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Is Zulum The Only Working Governor In Nigeria?



Can We Have 'No Victor, No Vanquished'?

The Insight by Lateef Adewole

Nigeria and Nigerians are going through a challenging period in our history. This was occasioned by the transformational decisions that the leadership of the country took to reshape it. For decades, many of these challenges were left to suppurate. Successive administrations kept pushing forward the difficult decisions, two of which are the issues of petrol subsidy removal and the unification of the exchange rates. The previous governments kept papering the cracks, kicking the can down the road.

However, President Tinubu, on assumption of office, took these difficult but bold decisions. By the way, all the three frontrunners in 2023 presidential election; Bola Tinubu, Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi, were in unison in their campaigns that they would do the same thing because they regard the petrol subsidy and forex arbitrage as criminal enterprises, through which humongous amounts of our meagre revenues are being stolen. But, only the winner could be the president and that candidate was Tinubu, our current president. He has done what all of them campaigned to do. If or how they would have done it is what we could not say.

As a result of these decisions, things began to spiral downward, with skyrocketing prices of goods and services. Inflation has reached 29.9% now and the forex market went out of control with dollar nearing N2000. few days ago. Now around N1600. As an import-dependent country, the economy took a serious knock for it and the consequential hardship imposed on the people are better imagined. Nigerians have been going through tough time.

As a countermeasure to mitigate the effects of these, the Federal Government kept rolling out series of programmes to alleviate the suffering of Nigerians. Unfortunately, most of these could better executed through the state governments. It started with humongous increase in their monthly allocations. Many states have been receiving amounts they have never seen previously. There were special interventions of N5 billion released to each of them immediately after the removal. There were trailer loads of rice and other grains given to the states to share to the people. And so many other things. But, what have the governors done with all of these?

In reality, majority of Nigerians can confidently say that they have never felt the impacts of all these from the state governments. I can also confirm this as a community leader in my area. Despite series of efforts, our people have not seen much relief that we could considered as helping the citizens. So, where is the money? Where are the rice and other grains? Unfortunately, Nigerians will leave their local government administrations and state governments, which are closer to them, will not demand accountability for all of these things from them, but expend their energies on the Federal Government that is far away from them. That’s misplaced priority. This has given the governors, who also sit on the local government funds in almost all the states, the leeway to escape scrutiny and do as they wish.

However, one governor always shows distinction in all these behaviours, not just now, but in the past few years since he became governor in 2019. His name and activities of his government regularly featured on social media as they seem to surprise Nigerians from other states. This often prompted the question if he was the only working governor in Nigeria. He is no other person than Professor Babagana Umara Zulum, the governor of Borno State. Actually, I don’t expect many people who have been reading about his activities in the news to be surprised.

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Some loyalists of other state governors might want to disagree but the verdict of performance of any governor is not for their loyalists but the ordinary people on the street. The people are the ones to decide. Concerning Prof. Zulum, his was not only decided by the indigenes and residents of the state, but by many close watchers around the country, outside the state. People like me.

The loyalists of the Lagos State governor will want to argue with this verdict. Well, I live in Lagos too and I see what the government is doing. However, comparing Lagos situation with Borno is dysfunctional analysis. Lagos is a ‘country’ on its own, with population, economy (GDP) and revenue that surpass many countries in Africa and around the world. For proper comparison, there will be need to extrapolate all these indices for Borno State, determine the revenues and corresponding developments, and then juxtapose with Lagos or any other state who might disagree.

Also, Borno State has virtually been at ‘war’ for the past 15 years. Lagos is a place that most people still feel reasonably safe in Nigeria. It is relatively peaceful. How then can the two be compared? The real capacity of a leader is more tested at the time of great challenges like the one being faced in Borno State, and the governor has risen to the occasion in the almost five years of being at the helms of affairs in the state. There are other states with similar but less challenges which faltered. They lagged behind on that excuse of security challenges, but not Zulum.

Although, I have never met the governor. So, this has nothing to do with personal relationship. However, he caught my attention in 2019, few months after he took over, despite that I lived at the farthest end of Nigeria (Lagos) from Borno. Few incidents happened. One was in July 2019, when he paid a very early surprise visit to the Umazu Shehu Specialist Hospital, Maiduguri, around 1am in the morning. He was seen with some of his appointees using touchlights to see. He met only 10 nurses on ground with no single doctor. They were nowhere to be found.

This was inspite of having 19 resident doctors and 2 on call that night, from 135 medical staff of the hospital. Ten of the doctors could not be reached on the phone. He queried the CMD for negligence. My opinion then was that it was ‘initial gragra’ by people who newly get to office and political showmanship. Another incident that trended was when he visited Shehu Sauda Kyarimi Primary School, around 6.30am. He met only one teacher on ground. Mrs. Obiageri Mazi, from Abia State, who has been working in the state for 31 years.

The governor was impressed by her dedication, gave her N100,000. and directed that she be promoted to the position of Assistant Headmistress. On paying closer attention and following up on the activities of the governor, just for my conviction, I realised what he did was not a fluke. In fact, that was part of his daily routine till date. This surprised me and was pleasant to me because, I felt that was the only way the people in authority can find out the true state of things and people they govern. Former Governor Fashola of Lagos used to do that in his days in Lagos.

So, when the economic crisis of the post subsidy removal began and people kept posting series of actions, programmes and activities of Professor Zulum, in his efforts to help his people, I was not too surprised, based on what I knew about him in his first term in office (2019 to 2023). He was phenomenal. I doubt if there was any governor in Nigeria that could match his achievements, especially under a very difficult environment of perpetual insurgency.

In his 100 days in office, he had done 120 capital intensive projects. Within a year, he did 326 capital projects and other 49 programmes. In two years, he did 556 capital projects with 70% completed and 30% at different stages of completion. At the end of 3rd year in office, he had done over 600 projects. By the time his first term ended in May 29, 2023, Professor Zulum had executed 957 Projects; 674 (70.4%) completed and 283 (29.6%) ongoing. These include 700 capital projects and the remaining various programmes and policies implemented. How many state governors could boast of such achievements in 4 years?

Interestingly, these are verifiable because they are comprehensively documented. We know how politicians claim to have executed ‘audio’ projects (as we called it in local parlance, which stands for fake, imaginary). I have the fortune of receiving four books (compendiums) containing the details of what the governor did in that four years from a great friend, who is a prominent indigene of Borno State, a Professor of Medicine in the UNIMAID Teaching Hospital. There are six of those books. They are called ‘PZ Verdict’ (1st to 6th). “PZ” stands for Professor Zulum.

They contain almost every reference one might need to track the governor’s activities from when he was nominated in the first term to the beginning of his second term. Each is about 300 pages, with clean glossy pictures as photo evidences. The 6th Verdict is 800 pages and completely dedicated to the 700 capital projects across the 27 local government areas. Only pictures, location addresses and details of the projects. No articles.

Therefore, when the people started circulating the video of electric cars he recently procured and distributed to indigenes for commercial transportation and challenging other governors as to what they are doing, I just laughed. Professor Zulum does not wait for Federal Government to direct them before he acts. Immediately after that petrol subsidy was removed last year, he was the first to start providing palliatives to his people, even before the Federal Government interventions.

He immediately procured many luxurious buses for city transportation, free of charge to students in particular and discounted for others, provided haulage vehicles for farmers to move their harvest from farm to towns, provided tractors, farm implements, seedlings and fertiliser to farmers to boost their productivity. This is what we called responsive and responsible leadership, and good governance. What are other governors doing with all the huge allocations since July last year?

Sincerely, it is inexhaustible to talk about what he did in various areas of governance which include: Security 169, Governance 161, Education 124, Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement 115, Water and Environment 113, Healthcare 70, Roads/Transport, Rural Urban Development 68, Job Creation, Youth Empowerment and Women Development 63, Agriculture and Food Security 41, Commerce and Industry 33. The 957 projects and programmes cover all these areas. It will take forever to begin to break them further down. It is humongous.

It is no surprise that Professor Zulum does all of these. He is connected to the people by virtue of his own background of very humble beginning. Credit must be given to his predecessor, the present Vice President Kashim Shettima, who ‘discovered’ him, gave him opportunities to serve the people, first under him, when he appointed him as the Rector of Ramat Polytechnic, Maiduguri, in 2011, a school Zulum was a former student also. He did wonders there. He was later appointed as the pioneer Commissioner for Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement, in September 2015. That was when the ‘angelic monster’ (pardon my oxymoron) in Zulum was unleashed. His work there became a testament.

That was probably the most important ministry in a war-torn state like Borno and Zulum never disappointed. It was his extraordinary performance, as acknowledged by Shettima, that compelled him to insist on supporting him as his successor, against his own personal, political, and other pecuniary interests and preferences. He called him ‘workhorse’. The then Governor Shettima worked assiduously to ensure Professor Zulum won in 2019 and again, in 2023.

He sold him to the people using ten things about Zulum: Performance records, Integrity, Courage and fearlessness (he was attacked twice as a Commissioner in line of duty and was also ambushed by boko haram few times as governor), Personal struggles that resonate with ordinary people, Religious depth that guides him, Humility, Young age at 49 in 2018, Sound health, and Hardworking (workaholic). While former governor Shettima did his best to leave many legacies as governor, the indigenes and residents of Borno State considered Professor Zulum as the best legacy and the greatest gift he gave to them.

The governor’s compassion for the ordinary people and the needy is rooted in the ‘wretchedness’ that plagued his own background. A son of a farmer who trekked 7km to and from farm daily to till the soil at very tender age. He attended primary and secondary schools under that difficult conditions, where he trekked many kilometres to and from his schools daily. He had no luxury of taking transportation for lack of money. In Class 5 of those days, at age 16, he began to fend for himself, as well as supported his family.

He drove commercial vehicles (taxis, buses and pickup) carrying passengers within township or to carry firewoods from forests for 16 years. He self-sponsored himself through Polytechnic, and then first degree in the University of Maiduguri, Masters degree in University of Ibadan, Agricultural Engineering, and PhD in Soil and Water Engineering, UNIMAID, till he became a Professor. He never forgot where he was coming from, reason he does everything to make others not to go through what he went through in life, as much as possible within his powers, at every position he found himself.

His kindness is legendary, as once narrated by his former Spokesman, Malam Isa Gusau, who unfortunately, died early this year (January 11), of an undisclosed ailment. This media man was the Editor-in-chief of the Verdict series. He did a fantastic job with his media team. I have not seen such comprehensively written compendium of activities of a state governor in Nigeria that I know of. Malam Isa Gusau was a thoroughbred media professional whose competence ‘forced’ successive administrations in Borno State since 2011 to appoint him as their Spokesman up to the fourth term till he died this year.

After he initially had successful operation in India, he penned a thank you message to his principal. He said that it was the governor who, on observing how lean he had become, asked why he was so lean, only to find out he had been sick, but was managing to work because they had a serious media campaign to do for the governor. Immediately, the governor ordered that all that be suspended and he be moved to India for proper medical care, paid for by the state. Professor Zulum puts welfare of others ahead of his personal interest.

He said that when the governor came to India on a working visit, he made sure to see him in that hospital and stayed and chatted with him for a length of time before he left while he wished him quick recovery. I read that article in January 2024. It was emotional. Unknown to Malam Isa that he would eventually die. When I read of his death, I was heartbroken as if I knew him personally. He was still very young at 45! A very brilliant guy who had a First Class Bachelor degree from Middlesex University, London and a Distinction in Masters from University of Leicester, UK, both in his field of Public Relations, other Masters and PGD in Industrial and Labour Relations, UNIMAID, OND and HND in Mass Communication, Kaduna Polytechnic, among other qualifications and certifications. May his soul rest in peace.

I write this article, not to praise the governor of Borno State, but to challenge other state governors. Borno State is one of states with low FAAC allocations and monthly IGR, given the peculiarity of the state. Yet, Professor Zulum never let those factors deter him. Most second term governors relax and want to ‘recoup’ for their possible ‘retirement’. They do less. That is not Zulum. While I have followed his activities since 2019, many are just waking up to see his exceptional performances in 2023/24 when the country was thrown into economic turmoil, which makes any effort by any government significant in peoples’ eyes.

I hope the other governors rise up to the occasion. The current challenges facing Nigeria cannot be heaped on President Tinubu and the Federal Government alone. Afterall, all of them are now getting jumbo allocations. He cannot be the only one getting all the blames while state governors smile to the banks, in what looks like “monkey dey work, baboon dey chop.” This is unacceptable. Nigerians should exert their muscles on the governors, the local government chairmen and lawmakers at state and federal too. They are closer to them. We cannot continue like this. “Presure ti wa.”

May God continue to protect us and guide us aright.

God Bless Nigeria.

You can follow me on:
Twitter: @lateef_adewole
Facebook: Lateef Adewole
Email: [email protected]
Whatsapp: +2348036034685

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February 24, 2024.


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