At a time so difficult to find inspiring stories in and about Nigeria, a time when good news from Borno State is rare,and the grim statistics of bloodbath and material losses remind us dishearteningly of the ghosts of wartimes past; at a time when many of our politicians pay little attention to the public-service part of the job they were elected to do,one politician has shown us the nice side of democracy, what true leadership is – the essence of humanity and the universal acknowledgment of the primacy of education. He is Prof. Babagana Zulum ,the governor of Borno, a state ravaged by Boko Haram insurgency. Gov. Zulum is changing the narrative, that indeed, good leadership is not a pursuit, it is a result that involves attitude and behaviour, deep human qualities beyond the conventional notions of authority.
Last Friday was a day Mrs Obiageli Mazi, a class teacher in Borno state would never forget in her life, courtesy of Gov. Zulum. She was promoted from a mere class teacher to Assistant headmistress. If that was a miracle, Zulum is God’s instrument of that. How did it all happen? Gov Zulum, himself a talented teacher for many years, with unmistakeable passion for education, as it has been his style, was on inspection to assess public institutions in the State. He had set out quite early that Friday, 6.30am, in an unscheduled visit to Shehu Sanda Kyarimi 2 Primary school. His mission was simple: to see how the school’s infrastructure could be improved. Few aides and security detail were on his convoy.
According to media reports, on getting to the school, Mrs Obiageli was the only schoolteacher who had reported for duty. Others were perhaps still waking up that fateful morning. Obiageli who had been teaching for about three decades without anyone recognising her dedication, but that day was definitely her day to be recognized and dutifully rewarded. The governor said he was impressed by her commitment to her work. A cash gift of N100,000 followed. But that gesture was a signal of the bigger thing that awaited her the next day, Saturday, February 8. What’s in a name, you may ask? Pretty much. Obiageli literally means one who has come at a time of abundance. It’s a fulfillment of destiny. Some miss their destiny by been slothful. But not Obiageli.
Unknown to her, the Executive chairman of the State Universal Basic Education Board, Dr. Shettima Kullima had already recommended to the governor for her promotion. And the governor expressly approved. The governor’s statement approving her meteoric elevation was worthy of emulation by other governors in the country. Said Gov. Zulum:”Her gender, tribe, religion or state of origin does not surprise me, but her passion, enthusiasm, dedication, commitment, and above all, patriotism do surprise me a lot. As a government, we are mightily proud of her”. Obiageli is from Abia state. She is a Christian. The governor also directed the State SUBEC boss to review her National Certificate of Education (NCE).
Anyone who has been following the quality of leadership at the governance level in Borno state in the last nine years (and counting), will not be surprised why Zulum is ahead of his peers. We know that leadership is the main missing gap in our development process and why many of our leaders are not measuring up in the leadership scale. The answer is simple: good leaders are followed chiefly because people trust them, their ability to connect with them and provide vision that will help the people fulfill their own aspirations.
Gov Zulum is following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Kashim Shettima (now a senator). In 2018, Shettima came to the assistance of a 17-year old boy, Israel Zakari Galadima, who was the best candidate in the 2018 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME). According to the authorities of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), Israel Galadima, an indigene of Biu, Borno State, who lost his father when he was just 3 years old, scored the highest mark, 364, out of 400 .
It was not a common feat. A total of 1.6 million candidates took the 2018 UTME. It takes a realist, a genuine lover of education, to do what Shettima did for the young Israel. Shettima paid for a 5-year tuition fees and other costs for Israel at Covenant University totaling N5. Isreal is studying Electrical/Electronics Engineering. Shettima’s exemplary gesture came at a time many state governors are owing the West African Examination Council (WAEC) millions of naira of exams fees of their students. Yet some of them have reportedly misappropriated states’ funds for themselves and their families.
It bears repeating, the significance of what Gov. Zulum has done: he is a worthy example of good governance when many of his peers have failed us. He has shown us that encouraging teachers is what our children need to prepare them as ‘leaders of tomorrow’. Deprive a brilliant child good education, be ready to have pretenders to the throne of leaders of tomorrow. Also, any society that allows its educational institutions to collapse is deliberately preparing a violent revolution with far reaching consequences. Only a progressive leader, a sophisticated politician who doesn’t play to the gallery will do what Zulum has done for Mrs Obiageli .
Anyone who has followed Gov. Zulum’s career path, will clearly see his passion for education and the undying desire to reward hard work. As a former University Lecturer, Rector of Ramat Polytechnic, Maiduguri (2011), he knows that education is an agent of change and development, and to achieve this, education should produce capable, trust-worthy, public-spirited leaders and narrow the gap between the education class and the rest of the society. In Borno state, the hotbed of Boko Haram, these goals are crucial.
When he won the governorship election last year, I knew Borno state was positioned to see transformation of uncommon sort. What he did as Commissioner of Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement, from 2015-2018, brought into public view, a new feeling that at a time most Nigerians have become disillusioned with the quality of our political leadership, someone like Zulum is rekindling hope and confidence that governance is still a human enterprise if entrusted to the right persons with the right attitude, behaviour and skill to do the job. So far, he has changed the old narrative that once in power our leaders seem to forget the promises that brought them to office.