Borno is the epicenter of the Boko Haram crisis, and the Lake Chad region is the theatre of the war. No one dares to venture into the region where Boko Haram elements have been holding major towns and villages hostage. Reports of attacks on military and Government convoys, Non-Governmental Organizations’ workers and civilians, with attendant gory and harrowing experiences come in from the area almost every week. Even Military Generals pay special attention to the area whenever they confront the insurgents.
New Marte, the headquarters of Marte Local Government and host of the Chad Basin Development Authority, CBDA, is one of the towns worst hit by Boko Haram. Since the crisis started, no highly placed Government official has gone into the Marte axis of the basin. Even as the host of Federal Government’s largest irrigation project in the sub Saharan sub region, Marte has remained a no go area.
Today, the narrative seems to be changing as the town may have been liberated from Boko Haram, but the hangover of years of horror still hangs in the air, and citizens have been reluctant relocating back to the area. To rekindle their confidence in the Government as working to restore normalcy and to confirm to them that indeed Marte and other major towns on the Lake Basin have been liberated, Governor Babagana Umara Zulum on Saturday paid an unscheduled visit to New and Old Marte.
The Professor of Agricultural Engineering has been so passionate about the resettlement of citizens back to their communities which had hitherto been under Boko Haram occupation. He has never hidden his desire to quickly rebuild the communities as a panacea for their eventual return. His rustic experiences at the early stage of his life came into play during the visit. Much as he considers it a routine, it was so historic and significant to the average citizen, and I could not resist the temptation to write.
When news filtered in that the Governor personally travelled to Marte by road, to see for himself the level of devastation caused to structures by the illegal occupants, and make plans to rebuild it, not many citizens believed the story. It sounded unbelievable against the backdrop that people alleged that the story of liberated communities in Borno was after all a hoax.
But there was Governor Zulum bestriding the Boko Haram territory like a commander inspecting his conquest. The only difference between the way Zulum trekked round the once conquered territory and the way Military commanders who accompanied him moved, was perhaps his civilian outfit. Adorning a blue top on a pair of jeans, the Governor moved around with so much candor and courage, while others had to virtually jog to catch up with him.
But the historicity of the visit lies not in the manner he carried himself, rather in breaking the earlier held jinx that no Government official can ever bestride that territory as a Nigerian ground, having been conquered, renamed and restructured, but as a Boko Haram territory. It also clears the doubt created in the minds of many that the area is still under occupation. The visit has now paved the way for citizen dislodged from the Lake Chad flank to prepare to return home.
While in Marte, Governor Zulum, in praising the efforts of the Nigerian Military and the Multi National Joint Task Force, MNJTF, assured citizens that Marte is now safe, and reconstruction work will immediately commence on all Government structures destroyed or vandalized by Boko Haram. He pledged to sustain efforts in ensuring that all other communities in similar situations as Marte are rebuilt, to facilitate quick resettlement of all displaced citizens.
A Nigerian proverb says, that, “a lizard that jumps from the top of an iroko tree and survives can praise itself even if other don’t praise it”. Governor Babagana Umara Zulum’s visit to Marte and earlier to Damasak, another dreaded area, gives him cause to praise himself even if others fail to praise him. But the man is so humble, honest and down to earth. He will not beat his drums. Yet other cannot fail to notice his efforts. Until his next voyage, permit me to pay a special tribute to Professor Babagana Umara Zulum and of course to his predecessor, Distinguished Senator Kashim Shettima, through whose instrumentality God gave us this servant.
Inuwa Bwala was a Commissioner for Home Affairs Information and Culture in Borno State.