By Isa Gusau
MAIDUGURI, North-East, Nigeria – At different times, some have expressed concern about Professor Babagana Umara Zulum’s work load. Every day, the Borno Governor works for between 17 and 18 hours, and oftentimes, operates nonstop. The concern, which I also shared, was for him not to fall sick due to long hours of tedious multitasking.
However, as I uncovered, there are already days when Professor Zulum usually, but strangely, ‘falls sick’.
Typically, Zulum’s work clock begins at 6am and ends between 11pm and 12midnight.
At 6am, adorned in shirts, trousers and boots, the Governor drives to project sites. Except on few occasions, no one knows the Professor’s destination until he arrives in a convoy of two or three private vehicles. This routine is normally unpredictable. Sometimes, he arrives at a site before inviting officials who supervise those projects. The Governor is particular about dozens of ongoing schools, healthcare centers, township roads and vocational skills training centers.
A good number of these projects are in Maiduguri metropolis, which shares adjoining territories with three local government areas (LGAs): Maiduguri Metropolitan Council, Jere and Konduga. The Metropolis currently hosts a vast number of the population of Borno State from across the 27 LGAs and this has increased demand for public facilities and services.
During some of Zulum’s 6am outings, he visits densely populated low-income communities to target the poorest. Sometimes, he knocks at doors, from house to house to meet indigent residents and ask about the most pressing community problems. It is marveling to observe how Professor Zulum’s excellent memory naturally stores information and accurately recalls findings from field assessments.
In most cases, the Governor directs immediate commencement of projects like schools and healthcare centers, where such interventions are urgent. Additionally, Zulum would direct the release of food aid and conditional cash as social protection startups for highly vulnerable residents.
Before 10am, Professor Zulum often returns to the government house and attend to few persons with pre-scheduled appointments. He rarely spends up to 10 minutes during such audiences, except for meetings or courtesy calls. Around 10am, the Governor would swiftly eat his breakfast, freshen up and a few minutes aft ward, he is officially out.
Strikingly, Zulum after his early daily outing, later travels by road to communities in any of the state’s LGAs. His modus operandi, in and outside Maiduguri, are about the same.
There are several examples, but for instance, during some of his trips to Gwoza, Bama and Monguno, Zulum arrived at evenings. Instead of getting some rest, the Professor invited council chairmen and heads of the military and other security operatives in the LGAs to review their challenges. Then he met with resident Civilian JTF, hunters and vigilantes to review security situations. Such meetings continued until around 10pm when Professor Zulum met with officials of the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) to ensure that the list of valid displaced persons, their allocation tickets, and trailer loads of food were appropriately sorted. He normally sends trailers loaded with food ahead of his surprise trips. He would retire to bed around 12 midnight.
Incredibly, the next day, Professor Zulum was out on the field few minutes after 5am, to visit internally displaced persons’ camps. Most times, he takes full charge and participates, carrying bags of food and clothing and handing them to beneficiaries. This altruistic involvement repeatedly appears seamless and spontaneous. In the early days of his tenure, when he lifts such food item into carts, senior officials tactically made him drop them. Gradually, those government officials realized that Professor Zulum’s altruism is inherent and would not change. Many government officials have now joined Zulum’s style of getting physically involved, especially with the distribution of food aid.
However, from time to time, officials sneak out to rest. Professor Zulum does not. He can work nonstop for 12 hours (6am to 6pm) except for quick breaks to combine shortened prayers and lunch.
The distribution sometimes end at 6:30pm and Zulum would head back to his lodge to freshen up. An hour or two after that, the man is back to hold meetings with different categories of residents. He would normally ask of their peculiar needs. At about 10pm, Zulum would return to evaluate the day’s activities and next line of action with his humanitarian team.
The following day, instead of heading straight to the distribution site, Professor Zulum could pull another surprise! At 6am, he would appear at sites of ongoing projects, rather than at distribution areas. But the humanitarian team would work assiduously knowing that the Governor would join them anytime. He always does, instinctively without being predicted.
By the way, Professor Zulum has no weekend. He always says that “he cannot be a Governor of a troubled state like Borno and enjoy the luxury of a weekend.”
Concerned by his ‘clock-work’ diligence, Professor Zulum got advice from associates to create days of rest.
Zulum heeded to that sincere advice and attempted some rest on three occasions. However, last Friday, he revealed that when he rests for a full day, and sleeps as advised, he falls sick.
“I am going to stop listening to all those asking me to take any day off for rest and sleep. Wallahi, any day I do nothing but sit and sleep for hours, I begin to feel sick. I feel very normal when I am just myself. The rest you all keep suggesting does not make me feel alright”, Zulum said.
Amusing as that may sound, Professor Zulum’s history supports his feeling of normalcy with being a ‘working clock’. As a primary school pupil, between 1975 to 1980, Zulum trekked seven kilometers from home to help his father till the ground at the family’s farm at Loskuri village in Mafa LGA of Borno State. From 1985, when he was a form five secondary school student, Zulum began to cater for himself and support his siblings.
As a student of Ramat Polytechnic from 1986 to 1988, Zulum trekked about eight kilometers daily, from Kofa Biyu ward in Maiduguri, where he lived with relations, to school and back. He could not afford transport fares. He eventually acquired an old commercial vehicle and became both driver and self-mechanic, and for 16 years, he combined those with university education.
Well, that is the tough man who is now being asked to rest. Nonetheless, even though he ‘falls sick’ when he rests, associates and admirers have continued to insist that bi-weekly or monthly, Professor Zulum MUST consider a day of rest.
Gusau is the Special Adviser on Public Relations and Strategy to Governor Zulum.