One event in recent weeks that inspired this piece is the news report that Babagana Zulum facilitated the enrolment of 5,361 orphans who lost their parents to insurgency in Monguno Local Government Area.
Going by a statement signed by Mr Isa Gusau, Zulum’s Special Adviser on Communications and Strategy, it stated that Zulum and some members of his cabinet participated in the two-day exercise. It explained that 5,361 orphans aged from seven to 13 were given free uniforms, writing materials and free meals in schools. “They were registered in the presence of their guardians who gave their biographical details, including places of displacement and indigenous local government. “The 5,361 orphans are part of over 50,000 children either orphaned by Boko Haram or with parents and relations missing as a result of attacks on several communities by Boko Haram since 2009.
With the above highlighted, the question may be asked; who is Babagana Zulum?
Babagana Umara Zulum, from the information at the public domain, is a Nigerian professor and politician. He is the serving Governor of Borno State under the platform of the All Progressive Congress (APC).
Aside from coming to power when Nigeria is afflicted with perennial leadership haemorrhage, Zulum is governing a war-turned/Boko Haram ravaged Borno state at a time when democracy in the country has devolved to a pathetic state: when prospective elected public servants seek office merely for the sake of politics. And in a season when the majority of so-called leaders are motivated by power and politics only and campaign on lofty ideals to get the vote of their constituents, but when they are elected, they renege on their promises to their constituents. sadly, ‘the rise of these leaders serves only to exacerbate the decline of reason and further jeopardize our democracy’.
But despite these circumstances and leadership low moments and dropping spirits that now characterizes our democracy, there exists something strikingly different about Zulum’s leadership virtues and attributes that not only stands him out but worth commenting/ emulating.
As subsequent paragraphs will reveal, Zulum fundamentally understands that there are many young Nigerians who want to be educated in order to live, earn decent living and provide the future leadership needs of the country. He understands that these young Nigerians expect their leaders to formulate sound policies that will address the scary and mind numbing number of out of school children particularly in the northern part of the country via provision of quality and accessible education.
Many governments in the past have made this promise with neither fulfillment nor commitment.
Governor Zulum also made a similar promise and he is tackling the problem differently.
He formulated different strategies with innovation in the state to help deliver the state education sector from the wood and backwardness. He redefined leadership to reflect selfless service/ ‘win-win’ situation where the leader/doer sees self as stakeholder who must provide direction at the most fundamental level without waiting for any returns. Zulum as the Borno state Governor has to my understanding demonstrated to his people more empathy than sympathy.
The situation says something else!
The governor also announced plans to engage Islamic teachers to teach guardians and other adults who are willing to learn in adult literacy class. He also approved scholarships from primary to tertiary education for children of Civilian Joint Task Force, hunters, and vigilantes supporting the military in fighting Boko Haram.
From the above account, comes the difference between empathy and sympathy.
While sympathy involves acknowledging through verbal, emotional or facial expression of kindness to someone in difficulty, without necessarily taking pragmatic/theatrical steps that will completely deliver or partially ameliorate the victim’s pains/situation, empathy, says something different. As it involves sharing in the pains of others and participates in the struggle to overcome their challenge.
This attribute of empathy is what stands Zulum out from other bunch of leaders.
Comparatively, without any shadow of the doubt, majority of state governors in the country are laced with volumes of sympathy. This explains why they seamlessly interpret problems of their subjects with clarity but lacking in political will to solve or implement solutions. This possession of sympathy as against empathy contributes to why many daily define leadership too narrowly in a ways/manner devoid of process and outcome fairness.
As the effort by Zulum is celebrated by the watching world, even more does a similar report say something more about his (Zulum) massive construction, rehabilitation and renovations of hundreds of blocks of classrooms and offices in schools, with all of them well-equipped with hi-tech learning facilities.
In 2020, for instance, it was reported that he successfully commissioned two mega schools, which the government built in low-income communities of Borno State. In the words of analysts, what this is means that about 3,000 pupils now have access to 60 classrooms. The state government provided pupils already admitted with free uniforms. While the schools will be run by the communities, the state government will pay the teachers’ salaries. To make them functional, the government has employed 1,000 additional teachers for the state. Apart from the provision of facilities, attention is given to the training and re-training of school teachers’.
Now, let’s listen to Zulum: “The intention of this administration is to rehabilitate all the 76 existing primary schools in Maiduguri Metropolitan Council. Additional classrooms will be constructed where there’s a need for it.”
Fundamentally, Zulum in my views understands that the children in the state are knowledge-hungry; that they are innocently asking for quality and affordable education delivered in a conducive/habitable environment laced with portable water and stable electricity
Regardless of what others may say (Zulum) action has added fillip to the argument by some commentators that leadership challenge in the country significantly has nothing to do with cluelessness. But largely depends on the understanding that their vision and agendas are at odds with the general inspirations and motivations of the population.
Indeed, Zulum success and provision of leadership in the face of hostility at a time when other state Executives in relative parts of the country cannot scratch the surface of governance/leadership, reminds me of the age long saying that as a people, we are poor not because of our geographical locations or lack of natural resource but because we have a lot of market failures and because policymakers do not know how to get rid of them and have heeded the wrong advice in the past.
In my views, a browse through the activities of some state Governors will reveal without hesitation serial adoption of disastrous policies and wrong advice in the handling of the challenges bedeviling their states and administrations. And without marketing him, there is no argument that Nigeria and Nigerians put more Zulums in leadership positions for us to build the nation of our dreams.
Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via;email@example.com/08032725374.