Is Zulum the Most Endangered Nigerian Governor?

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Michael Olugbode writes that Governor Babagana Zulum of Borno has become a frequent target to Boko Haram insurgents

Borno State Governor, Prof. Babagana Zulum was first attacked by Boko Haram on September 5, 2019,about four months after he assumed office, somewhere in Konduga while returning from a tour of Askira/Uba, Gwoza and Bama Local Government Area. His convoy ran into an ambush between Bama and Konduga.

A military source on the attack said, “In fact we were only lucky that the governor, his commissioners and other vehicles in the convoy passed the black spot before the Boko Haram started opening fire on us (convoy) . This made others to escape the attack unhurt but the last vehicle which is an army gun truck was pelted with bullets.

“immediately they opened fire on us, our men in collaboration with the armed personnel from the Federal Special Anti Robbery Squad that were behind in the convoy responded and were able to silence the enemies (Boko Haram).

“The whole thing looked like a kind of set up or ambush targeted at the security operatives in the convoy.”

No casualty was recorded

June 29, 2020

The governor’s convoy engaged suspected Boko Haram insurgents in Baga after they were shot at. The governor was in Baga for an assessment of a planned relocation of internally displaced persons. He was said to have received the all clear from the military before going into the town that was not inhabited then.

Recounting the ordeal, a source said, “Glory be to God, the Governor’s convoy intercepted gunmen along Baga. Fortunately the convoy cleared them with two vigilantes and a policeman wounded in the crossfire.”

No casualty was recorded.

This attack, though without casualty, was perhaps the one greeted with the most backlash. The governor had alleged sabotage and pointed accusing fingers at the military.

Concerning the attack, the governor said, “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 leads to Maiduguri. only one was functional.”

Zulum called on the President to examine the security situation in the region critically, to ensure the effort of his administration is no longer undermined.

He alleged that the military has taken over the farmlands of residents, insisting there was no justification for this, stressing that the residents displaced by insurgency should not have been prevented from returning to their ancestral homes.

He 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?”

He asked that, “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?”

The Chairman of the APC Northern Governors Forum, Atiku Bagudu to whom the governor laid the complaints, had said that the entire governors are with him and were ready to support him in the onerous task of seeing the back of insurgency.

The Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Garbai Elkanemi after the first Baga attack had also decried that the people of Borno State live in fear as the state is no longer safe.

The Shehu called for something urgently to be done to secure the lives and property of the people and bring back reassurance of their safety.

He told the governor during a courtesy visit, “Your Excellency, we are not happy about what happened in Baga the other time, it is very unfortunate and great pity. If the convoy of the whole Chief Security Officer of the state will be attacked, then nobody is safe, because he is the Number One citizen of the state, he is the Chief Security Officer of the state.

“If a convoy of such highly placed person in the state is attacked, nobody is safe. The matter is getting worse, I urge everyone to raise up our hands to seek Allah’s intervention.”

The Nigerian military did not take the allegations lightly and mmediately instituted a probe into the attack. Few days later, it came out out with a vitriolic statement, describing the allegation of military involvement in commercial and economic activities in Baga as baseless and unfounded.

The Deputy Theatre Commander of the military counter-insurgency operation in the North East (Operation Lafiya Dole), Major General Felix Omoigui, who led an investigation team set up by the military to probe the allegation, said, “The allegation was conjured by overzealous personnel of security agencies who for personal glory and without recourse to tenets of agency cooperation, decided to propagate the story.”

He lamented that, “His Excellency, the Governor of Borno State believed this allegation leveled against troops in Baga given his recent utterances,” and regretted that, “Remarks of highly placed personalities is capable of demoralising the troops which negatively undermines the confidence of the locals in the military.

He said, “His Excellency, the Governor of Borno State, has been in constant touch with the Theatre Commander and Sector 3 Commander, he could have reported the allegation for investigation. Allegation of this nature could have been avoided if the military authority was contacted on issues concerning troops activities before going public.”

Omoigui said, “The realisation that the allegation emanated from personnel of security agencies could trigger reaction and animosity on troops. The investigative team recommended that the security agencies should ensure to educate their personnel to verify a piece of information before disseminating same.

“His Excellency, the Governor of Borno State should be respectably informed that the allegation was false. The Governor should be informed of the need to contact the military headquarters for issue of this nature. Troops should be sanitised to be professional in line of duty.”

He said the investigation revealed that there was no commercial activities in Baga with the streets totally deserted and the only people in the town were military personnel and members of the Civilian JTF.

He said: “There is no civilian presently in Baga. The town is occupied by soldiers and members of the Civilian Joint Taskforce who are still undertaking operations and providing security in the area.

“The entire Baga is heavily mined with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) which has not allowed for any farming activities.”

On who fired the gunshots at the governor’s convoy, Omoigui said, “The investigation on who shot during the governor’s trip is still ongoing and the report will come out in due time.”

It must be reported that that findings is yet to be brought to the public space till date.

The most lethal attack on the governor’s convoy till date took place on September 25, but it must be stated here that the governor was not in the convoy as he went into Baga with a military helicopter.

The ambushed convoy was largely populated by military and security men to provide security cover for those in the governor’s entourage on the trip to Baga. It is believed that about 30 persons were killed, mostly policemen. No one has however revealed the casualties from the side of the assailants.

A source revealed that, “The terrorists made away with an armoured personnel carrier, a gun truck and six sports utility vehicles in the convoy.”
Two days after the terrorists struck again in September 27.

After tasting blood, the terrorist wanted more. They were emboldened to come after the convoy two days later, but this time governor was with them and no casualty was recorded.

The convoy was shot at 10.30am about two kilometers from Baga, where the governor had relocated 521 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).

A source said, “The windscreen of some vehicles in the convoy were scattered, some vehicles had their tyres bust by gunshots, including the Government House Press Crew.

“The military gun truck was also shot at and a soldier had his shoulder scalded with gunshot.”

Buhari’s reaction to the latest attack

The president described the attack, on Maiduguri-Baga route, as an orchestrated sabotage against long planned return of displaced persons to their local communities.

The president’s statement signed by his spokesman, Garba Shehu, is reproduced below:

“President Buhari notes, with deep sympathy, the loss of lives of security men on the convoy, ahead of the return of Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, commiserating with their families and loved ones.

“The President advises the government of Borno State, working with security and intelligence agencies, to remain firm in their determination to restore normalcy to all communities liberated from Boko Haram terrorists.

President Buhari urges security and intelligence agencies to intensify efforts to check sabotage, sanitize the roads, venues and locations well in advance of returning IDPs, while working closely with local communities.

“The President commends the gallantry of service personnel who repelled the deadly ambush, as well the sincere determination of Governor Zulum, who has been working with armed forces to end the menace of terrorists, rebuild homes and return IDPs to regular life.

“He prayed that God will grant the souls of the departed security men and operatives of Civilian-JTF eternal rest, and comfort their families.”

The Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) led by Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi said the Borno situation has the potential to consume Nigeria.

Fayemi who led other governors including Aminu Waziri Tambuwal of Sokoto State who is Vice Chairman of the NGF, Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi who chairs APC’s Progressive Governors Forum, and Simon Lalong of Plateau State who chairs the Northern Governors Forum to Maiduguri last week to pay sympathy visit and donate a cash of N100 million to the people of Borno State, said, “As your brothers, we shall not relent in also expressing to the authorities, the importance of nipping this in the bud so that calm and peace return to Borno and this can serve as a vehicle for peace and development in the rest of our country. That is what has brought us. It is to let you know that you are not alone, it is to commiserate with the families of the people who have unfortunately lost their lives in the line of duty. And it is to render our support, our country needs to do more.”

The NGF Chairman said the four governors were in Borno State on behalf of all governors in the country.

“Your Excellency , we your brothers are here on behalf of all of us, 35 governors of the Nigerian state. This delegation was carefully put together inspite of your own reluctance to let us come. We have been on this for two days, you said no, we should not come all the way here to commiserate. But we felt we were duty bound to be here in solidarity and in commiseration, and to let you know that you are not alone on this committed struggle to end the insurgency in Borno State, and to stop the carnage that is daily afflicting our people here,” Fayemi said.

The NGF Chairman said all governors consider the insecurity in Borno as a collective problem which should be addressed with renewed vigour and commitment, noting that that at different times when some governors spoke to Zulum about his safety and concern about his movements in tough terrains, he replied, “what about my people in Borno State, what happens to them under Borno’s war situation.”

He said, “This is not the first time you (Zulum) have been attacked, but you always said to me and to a lot of our colleagues that it is God that will protect. Even when we say to you, Prof, you have to be careful, you have to be vigilant, you have to protect yourself, you always reply by saying, what about the people? It is my duty, the primary responsibility I have as governor is the security and welfare of our people and that is what you have been discharging.”

The Ekiti Governor also said that Zulum has been quite frank in high level engagements including meetings with President Muhammadu Buhari over the problems facing Borno state.

Fayemi said, “Not long ago, you (Zulum) and I (Fayemi) had a meeting with Mr. President on these issues. You were very frank with Mr President about what is going on here, the difficulty that the military is experiencing, and the challenges that our people have in returning back to their communities. Your determination to ensure that the local population is returned so that they can go back to their farmlands, so that they can return to their normal lives. In spite of all your efforts, inspite of the work you continue to do, it is obvious that we still have a lot to do as a country.

The Yobe State Governor, Alhaji Mai Mala Buni who had earlier paid a solidarity to Zulum expressed optimism that Boko Haram terrorism will soon be history, insisting that the insurgents could not take away the goodwill of leaders and their people.

He said, “One thing insurgents cannot succeed in doing is taking away the good will from you and the people of Borno, including other Nigerians,” Buni noted.

Message from Borno federal lawmakers

Speaking on behalf of the lawmakers, Shettima who was the immediate past governor of the state but now a senator representing Borno Central, said: “Your Excellency, we are here along with our distinguished Senator and other members of our caucus in the National Assembly to sympathise with you, and to commiserate with you over the sad incident that happened a couple of days ago.

“I had a chat with you last night, you actually made effort to dissuade us from coming. But we felt we are morally obliged to come and sympathise with you, to pray for the repose of the souls of the departed and also pray to Allah (SWT) to give you the strength to lead our state in this trying moment.

“Our coming is purely a sympathy cum solidarity visit, we are not here to make loud pronouncement or long speeches. You are our leader, a mishap happened on the road and when you are coming back as well, so we felt morally compelled, and it is morally imperative to come and sympathise with you.

“May Allah continue to envelope you with his mercy and protection, as well as members of your team.”

He added that: “And for those our gallant officers and men of the Nigerian armed forces, our Civilian JTF who paid the supreme price, may their souls rest in perfect peace.”

Former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar condemned the attack on the ”governor’s convoy”, urging the Buhari government to reset its approach to the insurgency war.

He said, “The attack on Gov. Babagana Zulum in which over a dozen security operatives were killed between Monguno and Baga should be a source of concern not only because it is the second time such an attack is taking place in recent times, but because the Borno governor is not a soft target.

“This attack is yet another reminder that we need to adopt new strategies to deal with the menace of insurgency decisively. I convey my condolences to the families of the deceased. I solidarise with the government and people of Borno that Gov Zulum did not come to any harm.”

The Arewa Consultative Forum, in its reaction condemned the attack on Governor Zulum, saying the terrorists were targeting Zulum because he was raising hope in a demoralised country.

The group said, “If anything untoward happens to him, the consequences for the rest of the country will be grave.”

Zulum’s Spirit un-dampened

Zulum who appreciated the empathy demonstrated towards the people of Borno from all over, said Borno was facing serious humanitarian issues which was of great concern to him, noting that the solution lies with supporting dignified return of willing IDPs to safe and rebuilt communities where they can return to making livelihoods.

He noted that continuous dependance on food aid from donors, was no longer sustainable given huge population of those in need.

Even with the attack on the convoy, the governor has shown readiness to continue to go ahead with the relocation plan of the IDPs.

Why Baga?

The crisis of Boko Haram has gone too far. For over one decade, Borno State has been left in a state of war and there is need for urgent attention. This is one of the wake up calls that have geared Borno Governor into action. One of the foremost economic towns in Borno is Baga, which is a fishing community and borders Chad Republic. The economic value of Baga is immense and Boko Haram is believed to have an active camp around the Lake Chad axis. The insurgents see their continued dominance in the area as a symbol of strength. Borno is looking for a way of relocating the numerous IDPs back to their homelands and equally increasing the internally generated revenue and revamping its economy, while reducing dependence on foreign aids.
The Chairman of Borno State Internal Revenue Service, Alhaji Ali Manga Bulama
who disclosed that the state’s IGR grew by 23.5 percent from N6.5 billion in 2018 to N8.2 billion in 2019.

Bulama, who noted that most of the revenue were generated from the state capital Maiduguri, and to some extent in six additional local government areas of Jere, Bayo, Shani, Kwaya Kusar, Hawul and Biu. He lamented that, “Trans-border trade between Nigeria and its neighbouring countries of Niger, Chad and Cameroon have been grounded due to the insurgency.”

He explained that Borno is the only state that shares borders with three countries, and this trans-border trade that was of importance to the economy of the state and the country could presently not be tapped because of the insurgency around the borders of the Northeast. He noted that Borno State was serious about getting it’s economy back.

The battle for Baga is not only about egos, but also economic.

Is attack on Zulum, an isolated one?

The fact is there for all to see that there is no highway within the Borno territory that is safe to traverse. Many people have been killed on these highways or are cooling off in bushes having been kidnapped by Boko Haram. The situation is so bad that the United Nations agencies do not allow their workers to go by road into Maiduguri. For any staff to travel in and out of Maiduguri, it has to be by flight. The insurgents are always on the prowl on Borno highways.

The former governor of the state, Ali Sheriff escaped death by a whisker on Maiduguri-Damaturu Road earlier this year when he traveled from Abuja into Maiduguri to bury his father, some of those in his convoy were not so lucky as they were killed few kilometers into Maiduguri.

The Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai even with the full retinue of soldiers and gun trucks has been harassed by the Boko Haram insurgents on Borno highways.

One of the Theatre Commanders of the Operation Lafiya Dole only escaped death by the skin of his teeth, when he was confronted by Boko Haram.

Boko Haram insurgents even targeted the convoy of Senator Kashim Shettima, on his way to Gamboru Ngala, during his last days in office as governorofBorno State.

The attack on Zulum cannot be said to be an isolated one and perhaps he was not singled out to be killed, but it is more believable that he has been walking into Boko Haram firing line because of his frequent road trips.

If the attack is believed to be from Boko Haram then it may not be premeditated but an action that posits that the insurgents are still very much around and perhaps because of the size of the fish trade in Baga, it may have promoted a narrative suggesting that Boko Haram insurgents are bigger and stronger than imagined.

Could the attacks have been a distraction

No matter how Zulum and his supporters may want to play down on the effect of the attacks, one thing is certain, it has been a distraction. During the first attack in Baga, the governor had to turn back and was not able to perform all the roles he had set out to achieve. Though he was later to kick start his resettlement plan, but with the current attacks, it will definitely demand more convincing for the people to be resettled in Baga and other parts of the state yet to be resettled. It will even take a lion’s heart to traverse parts of the state.

The attacks have come to show that it takes more than a strong will to get people resettled. There is need for a dedicated and sustained plan. It seems the war is far from over and until this war is over, relocating or resettling the IDPs may be like using them as a cannon fodder.

QUOTE 1

The Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) led by Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi said the Borno situation has the potential to consume Nigeria. Fayemi who led other governors including Aminu Waziri Tambuwal of Sokoto State who is Vice Chairman of the NGF, Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi who chairs APC’s Progressive Governors Forum, and Simon Lalong of Plateau State who chairs the Northern Governors Forum to Maiduguri last week to pay sympathy visit and donate a cash of N100 million to the people of Borno State

QUOTE 2

Zulum called on the President to examine the security situation in the region critically, to ensure the effort of his administration is no longer undermined. He alleged that the military has taken over the farmlands of residents, insisting there was no justification for this, stressing that the residents displaced by insurgency should not have been prevented from returning to their ancestral homes.