Zulum: The Hero Of North-East By Odimegwu Onwumere

One powerful person in Borno State who is devoted to bringing peace back to the badly damaged state is Governor Babagana Zulum. He will stop at nothing to protect his people from the rebels who carry out crimes like murder, sexual assault, and destruction—even if it means risking his own life to do so.

Governor Zulum has openly expressed his dissatisfaction with the security authorities for their insufficient efforts in addressing the crisis, which has led to more than 80,000 deaths and rendered over 2.9 million individuals homeless. However, he has also commended them on certain occasions.

Borno, a state in the northeast of Nigeria, has been under the control of rebels. However, in October 2023, Zulum announced that Boko Haram no longer had control over any communities in the state, which is considered a positive development due to his successful actions. Despite this, there are still certain communities in the northeast that are being held captive by criminals. Zulum made this announcement on Tuesday, October 10, during General Christopher Musa’s visit to Maiduguri.

He praised the military’s efforts in bringing peace to Borno and specifically acknowledged General Musa’s role as Theatre Commander. But unlike some of his colleagues, who primarily reside in Abuja and visit their states only, Zulum achieved the rare feat, because he chose to remain the governor of Borno despite the security challenges in his state.

Being in the most unstable part of Nigeria, Zulum has proven to be an extraordinary leader with integrity – a characteristic uncommon in this area. The achievements that were noted were made possible by a noticeable improvement in peace, particularly in the military-civilian interaction, during Musa’s tenure in Borno.

The purpose of General Musa’s visit to Borno was to cheer up the soldiers and express gratitude to the state government and its people for their support. He commended the extraordinary support received from both the governor and the people while serving as Theatre Commander, highlighting the implementation of both “kinetic and non-kinetic strategies” in combating insurgency. Zulum suggested various methods to bring an end to the insurgency.

To begin, he suggested recruiting young individuals into the military and paramilitary services to offer support to the Nigerian forces. Additionally, he proposed involving neighboring countries like Chad, Cameroon, and the Niger Republic in the effort to eliminate the remaining Boko Haram members near Lake Chad.

Furthermore, Zulum recommended hiring mercenaries to completely eradicate the Sambisa forest. The fourth suggestion entailed providing the police and military with the necessary equipment, such as armored personnel carriers. Lastly, Zulum requested the federal government’s aid in repatriating displaced individuals from Borno State who were currently residing in Cameroon and the Niger Republic.

In response to Zulum’s recommendations, the former Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, expressed condolences for the killings in Jere and reiterated the then- President Muhammadu Buhari administration’s dedication to ending the insurgency.

However, the federal government’s commitment to ending the war did not satisfy Zulum. Consequently, he put forward the six significant suggestions to resolve the insurgency. Buhari was present in the office at Abuja during this period, and Zulum was urged by the GOC to express appreciation to him and the now retired Chief of Army Staff, Faruk Yahaya, for their support and promotion of deserving soldiers.

Zulum also extended congratulations to Eyitayo and other military officers on their promotions and expressed gratitude to all Armed Forces personnel and fallen heroes for their service to Nigeria. Subsequently, he presented six recommendations to defeat Boko Haram by November 2020, with one of these suggestions being the employment of mercenaries, which Zulum deemed necessary to put an end to the Boko Haram conflict.

Zulum urged Buhari to consider the suggestion during a visit from a federal government delegation led by Lawan. Other members of the delegation included Ibrahim Gambari, the Chief of Staff to the then-President, Babagana Monguno, the former National Security Adviser, and various ministers.

Rumors circulated that the Buhari administration declined the use of mercenaries and instead promised to strengthen and support the Nigerian military in defeating the insurgents. However, it was believed that the previous administration, led by Goodluck Jonathan, had employed foreign mercenaries, specifically from South Africa, to combat Boko Haram, especially leading up to the 2015 general elections.

These mercenaries were thought to have contributed to the military’s success in the weeks preceding the election. The federal government delegation visited the Shehu of Borno, Abubakar Elkanemi, who also requested additional assistance from the federal government. Governor Zulum then led the delegation to the community in Zabarmari that was attacked on November 29, 2020. The former Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, and his fellow visitors met and expressed sympathy for the grieving villagers.

Earlier, the former Senate President offered condolences to the people for the farmers’ killings and assured that the government would make every effort to combat the insurgency. He stated that resources would be allocated to the armed forces and other security agencies, and operations with neighboring countries would be intensified to ensure the insurgents have nowhere to hide. The governor also appealed to Buhari to increase federal aid for the residents of Borno State. He claimed that with better coordination, the insurgency, which has persisted for over a decade, could have been prevented.

The ongoing insurgency in the region was due to a lack of necessary infrastructure, including well-maintained roads. Governor Babagana Umara Zulum emphasized that repairing the roads in Borno and the north-east would lead to a significant decrease in the insurgency.

On February 12, 2020, Governor Zulum addressed the people of Borno State at the Shehu of Borno’s palace in Maiduguri to express condolences to the Auno community, which had suffered the loss of over thirty lives. However, rumors have circulated that Boko Haram attacked Zulum’s convoy near the town of Baga on July 29, 2020. Although the governor was unharmed, there were casualties among his entourage.

After the attack, Zulum criticized the Nigerian army for denying the presence of Boko Haram and questioned who was accountable for the attack. He also highlighted the failure of nearby stationed soldiers to secure Baga, which was less than 5km away. The Shehu of Borno, a prominent Islamic traditional ruler who survived a Boko Haram attack, expressed that nobody was safe.

Images suggest that the heavily armed convoy was on its way to deliver food relief at a camp for internally displaced individuals. It is believed that the attack may have been carried out by the Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA) faction of Boko Haram, following the release of a video by ISWA showing the execution-style killing of aid workers.

Although these incidents may not have a direct connection, they emphasize the heightened presence of Boko Haram in Borno. Nigerian officials, such as the governor, along with traditional Muslim leaders who collaborated with the secular state and military personnel, were targeted by all factions of Boko Haram. According to specialists from the Nigeria Security Tracker, the period spanning from July 2018 until now has witnessed the highest number of fatalities for security service personnel in the decade-long conflict.

Concerns have been raised about whether Nigerian federal and state authorities will keep giving up disputed territory to Boko Haram factions. These concerns have emerged following Governor Babagana Zulum’s statement suggesting that Baga should be ignored then. After an attack on his convoy in Baga, the governor strongly condemned the Nigerian Army for their inability to eliminate the insurgents in the region.

During the incident, the governor was en route to internally displaced persons camps, and while his security personnel successfully fought off the attack, there were casualties among his group. Expressing disappointment with the military’s lack of control over Baga, a town located less than 5 kilometers from their base, the governor threatened to request the reassignment of soldiers.

The governor’s convoy was ambushed in Baga, a town that was then declared free from Boko Haram’s control by the Nigerian military. This incident marked the second attack on the governor’s convoy in the span of a year, causing him to question the identity of the attackers, as the Army had previously claimed that Boko Haram had no control over any Nigerian territory.

Previously, Borno State, the heart of the Boko Haram insurgency, has experienced a series of violent events, including multiple explosions in Maiduguri that resulted in casualties. The individuals who are responsible for the attacks have not been identified yet, and the state’s police command has been conducting an investigation to ascertain the cause of the explosions.

Within a span of less than 24 hours after the occurrences, Buhari acknowledged during an interview that his administration had inherited the Boko Haram insurgency and asserted that they had exerted their utmost efforts to tackle the security challenges faced by the country. Nonetheless, he also admitted that security agencies have the potential to do more in order to combat the insecurity prevalent also in the North West and North Central regions.

The then-President’s statement garnered criticism from Nigerians, who voiced concerns about certain parties profiting from the ongoing Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria. Moreover, soldiers have accused their superiors of misappropriating the funds designated for their welfare, and there are allegations of internal sabotage exacerbating the current state of the military.

Governor Babagana Zulum of Borno State censured the Nigerian Army for their inability to eradicate insurgents in the region following the attack on his convoy in Baga. Despite all these trials, Nigerians say Zulum’s approach to leadership, which is all-encompassing of all Nigerians, was further illustrated when he individually promoted a south-eastern primary school teacher to assistant head teacher at her school in the Borno State.

This gesture was meant to express gratitude towards her dedication to educating the youth of Borno State. Despite being a stern individual, Zulum intervened to prevent the destruction of a church in Borno State, resulting in one fatality, thus averting a major religious dispute.

Rather than dehumanizing the Christians in his own Muslim-majority state, Zulum demonstrated compassion and empathy when the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) raised concerns about the demolition of churches in the region. Zulum strongly condemned the violence perpetrated in the name of religion, ordered the apprehension and legal proceedings against the responsible security personnel, and clarified that the demolition of the church was not intended as an act of hostility towards the Christian community, but rather as part of urban planning.

The governor credited the successful resettlement of around 18 communities in Borno to the military’s peace-building efforts and acknowledged his administration’s role in it. Zulum expressed his belief that there were elements of sabotage obstructing the eradication of the insurgency, and he called on then-President Buhari to reassess the security situation in the state.

Furthermore, there have been allegations of internal sabotage causing the leakage of military intelligence to the insurgents, which has resulted in ambushes and the loss of soldiers’ lives in the conflict. Well, Zulum’s hands-on approach to governance, even when it puts his own life at risk, and his wise management of public resources has led to a notable government presence across the state, including the improvement and enlargement of social facilities.

Zulum’s praiseworthy efforts in guaranteeing safe and modern schools for the children of his state demonstrate that education was embraced and promoted in Borno under his leadership, rather than being forbidden. He has reconstructed rundown schools and elevated them to a top-tier status in the country.

Zulum recognized education as a global body of knowledge that promotes human progress and global advancement, rather than being limited to Western or Islamic concepts, as evidenced by the presence of his unique school structures across Borno State. Additionally, Zulum’s wide-ranging leadership approach showcased his understanding that impartiality, parity, and evenhandedness should be upheld in an Islamic state, which should not be governed solely by Muslims but rather be diverse and egalitarian.

Zulum has also consistently provided support and resources to the Nigerian Army, even without being asked to do so. (Brigadier General AA Eyitayo), supposedly the interim General Officer Commanding 7 Division of the Nigerian Army, acknowledged this during Zulum’s visit to the 7th Division headquarters in Maiduguri.

Eyitayo commended the governor for his assistance, which has greatly uplifted the soldiers’ morale in their battle against Boko Haram. Zulum stressed the significance of backing and motivating military officers and personnel, as well as increasing benefits when the economy permits, as determined by the Federal Government.

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