•Says he drove taxi for 16 years to fund his education
By Olatunde Aina
In this part of the world where many people believe that the best way to achieve results is by cutting corners, Professor Babagana Umara Zulum, the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for Borno State, may not be accepted by all. But those who know about the erudite scholar’s academic pedigree, his professional experience, exposure and desire to always be an agent of positive change have never been surprised by his promises of yesterday which have become the reality of today.
32 years ago when he was admitted into Ramat Polytechnic Maiduguri, owned by the state government, to study for National Diploma in irrigation engineering, he was just one of the ambitious youths many of whom were yet to give proper definition to their dreams. Today, he is one of the few who have turned their dreams into reality.
His success story is a product of the solid training he received at different stages of his educational pursuit, and discipline and perseverance that were his watchwords in the course of his working career. Meanwhile, those who are close to him say his desire to use his wealth of experience and exposure for nation-building is among those things that made him a fulfilled man.
Zulum never had the luxury of being lazy since he came from a humble background and had to struggle all his life. He began by joining his father in tilling the ground at a tender age in Loskuri village in Mafa local government area of Borno State.
“Everyday, l trekked seven kilometres to get to my father’s farm from home to till the ground and do other things in the farm”, Zulum recalled.
He combined farming with his attendance of primary and secondary schools in Mafa and Monguno from 1975 to 1980 and 1980 to 1985 respectively.
While in class five in secondary school in Monguno, he began to fully cater for his education.
His words: “From 1984 to around 1999 (16 years), l was a taxi driver. I initially operated with a Peugeot 404 which l hired before moving on to drive buses carrying passengers to different villages in Borno and neighbouring states. Later l drove commercial pickup trucks carrying firewood from the forest. While working as a commercial driver, l learned how to fix any vehicle I drove”.
In 1986, Zulum gained admission into Ramat Polytechnic, Maiduguri to study irrigation engineering and lived with relatives off campus in Kofa Biyu, a densely populated area.
“I trekked for eight kilometres from Kofa Biyu to Ramat Polytechnic and back whenever I had lectures because l could not afford transport fare. But I was already used to long walk all my life because of my indigent background. Whenever I drove taxis and returned the vehicles to the owners, l used whatever money l earned to cater for my basic school needs. I later became an operator of commercial grinding machines and I owned one in Mafa and, during weekends, I was always there to attend to customers”, he said.
In 1989 after graduating from Ramat Polytechnic, Zulum joined Borno State Civil Service as an Assistant Technical Officer in the state Ministry of Agriculture. In 1990, he moved into Borno State Unified Local Government Service as a Senior Field Overseer.
“While working, the salary could not cater for my needs and my dependants. So I continued commercial vehicle driving to augment my income,” he recalled.
It was while still operating as a commercial vehicle driver that, in 1990, he secured admission into University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID) for a degree in agricultural engineering and he graduated in 1994. Three years after, he secured admission into University of Ibadan (UI) for a master’s degree in agricultural engineering.
Zulum said he joined UNIMAID in 1998 as an Assistant Lecturer.
From 2005 to 2009, he obtained a PhD in soil and water engineering from UNIMAID, rising through the ranks to become Deputy Dean and Acting Dean of the Faculty of Agricultural Engineering.
Zulum decided to retain his teaching job in UNIMAID even when he became an appointee of Borno State government in 2011 courtesy of the Sherriff’s administration which offered him the position of Rector of Ramat Polytechnic.
He continued to teach students at UNIMAID while also managing Ramat Polytechnic.
“I did not want anything to stop me from teaching at University of Maiduguri. So I retained that as my main job and I continued doing everything I was supposed to do as a lecturer without compromising my appointment in the Polytechnic”, he said.
As Rector of Ramat Polytechnic, Zulum is credited with the expansion and the erection of capital infrastructure using internally generated revenue and attracting interventions from federal agencies.
In 2015, Zulum was appointed the pioneer Commissioner for Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement by then-Governor Sheriff who told a gathering in Maiduguri that one of his attractions to Zulum was the fact that, despite being in control of billions of naira for the reconstruction of thousands of homes, schools and hospitals destroyed by Boko Haram, “he neither bought a personal house nor a personal car for himself”.
Then-governor added: “He (Zulum) also came under attack from Boko Haram twice but that did not stop him from continuing his efforts to rebuild substantial parts of Borno”.
Zulum himself explained that his appointment as Commissioner for Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement was one of the biggest challenges in life.
“Governor Shettima told me in September 2015 that he was putting in my care huge funds for the rebuilding of the hundreds of communities destroyed by Boko Haram and he was worried about the displacement of more than two million people of the state”, he said.
“That appointment was one of the major challenges l had and I took it up ready to die doing it. Yes, at some point, there was the issue of safety since insurgents can spring surprises, but we had the overwhelming support of the military and the police in particular, as well as other security agencies and volunteers. The rebuilding was something that needed to be done. As the governor said, we could not wait forever.
I am happy that he succeeded in his determination to rebuild many communities, particularly places like Bama. Today, the state government has resettled victims in most of the LGAs, including Bama, Kaga, Dikwa, Gwoza and Askira Uba.
“We rebuilt more than 10,000 houses in Bama as well as schools and hospitals in that local government area and many others. The ministry is still working and I am sure that, in few months time, the governor will complete the rebuilding, and this is major achievement for the administration and the people of Borno”.