By Prof. Babagana Umara Zulum
It has been two years since we took the oath of office, following the overwhelming mandate you, the good people of Borno State, entrusted in us during the 2019 democratic transition.
In these two years, we have together, witnessed continued turbulence even though in the midst of shared hope, shared optimism, shared faith, shared resilience, and communal determination to ceaselessly devote ourselves to freeing our Borno from 12 years of vicious insurgency.
As part of that commitment, we, from our first day in office, made security our number one priority. This is in recognition of the fact that the fundamental duty of any Government is to ensure the safety of citizens to such a level that citizens themselves feel they are safe.
My first activity as Governor of Borno State was to interface with the head of the military involved in the fight against insurgents.
In our first week in office, we interfaced with thousands of our volunteers from the civilian JTF, hunters, and vigilantes, and we increased their monthly allowances, in addition to allocating to them more patrol vehicles and other logistics needed to enhance their operational roles of complementing armed forces in fighting Boko Haram.
In our combined approach, we took aggressive steps of recruiting thousands of hunters from different parts of northern Nigeria, mobilized and deployed them to accelerate our support for the military.
We made it a policy that in all our 27 local government areas, volunteers were strengthened with additional recruitment, surveillance vehicles, and other gadgets.
We extended tremendous support to the military, the Nigeria Police Force, and other armed forces, through the allocation of vehicles, Armoured Personnel Carriers, and other logistics. We gave far-reaching support to families of fallen soldiers, other security personnel, and volunteers. We made the government house 100% accessible to commanders of all armed forces in Borno and ensured we gave serious considerations to all security-based requests.
On regular basis, we held several high-level collaborative consultations with Mr. President, Commander in chief, former and incumbent service chiefs, the Inspector General of Police and Commanders of all paramilitary organizations, the Director Generals of the DSS and the NIA as well as heads of the military and security agencies resident in Borno State, with several efforts on the fight against insurgency.
I was at headquarters of the multinational Joint Task Force in N’Djamena, and I even held meetings with the late President of Chad, as well as governors of provinces in Niger and Cameroon, all towards increased security collaboration.
From our first week in office back in 2019, we began a tour of all the 27 local government areas to identify their priority needs; and we interfaced with critical stakeholders in these local governments to select areas requiring immediate, short, and long term interventions.
Findings from these assessment visits to 27 local government areas provided the guide to the policies, programmes, and capital projects we have embarked upon from our first 100 days to our first year in office. In our second year, we have, with the full participation of all stakeholders, developed, launched, and adopted a 25-year development plan for Borno, with an initial 10-year phase of implementation.
We however recognized that no plan of ours could succeed when hundreds of thousands of fellow citizens, especially those displaced by insurgents, live with hunger and indignity.
From day one, we were faced with acute humanitarian crises particularly in northern and some parts of the central senatorial zones. As such, we made it a policy, that as Governor, I assume the role of chief humanitarian officer for different reasons. On one hand, it was our duty to deliver help to our fellow citizens that were either internally displaced or taking refuge in neighboring countries. On the other, there was the risk that insurgents could, after making IDPs socially and economically vulnerable, also explore that vulnerability by offering food and cash incentives to recruit fighters who could even serve as their spies in communities. From records, we have experienced instances when insurgents offered as low as between 5,000 and 10,000 Naira to recruit some spies and smugglers of weapons. We, therefore, needed to take steps ahead by making sure we regularly visit IDPs in all parts of Borno, including remote locations, to efficiently and sufficiently deliver food, cash support, and clothing. We needed to ensure that our good citizens had the support they needed, and they were not exposed to potential attractions for the incentives of insurgents.
Fellow citizens, our socio-economic interventions did not stop with IDPs.
For instance, we took measures to curtail and hopefully, put an end to street begging. To achieve this, we began conditional cash support to physically challenged persons while working on empowering them with means to rely on themselves through vocational skills peculiar to their individual and group conditions. We took a bolder step towards reforming the almajiri school system which we call sangaya here in Borno. Consequently, a bill to establish Sangaya and Islamiya Board was sent to the state assembly.
Meanwhile, we have in our reforms, banned political thuggery amongst our youths across the state. We have with their full cooperation, converted the energies they used for political thuggery into productive uses that improve our environment, while we paid them monthly stipends for livelihoods. The government will soon come up with more plans to support these youths.
Fellow citizens, in our social protection and economic drive, we took far-reaching steps to stimulate businesses in local economies by giving start-up capital to small-scale entrepreneurs and increasing the investments of medium-scale entrepreneurs in major towns of our three senatorial zones.
Recognizing the critical importance of the local government system, we organized elections to put in place democratic leadership. In doing so, we raised the bar of leadership by encouraging University Professors and their likes to aspire to become chairmen so they could mix with our experienced grassroots politicians in other to stimulate comparative and competitive progress.
We also encouraged and even compelled our royal fathers to remain in their domains because their presence inspires public confidence and resilience.
We undertook several impromptu visits to local government areas to instill discipline in our civil and public service system at the grassroots.
During these visits, we applied reward and sanctions to ensure our hospitals had doctors, nurses, and other medical staff; our schools had teachers and school administrators, and our royal fathers were gloriously on the ground to inspire all of us.
In our supervisory approach, we made it a habit of showing up at late night, early mornings, or at any odd time, to hospitals, schools, IDP camps, water service areas, ministries, and other government establishments. I even established an office annex at the Musa Usman workers secretariat, to keep civil servants, particularly those at the top levels, on their toes. I made my appearance to the secretariat continually unpredictable to even my security and other personal aides.
Our approach has steadily yielded dividends as we can see from the gradual pick up of increased commitment in hospitals, schools, other government institutions, and in our local government areas.
With shared commitments and with the strong goodwill, support, and prayers from you, the people of Borno State, we are delivering 556 capital projects with 70% of the total already completed while 30% are at various completion levels.
Our projects, done with your support, include 194 capital projects on education, which encompass rehabilitation, completion, and fresh construction of Mega-size government technical colleges and primary schools in different communities. We have 63 capital projects on governance, and another 63 capital projects on roads, transport, rural and urban development. 59 capital projects are being delivered on water and environment; while on health, we are delivering 58 capital projects that include the establishment of 74 primary healthcare centers across local government areas, rehabilitation of 8 General and specialist hospitals in MMC, Biu, Damboa, Monguno, and Magumeri.
We have undertaken 53 capital projects on Reconstruction Rehabilitation and Resettlement which involve estates combining over 6,000 resettlement houses for IDPs and Refugees in 15 towns. I am happy to once again, acknowledge, that His Excellency, Mr. President, Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, has since approved 10,000 resettlement houses in Borno State. I am also happy to note a substantial number of these houses have been completed with more ongoing.
There are 28 capital projects on job creation, Youths Empowerment, and Humanitarian support which include an all-inclusive vocational training center with 14 workshops for capacity development of 1,500 persons per annum.
I am happy to recall, that with your support, we have worked towards the academic take-off of the Borno State University, which was established in 2016. The senate has since been inaugurated with students enrolled and academic activities ongoing. We have continued all projects met on the ground and started newer infrastructures. We have even commenced the construction of a teaching hospital and a medical college, to prepare the University for the award of degrees in medicine and other medical programmes. We have successfully lobbied for the approval and take-off of a federal polytechnic in Borno State and hopefully, we will soon have a federal college of education. Hitherto, Borno had remained one of the few states in Nigeria, which had no federal polytechnic and college of education.
Fellow citizens, as your Governor, I am however aware that in the midst of all that we have been able to achieve, there are indeed concerns about some of our policies and actions in the last two years.
Top of these are issues relating to taxes of KEKE NAPEP, on commercial goods in markets, shops, on consumption and entertainment, and other issues. I am also aware of an issue relating to ongoing reforms in land administration by the Borno State Geographic Information System, BOGIS, which deals with and also enforces some aspects of urban planning and environmental protection. There are concerns about enforcing clearance on rampant roadside trading. These concerns and many others I did not list are largely genuine and citizens have fundamental rights to be worried and to even be unhappy with these policies.
Fellow citizens, of all Nigeria’s 36 states, none is faced with the level of Borno’s security and by extension, social and economic challenges.
Borno has thousands of volunteers who are being paid monthly allowances, provided with kits and vehicles to complement the military in the fight against Boko Haram.
Fellow citizens, for every unfortunate incident of attack that occurs, more attacks would have been prevented through combined efforts that cost money.
Also related to security, we continually support IDPs and vulnerable citizens with cash to strengthen their resilience to Boko Haram manipulations, and this also costs money.
We are undertaking other social protection interventions which cost money and yet we are amongst states that are the most constant in paying monthly salaries and pensions.
As we may have seen in some states, downsizing is taking place to cope with the payment of salaries and pensions of workers. In Borno State, we cannot afford mass retrenchment of workers because we know the potential social implications of such actions. While many persons may argue that workers are in fewer thousands, we recognize that these numbers have multiplying effects not only in terms of bigger number of dependents but also on the effect of salaries and pensions in our local economy. Thousands of traders, both small and medium, rely on sales from the funds pumped into the local economy, for their survival.
We, therefore, cannot afford a mass sack to cope with wages, rather, we are even employing more and more persons. For instance, we have in January this year, employed and trained 800 teachers, just as we employed more doctors, nurses, midwives, and other support staff.
To create more room for employment, we are reviving industries and putting the good ones to productivity. We are also preparing grounds for our youths to become more employable, and we do this by ceaselessly awarding scholarships to hundreds for specialized courses abroad and all programmes across Nigeria.
We are subsidizing access to education by paying annual scholarships to over 20,000 students in tertiary schools within and outside Borno. We even paid tuition fees for over 3,000 pioneer students of our state university, yet, we have been supporting parents and guardians by paying for Senior Secondary Certificate Examination fees for our citizens.
Fellow citizens, Borno State is shouldering these responsibilities because we recognize that they impact the generality of our citizens. However, we cannot sustain all these subsidies in primary, secondary, and tertiary education, in healthcare, inconsistency of salaries and pensions, and creating new jobs and giving out start-up capitals to small and medium scale business persons, unless we create means of increasing our internally generated revenue through some of the tax measures we took, the blocking of leakages and the strengthening of our revenue-generating establishments with bold targets.
The Borno State Geographic Information System, BOGIS, has in less than two years of its existence generated close to one billion naira while we were only able to generate around 100 million from 2017 to the end of 2019. Of course, affected citizens, in few hundreds, were happy with not paying land levies in previous years, but then, nearly one billion naira generated by BOGIS has been used on public services that include subsidizing education and healthcare to benefit the generality of Borno people. The same applies to whatever we generate through other taxes. We are prudently deploying these IGR for the benefit of all citizens through the execution of impactful programmes and projects.
Fellow citizens, given my background, I know the pains of struggles, but I also know, that we should make these sacrifices that will enable the government to sustain the subsidies on basic, secondary, and tertiary education, on healthcare, on jobs creation, on salaries and pensions, on creating jobs and supporting traders, on supporting displaced persons and on supporting volunteers and our armed forces in the fight against Boko Haram and lots more.
As your Governor, I assure you that all resources are judiciously put to uses that are either benefiting all citizens or will benefit all citizens in the long run.
We are determined to remain on the track to finding enduring peace in Borno State. We are determined to continue our massive construction of thousands of homes for the relentless and safe resettlement of displaced persons and refugees.
We have been able to return our citizens from refugee camps in Niger and Cameroon to safe and dignified resettlement in parts of Borno State. We will continue in this regard the same way we will continue in safely resettling IDPs.
As we have started our third year in office, we plan to build on what we already achieved with your support, goodwill, and prayers. We plan to soon commission a series of more projects, accelerate others particularly thousands of ongoing houses for safe and dignified resettlement of our IDPs and refugees.
Fellow citizens, in Nigeria’s democratic journey, the challenges before the Borno state government are enormous. Even as I address you, we are battling with power disruption caused by repeated attacks on power installations supplying Maiduguri and other parts of the state. We are working round the clock with relevant authorities to restore the power supply, while we are making frantic efforts to actualize an intervention coming from the NPPC, which will hopefully put an end to power disruptions. I kindly call for more patience and tolerance.
We are resolutely committed to doing anything lawful and meaningful, towards making Borno safer and with greater opportunities for you the people, as we resiliently match towards our recovery, our growth, our sustained development, and our shared prosperity.
Borno is ours, and Borno’s success is our success.
Happy Democracy Day and May God bless Borno State and the Federal Republic of Nigeria.