By Sodiq Yusuff
Babagana Umara Zulum, a professor and governor of Borno state, last week praised President Muhammadu Buhari on the security situation in the state — just after the killing of at least 43 farmers by Boko Haram.
Commenting after the Zabarmari massacre, Zulum said despite these events, the north-east was safer under Buhari compared to the past.
This came as a surprise to many, as the governor had been very vocal in highlighting the flaws of the security operations in his state.
TheCable can now report the background to Zulum’s praise for Buhari, which invoked anger on the social media.
According to insiders, Zulum was trying to preempt those who wanted to take advantage of his bluntness to cause disaffection between him and the president over his comments on insecurity in the state.
“Borno state suffered so much in the open and behind the scene under the Jonathan presidency because of the manoeuverings of interlopers who pitched then-Governor Kashim Shettima against Jonathan. Never again would such opportunists have a field day,” an insider told TheCable.
Zulum feared a political sabotage of his aggressive recruitment of hunters and vigilantes — which could only continue with the support of Department of State Services (DSS) and military — to combat Boko Haram terrorists, according to insiders.
“He is also desperate to protect the ongoing execution of over N23 billion resettlement housing and critical humanitarian projects approved by Buhari in January 2020 based on Zulum’s compelling request,” one of the sources told TheCable.
The source said even though Buhari has clearly shown his strong admiration for the governor and had directed ministers and heads of key agencies to work closely with him on the intervention, some political forces in the state were already making moves to poison president’s mind and set the presidency against Zulum.
“Zulum feared Borno people would be the main losers if this relationship is soured,” the source said.
‘SECURITY COULD GET WORSE’
Zulum’s recruitment of hunters and vigilantes in their hundreds can only continue with the approval and collaboration of resident military commanders who accept the volunteers — after vetting by the DSS.
While initial comments on Zabarmari killings appeared to portray the resident heads of security agencies as incompetent, Zulum had enjoyed their “undivided” loyalty and cooperation all along, a military officer told TheCable.
“We (military) provide the governor with helicopter almost on weekly basis to fly the cash that he usually distributes to IDPs, alongside food, in remote locations. This is in addition to weekly inspection of over 6,000 resettlement houses in LGAs undertaking by the state government along with many projects,” the officer told TheCable.
Buhari and Zulum have enjoyed a good relationship so far
However, another source said Zulum) was faced with a “Catch-22 situation” last week.
“He knew he was going to be attacked for his comments praising the security situation, but it was a price he had to pay for the greater good. Borno is a war zone and every step of the governor requires the full cooperation of not just the military but also the DSS, police and other establishments who have actually helped Zulum to succeed, whereas they are now seen as failures,” he said.
“The governor risked losing their full support and the fact is that without the loyalty of these guys, he would fail in his mission. Also do not forget that the governor cannot get the loyalty of security heads at the state levels if he is seen to have problems with the presidency. Zulum can gain all hero comments on social media when he fights the presidency but ultimately his progress will be stalled and his people will be the losers. In fact, ministers helping him with a major intervention will become afraid to help Borno. ”
THE POLITICAL NUANCES
Two of the sources said the political realities of Nigeria are “complicated” and “delicate”.
“In November 2019, Zulum wrote an analytical letter to President Buhari, with a situation report, and he requested that the President should approve the construction of 10,000 houses for resettlement of IDPs in safe areas which are to come with some households. He also requested some humanitarian interventions in food and condiments to the tune of N23 billion,” the source said.
“The money was not to be given to Borno state government. It was to be released to the implementing federal establishments such as the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and IDPs (NCFRMI), and ministry of humanitarian affairs whose agencies like NEMA and NEDC have started building the 10,000 housing units. The NCFRMI is also joining the construction which was why you have been seeing Zulum with Senator Basheer of the NCFRMI.
“Also, President Buhari had directed that Zulum must be consulted at all stages. In fact, Zulum decides were the 10,000 houses are sited. Also the NEDC and customs provide regular food supplies to Borno which Zulum himself acknowledges in public whenever he goes to share food. The food items come from both the state and the federal government as directed by President Buhari. So, the professor, as an academic, critically took an unpopular but strategic decision.”