He emerged out of the blues; literally, that is. No one apart from his mentor and predecessor in the office gave him a dog’s chance to fly that ticket. The hint that none of the over twenty so-called frontrunners was going to go pass the All Peoples Congress gubernatorial primary elections in Borno came in very late in the day to give mischief-maker’s room to either undermine the project or create needless controversy around it.
Now, there is no stopping Professor Umara Babagana Zulum, the fire-eating, no-nonsense, daring and fearless Governor of Borno state.
From day one of his assumption, the man left no one in any doubt, that a new national hero, the kind Nigerians have, for decades been looking for, has been birthed.
The story of why former Governor Kashim Shettima fought tooth and nail to zero down on him is a story of itself; needless to say that the choice has proved to be one masterstroke of a kind. Professor Zulum’s first assignment on his first day in office was to pay an unscheduled visit to the Musa Usman Secretariat, which housed almost all of Borno’s Ministries where he read a riot act. He pledged to be workers friendly but charged civil servants to jettison their lackadaisical approach to work, a notoriety that had become a pad, leading to complete and downright workers apathy. He straddled the entire large edifice, going up and down the staircases, bemused that no worker, other than a very few was in sight. He locked the place up, took a list of absentees, ordered immediate payment of benefits to those present and pledged to reposition the civil service for optimum results.
To demonstrate that he was serious, he went to the Governor’s office in the facility, sat on the old and disused chair and vowed to start using the office to work.
His first day in office was the very day the world took note that a hero, a man of the people had actually been birthed. From then on, it became a routine for Nigerians to shift attention to Borno to be awed by an unpretentious northern Nigeria’s first Professor Governor who came at a time of war, resource constraints and high expectations of the citizenry. Kashim Shettima, another urbane, self-effacing, diplomatic, humble and action-packed Governor had governed and waltzed through very trying and tiring eight years, picking human limbs, burying the dead, surviving countless assassination attempts and worked hard nonetheless to post an unprecedented level of performance that has long become a benchmark for many states and ensured that the man who would succeed him was the one Borno desired to lead it finally out of war and into prosperity.
Is it any wonder that the Professor has delivered in flying colours and has not disappointed? From his handling of developmental projects, the war on insurgency, leadership by example, working hard to return IDPs to their original habitats, his tireless and fearless work schedules and transparent resource management and utilization have all endeared him to most Nigerians from all walks of life. The way he has handled the war against terror, how he confronted soldiers and expressed his views about laxity and how he thought efforts should be redoubled have helped in changing the narratives and as we can see today, the ante of the war had been upped. Everyone involved in the war is aware that a watchdog is around the corner.
I must confess that Borno, despite the over a decade war on terror, has been a very lucky state. This is a state that has been marked for failure by the forces of darkness and the many other contradictions in our social life. Many other states would have buckled under the weight of these dark forces. But a stellar and visionary leadership by Kashim Shettima ensured that the state was kept intact. Gunfire never ceased, suicide bombings never stopped, fire conflagrated none stopped, no one had any peace of mind to stay put and earn a living, and the Governor himself was never given a breather or allowed to rest on his oars; yet Borno was on its feet, standing like an Iroko tree.
Zulum came and gave leadership new meaning as well as the boldness and bravura required to build on the successes of his predecessor, who admitted while campaigning for the Professor that the man he insisted on, will be better than him because he was more educated, was tireless, more suited and had been tested and found to be the exact replica of the dream man for the job. His popularity transcends his immediate environment and everywhere you go, the Zulum enigma has caught on. In Kebbi for example, an amalgam of Hausa artists, none of whom has ever seen the Professor, has composed a song for him extolling his qualities and concluding that he is the hero Nigerians have, for years been yearning for. In Sokoto, Kebbi and Zamfara, several social media practitioners have devoted prime time to publicizing the leadership qualities of the Professor and coming down hard on their Governors and asking them to emulate the Borno Governor.
In Kano, Katsina, Jigawa, Kaduna, Niger and Kwara people are still struggling to rationalize how a state in this kind of war could produce such selfless, pro-people and development-driven leaders, who, despite the readymade excuses for failure, have proved that leadership is truly a thing of the mind. Everywhere you go in the country whether South East, South-South or South West, the frenzy about the wonders of leadership in Borno, has emboldened citizens to realize that it is indeed within the limit and capacity of their resources, no matter how squeezed it is, to support developmental programs and provide dividends of democracy to them. People argue that if Kashim and Zulum, with all the war and challenges they encountered and had to live with, can achieve as much, their Governors have no reason to make excuses for their underdevelopment.
It didn’t come as a surprise. Borno is about the only state in Nigeria where an outgoing Governor supported a non-kitchen cabinet member to succeed him; Borno is the only state where an outgoing Governor promised to hand over and never looked back in anticipation of anything and kept to his vow thereby giving his predecessor the leeway and latitude he desired and deserved to function; Borno is the only state where there is absolute peace and decorum in the relationship between a predecessor and his successor; Borno is the only state today in Nigeria where unity and solidarity have become the in-thing between all the strata of community and political actors regardless of their differences. Everyone knows that their only common enemy is the decade-old ceaseless bloodletting and destruction that is arrayed against their very existence.
They know, from top to bottom, that Borno can ill-afford any luxury of elite squabble or quarrel of any kind amongst its rank and file. It has sunk in, that the only way to keep their head above water and survive this monster, is to knit their heads together and work in unity towards rising from the ashes of this contradiction, into an era of oneness and prosperity. The cooperation and love between the immediate past and the current Governors have shown that the only way out, though very hard, is the route bequeathed by Kashim Shettima and made even more desirable and fine-tuned by a man of the moment Professor Babagana Zulum.
Ahmed-BK, an indigene of Kebbi state and a veteran journalist who has practised in Borno for over three decades and now lives in Gesse III, Birnin Kebbi, Kebbi state.