Babagana Zulum: A different view of servant leadership

Gov. Babagana Umara Zulum Governor Babagana Umara Zulum of Borno state is making news for all the right reasons.

Ordinarily this shouldn’t make headlines, because as a professor, the highest academic achievement possible in Nigeria, nothing less is expected of him.

But this isn’t always the case, we have had highly educated Nigerians, who promised heaven on Earth for their electorate but forgot all about them as soon as they took their oath of office.

With memories of such politicians in mind, I took the emergence of Professor Zulum, at best, with a pinch of salt. In fact so sceptical was I, that when I read about his being a commercial driver for sixteen years, in order to fund his education, I merely said to myself “Mu gani a kasa, an ce da kare ana biki a gidanku.’ (Let’s see the evidence on the floor, ie leftovers, says the dog who was told there’s a ceremony happening in its home). In other words I couldn’t make myself believe that Borno has found a Messiah, just because of his inspiring life story and corresponding academic achievements. People with similar records had failed to live above board in the past. I therefore wanted to see him in action, to know if he’s truthful.

With this mindset I watched Professor Babagana Zulum moving across the length and breadth of Borno State, spending nights in the least expected places, holding executive retreats in former war zones and picking on corrupt soldiers, who man check points only to extort money from the long-suffering people of the state, in addition to his other daring exploits, and wondered whether Borno has finally found it’s miracle-worker.

As of today, any Nigerian can see that Governor Zulum is out to rebuild and make a huge difference in his home state.

And despite the deadly insurgency he inherited, he does not seem deterred from his personal mission of serving his people the right way.

To me, just two recently reported events, concerning this ‘workaholic governor’ have proved his sincerity and commitment to servant-leadership style.

The first is his encounter with the primary school teacher Mrs Obiageli Mazi. In this wide-circulated video, the Governor was shown on a visit to the Shehu Sanda Kyarimi primary school, in Maiduguri metropolis at 6.30 am.

Can you imagine a Nigerian governor leaving his cosy bed at 6 am so he could start inspecting schools in the state? No, the only reason any of Their Excellencies will leave their homes that early is to catch a flight.

Otherwise wild horses would not drag them out of their homes before 7am. But here was Governor-Prof completely at ease going for school inspection at 6.30 in the morning.

Yet the story didn’t end there. As we all heard on social media or saw in the video (why didn’t the story make it to traditional media?) the only person Governor Zulum and his few aides saw, in that school was a middle aged teacher named Mrs Obiageli Mazi.

After greetings, the governor asked her how long she had been teaching at the school and she said for 31 years and her salary is N35,000.

This dedicated teacher, of Igbo origin, impressed Professor Zulum so much that he immediately went back to his car and brought out a wad of currency notes.

He personally handed the money to Obiageli, who overcome with gratitude, went down on her two knees to thank him. In addition, the governor immediately instructed one his aides to ensure that she gets promoted from her classroom teacher status to an assistant head teacher.

Note that Professor Zulum took no notice of the fact that she was Igbo, a non-indigene and a non-Muslim.

All he saw was a committed school teacher, who was at her duty post before all her colleagues and all her pupils and therefore deserved to be rewarded. His gift to her was a hundred thousand naira, almost three times her monthly income.

The second incident that afforded me an insight into the truth of Governor Zulum’s servant-leadership style was his reaction to the Jigawa youth who embarked on a trek from his native Hadejia town to Maiduguri, in order to show appreciation for the professor’s exemplary style of governance.

Instead of allowing Usman Zubairu to go through all that physical exertion, in a bid to hail him, the Borno Governor quickly stopped him by tweeting that though he appreciated Usman’s ‘courageous mission’ he should abort it and offer silent prayers instead.

I found this truly exemplary because all those for whom some misguided youths engaged in this crazy trekking thing did nothing to stop them. They allowed them to suffer all that needless exertion because it showed how much they were appreciated by their masses.

A servant-leader puts himself in the place of those below him and does his best to avert any harm or suffering from coming their way. But the best of all displays of servanthood, was what Professor Babagana Umara Zulum did, during a special broadcast on Thursday.

Accepting that trials and tribulations are from Almighty God and He alone can end them, at His will, the governor asked the people of Borno State to fast and pray next Monday as a special appeal to their Lord to end the bloodshed.

And he was right in making this bold but ‘strange’ request because all believers in a Supreme Deity, know that it is to Him they should turn for solution to all problems.

Like the governor said, the intractable insurgency has been going on for over ten years, it seems to defy human solutions and so the best option is to openly seek divine intervention in ending it. This is truly commendable.

It means that Borno people have, in Professor Zulum, a leader who truly puts them first by serving them conscientiously, and also one who rallies them, despite religious differences, in search of spiritual solutions from God, the Most High.

This article was first published on February 22, 2020 and written by Aisha Umar Yusuf


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