Once in a while, I have reasons to visit Maiduguri because the work I do requires me, from time to time, to be at the Nigeria Arabic Language Village (NALV) currently located in the capital city of Borno State. My recent visit was to attend a meeting preparatory to the forthcoming national conference of the Academic Society for Arabic Language and Literature in Nigeria (ASALLIN), which the NALV will host on December 18, 2023; the same date set aside for the World Arabic Language Day. Each time I visit Maiduguri, the town wears new looks that offer me the opportunity and justifications to interrogate governance in other states of the federation. This last visit was after the federal government released N5 billion to state governments in lieu of palliatives that would cushion the effect of the total removal of petrol subsidy announced by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu on May 29, 2023.
Like many others who visited Maiduguri in that period, the first development that caught my attention was the fleet of blue coaster buses provided for the Borno State Transport Company (Borno Express). In less than 5 minutes after our chauffeur left Maiduguri airport and was driving into Maiduguri township, I counted 12 of such buses on the road. I curiously asked my host-colleague who told me “The buses, 70 of them, were commissioned by Governor Bagana Zulum a day earlier to commemorate his 100 days in office”, he said. While 40 of the buses were for town service, 30 were assigned for inter-state transport service. He also said 70 projects were commissioned by Governor Zulum to mark the first 100 days of his second term in office.
Within 24 hours after the buses were commissioned, they did not only make commuting easier for workers, traders and other groups of low-income earners but also made it cheaper. The intra-city buses of Borno Express charge N50/drop as against the N200/drop that was hitherto charged by other public transporters. This quickly brought down transport fares particularly in Maiduguri metropolis. Few kilometers further, my host drew my attention to a fly-over bridge under construction; the second to be built by Governor Zulum’s administration. When I asked how many fly-over bridges existed in Maiduguri before Zulum became governor of the state, the answer was “He’s the first to construct one”.
Before we arrived at the NALV, I was shown some streets that were dualized between my last visit and now including the long stretch of the road from Bolori roundabout through Todays, Monday market, Tobacco, and post office. What, perhaps, excited me more was the transfer of the ownership of the old site vacated by the state-owned college of education (now Borno State University) to the NALV including the ultra-modern language laboratory within the complex. Nigerian scholars and students of Arabic under the inspiring leadership of Prof Ibrahim Muhammad, the CEO of the NALV, are strongly united in their opinion that the Village has since become the adopted ‘beloved child’ of Borno state government.
Looking at all the far-reaching infrastructural, socio-economic and public-spirited advancements achieved under Zulum’s five years in office as governor, one is compelled to ask three questions: First, is Zulum drawing his state resources from other than the Federation Account? Second, is the monthly allocation for Borno state exclusively the highest in the country all these years? And third, is Borno state having fewer challenges to cope with? Without necessarily knowing so much about government finances, one could guess right that the answers to my three questions are all in the negative mode. It would be a reckless thought to imagine that Zulum’s milestones in Borno state, which remained the epicenter of insurgency in north-east Nigeria for almost two decades, is attributable to less problems.
That which singularly distinguishes Governor Zulum from the rest of his colleagues is commitment, altruism, decency, capacity, and an uncommon sense of sacrifice. What interests me more is his being a university teacher. As a leader from whom other 36 colleagues unarguably have reasons to learn, Zulum is the pride of Nigerian professors. To disabuse readers’ mind, it’s important to assert here as a matter of moral obligation that Prof Zulum does not know me. The only time I came close to him was when we sat together on the ‘high table’ at an event in Maiduguri to mark the 2022 World Arabic Day organized by the NALV on December 18, 2022. Besides, Zulum does not need the ‘propaganda’ of a newspaper column to market his worth or successes.
Governor Zulum’s emergence from the classroom to become a credible leader seeks to preserve the legacy of many other teachers who, in the past, also became foremost leaders in their own rights. Such leaders from my larger country-home community, for example, include Alhaji Ibrahim Madaki Agaie and Alhaji Aliyu Makama Bida. Surprisingly, the same teaching profession that produced eminent leaders, scientists, judges, medical doctors, engineers, and other hard-to-find professionals is today being abhorred even by children who are still too young to make career choices; all because of a ‘government-instigated’ public perception of teachers. Of course, no child who has options desires to become a teacher. One finds it difficult to reconcile between government continued apathy towards teachers on the one hand and teachers’ contributions to nation-building on the other.
With all the logics for teachers’ indispensability, no group of workers goes on strike for salary-related demands as much as teachers do under the NUT, COESU, ASUP and ASUU. Even in his own profession, the teacher suffers alienation as his children are often among those sent home for unpaid school fees. In spite of all the odds that confronted Zulum as a university teacher, he was never daunted by any challenges because he had all the basic qualities of a professional teacher as listed by J. S. Farrant in his 1964 Longman book “Principles and Practice of Education.” One needed to know this book, cover-to-cover, to pass TC II in the 1960s through 1970s.
No matter how bad government treat teachers including professors that practice at the highest level of the profession, we will blow our trumpet and say we are delightfully proud that one of us, Professor Babagana Umara Zulum, is a 21st century model for governance and leadership in Nigeria. This week’s discourse is, on this note, dedicated to this year’s World Teachers’ Day celebrated world-wide (but observed in Nigeria) on October 5, 2023. May Allah guide and ease the path of teachers to heaven where their proverbial reward awaits them, amin.