Raxy E. Ekwebelam
It is no longer news that Borno State has been virtually on its knees for over a decade since Boko Haram terrorists commenced their carnage in the State and beyond. Indeed, the quantum of destruction inflicted on the State by the bloodletting brigade clearly beggars belief. Yet Borno, hitherto one of the most accommodating and peaceful places in the country, will emerge from the ruins and become great again! It will do so partly because of the purposeful leadership being offered by the current governor, Prof Babagana Umara Zulum. The governor is seemingly on a mission to demystify political power, lay bare its superficiality while working hard to change the narrative from “Sorrow, tears, and blood”, as Afrobeat legend, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti once sang, to something as soothing as showers in the middle of a hot day in Maiduguri.
In truth, in our dear country, these seem like strange times defined by despicable norms. High-wire shenanigans seem like the ‘New Normal’ even though they make people shudder in other places. Day after day, mindboggling sleaze makes front-page news, as some of our leaders, emboldened by the absence of any consequences for their actions or inactions; appear hell-bent on delivering the final pin fall to our shambling economy. This is contrary to the experience in other climes, where leadership inspires confidence through transparency, galvanizes people to become better versions of them, and puts the interest of the majority above primordial considerations. That sort of leadership leaves the stage better than it met it, and the people never forget!
Governor Babagana Umara Zulum, a professor of water engineering, offers the sort of leadership captured above, the sort that brings nostalgia– the sort they don’t seem to make again in our country or do they? That is why Borno State would rise again, bringing with it a rejuvenation of prosperity, education, arts and culture, industrialization, trade, commerce, and youth employment, etc. It is remarkable, although not many are aware, that the governor started receiving rare awards under a year in office. One of them from the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) in Borno State, a critical group known to make no pretence about its watchdog disposition. Justifying the award given to the governor, Comrade Bulama Talba, chairman of the Union said: “We compared Governor Zulum’s performance with those of all Governors serving their first term in office. To our amazement, we discovered without the slightest doubt, that we could only compare Zulum’s achievements with those of some Governors in their second term. His achievements in the first quarter were shocking to us”.
For the records, this writer has never met Governor Zulum and has not visited Borno State for nearly three decades. But memories of a previous romance with the alluring city of Maiduguri remain undiminished by time and tide. Thus, every report of the ‘decimation’ of Boko Haram terrorists is, for the writer, worth celebrating albeit the feeling is often abridged by heart-breaking updates about brand new slaughters across the State. It is less than 18 months since the former university lecturer took over from former Governor Kashim Shettimah, now a senator. The former governor too deserves credit for ensuring that the wishes of the terrorists did not prevail against the State. The jury may still be out on his stewardship, yet one of his significant accomplishments was handing over to someone like Zulum.
Borno citizens and their governor appear to share a deep, mystical connection that forbids him from projecting his emotional insecurities into a group already in dire need of reassurance that tomorrow will be better. Unlike some of his colleagues that act as though the art of governance were but rocket science, Zulum is unfazed by political power and its overbearing paraphernalia, and many find that refreshing if it makes him appear lonely sometimes! As governor, he is like a field officer constantly on the road, gauging the pulse of his people, and ensuring that the government’s socially inclusive policies are being implemented accordingly. Schools, hospitals, government offices, and markets, etc., none is too remote for him to access. What seems to matter to the governor is keeping his side of the bargain between him and the people that elected him, in line with by the Genevan philosopher, Jean- Jacques Rousseau’s Social Contract model.
On one occasion, early morning on a school day, he met a teacher alone on her duty post. Instead of visiting the sins of the skiving and absentee teachers on the woman, the governor instantly rewarded her for exemplary conduct. In addition to a cash reward of N100, 000, he also promoted her to the post of an Assistant Head Mistress despite her not being a graduate. To the governor, the woman’s 31 years of committed service earned her a waiver. In doing so, Zulum did not ask about her state of origin, tribe, or religion. A further visit to state-owned hospitals and secretariat and the man left no one in doubt that a new sheriff had come to town. Furthermore, at a low-cost housing estate, Zulum met empty apartments.
The allottees had abandoned them after receiving the keys from the government. Typically, they preferred to reside in Maiduguri town while depriving vulnerable groups of the use of the apartments. Instantly, the governor revoked the allocations and redirected them to those genuinely in need.
In any event, the governor should also be aware that his legacy would be judged not by the tireless efforts he is obviously making now, but by the outcome of those efforts. Such would include the real landmarks of the administration, the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) rehabilitated, the impact of the housing delivery system in place, the quality of teachers and the impact on the future of the young ones, the standard of healthcare available to the people, especially at the primary level, the quality of infrastructure place, the number of homes with access to potable water, and how the administration’s policies impact the rural dwellers, etc. These may not be accomplished without strong and effective institutions capable of outliving the Zulum-led administration. In truth, building any development framework around some of the congenital kleptomaniacs currently parading the corridors of power in various facets of the economy rather than building strong institutions would be a gobsmacking own goal.
Abraham Lincoln, who is arguably one of the United States of America’s greatest leaders, once said: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test the true character of a man, give him power.” This would resonate with Nigeria’s political class, which now sees electoral victory and the ensuing Certificate of Return as a blank cheque to do as they please and an invitation to a bazaar exclusively for family members and cronies.
If Governor Zulum eventually joins the above bunch of renegades, it would be tragic, and one hopes not; for, there would be no greater reward than being remembered for raising Borno State from the current ruins, and posterity would also accord him a pride of place.
Dr Ekwebelam, a public policy analyst, writes from Abuja