Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Michael Olugbode write the non-conformist Governor Babagana Zulum of Borno State may have made some irritating allegations against the military that cannot be swept under the carpet
Having prevailed against the wish of the immediate past Governor of Borno to have one of his many friends succeed him, Professor Babagana Umaru Zulum knows he must continue to ride on the train of popularity that brought him to power. In Borno State, security and safety is top priority. This is understandable. The state has been battling murderous insurgents for over one decade. As a former member of the state executive council, Zulum is no stranger to the urgency that security demands.
There is no doubt that the security of the vast state is important to achieve his set goals and has invested a lot in ensuring that all the formal military and security agencies performed at optimal. This has been attested to by the head of the military and security agencies. The Minister of Defence, retired Major General Bashir Magashi once said of the governor: “We are very happy that you who is very versatile and dedicated in our operational activities of fighting Boko Haram, happens to be the governor of Borno State at this point in time. You have been according so much support to our military on ground in this battle and we are here to thank you and to redesign the battle. I am happy to also inform you that we have improved our synergy with the multinational forces from Chad.”
The Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai had this testimony on Zulum: “I want to use this opportunity to thank Your Excellency, most sincerely, for all your support to the Nigerian Army and other services, the Nigerian Airforce, as well the the theatre of operation Lafiya Dole. Your support is quite immeasurable. We appreciate it and this has really made us to improve on our operations”
Zulum has also assisted the ‘Agro Rangers’, a creation of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps to function well in the state and allow farmers back to their farms by pushing out the threats especially of Boko Haram from farmlands.
He has also employed about 15,000 Civilian JTF and local hunters to secure the state from insurgency and other security beaches.
He created the Rapid Response Squad, which consist of members of the police and other security agencies, Civilian JTF and local hunters to equally protect the state.
All the security apparatus have received a lot of investment from Zulum, to increase the volume of vehicles and financial assistance availableto them.
His investments in security is mainly targeted at fast tracking the return of peace and civil authority to every town and village in the state. This is to subsequently allow for the closure of internally displaced camps and return of displaced persons back to their homes and return of economic activities. A lot has already been invested in building accommodation for the IDPs on their return since the last administration, many deadlines for the return of the IDPs to their homes have been set and equally shifted as insecurity still pervade, in fact people took the former governor, Kashim Shettima as only making political statements that he knew he could not achieve within the deadline. This has become a burden to the present governor, with no hope on the horizon that security of lives could be assured with all the supposed investments made by the previous administration.
Attacks from insurgents have not abated, though it seems to have lost the intensity and the level of destruction, but safety on the highways have not been fully restored. People are frequently killed and abducted.
Important personalities are attacked, the list include former governor Shettima whose convoy was attacked in his last days in office with three persons murderered in the convoy. The present governor, Zulum has been attacked twice. The recent attack in Baga has been alleged to be a sabotage. Another former governor, Ali Sheriff was recently attacked too and people in his convoy were killed, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai has not been spared as his convoy has been ambushed. The erstwhile Theatre Commander, Maj. Gen. Olusegun Adeniyi escaped being killed when his convoy was ambushed.
The attack and insecurity in the state was aptly described by the Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Garbai El-Kanemi as worrisome, insisting that 10 kilometers outside Maiduguri is not safe to anyone.
Frustrations and Loggerheads
There is frustration everywhere with the siege on the state continued and with various terminologies used to describe the level of the war. Many who have thought that the war on insurgency would be an easy victory had to see that it may still be with us for much longer.
Millions of people have been displaced from their homes, many have become orphans and many are widows owing to the activities of insurgents. About half of the people in the state have lost their entire life savings to insurgency and the promise of better tomorrow has run cold.
Frustration is in the air, everywhere you turn and even the very diplomatic Kashim Shettima during his administration had to speak out and alleged conspiracy from the presidency and at a time he was at loggerheads with former President Goodluck Jonathan. What else do people expect from the frank Babagana Zulum? In the past , he has had to instruct the military to allow people into Maiduguri a little later when the gate to the town was closed sometimes around 5pm and many people were left at the mercy of insurgents, this should have been a wake up call for the threat ahead as many travelers were subsequently slain by Boko Haram on Maiduguri-Damaturu Highway. The governor had to question unprofessional conduct by the military and other security agencies on the highway in the state. He accused them of collecting bribes of N1000 from travellers who do not have national identity cards. The governor had upon reaching the Maiduguri entrance checkpoint, located near the Borno State University met hundreds of vehicles queued up on both sides of the road. In ihs usual no holds barred attitude, he challenged the officers and soldiers on the beat, saying “It is unacceptable.” He asked them, “How can you subject people to this kind of torture all in the name of National ID card? And you are all here collecting N500 and N1000 from poor travellers who don’t have national ID card.” When a soldier tried to offer some explanation, the governor said “No this is not right. The federal government has not created an enabling environment for our people to get their national ID cards and you are here collecting N500 and N1000 as a fine for not having what the federal government has not provided for all.”
He told them that he has received several reports about the alleged extortion at the Maiduguri checkpoint.
The governor had to stop the Army from relocating people from two towns, Mainok and Jakana, on the Maiduguri-Damaturu Highway. He was embittered by the plan to move the people without first clearing from him and drove to the town to pre-empt the action.
The recent attack on his convoy in Baga and the allegation of sabotage is another episode in the governor’s relationship with the military. The governor who had to be whisked away from his official car into the Federal Anti-Robbery Squad (FSAS) armoured personnel carrier to keep him safe after the attack was repelled, did not spare the military his vitriolic, “As far as I am concerned, what happened in Baga is a complete sabotage by the military. There is no Boko Haram in Baga.
“I wonder, we have over 1181 soldiers in Baga, 72 officers; 400 soldiers in Mile 4 and 1900 soldiers in Monguno. I see no reason why only five Boko Haram men will stop them from occupying Baga town.^
He added, “The troops have been in Mile 4 for over one year. There is complete sabotage. The problem is not with President Muhammadu Buhari but the command and control structure. There is a need to look into the command structure.”
Few days later when he was visited by Governor Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi State, who is the Chairman of the All Progressives Congress Northern Governors’ Forum, and Governor Badaru Abubakar of Jigawa State. He was still enraged, “Let me also re-echo my previous position with respect to the level of insurgency in Borno State, I earlier said that the gravity of the insurgency cannot be compared with what has happened between 2011 to 2015, and 2015 to date. Yes, it’s true. The President has done well. But there’s sabotage in the system that will not allow insurgency to end. The President has to know this very important point. When he came to Maiduguri two months ago, I said so because between 2011 to 2015, at a time, almost about 22 LGAs were under the insurgents.
“Out of the four main roads that lead to Maiduguri. only one was functional.”
He called on the President to examine the security situation in the region critically, to ensure the effort of his administration is no longer undermined.
Zulum made a very damaging allegation against the military. The governor told his colleagues that he has come to know that the military has taken over the farmlands of residents.
He said there was no justification for this, stressing that the residents displaced by insurgency should not have been prevented from returning to their ancestral homes.
Zulum said, “There is one very important question that we need to ask, ‘why is the insurgency not ending? There’s sabotage in the system and there’s a need for the President to examine the current situation with a view to resolving it. We have a huge population and people do not have access to their agricultural lands, and poverty is one of the causes of insurgency; why are you not allowing people to go back to their ancestral lands so that they will go and earn their living?”
The Borno Governor questioned some extra-military actions embarked on by armed personnel who were posted to the state to end insurgency. According to him, “A situation where our Nigerian military are farming the lands, denying access to the common man to farm; what justification do they have for not allowing our people to go back to their ancestral homes?”
Support from his People
Even though these utterances of the governor is seen in many quarters as likely going to undermine the gains of past military operations, the submission of some observers is that the complacency of the military have started showing in the rising attacks by insurgents with the audacious attack on the governor’s convoy, the killings of aid workers and the recent slaughter on what was previously a safe route Maiduguri-Damaturu Highway. Therefore, the people support Zulum’s call for a closer examination on the activities of the military.
A Maiduguri-based public analyst, Bulama Yerima said, “I quite agree with his confrontational approach because we are all humans and we differ in our individual approach to issues and events, if he didnt do it this way many will not know how serious he is and some may consider him to be a weak governor. This is a clear manifestation of his commitment towards restoration of peace, return of the people to their homeland and the restoration of civil authority in the local government areas.”
On the utterances of the governor undermining the past gains, Yerima said: “Look, it took us three years without the support of the Army to fight Boko Haram, it’s for those in charge to take up the challenge and do the needful or give way. We are not blaming the soldiers but those in command and control. The boys are executing the plans of the officers.”
Yerima had earlier alleged that: “The attack on the governor’s convoy has confirmed the allegation that the business of fish in Baga has been taken over by the military and that is why they do not want any one to go there, let alone restoring civil authority.
“It is believed that the army do not want the governor to see the alleged fish business during the visit, hence they stage managed an attack and even the Maiduguri grenade launch which killed four persons a few days later.”
He alleged that the prolonged Boko Haram war could be traced to sabotage as some people have come to benefit from the war and perhaps are doing everything to make sure it is not over yet.
He said: “ I cannot go outside Borno State and say that it’s the entire North or Northeast that there is a sabotage, but for certainly l believe that of Borno is a sabotage.”
Prof. Khalifa Dikwa of University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID), while admitting that President Muhammadu Buhari is doing all in his power to end the war, lamented that some individuals may be sabotaging his efforts.
He said: ” I must exonerate the President, it is the view of the people that some of them (forces) do not want the war to end. They are making money.”
He said the attack on the governor’s convoy may have been initiated by some soldiers to stop him from having free movement in Baga, stressing that: “It is possible, since it’s true that the soldiers have taken over the fish business in Baga , acting like gendarmes along Maiduguri-Ngala Road.”
Dikwa said it is known to everyone that “Soldiers are doing things other than their main job at the borders. The military will deny it even if the Governor describes exactly what they are doing in Baga and Gamboru Ngala. The fish packages don’t come to Maiduguri Market, but go to Hadeja and Yola markets.”
Many residents of the town seem to be on the side of the governor as they continue to ask why did war seems endless if nothing was amiss.
Sabotage Alegation Reinforced within the Military
A top military official who preferred anonymity told our correspondent that from the look of things the war on insurgency was not meant to be won yet. He said the military was a prawn on the chessboard of war politics that involves international agencies and foreign governments that have interests and are supporting the insurgents. He said whenever the insurgents seem overwhelmed, they are quickly assisted to gain new life from some powerful quarters.
The morale of the troops has not been stable. It has been going up and down at different points. Recently, soldiers fighting against insurgents resigned from the army and the reason was they are made to fight a war that they do not understand and their lives were being sacrificed on the platform of politics and sabotage.
An Interesting Perspective
Dikwa, a respected academia and critic introduced an interesting scenario to the Boko Haram crisis, insisting that it was never accidental but created by the “establishment” to keep the nation in crisis and perpetually underdeveloped so that it cannot take it place in international politics. He said, “There is conspiracy all over even in the war in the Lake Chad which has over 40 million people across the borders including Central Africa which is rich in diamond and gold. There is no peace in Sierra Leone or Liberia and northern Nigeria. It is about resources. They give the problem a religious connotation but it is not about religion. Look at the mono-religious countries like Somalia. It has been completely devastated and they want the same thing in Libya. They want that in northern Nigeria. You can see helicopters dropping things at night but even if they informed their own governments, those governments cannot call out the ambassadors to show dismay over the sabotage on their security apparatuses, these foreign countries would first go to those who the president is likely to consult with in terms of advice before tabling it to the president, so he is only going to be advised on the foreign interest.
“The insurgency is only a different name but the same ideology created by western intelligence, be it Taliban in Afghanistan, Pakistan, the same thing you have in Somalia where you have the El-Shabab, the same ideology, you have with Boko Haram, you have ISIS. All of them are the same ideology created in the late 1970s. They created the same thing when we had religious problem with Iran after toppling the President of Iran in 1953. The same year marked the end of Korea war, splitting Korea into two, with one as communist and the other pro-western. The same people, the same language, the same believe but they divided them, the same with Vietnam and so on. After 1953, they began a deliberate corruption of the moral value of many countries, until in 1979 when the revolution said no to them and dropped them and they went to Arab countries including Saudi Arabia, changing the education curriculum to impose an ideology that if it is not coinciding with that ideology you are seen as not a good Muslim and deserve to be completely liquidated and this is the mindset that Boko Haram still has, that Muslims were the first target and the same media, the same western media, the mainstream media will always repeat the scenario that they are not willing to have a Muslim caliphate which is not true at all.”
NEDC and Reintegration of “Repentant” Boko Haram
The North East Development Commission (NEDC) created to address the gulf in development of the North East region which is believed to be responsible for the birth of Boko Haram is now seen as a creation to line the pockets of few opportune ones without really doing what it is created for as in the case of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). Billions of Naira have been released, but there are no projects to show for the huge sums of money. At best, there are white elephant projects all over.
On the release of the repentant insurgents, many see this as a bad joke that would only add to the crisis and further increase bad blood, since it is perceived as a reward of villains over victims.
Posers for Zulum
While it is apparent that Zulum has good intention and is very passionate about driving a positive narrative in Borno, but he is not just experienced enough or perhaps diplomatic enough to navigate through the rough terrain on to safe landing.
No matter how much he praises Buratai and Buhari in the public, his open and biting criticism of the military leaves an irreparable damage on their collective and individual reputation, as the President is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. Zulum is not hiding his stance. He has lent his voice to the agitation to sack the service chiefs of which Buratai an indigene of Borno holds a prominent position in the top brass. On the hand, Zulum has to thread softly in order not to be seen as supporting the call of the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party’s call for the resignation of Mr. President for not being able to contain the wanton killings and insecurity all over the country.
Professor Babagana Umara Zulum was not a core politician but academia, he rose to prominence by dint of hard work and commitment to ensuring standard delivery of service.
He was never born with silver spoon and had to struggle for perhaps everything he achieved. He had to drive commercial vehicle to pay his way through school, he was not just a commercial drive but had to do some other menial jobs to get education, this has imbued in him discipline and made him a crusader of strong will, commitment and discipline, he loathes cutting corners.
In academics, he attained everything. He has a PhD, he is a professor and an engineer.
He practices what he preaches. This is what has taken him to the very top. His first major appointment was as the Rector of Borno State owned Ramat Polytechnic. In a short time, he distinguished himself and used the platform to sell himself to the heart of people of the state by making the institution a place of pride churning out series of high class projects despite paucity of funds. His achievements at Ramat Polytechnic gave him the job of the Commissioner for Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (a newly created ministry), while a commissioner, he was fearless and in spite of insurgency traveled the nooks and crannies of Borno State to bring succour and development. It was this that earned him a place as the governor of the state. Left to his predecessor, Kashim Shettima, he would have bowed friendship, with an array of aspirants as closer friends, people he had known from childhood. But he had to accept the popular demand for Zulum, the workaholic one and passionate lover of Borno State.
Believer in Greater Borno
Zulum believes in a greater Borno and he feels he could make it greater despite all the odds. He is ready to bulldoze the obstacles to get to the dream. He is a man that sets targets and works assiduously to achieve them. He drives everybody around him to achieve the set targets.
When he was elected he set a 10-point agenda for his government which include: security; agricultural/food security; job creation and youth empowerment; health; water, road , rural/urban development; education; reconstruction, rehabilitation and resettlement; development of commerce/industries; women empowerment and good governance.
Despite the difficult terrain and economic downturn, he was able to achieve 326 projects in his first 360 days in office. This is an evidence of his strong will and believe. He has travailed all parts of the state to do this, and still believes in doing much more.
Zulum is not someone who is known for diplomacy. He calls a spade by its name and people around him know this. He is a go-getter and does everything to achieve the set goals. He wants everything around him to work and he is already to do everything to achieve this. He wakes up early, sleeps late and loathes laziness. He has paid several unofficial visits early in the morning to project sites to monitor and assess the level of work, many unscheduled visits to the state secretariat to see if the civil servants are at their duty post and this has changed the orientation of many civil servants who hitherto believed that they can be lazy, but later pick their salaries at the end of the month.
He is quick to reward hard work and equally quick to punish laziness.
You do not need a telescope to read him, you can understand his feeling in his looks and the way he talks. He has had to talk harshly to civil servants, petrol attendants and soldiers openly in the past for non-conformity with the basic work ethics and indiscipline. He is not good at keeping malice or holding back. He wants every discord settled immediately so that he can move to the next task and anyone who seems to be an obstacle on his way, he does not spare.
A top military official who preferred anonymity told our correspondent that from the look of things the war on insurgency was not meant to be won yet. He said the military was a prawn on the chessboard of war politics that involves international agencies and foreign governments that have interests and are supporting the insurgents. He said whenever the insurgents seem overwhelmed, they are quickly assisted to gain new life from some powerful quarters
The Borno Governor questioned some extra-military actions embarked on by armed personnel who were posted to the state to end insurgency. According to him, A situation where our Nigerian military are farming the lands, denying access to the common man to farm; what justification do they have for not allowing our people to go back to their ancestral homes? Even though these utterances of the governor is seen in many quarters as likely going to undermine the gains of past military operations, the submission of some observers is that the complacency of the military have started showing in the rising attacks by insurgents