Zulum: Engineering Professor, dexterous and the courage of conviction, by Prof MK Othman
Zulum: Engineering Professor, dexterous and the courage of conviction, by Prof MK Othman
Deep Thought with Othman
At the 2013 Annual Conference of Nigerian Institution of Agricultural Engineers (NIAE) held in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, an amiable personality with a giant physique and business-like character approached me at the registration center to register some agricultural engineering graduates into the NIAE membership fold. It turned out that, a mentor was leading mentees and initiating them into the realm of professionalism. My immediate impression was a warm jovial and pleasant interaction that symbolizes respect, loyalty, trust that exemplifies a leader and the led relationship. Later, I realized that, I came into contact with the Rector of Ramat Polytechnic, Maiduguri, and the graduates were the lecturers of the polytechnic whom he led to their first-time participation in the NIAE conference. Going forward, I discovered that the Rector was Professor Babagana Umara Zulum. That brief encounter with the then Rector Zulum had a lasting impression on me as I still relish the moment, where Zulum demonstrated selflessness, servant leadership, humility and mentorship. Having had my tutelage of the academia in two polytechnics: Katsina Polytechnic (now Hassan Usman Katsina Polytechnic) and Federal Polytechnic Bauchi, and toured many polytechnics as a pioneer National Financial Secretary of ASUP, I could not but be marveled by Zulum’s responsible mien and his personal commitment to the well-being of his staff as he clearly demonstrated at the Uyo in 2013. The story making the round in the Polytechnics then, was highhandedness and disdain for staff by many Rectors. The insinuation was a reign of terror unleashed to staff in the polytechnic system, Rectors used to exercise enormous power such that they could only communicate to their staff through Registrars, Directors of schools, and Head of Departments. They were so engrossed with their power and authority that, they hardly responded to the greetings of their workers talk less of any social interaction. In sharp contrast to the widely spread allegations against misuse of power by the Rectors of his days. Zullum as a Rector personified all sense of humility of a leader. Imagine him crammed in a bus with his workers from Maiduguri to Uyo, a distance of over one thousand kilometers, to attend a professional conference which was all about the young professionals in his company. Zulum immediately earned my respect due to his simplicity. He is undoubtedly above the typical leaders in Nigeria who sometimes play god. Two years after the Uyo conference, I was told of Zulum was appointed as one of the commissioners in Borno state. The story being told was that, Zulum was found to be the epitome of prudence in resource mobilization and management. He was doing so much work with minimal resources and achieving outstanding success. So, the then governor, H E Kassim shettima identified him and found him to be a reliable partner that can work to accelerate the reconstruction of war-torn Borno state after Boko Haram’s wanton destruction. Zulum was, therefore, elevated from the Rector position to the Commissioner for Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, and Resettlement, to stir the affairs of Borno’s biggest challenges. Even though short-lived, my one chance encounter with Zulum had a lasting impression on my memory. Many may be itching to know the personality behind the name Babagana Umara Zulum.
From relative obscurity in his native Borno, Zullum is catapulted to national and international limelight by his sheer guts to achieve the impossible. Zulum, at 54, was born in Mafa local Government area and had a distinguished career in Borno State Civil Service. His Civil Service records show that he joined the Borno State Civil Service as an Assistant Technical Officer in the State’s Ministry of Agriculture in 1989 with barely an ordinary diploma, from where he shot himself to the enviable position of a professor at the University of Maiduguri and currently the executive governor of the Borno, a state notoriously known for Boko Haram insurgency, internally displaced persons, broken families and a beehive of international humanitarian services.
The litmus test of Zulum’s responsiveness to power and responsibilities became public when he was appointed as a rector of Ramat Polytechnic, Maiduguri. Boko Haram’s arch-enemy was Boko (oriental education), which was the primary vocation of schools, colleges, and universities. Ramat Polytechnic was among the primary targets of Boko haram. Boko Haram is a group of misguided, disoriented, narrow-minded, and disgruntled religious sect whose interpretation of Islamic teaching and injunctions are in sharp contrast with the known and widely acceptable tenets of Islam. Consequently, the staff, students, infrastructural, and the entire polytechnic community were put on edge by the existential threat of Boko Haram and their allies. The year 2011 was the peak period of the Boko Haram crisis when Zulum was appointed as the Rector of the Ramat Polytechnic. The appointment was seen as challenging because, at that time, Borno state was the battlefield of fierce insurgency, with Boko Haram having the upper hand after seizing more than 50% of the state’s geographical area. So, who was talking about going to school when the residents were battling with life and death issues occasioned by daily deadly attacks? However, the appointment was akin to field experimentation of Zulum’s capacity and capability to manage an institution of a state being ravaged by a killing sect. Before the appointment, the former governor of Borno State, Kashim Shatima, currently Mr. Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, kept Zulum on his radar, secretly evaluating Zulum’s performance and potentiality, which resulted in the rectorship experimentation before the real task of Borno state rehabilitations.
At the commencement of duty as Rector, Zulum faced a shortage of scarce resources, disorganized, disarrayed, and disoriented workers, an insecure and ungovernable situation, and an overwhelming threat to lives and properties. The situation made pursuing knowledge the most minor worry to the citizenry. What is Zulum’s agenda for transforming, managing, or developing the polytechnic?
After careful situation assessment, Zulum, as Rector, decided to reduce the financial burden of the polytechnic by retaining his meager salary as a lecturer at the University of Maiduguri while forfeiting the polytechnic salary. In other words, he served his Rectorship as pro-bono. Thus, Zulum remained an academic staff of the University from where he drew his salary while serving as Rector of the Polytechnic where he left indelible marks.
In the four years of Zulum’s Rectorship, he brought far reaching changes at the Polytechnic so much that in 2015, the then Governor Shettima was amazed by Zulum’s character of honesty and integrity, and competence, judicious and prudent use of the scarce financial resources for the optimum benefits to the polytechnic. Shettima, therefore, appointed him as Borno State’s pioneer Commissioner of the newly created Ministry of Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, and Resettlement.
As Commissioner, Zulum superintend the reconstruction of over 30,000 resettlement homes, schools, hospitals, and other vital public services, allowing for the gradual restoration of civil authority across the 14 LGAs of Borno State and the subsequent return of internally displaced persons (IDPs) to their communities in their new houses. While serving as the busiest Commissioner in the state, Zulum continued to teach, supervise, and research at the University of Maiduguri, earning him a promotion to the pinnacle rank of soil and water engineering professor. Despite controlling substantial financial resources in billions of naira for the reconstruction works, Zulum was not known to have bought a personal house or a car for himself, which is a rare attribute, uncommon to the leaders of today’s Nigeria. Zulum’s exhibited exceptional service excellence in his state public service. When the issue of succession plan was on the table, Zulum’s name resonated on the lips of majority stakeholders. With the APC gubernatorial primaries over, it became an easy sell for both APC to ultimately convinced the electorate who generously handed over one million votes, to elect Zulum as their Governor.
His swearing-in on May 29, 2019, open yet another new chapter of Borno state long rich history. Zulum promptly set an ambitious agenda to address the daunting challenges facing Borno State. Zulum clearly understood what was before him and what he would do to achieve the desired results. Zulum, in his characteristic audacity, left no one in doubt that he was the man for the job and ready to accomplish the task ahead and bequest legacies we shall celebrate to the end of time. What are Zulum’s achievements as governor of Borno State? What are the high and low points of his achievements? To be continued next week.
Professor Othman is the Executive Director of National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison ok Services (NAERLS), ABU Zaria.
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