begets greatness. Borno has been richly blessed in terms of producing great leaders since 2011.
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