March 7, 2021

On Governor Zulum, the military and Nigerian Governors Forum

with Suleiman Uba Gaya

08094134069 (Text Message Only)

On Friday, January 10 this year, I wrote, on these pages, a piece entitled Zulum: a performing Governor and his utterances, in which I showed my admiration for what I called the “positive attitude” of Borno State Governor Professor Babagana Zulum but expressed some reservation that he was increasingly opening his flanks to pedestrianism and sabre-rattling.

For the first time in the history of Nigeria, we have a governor who seems to be at a perpetual war with the very military that is losing its officers and men in defending him and his people. And just as I was getting set to comment on Zulum’s latest attack on the same military that he has since turned to his whipping boys, I read a letter released yesterday on the same matter, written by no less a personality than the globally-respected former President of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Senator Ameh Ebute, in which he cautions the Nigerian Governors Forum to tread with serious caution in its determination to defend one of their own whose actions, if the truth should be told, are clear threats to national security.

No admiration of Governor Zulum will stop me from saying that his latest vituperation, after his convoy was reportedly attacked last week in Borno State, was to say the least, most unfortunate and thoroughly condemnable. Come to think of it: Professor Zulum is not an ordinary Nigerian who may be free to talk the same way touts in motor parks would do. As Governor, he has a responsibility to all persons living in Borno State, and that clearly includes the military personnel that he takes pride in attacking and condemning at the slightest prompting.

In my write up eight months ago, I wrote that “Professor Zulum, being a serving Governor, knows the phone numbers of all the military generals commanding the war against terror, codenamed Operation Lafiya Dole, and could easily call them and complain about the unsavory attitude of any soldier. But he chose to do none of these, and very much unlike him, gave in to emotion to make the sweeping utterance that sympathizers of Boko Haram terrorists happily latched on to attack the military and make all kinds of wild, spurious allegations.”

But you are mistaken if you think Zulum merely stopped at attacking the military this time around, or as I erroneously thought way back in January, that it was a one-off thing. He also did something beyond the imagination, saying he would henceforth rely on hunters, civilian JTF and the police to defend him and his people, suggesting in no unmistakable terms that he doesn’t want the military any more, in Borno State. I couldn’t believe that these words were being uttered by the governor of a state beset by a decade-long terrorism, started and nurtured not by the military that he now loves to hate, but by his own people, in particular some elite members of the Borno political class.

In case Governor Zulum does not know, someone should please inform the man that without the military, Boko Haram will in ten minutes overrun the whole of Maiduguri, take him and all others hostage and turn his fortified abode, the Government House, to secretariat of their Shura Council (God forbid). Without the military, Boko Haram will have been governing not just Borno State but other northern states as well.

Five years ago, Boko Haram was in total control of more than two-thirds of Borno and neighboring states. The terrorists group was also making serious incursion into Abuja, the nation’s capital, and was attacking many other northern states at will. Where was Zulum and other members of the Borno political elite when the military was dousing the fire unpatriotically ignited by some of them?

In his latest tirade against the military, Governor Zulum also ended up threatening national security by giving a big leakage to the terrorists by his publicly divulging of troops strength in various theaters of war in the state. For the first time since the beginning of the war against terror, ordinary Nigerians, apart from the terrorists, now know how many soldiers are located in Mile 4, in Baga, in Monguno, all courtesy of a Governor who seems to talk anyhow just to impress the people and be applauded by them in the social media. Can you beat that?

The Borno Governor is always quick to remind everyone that he has been supporting the military and other security services financially. That’s good, anyway. The security services will surely make do with any support, more so from state chief executives, especially since the money meant for making them more effective – over two billion dollars – had been shared to politicians by the immediate past administration. But Governor Zulum should do well to, in his characteristic manner of revealing official secrets, tell us about the billions of naira that have been earmarked for him as security vote, and tell us how much it has been since his assumption of office as Governor last year. In case the Borno Governor has forgotten, security is a partnership between the three tiers of government. So there is nothing special saying he has spent any particular amount on enhancing security in his state.

Also, for several years now, no local government in Borno State has received a dime in statutory allocation. All former and present governors of the state since the beginning of the Boko Haram war in 2009 are reportedly appropriating the billions of naira local government funds only for the exclusive use of the state government, with many of them unable to account for the humongous amount. Most roads to majority of local governments of Borno State are still not motorable, thereby impeding troops movement. If there is any sabotage in the war against terror, Zulum should do very well by not just making the allegation, but also perfecting it by being specific as to who the saboteurs are. He has already exonerated President Muhammadu Buhari and the Chief of Army Staff General Tukur Yusufu Buratai. Nigerians will surely be happy to know those he is directing his abuse to. But throwing decorum to the dogs and opening one’s mouth to talk anyhow does not befit the personality of a state chief executive.

I am happy that eminent Nigerians have started coming out to caution the Borno Governor against this resort to childish tantrums. He should know that those presently clapping for him and urging him on in the social media are leading him to perdition. There are suggestions, rightly or falsely, that Zulum has adopted this unsavory style to facilitate his re-election to second term of office. But has the Governor ever reflected on the fact that only in an atmosphere of peace and harmony could his continued governance of Borno State be possible, and that the best approach is for him to partner the Federal Government and its security forces to return Borno to a state that was known for peace and harmony? You don’t achieve peace by perfecting the ridiculing of the very patriots protecting you to an art. Unfortunately, only in Nigeria do some leaders take pleasure in playing to the gallery and still be mistaken by some as heroes.

Governor Zulum should first address the sabotage among some of his people before accusing any institution or its personnel of supporting terrorism. He should also investigate, as being alluded in some quarters, whether there are Boko Haram agents even in his convoy, since it is a fact that some of the people in his state always inform Boko Haram of troop movements, thereby making it easy for our patriotic soldiers to be ambushed by the enemies.

I once argued on these pages that with the uncooperative attitude of some of our people, especially in Zulum’s Borno State, even if you bring America’s CIA or FBI here, there is little or nothing that they can achieve. No military globally has ever fully won any war without the full cooperation of the people. The reason is simple: military men are also humans and not angels. One of Governor Zulum’s biggest responsibilities is stopping the people of Maiduguri from according shelter to Boko Haram members simply because the members are mostly their sons and daughters. Let him deepen community policing and reorient the people to see the military as their own. His attitude, sadly, is presently portraying the military as an enemy that the people should avoid and even attack.

Lastly, before reproducing the piece of advice released to our respected governors by Senator Ebute, I want to caution that this military that some Nigerians take pleasure in deriding belongs to all of us, Nigerians, and that the war they are fighting on our behalf was not caused by them, but by the same political class in Borno State, many of who are still doing all they could to protect and defend individual members of the terrorist group.

Those Nigerians who, for political or whatever reasons do not believe in our military, are entitled to their opinion. After all, God created us differently. But I, for one, will always count among the tens of millions of compatriots who believe that sooner than later, these terrorists will be vanquished. The Lord of justice that abhors injustice and wickedness will surely help our armed forces to see to that. The officers and men of the Nigerian armed forces, as well as their Commander-in-Chief, can be sure of the support of most of my colleagues in the media, in that regard. Millions of Nigerians are also solidly behind the military, praying for them to continue defending us against terrorists, bandits, kidnappers and other sundry criminals all of who are products of our selfish political elite.

As for Governor Zulum and a few leaders that might choose to toe his line, we respectfully caution that in as much as the intention is not to ridicule the military or its leadership, there are more proper channels to forward complaints and grievances about the institution, its leadership and/or even followership. No one is saying the military in Nigeria or anywhere else in the world is perfect. It is a human institution that is prone to making mistakes. But the sacrifices they make so that Zulum and the rest of us can continue to live demands that we rise above pedestrianism when addressing matters concerning them.

I hereby reproduce the letter written by Senator Ameh Ebute and reaffirm that I align myself with every word of it. I am pleased that the Nigerian Governors Forum is currently headed by Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, a very distinguished Nigerian whose integrity and patriotism I personally know to be beyond reproach. Excerpts:

Your Excellencies,

Trust this open letter meets you all well. This letter was conceived from a burning desire to see that Nigeria overcomes its security challenges as soon as possible. However, there are a few points we would like to raise preparatory to your meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari and the Service Chiefs in the country. It must be stated that these points are in the overall interest of the country and with all sense of commitment to the Nigerian cause.

The Burden of Leadership:

Your Excellencies, the task of leading Nigeria on the path of progress, has been placed on your shoulders as governors. We recall that the majority of you, if not all indeed promised the people adequate security during the campaigns. While some have matched their words with action, some either by commission or omission are lagging behind in this critical aspect.

The burden of leadership requires that even on bad days, we have a responsibility to our people to be fair and consistent. We must set the example in everything we do, every day, and lead every minute of every day through words and actions

It must be stated that if not for anything, Nigerians are desirous of credible leadership at all tiers of governance and as Chief Executives of States, the bulk ends at your table and therefore no amount of reasons would appeal to the people if they continually live in fear

No Security No Development:

If we must be sincere, we must also admit that Nigeria cannot experience sustainable growth and development in an atmosphere of insecurity. And the recent upsurge in the level of insecurity in the country should elicit concern from all stakeholders, including governors who are the Chief Security Officers of their various states.

The Role of Political Authorities in Borno State:

Your Excellencies, This brings us to the security issues in Borno State occasioned by the upsurge in the activities of the Boko Haram terrorist group, which is indeed a national concern. If the truth must be told, with the way and manner the political authorities in the state are treating the threats posed by Boko Haram, we might experience the worse soon.

In our opinion, it is an anomaly to assume that the task of securing Borno State is the exclusive preserve of the Federal Government alone. This is on the heels that should there not be any form of cooperation with the Fedora Government that is the primary custodian of the Nigerian military from the political class; all efforts would go down the drain, and the innocent women and children would bear the brunt.

It suffices to state that since Boko Haram began its violent campaign in North-East Nigeria in 2009, all the states in North-East Nigeria were affected. The question now is why Boko Haram is more active in just Borno State? What happened in Adamawa state? What happened in Bauchi, Yobe and Gombe States? It is a known fact that Borno State was the epicenter of Boko Haram but that has changed drastically since the Nigerian military under the present Commander-in-Chief took the battle to the nook and cranny of the state.

Your Excellencies, the true answer lies in the fact that the political authorities realized the importance of supporting and partnering with the military in their operations and the result is the relative peace and tranquillity witnessed in these states. These states have also done one thing that Borno State is yet to do which is discouraging their ethnic militias and political thugs from dissolving into terrorism. This much has not or seen t be done in Borno State under the current leadership. The military can continue to kill the terrorists but we must know that they labour in vain if the virus is not treated from the root.

Why Borno State Alone:

Your Excellencies, the case of Borno state is unfortunate because it has remained the unresolvable base of the insurgency not because the Federal Government has not lived up to expectations, but because the current government in the state has not deemed it necessary to support the military in their operations. Despite the fact that Borno state has the most significant military personnel in the whole of North-East Nigeria; yet, Boko Haram keeps laying ambushes for the military and attacking pocket of communities.

The question we beg to ask is what is the state government doing to assist the military in securing the state? Has the state government been cooperative with the military authorities towards ending the Boko Haram scourge? These questions are because all we see in the media is either the state Governor is attacking military commanders at checkpoints or his Deputy speaking to our selfless men and women in a very derogatory manner. No military anywhere in the world has been vilified as much as our troops have seen in the hands of your colleague, Gov. Zulum.

Your Excellencies, we trust that you would demands answers to these questions in all sincerity. It is our considered opinion that indeed questions must also be asked as to whether the level of poverty in Borno State could be a factor responsible for the festering of the activities of Boko Haram in the state. What about majority of Borno politicians who engage in illegal businesses such as smuggling through the Lake Chad route? What has the state government done towards addressing the threats posed by these groups too?

Yobe, Gombe, Adamawa and Bauchi:

Your Excellencies, that the threats posed by Boko Haram have been curtailed in Yobe, Gombe, Bauchi and Adamawa states are not a function of magic, but rather collective efforts between the political authorities in the states and institutions of state and we must not fail to commend them as well as encourage others to tow the same path in the bid to addressing the various security challenges not just in North-East Nigeria, but also other parts of the country.

Banditry and Kidnappings:

The issues of banditry and other forms of criminalities are also worrisome. As Chief Security Officers in the various states, you all must own responsibility and not shift the blame to the military because the military alone cannot execute the task and not in an environment of extreme sabotage and conspiracies. We fear to say that it is the military that is not engaging in bridge-building across ethnic and religious lines. We fear to insinuate that it is the military that has not empowered our youths who became political thugs prior to the last elections and now taking to criminality.

As sad as this might sound, any state that is experiencing insecurity is a function of lack of cooperation from the political authorities in those states with the relevant security agencies. The southeast Governors in handling the threats posed by IPOB as dangerously as it has shown that as Chief Executives, Governors have a lot to contribute to the peace of the country by coming together to proscribe the IPOB as a terrorist group.

This is the line of action that all Governors must tow as a sign of seriousness and signal to the terrorists that there would be a sacred cow. We consequently wonder how we can then expect tangible results in terms of security without such inputs.

The Invaluable Efforts of the Military:

Your Excellencies, we must realize that the military has been stretched in all of its operations across the country and the least the expect we all expect is nothing more than cooperation and not castigation and rebuke. This would serve no meaningful purpose but further dampen the morale of the troops and bolster criminal activities. It is unfortunate how discourses on this important subject matter have been allowed to degenerate to punishing the Service Chiefs who are being castigated in some quarters for simply refusing to lend the military to political agents during the last general elections.

It must also be stated that the military can only carry out kinetic operations but cannot embark on rebuilding processes such as youth empowerment and other endeavours hence the need for cooperation from the various state governments which by and large is not forthcoming.

The Role of Other Stakeholders:

Your Excellencies, as leaders of the people, more engagement with stakeholders are required especially in embarking on alternative dispute resolution mechanism, ensuring fairness and justice in conflict between communities and providing the enabling environment for all citizens to cohabit with one another without any fear of molestation. Governors must also provide leadership at the various levels, including the local governments and communities to ensure that political thugs who were armed during the last elections are disarmed and deradicalized as quickly as possible.Governors must also ensure that those militating factors that are responsible for fueling conflicts in their states are addressed as a first before the military comes in for the restoration of peace.

Military as partners in Progress: Your Excellencies, there is also an urgent need to see the military as partners in progress and not competitors. You all must recognize the invaluable role of the military in the sustenance of peace in their various domains and their sacrifices in ensuring that the country is safe for all. The governors of Yobe, Bauchi, and Adamawa and Gombe states have indeed set examples worthy of emulation for their continuous support towards ensuring there is no resurgence of Boko Haram in their domains.

This they have achieved by working day and night with the military. Governors as Chief Security Officers are aware that resources are needed in security operations. As such, they must advocate for more resources for the military to aid their operations.The military must be encouraged and appreciated to continue to give in their best in the task at hand. The psychological implication of these cannot be overemphasized. Your Excellencies, as you meet with Mr. President to discuss issues of national importance, please be circumspect, take responsibility and proffer solutions where necessary. The task of ensuring peace and tranquillity in Nigeria is a collective endeavour. We wish you fruitful deliberations, and we desire that the meeting would indeed prove valuable to all and sundry.

It is our last request that you also share a copy of this letter with MR. President.

Thank you.

The letter concludes here and it was signed by the former Senate President. It is hoped that Nigerian governors will see that beyond just protecting their colleague, they have a collective obligation to ensure our collective security by supporting our military and reprimanding Governor Zulum accordingly.

Celebrating Senator Omo-Agege’s inspirational story of courage

Four days ago, the Deputy President of the Senate, Distinguished Senator Ovie Omo-Agege turned 57 years on earth. Agege’s almost six decades sojourn on planet earth have thus far been action-packed, projecting a man richly imbued with the courage of his conviction; who is in a hurry to change the trajectory of the Nigerian nation and enlist this great country of ours in the league of the world’s greatest nations.

Perhaps no tribute surpasses the one made by Nigeria’s Number Three Citizen, the President of the Senate, Distinguished Senator Ahmed Lawan who, in his characteristic generosity of spirit, spared no words in glowingly extolling the rare virtues of Senator Agege to high heavens. In a statement released by Ola Awoniyi, media aide to the Senate President, Senator Lawan said “Omo-Agege‘s public life has been an inspirational story of courage, forthrightness and consistency in championing the causes of his people and the unity and progress of Nigeria.

“Since our election to presiding roles in the Ninth Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Omo-Agege has brought those qualities to bear on our onerous task of providing leadership for the execution of the legislative agenda of the august assembly.

“He has been steadfast and resolute in his commitment to the vision that we all share under that agenda. Our partnership and the unwavering cooperation of all our distinguished colleagues across party lines have made the journey of the year smooth and fruitful in the service of the people of Nigeria,” Lawan said.

The President of the Senate then joined millions of well-wishers and disciples of Senator Agege in Nigeria and all over the world in wishing him, the Obarisi of Urhoboland, many more years of fruitful service to God and the country.

I have personally known Senator Agege as a thoroughly-detribalized Nigerian who, as a man with full courage of his conviction, swam against the tide to pitch his political tent with President Muhammadu Buhari in his quest for the Nigeria of our collective dream. No politician in Nigeria has done more than Omo-Agege in taking the APC to the south-south, and making that political party a major force to reckon with.

As the indisputable leader of the south-south and the highest ranking Nigerian from that part of the country, Omo-Agege has been providing quality leadership infused with selflessness and sacrifice that seeks to unite all the diverse people of the region. These are major qualities that stand him out as a man of unimpeachable integrity and a great leader for the present and the future.

HBD in arrears, big brother.

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