Amidst the gloomy and intractable insecurity bedevilling the country especially the North-East, the Executive Governor of Borno State, Professor Babagana Umara Zulum, Mni has left the citizenry with a legacy that will be in the news for a long time. In a society that is saturated with news of Boko Haram militancy, commercial kidnapping, cattle rustling, armed banditry, herder-farmer crisis and communal clashes across the country, Governor Zulum broke protocol to offer Nigerians lessons in servant-leadership and how to live as detribalized citizens who are poised to building brides of peace, promoting excellence and demonstrating that Nigeria can be great again.
To the delight of Nigerians, the Governor posted the following message on his Facebook Page: “Yesterday, as early as 6:30 in the morning, I paid an unscheduled visit to Shehu Sanda Kyarimi II Primary School to see how we can improve the infrastructure therein and I met teacher, Mrs Obliageri Mazi, an Igbo Christian from Abia State who served for 31 years in the Borno state. Although it was very early, I met none of the teachers and their pupils on the ground but only her.” The message further read: “Her gender, tribe, religion or state of origin does not surprise me but her passion, enthusiasm, dedication, commitment and above all patriotism do surprise me a lot. As a Government, we are mightily proud of her.”
As a consequence, the Borno-helmsman surprised the Abia-born Mrs Mazi with a cash reward of N100,000 and also approved an executive order promoting her from being a Classroom Teacher to an Assistant Headmistress – a triple promotion. To this writer, Governor Zulum’s statement namely: “Her gender, tribe, religion or state of origin does not surprise me but her passion, enthusiasm, dedication, commitment and above all patriotism do surprise me a lot” are timeless words on marble. His gracious words and heroic action once again challenges leaders to lead by example. As someone who has recently been in the news for decrying the man-hours spent on queues by commuters and motorists while some soldiers are busy extorting money from them and now rewarding excellence, Governor Zulum comes clean as one who has demonstrated true leadership in the infancy of his administration. Without doubt, this story inspires action towards incubating global leaders.
The excitement about what I prefer to refer to as Zuluminized leadership is the fact that at least in a society where Professors have come under criticism for their involvement in announcing election results and alleged sex-for-marks cases, Zulum has given us some cheery news to make noise about. Thankfully, the Governor has shown the world that being dressed in the regalia of academia pays. The writer is convinced that his pedigree in the academic circle must have prepared him for servant-leadership. It is critical to maintaining that every University Don is disposed to teaching, research and community development. Demonstrably, the Borno Chief Executive has carved a niche for himself which can be termed Zulumism – a combination of the threefold mandate of every University.
Accordingly, this exemplary leadership draws attention to the University as a miniature universe which is an epicentre for celebrating diversity. Diversity, as we know, is a driver for social and economic transformation. This is why academics ought to be pacesetters in galvanizing support for hatching global citizens who are open to new realities, ready to welcome and study with people of other nationalities as well as Nigerians from different persuasions. This is because every University presents a plethora of finest people who know the value of rewarding excellence and living in a pluralistic society.
As a launching-pad for breeding detribalized citizens, the University creates a bridge between the town and the gown. This is why it is a citadel of love and learning. It is not surprising then that when students graduate from the University, they are presented with a certificate in character and learning. The University prepares students to navigate through troubled waters without losing their identity. Experts argue that higher institutions are great avenues for an encounter between people. They, however, warn about the danger of failing to make these higher institutions incubators of Peace Ambassadors and Global Citizens: “Today, our Universities which should be the centre of ideas and intellectual curiosity have become in many respects, incubators of ethnic jingoism…” (Kukah, 2017). The Governor’s action has disproved this logic.
Despite this seeming hard knock, Kukah (1999) holds that students are vanguards for positive change in society. He cited the heroic example of Professor Patrick Wilmot, a Jamaican Pan-Africanist and scholar who came to Nigeria towards the end of the civil war as one who believed that students can create the much-needed change in society. The Professor of Sociology at Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, alongside others like Bala Usman, were advisers to the government in policy formation. In fact, they contributed to Nigeria’s anti-imperialist incursions and commitment in Southern Africa.
This development yielded results as the Federal Government gave students a place in the Constituent Assembly in 1977 to debate the political future of the country. These initiatives gave voice to the National Union of Nigerian Students (NUNS) to make demands for education and canvas for the welfare of their members. It would be recalled that under both civilian administrations and military juntas, NANS which later became the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) continued its dogged unionism (Kukah, 1999). This means that students have much to learn from mentors and life-coaches. This is because as exemplars, they are able to sow in the hearts of the young, the seed of bearing with the qualms of others.
This epic narrative challenges us as Nigerians to take new lessons in managing our diversity. Governor Zulum was able to navigate through the murky waters of a region of “people living in darkness” (Matthew 4:16) to the shore of luminous leadership. His story further demonstrates that with the right mentorship and visionary leadership from Chief Executives, those in the academia, religious and political leaders as well as other relevant stakeholders, NANS across the country can contribute to building bridges of love and friendship as well as restoring peace across the nation. Indeed, as someone coming from the classroom, the Governor has demonstrated beyond doubt hat Universities have great potential inbreeding Global Citizens and Peace Ambassadors who would live and shout peace from the rooftops. Zulum’s epic leadership is a metaphor for peace and development in the country. God bless Nigeria!
NB: Our hearts go with the about 30 victims of Auno town, a major highway in Borno State, who were killed by suspected militant Islamists on Sunday night. May God grant them eternal rest and touch the hearts of the perpetrators to sheath their swords and embrace peace!
Fr. Justine Dyikuk is a Catholic Priest and Researcher who combines being the Editor of Bauchi Caritas Catholic Newspaper, Communication’s Director of Bauchi Diocese with his job as a Lecturer in the Department of Mass Communication, University of Jos, Nigeria. He can be reached through – firstname.lastname@example.org.