March 29, 2020

Zulum: A Performing Governor And His Utterances

with Suleiman Uba Gaya
0803 567 6295 (Text Message Only)

I have never met with Governor Babagana Zulum of Borno State, but he is one Governor many Nigerians have obviously fallen in love with. By his hardworking disposition and positive attitude, Zulum has endeared himself to millions of Nigerians who see in him the ideal governor of their dream.

Two weeks ago, on this platform, ,I cautioned outgoing governors against imposition of successors on the people. I explained how all of that tends to end in disaster, but a colleague picked one imposition that he rightly said was correctly done, and it was the choice of Professor Zulum by Kashim Shettima, the immediate past governor of the state and now a senator of the Federal Republic.

Inspite of the deep admiration I have for the Borno Governor however, I was taken aback when, during the week, he was shown in a video that went viral chastising soldiers that he met at a checkpoint in Njimtilo, a settlement in Borno State, for allegedly fleecing passengers of between five hundred and one thousand naira for the offense of not being in possession of national identification card. The Governor was also furious that several passengers were exposed to the elements by the soldiers, who subject them to all kinds of security checks.

I was taken aback by the outbursts of Governor Zulum because personnel of the Nigerian army are, without doubt, clearly the least corrupt in Nigeria’s security architecture.

In most military checkpoints across Nigeria, and even more so in the North-east, there are signposts clearly asking motorists and passengers not to give money to soldiers manning the checkpoints. The same signpost also usually gives out phone numbers of commanders that can be contacted in the unlikely event of any soldier making any solicitation.

That apart, 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.

God so kind, Governor Zulum did not disappoint. Being the responsible leader that he truly is, he obviously realized he went too far in that emotional outburst and got his media aide, my good friend Isa Gusau to issue a statement appreciating the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Yusufu Buratai, for the swift response of the army headquarters, In its promise to investigate the matter.

The statement reads in part: “Borno Governor, Professor Babagana Umara Zulum has paid tribute to headquarters of the Nigerian Army for the swiftness with which the army announced readiness to immediately investigate conducts involving stop and search of passengers around Njimtilo.

“Zulum spoke in reaction to a statement issued last night by Colonel Aminu Iliyasu, coordinator of the Army’s operations’ media.”

The Governor, in the statement, said “the speedy response from the army headquarters only reaffirms what every Nigerian already knows about the exceptional leadership credentials of the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, and many others that have done so much for Borno and Nigeria.

“Governor Zulum is very pleased with the swift action from the Army Headquarters and by implication, Headquarters of Operation Lafiya Dole. The decision to immediately investigate some conducts around Njimtilo in the course of (the absolute necessity to search vehicles for security purpose) only reaffirms what all Nigerians already do of the exceptional leadership style of the Chief of Army Staff, leadership of the theatre commander of Operation Lafiya Dole and many officers and men that have given so much in trying to find peace in Borno.

“Governor Zulum’s encounter with security officials around Njimtilo yesterday happened spontaneously. He was on his way to Jakana to meet citizens over a recent attack by insurgents. Going to Jakana required the Governor’s convoy passing through Njimtilo. As someone who took oath to serve the people of Borno State under every situation, he could not drive pass the gridlock he saw around Njimtilo, hence he needed to step in”

“Nevertheless, yesterday’s encounter does not and will not change the very high regard the Governor has for all the security personnel operating in Borno, particularly soldiers who give up their lives and safety in finding peace for Borno. Zulum acknowledges and respects the sacrifices of these soldiers and the fact that they put their lives on the line operating in high ways, where insurgents try to ambush them. The Governor recognizes all of these and the fact that the military needs and deserves his support and the support of all citizens. However, he also knows that civil-military cooperation will be better enhanced when certain conducts of few are addressed in other to preserve and protect the integrity of majority of security personnel who not only do the right things, but make the ultimate sacrifices of giving up their lives for Borno citizens while others abandon their families for months and years fighting at the front lines”, the statement said.

With this, Governor Zulum has proven himself as a man of intense integrity, in a country where many political leaders believe they cannot go wrong; where owning up to a mistake is an anathema, and where playing to the gallery is an art.

In 2014, I lost two close friends all to different attacks by terrorists. The first was Suleiman Bisallah, Managing Editor of New Telegraph Newspaper who was killed by a bomb as he was stepping out of Emab Plaza in Abuja.

The second was courtesy of a suicide bomber who was dressed like a man in distress and needing urgent help. My friend, Colonel Sani, happened to be at the checkpoint and decided to help the man out. As he approached the man to assist him, the terrorist detonated a bomb strapped on his waist, killing all but one of the officers and men on duty.

Whereas conventional warfare demands that fighters on both sides be dressed in uniform and respecting certain conventions, the sort of guerrilla warfare being fought by Boko Haram terrorists makes everyone a potential threat. Solders always exercise the greatest restraint not to shoot at anyone approaching them in civilian dress, because he or she could be a terrorist coming to kill them. Yet, the person could also just be an innocent informant. Balancing this kind of horribly risky situation, and exercising the restraint that could save innocent life or lives, is part of the professionalism imbued in the army since the coming into being of the present leadership four years ago.

Until then, many soldiers were engaged in acts of stereotyping against especially the people of Maiduguri who they see as being responsible for not just founding Boko Haram, but also escalating it by stoutly defending the terrorists, most of who were their sons and daughters.

No war anywhere has ever being won without the locals volunteering information to security services. And because most people in Maiduguri were at that time mostly averse to helping security personnel, the soldiers were, until a few years ago, in frustration trying to vent their anger on the whole society, with many setbacks in the war being encountered, and with the people getting alienated from the military.

Nkw woth the new friendly disposition of Governor Zulum, a stronger partnership between the people of Borno and indeed the entire northeast and the armed forces of Nigeria is being birthed. Our soldiers have in truth routed out these insurgents, but the remnants keep coming out from time to time to hit especially soft targets and thereby creating the impression that they are very much on ground.

It is like the case of a colleague of mine who was kidnapped a year ago. As his captors were releasing him, they warned him to tell policemen that they numbered up to fifty, when in reality they were not even up to ten.

Terrorists always thrive in falsehood and propaganda. With the much loved Governor of Borno rebuffing all acts of blackmail against the military, and with his commitment to opening a new page in the relationship between his people and those staking their lives to protect them, there are greater hopes that sooner than later, even the remnants of the Boko Haram terrorists would be totally routed and extinguished, and Nigeria will be more secure than it has ever been in our contemporary history.

In all the forms I have filled applying for jobs or seeking admission in schools, I have always listed travel as one of my hobbies. I also enjoy driving, and even a day before Boko Haram started its war against the Nigerian State, I drove all the way from Kano to Maiduguri. There is no state in the entire northeast that I have not driven to, and have done the same for many other parts of Nigeria.

On one of such trips from Jigawa to Yola, driving in a car belonging to my mechanic (mine was being fixed by him and the need for the trip suddenly cropped up), I encountered some soldiers who showered me with kindness.

Those soldiers, many of who were not of the same religion as me, were simply professionals. They were unlike the typical Nigerian who, consumed by primordial sentiments, could show hostility to another compatriot that does not belong to his tribe or faith. These are soldiers of the Buratai era : professionally responsive and professionally responsible, personifying kindness in its pure form.

Bring a car I was not used to, I was having some challenges driving it right from take off, and as I approached the military checkpoint somewhere in Darazo Local Government of Bauchi State, the soldiers flagged me down to stop for security check.

And it was at that material moment that the car stuttered, and the engine went off. As I stepped out of the car, fear and trepidation overtook me, thinking those guys in military fatigues could well be Boko Haram insurgents impersonating the military. Before I knew it, a soldier had reached where I was, asking what the problem was. After I explained, he beckoned on two of his colleagues to join us. They opened the bonnet of the car and took about thirty minutes trying to find out what the issue was, and when they did so, they fixed it and handed over the car keys, beckoning on me to proceed on my trip. I took out a wad of naira notes and handed them over to the soldiers, but they politely turned it down.

I thought they were afraid to take the money from me, and decided to approach the most senior of them, a Warrant Officer named Ahmadu Musa. But he too rejected the money, insisting they were just doing their job. I collected their phone numbers and proceeded with my journey.

But on my return trip I decided that these soldiers must allow me pay them back by also showing them some kindness. I went to a shopping mall in Gombe and purchased some provisions that I knew they needed. Upon reaching the checkpoint, I asked for permission to park, which they gladly obliged. I then explained and insisted they must take those small gifts from a very grateful heart.

It took me time before I could convince those soldiers to collect those small items, and that was after I called one of their superiors in Bauchi.

I was not alone in reaping from this act of kindness.

The military is known, in the past two or three years, to engage in acts of helping the civil populace with environmental sanitation, countless medical outreaches building boreholes and many other selfless activities that redefined selflessness. If we remember that a former governor of Zamfara State drilling one borehall for over two hundred million naira, we will appreciate that the soldiers were doing it all for free, for communities that have not seen a drop of water for ages, and who have to trek kilometers to access drinking water in unhealthy streams.

This column appreciates the military for these acts of benevolence, and urges it to deepen its relations with the civil populace. It is the way to go, and must have informed why turnarounds are being recorded in the war against terror, as more and more people now volunteer information to the military, assured that it will be treated with utmost confidentiality.

The soldiers who exhibited pure professionalism and selflessness in my encounter with them are named as follows: WO AHMADU MUSA 211 BN

It is my hope that the army Headquarters will find it worthy to reward them for being so selfless and professional. I happened to be just one out of thousands that they have helped in one way or the other.

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