By Usman Emmanuel Bassi, PhD
Dear Professor Babagana Umara Zulum,
Let me start this epistle by congratulating you on your win and the opportunity to lead the great state of Borno. I am sure it is not too late to felicitate with you.
To be candid, I did not support you during your campaign, nor did I cast my vote for you during the governorship election. Nevertheless, please permit me to make this an open letter. My decision to write you this open letter is predicated on the belief that it will increase my chances of reaching you.
I have to state, clearly that my reason for not choosing you during the 9th March 2019 governorship election is not only because I am a member of an opposition party, nor because I totally do not believe in your government’s ability to bring about the needed change to Borno State. My reason, just like those of other people, is that I did not want the previous administration to remain in power by proxy. Till this day, it is a decision I do not regret, especially because the administration was brimming with non-performance and insensitivity to the plight of its citizenry.
Your Excellency Sir, I wish to state, in all sincerity, that this letter is not in support of any of your opposition, nor is it a slight on you or your administration. Its intent is solely to support and promote what is good for our dear state Borno. Therefore, I am writing as an indigene and stakeholder of the state, and as a member of one of the constituencies under your governance. Whatever you say or do will undoubtedly affect me, my people, my community and our state as well.
www.thenigerianvoice.com presents your biography mentioning your humble beginning and rise from grass to grace. However, humility is never enough for effective leadership. According to John C. Maxwell, ‘’A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way” Leadership is about servant–hood. It becomes imperative to hearken to the good advices of wise people, and not just those that benefit from you or have other agendas other than the unity and progress of the State.
Let me assure you, your first 100 days will count a lot: they will blazon decibels concerning your effectiveness or mediocrity. As Governor, you have the opportunity to write your name in the chapters of history. Choices you make now will have a huge impact on where the story goes next.
Campbell Brown said “Bipartisanship is really tough to achieve when everyone on both sides is left with bad, bad taste in their mouths’’. I hope we can make our politics reflect what is best in and for us, and not what is worst? Our efforts to forge a country that works, a Borno State that is true to its socioeconomic potentials, ensuring peace and security, should not start and end in campaign rhetoric. This holds true especially for those of us in the opposition in the state. I have decided to offer my little contribution of ideas that might help make your government successful. My advice has to do with important drivers of growth, equity, justice, and fairness void of sentiments. With enormous respect for you and the office you occupy, I offer the following pieces of advice as you lead Borno State into leading the nation:
Formation of your new cabinet and politics of inclusiveness
Identify a few trusted advisors who will tell you what you need to hear; not what you want to hear. Develop an overall strategy for building the team. As the player-coach-owner, you will be held responsible for the actions of your entire team and responsible for developing the entire team in a manner that reflects the values and style of your governance. You will have to maintain a healthy balance between professionalism and political considerations. This would allow you to reward loyalists and party people, while making sure that professionals, good ones, are in place to handle the nitty-gritty of governance.
I have no doubt in my mind that, as a professor, you are smart and technocratic and not just a career politician. Get some smart brains around your circles, and let them do the job.
Policy formulation is the mainstay of a nation and it must be left at the hands of technocrats and discipline minded individuals. Strategic recruitment also involves balancing political and professional considerations when reviewing potential candidates for high positions. Building an administration based solely on the groups or people who were instrumental in the campaign can be a dangerous approach to appointments. ‘You need to look for personalities that will fit. You do not want to have micromanagers and people who cannot see the big picture.
You need to also be on the look-out for people with softer skills. Can they get along with people and build a team. The days of compensation and appointments on the basis of political expediency have since gone. I urged you to observe the best standards in picking those that would constitute your cabinet to enable you achieve your vision and mission for the state rather than recycling old foes. Look out for competent, credible and dedicated people, who can generate ideas that would propel the speedy growth of the state, and ignite the fire of confidence in their ability to deliver the dividends of democracy to the citizenry.
Focusing on your 10-point agenda
In your acceptance/inaugural speech, you itemized a ten-point agenda with restoration of peace, education and job creation at the top of the ‘pyramid’. This is commendable, because if you have no policy agenda, one will be found for you by the predictable horde of praise singers and political contractors that strut around the corridors of power.
This suggests that, having set a policy agenda, you will need to secure the ‘buy in’ of the electorate, because in a democracy, leaders do not get results by fiat, but by consultation, consensus, and by bringing along stakeholders. This, of course, means that you will have to communicate clearly to the people that you lead, instead of exhibiting the arrogance of power that says, ‘I know it all.’
Our politics is littered with the carcasses of policies that were grandly articulated and imaginatively crafted, which never came to light, because they never prospered at the implementation stage. We need a new vision, a fresh mind-set for the state. We need to move beyond material progress to a society which places people at its very centre. A state where people will see a difference, make a difference; where each citizen and resident is valued; and where people will feel a positive impact of governance. We want you to work, day and night, to ensure our children have access to great and better education, affordable college, and good paying jobs after graduation; to work day and night to see that farmers have enough fertilizers, seedlings, tractors, pesticides and insecticides to boost their agricultural activities; to work day and night to see that our hospitals are renovated and equipped so that they do not continue to wear the look of abattoirs; to work day and night to see that our schools do not look like abandoned farm houses; to see that our roads are repaired and in a good shape to enable free movement within the state and to neighboring states and countries; to work day and night to see that masses have potable drinking water; to work day and night to see that more communities are connected to electricity; and to work day and night to embark on policies and programmes that have direct and positive impact on the masses, instead of pursuing white elephant projects.
Your true victory will be when the state is back on its track. Do not forget that you are surrounded by hawks, professional politicians (looters), cabals and Godfathers that contributed to the downfall of previous administrations, and who are on standby to worm their way into your administration in order to maintain the status quo of having their personal and domestic bills oiled by the state’s treasury.
Education as a priority
Education is the fulcrum for social development, mental and creative productivity, as well as individual self-reliance and progress. The importance of knowledge and learning has been recognized since the beginning of time. Plato wrote: “If a man neglects education, he walks lame to the end of his life.” We have a large population of people who don’t have basic education. Looking at the statistics of enrolment for SSCE, NECO and JAMB, the number is very low relative to our population. Giving education a top priority, as stated in your inaugural speech, will lay the foundation for a more peaceful and sustainable future for our state.
Investment in education requires a holistic approach. It needs to include investment in physical infrastructures, massive recruitment of teaching staff in our primary and secondary schools, training and certification of teaching staff, employing technology and internet connectivity. To make teachers more efficient, active and productive, training programmes and seminars should be compulsorily and periodically organized for them, while stringent rules that will guide the activities of the pupils and students should be reviewed.
Borno State needs to invest in providing quality primary and secondary school education for its citizenry. It needs to upgrade the new Borno State University to a world-class institution; and your government needs to invest heavily in the civic education of adult residents, especially among the increasing number of Internally Displaced Persons. The contents of the civic education programme should teach the good use of public spaces and promotion of peace, tolerance and cultural diversity. I believe a thriving educational system is the lifeblood of our economy, and can increase social inclusion.
Security of Life and Properties
In the last ten years, our state has lived through a time of torment, fear, insecurity and blocked opportunities. The menace of insecurity no doubt calls for a new approach that will be founded on credible intelligence gathering. I hope and pray that your leadership will be that ‘golden opportunity’ for healing, reconstruction, rehabilitation, reconciliation, and true democracy.
We don’t need to sympathize with Boko Haram. Looking at their activities, we just need to call them what they are — killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed.
Remember, while the votes electing you as governor of Borno were still being counted, our state was struck again by raging fires and yet another episode of mass bombings and shootings. This is a grim reminder of how events, outside of the governor’s office, will make it hard for you and your advisers to focus on proactive and creative initiatives that should embody our state.
Proven good governance is the panacea for insecurity challenges in the state. The war against insecurity would be won only by raising standards of governance. It is necessary to cultivate the culture of good governance, where the government is responsible and accountable to the people. There is no doubt that Security engagement cannot be separated from good governance.
However, as good governance is a function of effective, visionary, transparent, trustworthy and credible political leadership whose driving force is an improvement in the collective wellbeing of the citizens through well-conceived and effectively implemented economic policies, as well as human development programmes. The underlying principle of good governance is the focus on people as the ultimate objective of governance.
It is also worthy to note that provision of security goes beyond ending Boko Haram insurgency in the state. Security includes stability and continuity of livelihood (stable and steady income), predictability of daily life (knowing what to expect), protection from crime (feeling safe), and freedom from psychological harm (safety or protection from emotional stress, which results from the assurance or knowing that one is wanted, accepted, loved and protected in one’s community or neighborhood and by people around. It focuses on the emotional and psychological sense of belonging to a social group, which can offer one protection). It is generally argued, however, that security is not the absence of threats or security issues, but the ability to rise to the challenges posed by these threats with expediency and expertise.
Your Excellency Sir, you are quite aware that economic activities have always been an integral part of every human existence. Economic activities play vital roles in providing revenue for the government and sources of livelihood to millions of citizens. There is no need to preserve some money in the banks when various sectors of the state economy need attention. Announcing untouched funds after governance is not an achievement.
Borno State, which has long struggled with insurgency, governance issues and poverty, is in need of profound economic transformation. Now is the time for you to make some tough, big decisions that can change the narratives. Economic transformation and the boosting of developmental governance must go hand-in-hand with the transformation of day-to-day institutional practices.
Borno State at the moment is facing low productivity growth, weak trade and investment. It is therefore crucial that your administration pursues policies that promote innovation and entrepreneurship among the youths and women. Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs) are key to strengthening productivity, delivering more inclusive growth and adapting to megatrends. SMEs that grow have considerable positive impact on employment creation, innovation, productivity growth and competitiveness.
A cross-cutting approach to SME policy can enhance the contributions of SME to inclusive growth, and strengthen the monitoring and evaluation of programmes. Creating and putting SME’s policies in place will provide a conducive business environment, including institutional and regulatory settings, which essentially will incentivize risk-taking and experimentation by entrepreneurs, and foster business growth potential. Access to entrepreneurship competencies, management and workforce skills, technology, innovation and networks, is also critical to enable SME growth.
Also, the government can focus on infrastructure spending to spur economic growth. Infrastructure spending occurs when government spends money to build or repair the physical structures and facilities needed for commerce and society as a whole to thrive. Economists who favor infrastructure spending as an economic catalyst argue that having top-notch infrastructure increases productivity by enabling businesses to operate as efficiently as possible.
Additionally, infrastructure spending creates jobs as workers must be hired to complete the green-lighted projects. It is also capable of spawning new economic growth. For example, the construction of a new highway might lead to other investments such as gas stations and retail stores opening to cater to motorists.
Other general issues
On a general note, before I conclude, avoid the Jack-of-all-trade principle. Instead of giving all sectors substandard attention at the same time, focus on some sectors and improve them excellently.
Having said this, it is important to draw the attention of the governor to the plight of the silent minority of his people, who feel they have been neglected and treated unfairly. Since 1999, the award and execution of road constructions have never been in their favour. Therefore the roads leading to their communities are in deplorable conditions. They have continued to wonder what offences they have committed to warrant being neglected and treated as though their villages and towns are not on the map of Borno State. A few of the roads needing intervention are the Biu–Garkida; Damboa–Chibok–Uba; and Biu–Shani Roads. Give the citizens standard road networks sir. There is no longer any use for emergency road patching during the last days of tenure.
As good and commendable as the on-going development in the state capital is, permit me to urge the state government to also look at communities in the three Senatorial zones of the state. This is very important because Maiduguri cannot be the only major town in Borno State. For instance, in Adamawa State, besides Jimeta-Yola (the state capital), there are other towns like Mubi, Numan, Hong and Gombi where you would find banks and other commercial ventures, like engineering and law firms, private and public health institutions. The developmental drive of Borno State at the rural areas should spread; it should not be lopsided to favour one senatorial zone alone. Yes, the entire state is your constituency.
Professor Sir, to truly fight corruption and ensure transparency, I want your administration to “domesticate” the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act. This will make your administration to be transparent, accountable and have respect for the rule of law. Sir, I challenge your administration to work with the House of Assembly to ensure this Act is domesticated (without watering it down) in Borno State. This will definitely distinguish your administration from previous administrations in terms of curbing corruption.
We want to have faith in the state again; we want to be proud again; we want the truth again. It is time for the people to run their government, and it is time for us to take a new look at our own way of governance to strip away the secrecy of governance.
Your Excellency, in the interest of the Borno people, actions should be taken on local government leaderships; an appointed caretaker chairman is only responsible and answerable to the appointer and not the people. Don’t be afraid to organize a local government election in your first year in office. I assure you, as the culture is everywhere, your party will still carry the day, with the exception of one or two LGAs.
Governance is about opening it up and letting the people see that it is a collective process. I do not expect you to change the state overnight, but you can make your impact felt that others would be inspired to emulate. Also, future generations will read about you with pride and respect. That is why you need to reject any form of politics that targets people because of their tribe or religion.
The future we want is that future that provides us with opportunity and security for our families; a rising standard of living; and a sustainable, peaceful Borno for our kids and sundry. But it will only happen if we work together. It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debates. It will only happen if we fix our politics.
A better politic does not mean we have to agree on everything. Democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens, but it does not work if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice. It does not work if we think that our political opponents are unpatriotic or trying to weaken you. Democracy grinds to a halt without a willingness to compromise, or when even basic facts are contested, or when we listen only to those who agree with us. Our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get all the attention. And most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels his voice does not matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some special interest. We want a government that is based on ethical personal values; understands the true meaning of democracy; and has the political will to pursue and bring about the desired change.
In conclusion, some of the questions that will be going through Your Excellency’s mind is why did I write this? And what do I want? I personally believe we have to grow beyond sentiments about those that govern us if we really want to move in the right direction. Getting past these barriers will require a strong willed, well-liked and trusted leader with the courage to make the tough decisions to clean up the government and begin the reconstruction process.
Stand firm on your agenda to transform the state, and do not compromise. Remember, first impressions matter. Establish credibility and develop a reputation for getting things done. Know your job and take time to understand the mission, roles and work of the people who surround you. I believe a good leader is the one that looks beyond the present to the future. We need a leader that thinks beyond the next term in office and how to build a legacy that the next generation will be proud of.
Enjoy the job; it should be fun. But keep this in mind: four years goes by awfully fast, and soon you would have to get out there again. Have a sense of humor on the job. It is important.
I wish you and your administration success and lots of luck. People who become good governors get lucky, and I hope you are in that category.
God bless you, God bless Borno State, and God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Emmanuel Usman Bassi, PhD