If the war against Boko Haram and its mindless philosophy of death and destruction is to be won, it will be through the valiant efforts of, not just the military players, but also civilian state operatives like Babagana Umara Zulum, the current governor of Borno State.
Beyond the line of duty, Zulum has come to personify the dogged determination of the people of the embattled states in the face of unprecedented savagery. Like the great warriors of the old Kanem Bornu Empire, Zulum is a lesson in raw, honest-to-God courage borne out of outrage at the dehumanisation of fellow human beings. Zulum has shown that you don’t have to be an ideological hawk to be a warrior; oftentimes, men as peaceful as doves don the toga of warriors in order to side with light to defeat darkness.
At great risk to his life, the governor has burst the headlines with his singleminded commitment to bring succour to his people scattered in various IDP camps all over Borno State. His convoy has been attacked on three occasions. Many people have been pleading with him to tread softly because he is more useful to the struggle alive than dead. However, while not nursing a suicidal inclination, the governor understands the truism in Matshona Dhliwayo’s timeless statement, “A warrior conquers more in one day than a coward in a lifetime.”
In the course of personally supervising relief distribution and giving psychological/moral support to his people, the governor once challenged some soldiers who allegedly turned their checkpoints to toll gates, fleecing already traumatised members of the public on the highways. Some people felt that the governor should not have exposed the soldiers in public but report them privately to their superiors. But that is one of the problems with Nigeria — dressing gangrene in fine linen.
He has so far survived three attacks on his convoy since last July. The first attack, which occurred during his trip to Monguno and Baga towns to distribute food to internally displaced persons (IDPs), looked suspiciously like an ‘inside job’, leading the governor to accuse unidentified soldiers of being responsible. The governor was more furious than shaken: “You have been here for over one year now” he told the soldiers. There are 1,181 soldiers here. If you cannot take over Baga which is less than 5 kilometres from your base, then we should forget about Baga.…”
Was it sabotage occasioned by the determination of some soldiers to prevent Governor Zulum from prying into their alleged lucrative fishing business in Baga, or was it a case of poor communication between the soldiers in Mr Zulum’s convoy and those on the ground in the area? The army has since denied that its men had a hand in the attack and fences seemed mended.
The second and third attacks were equally dramatic. According to Kaka Lawan, Borno commissioner for justice, the governor’s convoy was first attacked with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) planted on his route, and on the second occasion with a donkey laden with IEDs.
“The insurgents first attacked his convoy and other vehicles conveying government officials on Friday, killing about 30 persons. Barely 48 hours after, on Sunday, they ambushed the governor’s convoy again while he was departing Baga town in Kukawa local government area… We were on our way from Monguno to Baga when terrorists detonated improvised explosive devices (IEDs) at three different locations. All the bombs went off at the same time. Then they followed up with gunshots….
At least 18 people were killed in that ambush. Among them were 14 police officers and soldiers and four civilians. Sounds like some rendition from a James Bond movie, but that is what Nigeria’s northeast region has become. We treated an extremist Islamic terror group with kid gloves until it became a monster. Now the monster is devouring its own siblings under the guise of doing God’s will.
Unbelievably, in the midst of the war and the myriad challenges of human misery, the Borno State Government managed to complete 320 capital projects within the first one year of Zulum’s governorship. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, Dr Kayode Fayemi, joined his colleagues to pay a solidarity visit to Zulum. “This is not the first time you have been attacked”, said Fayemi, “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.”
Why wouldn’t Zulum be so passionate? He recalls that, “Chad Basin used to employ about 10 million people while the Sambisa Grazing Reserve and the Mandara Mountains used to employ about 3 million people but the insurgents have made these places inaccessible to the people.”
The Shehu of Borno, spiritual father of the state, is as exasperated as many of the top elite of the area, many of who have abandoned their ancestral villages. Although the army would like the public and the international community to believe that Boko Haram terrorism is in decline, the Shehu of Borno declared, “If the convoy of such highly placed person as the governor will be attacked, I repeat, nobody is safe!”
In a lecture he delivered at the National Defence College, Abuja, Zulum addressed the plight of 59,311 orphans whose fathers were killed and 59,213 widows that lost husbands to the insurgency in different parts of Borno. He said Nigerians owed themselves the duty to speak truth to power. He also spelt out the strategic imperative of leadership (my favourite subject), making one feel that this 51-year-old professor of agriculture deserves, sometime in future, to have an appointment with fate on the national stage.
“A strategic leader must be a strategic listener and reader. A strategic thinker must also be a strategic learner. A strategic leader must be willing to hear the truth and to learn. However, telling the truth and accepting the truth has been our major problems in Nigeria. Some people will never tell you the truth when you are in power and honestly, many of us in power also do not want to hear the truth, we prefer to be told what we like to hear and that is a serious deficit in strategic leadership”, said the governor.
We certainly can do with telling one another some home truths. Perhaps the most urgent truth is Zulum’s suggestion that we invite the Chadian Army (a member of the Multinational Joint Task Force) to team up with our armed forces to rout Boko Haram from Nigeria’s northeast while the forces of Cameroon and Niger tighten the grip in their own axis. The Chadians remind me of Dhliwayo’s lightning: “Thunder roars but does not strike. Lightning strikes but does not roar. Choose to be lightning.”
By their very nature, insurgencies such as the Boko Haram war are like a poisonous snake. They can’t just be ‘degraded’. A degraded snake is a dangerous snake indeed. The only way to treat terrorism is exactly the way the Chadians treated Boko Haram earlier this year— total annihilation. And don’t tell me any nonsense about national pride.
Haven’t our own soldiers fought to end conflict in other African countries before?