Babagana Zulum is the governor of Borno State. A professor of Agriculture Engineering, he was little known in the nation’s political firmament until he contested and won the 2019 governorship election under the umbrella of the All Progressives Congress (APC). A former university lecturer, he was a commissioner in the immediate past government of Kashim Shetima. He’s an intellectual in government. And it shows.
Zulum has earned several commendations for his progressive ideas and actions. He’s striving to re-engineer Borno State, the theatre of the war against insurgents. The Boko Haram war is a global issue. Like most wars against terror, it has grave international dimensions and dialectics. Other terror groups like ISWAP, ISIS, Al-Shabab have remotely or directly enlisted themselves into the battle lines. This brings global focus on Borno State and indeed on Zulum.
So far, he has behaved well. He has acted like a father, a concerned father. He has defended the people of Borno State. He has condemned the actions of the insurgents. He has supported security operations in the troubled region. His words and actions evince nobility and dignity for humanity. A grand soul, this Zulum. He’s an APC governor but he never stopped at condemning acts and actions unbecoming of politicians in a democracy, including his party men.
But by far, what has set him apart so far was his outburst last week. He was on tour of duty and he confronted security men (including military men) at a check-point between Damaturu and Maiduguri. He accused them of collecting N1000 from travellers who do not have national ID card to allow them access into town. He was visibly angry and enraged. He was not alleging it. He saw a crowd of commuters at Njimtilo on his way to Jakana. And confronted the security men. He did not stop there. He escalated the matter by speaking on phone with the Theatre Commander, General Olusegun Adeniyi.
The Army was quick to react to the incident. It said it would investigate the allegation but added that the public outburst of the governor was capable of “reversing the gains recorded so far in the ongoing fight against insurgents and other criminal elements across the nation.” Really? I disagree. The outburst of Governor Zulum is what the country needs at this point.
I stand always to applaud the troops for their gallantry. I commend the security apparatchik for the resilience displayed in the face of danger. I sing in laudatory tone to extol their efforts. But I join Zulum to condemn any act of extortion or behaviour that robs the populace of their possession, joy and liberty. The security personnel should be agents of hope not merchants of fear. They should not constitute themselves into an army of crooks. When they engage in extortion they lose their dignity and respect. They make themselves vulnerable to public censure and recrimination. And once this happens, public confidence wanes. But more worrisome, once they focus on pecuniary gratification in any form, they lose their sense of intuition and discernment. And this imperils their ability to garner genuine intelligence from the people.
The Army should not dismiss the words of Zulum. He said he had earlier received reports of extortion. He was also at the check-point where angry and stranded commuters confided in him. And we’re talking about the governor, the chief security officer of the state. The war against terror has lingered because leaders in the position of Zulum and even those above refused to speak out. They saw but rather than speak out, they looked away. The military should not encourage the culture of elite silence. It’s a toxic culture that does more harm than good to any society. Insurgency has festered for years because the elite in the military, the larger security networks, the executive and general public adopted the syndrome of silent acquiescence. Zulum has spoken and Zulum should be speaking. As governor of Borno State, the most terror-afflicted state, he should voice his commendation and condemnation of the actors in the theatre of war. He did not deploy foul words. He said the practice of collecting ‘toll’ in lieu of national ID card was not acceptable. And truly, it is unacceptable. It’s evil and stands condemned in all ramifications. Who does not know that acquiring the national ID is another exercise stewed in scam. The operator, NIMC, is inefficient, even overwhelmed by its statutory duty.
Governor Zulum’s outburst brings to memory the action of Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike. When men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) seized the soul of Port Harcourt and environs with some engaging in acts of extortion and abduction, fear gripped the state. It took Wike who openly accused the SARS men of crime and criminality to restore hope to the people. The police top echelon initially put up a rebuttal in our culture of protecting our own. But in a matter of months, some of the SARS men were apprehended as kidnappers and extortionists. In Lagos, no fewer than six SARS men were dismissed for acts bordering on robbery and extortion.
Wike’s voice against the vices of SARS gave fillip to the push to reform SARS. The police top echelon at last admitted there were excesses within the SARS rank and agreed to reform the special squad. A voice, albeit a good strong, voice, can make a difference.
Every leader has a voice. Nigerian leaders must learn to deploy their voices for the common good. When Wike spoke out against the renegades within SARS, he merely did what good leaders do: protect and defend the people. Zulum has just done that in Borno State.