Governor Zulum’s Heart for the ‘Poor’

The path to fame and honour was never an easy one for Babagana Umara Zulum, who had to fight all odds to make it to the pinnacle of education and also find favour and providence with his creator who made him the governor of Borno State, but one thing that he has not forgotten is his humble beginning as he still find a heart for the poor, reports Michael Olugbode

According to General Colin Powell: “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”  This perhaps depicts the character of Borno State Governor, Prof. Babagana Umara Zulum who once said he never had the luxury of being lazy, since he had to struggle all his life. 

Zulum came from an humble background, in which he had to join his father in tilling the ground at a tender age in Loskuri village in Mafa LGA of Borno State.

He said: “Every day, I trekked for seven kilometers to reach my father’s farm from our home.” The boy Babagana combined farming with his education at both primary and secondary level. At “class five” in secondary  school in Monguno, he began to fully cater for his education.

“From 1984 to around 1999 (16 years) I became a commercial driver of taxis, particularly Peugeot 404. At some point, I also drove buses carrying passengers to different villages, and neighboring states. At a later time, I drove commercial pickup trucks carrying firewood from forests. While working as commercial driver, I learned how to fix any vehicle I drove,” Zulum recalled his toil to be something in life.

In 1986, Zulum gained admission into Ramat Polytechnic in Maiduguri, owned by the state government, into the National Diploma programme to study Irrigation Engineering, and lived with relatives off-campus in Kofa Biyu, a densely-populated area. And his toughness in character was again tested as he testified that: “I trekked for eight kilometres from Kofa Biyu to Ramat Polytechnic and back whenever I had lectures. But I was already used to long walks all my life, as I couldn’t afford transport to school. 

“Whenever I drove taxis and returned the vehicles to owners, I used what I got for my basic school needs. I later also became a commercial operator of grinding machine, and I owned one in Mafa, and during weekends I went there to serve customers.” With all these struggles he stopped at nothing to obtain his ND in 1988

In 1989, Zulum joined the Borno State Civil Service as an Assistant Technical Officer in the state’s Ministry of Agriculture. In 1990, he moved into Borno State Unified Local Government Service as Senior Field Overseer. But he had his sight set on bigger dreams. He said: “While working, the salary couldn’t cater for my needs and some dependants, so I continued commercial driving to augment my income,”

It was still as a commercial driver that in 1990, he secured admission into University of Maiduguri for a degree in Agricultural Engineering, and graduated in 1994. After three years, he again got admission into the University of Ibadan for an MSc in Agricultural Engineering.

He recalled that: “An experience after gaining admission in Ibadan will always remain memorable, as my registration was delayed for three weeks because I could not pay my registration fees. I didn’t have the money when I departed Maiduguri, but I believed I could get some work to do in Lagos. For three weeks, I lived in Alaba Rago working with commercial vehicles and there I raised the money for my tuition. I went to Ibadan, paid my fees and started. I graduated in 1998, returned to the civil service as a Senior Agricultural Engineer and later Principal Water Engineer.”

After obtaining a Masters Degree, Zulum said, he joined the University of Maiduguri in 1998 as an assistant lecturer. From 2005 to 2009, he obtained PhD in Soil and Water Engineering from University of Maiduguri, rising through the ranks, at some point Deputy Dean and Acting Dean of the Faculty of Agricultural Engineering.

He was subsequently appointed rector of Ramat Polytechnic in 2011 by Governor Kashim Shettima. His passion for education made him to achieve so much at Ramat Polytechnic and further sold him to the heart of Shettima who appointed him as the pioneer Commissioner for Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement. 

He worked tirelessly traversing the nooks and crannies of Borno State to bring relief to those affected by the Boko Haram crisis, and shown forth like northern star as attested by his erstwhile boss, Kashim Shettima who said during his anointing of Zulum to succeed him that: “He neither bought a personal house nor a personal car for himself. He also came under attack from Boko Haram twice, but didn’t stop in his efforts to rebuild substantial parts of Borno.”

His toughness and dedicated made way for him to become the governor of Borno State as he was loved by the mighty and specially by the masses who saw in him a messiah.

Since he became a governor over five years ago, he has shown to be a man with great love for everyone in Borno, the indigenes and those that have come to seek living, he is in fact that friend of the poor. He had personally ensured the distribution of palliatives in all seasons at every nooks and crannies of the state. 

He has evolved various housing policies to give comfort to all, he has evolved various loan schemes to assist businesses, he has commissioned public transportation scheme that make the harsh economic situation without pains. He has even assisted in ensuring those that came into the state can return during festivities to their family without pain and return back with delight with the project of getting free buses to transport people to the south of the country during Christmas season. 

The military and security people working in the state are his friends as he had severally giving them mighty resource handshakes and he had given a piece of his heart to the family of the deceased heroes fell in securing the state.

Since his assumption of office in 2019, Zulum has never failed to consistently associated with the less privileged, his former constituency where he was schooled in the difficult economic hardship bedeviling many Nigerian less privileged people.  

The governor driven by compassion and his  genuine concern to assist the common people, had on different occasion while on  visit to the hinterland of the state, ordered for the immediate halting of his motorcade just to  assist locals walking long distance by giving them a ride in his convoy and also give them cash support.  

Zulum passion to liberate his people from the shackles of poverty and education backwardness has led to rise in budgetary provisions and fund releases for the education sector and key ministries that are aimed at empowering the common people.  

For the 2024 budget,  the Ministry of Education was  allocated  the sum of N39 billion to carry out its activities- this effort , amongst others , has removed over a million out-of -school children off the streets of Borno and returned them to the classrooms where their future are being positively molded to become responsible and productive members of the society.  

“Out of 1.8 million out-of-school children in 2021, we have taken measures to reduce the number to less than 800. We’re still working assiduously to bring down the number,”  Commissioner of Education,  Science , Technology  and Innovation,  Engineer Lawan Abba Wakilbe said 

No doubt, the more than a decade long  insurgency in Borno State had led many children and their parents to flee trouble areas, thereby obstructing their education as massive destruction to education facilities across the state was evident .

At  a recent function during a public lecture  held at University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID) which form part activities to mark the exit of the former Vice Chancellor of the Institution, Prof. Aliyu Shugaba  after completing his five year tenure,  Zulum didn’t mince words when he charged the sea of erudite scholars  present at  the occasion, majority of whom are indigenes of Borno State to think outside the box and collaborate to use education as tool for liberating the people of the state .

Zulum, who was full of emotion, apparently on a quick trip down his memory lane,  revealed how he battled through plethoras of obstacles in his unquenchable quest to gain quality education that has since transformed his life to become a professor of soil and water engineering and currently serving his second term as governor of Borno state. 

He said: “Coming from my background,  I know how I suffered, where we do not have competent teachers to teach us in our primary and secondary school. I never thought I would be a professor, because both of my parents were not educated,  nobody ever told me to do my assignment while in primary school, I was on my own.” 

It was therefore not surprising when Governor Zulum recently released the sum of N4.8 billion as scholarship award to 524  postgraduate students  from the state , including orphans and less privileged persons.  

The  scholarship  award according to the governor is meant for foreign and local postgraduate students in Science, Technology,  Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

In his usual touch of humanity and compassion towards the less privileged irrespective of ethnicity, tribe or religion governor Zulum during an early morning visit to a school in Maiduguri,  the state capital had gifted a woman form the South East part of the country- a teacher in the  school with the sum of N100,000 cash for always  showing up early to her duty post. This announced the governor as a rewarder of not only the less privileged without demarcation of ethnic and religious lines but a staunch believer in hard work and dedicated service.

Also, recently,  during a visit to launch grains given to the state by Federal Government , Prof Zulum, shortly after the occasion went towards the direction of the local guard on duty at the premises and immediately ordered that the sum of N500,000 be given to him – an amount that is more than his 12 month salary.

The 80 year Chadian local guard who had lived in Nigeria for over four decades and has over 20 Children was stunned by the governor’s gesture, he could not hide his feeling but continued to shout the praises of God and that of the governor, stating that the gift would go a long way in ameliorating his financial challenges.  

Furthermore, 63 year old Cecelia Joseph, a widow and mother of six children who  was part of the one hundred thousand households that benefited from massive food support scheme carried out by the Borno State Governor, had praises for Zulum who had established the food  support to ameliorate economic hardship being experienced by many vulnerable families across the state, including the likes of Cecilia whose husband, a commercial taxi driver was gruesomely murdered by suspected Boko Haram terrorists over ten years ago. 

Cecilia since the demise of her husband,  had continue to feed from hand to mouth  with her six children. Though the blood of her husband was shed in Borno but the allure of the state added to the fact that she had no one ready to lessen her burden from elsewhere had kept her in Borno State. She said Governor Zulum is the first to have reached out to her with any form of assistance- through the food support, noting that “this will assist me and my six children immensely.”

Zulum had ordered that the food support should  be given to all vulnerable residents irrespective of  tribe , religion and political affiliations hence paving the way for Cecilia who hails from faraway  Osun State, a devoted Christ Apostolic Church (CAC) member as well as other beneficiaries who are not indigenes of the state .

“I’m so grateful to Governor Zulum for wiping away my tears with this food support. But I would appreciate more support from the governor and other well meaning citizens  for the education on my children.  “  Cecelia who currently lives in a rented accommodation on the outskirts of Maiduguri , the state capital said .

Zulum had revealed during one of the many food distribution in  the state that:  “We have never distinguish between Christians and Muslims in our food distribution.  What we’re doing is not partisan either, it’s not based on ethnicity or religion ; we advised the community to select one hundred thousand most valuable and bottom poor and this will go a long way in ameliorating the suffering of the masses “ 

While warehouses were being looted across the country during  the # EndSARS protests,  residents of Borno state were full of gratitude to Governor Zulum for always coming to their aid with his unprecedented distribution of food , cash and clothing to assist the less privileged.  

Following the release of N2 billion intervention by the President Bola Tinubu  led Federal government to cushion the effect of fuel subsidy removal Prof. Zulum had announced raising the number of households being targeted for palliatives from 300,000 to 400,000 households. 

Each household according to the Governor,  will be made up of six family members and  multiplied by 400,000 which, by implication, moves Zulum’s new target to two million and four hundred thousand  individuals. 

“Governor Zulum has continued to stand in the gap for many of the less privileged people in Borno state “  Umar Ali, one of those that recently benefited from the food support scheme established by the governor.

Surely Zulum has not forgotten the days of going to bed without food in the stomach, days of toiling day and night to pay for school fees, but has the less privileged people of Borno State at heart.

Related Articles