Every time I have reason to travel to Maiduguri for an assignment, my family members become prayer warriors, and clarifications are sought around my dreams at such periods to check for what might be portents, while safety measures are devised against any possible untoward development.
As the birthplace of Boko Haram, Borno State is mostly associated with media tales of abandoned orphans, homeless widows, suffering internally displaced persons (IDPs), heartless suicide bombers and brutal terrorists etc.
Since my itinerary in the State usually revolves around humanitarian engagements, adequate security is routinely provided throughout my stay by the respective federal agencies that are my hosts.
In all the tours, I never paid much attention to the programmes and activities of the Borno State government. Like the proverbial bandwagon effect, I occasionally joined others in expressing deep resentments against State officials, traditional institutions and the political elite for doing little to curtail the excesses of the terrorists rampaging across the State.
Attempts by Isa Gusau, the spokesperson to Governor Kashim Shettima to convince some cynics like me with images and videos of positive strides being made in the State frequently met brick walls because we generally have a feeling that with technology, anything can be manipulated.
Therefore, when I received an invitation for a media tour of the State a few days to the commencement of the Ramadan fasting, I accepted the offer, even as I didn’t have any nightmare at the period that required dream interpreters. As usual, my prayer warriors conducted a special prayer for my safety on this more recent trip to Maiduguri.
I was delighted to meet some renowned newspaper columnists on the tour, including Mallam Mahmud Jega of Daily Trust; Mike Awoyinfa, formerly of The Sun; Sam Omatseye of The Nation and Zainab Suleiman Okino of Blueprint, among others.
Rather than being escorted and protected by fully armed bodyguards in armoured vehicles, we were received by Governor Shettima, who personally drove the lead car for the media tour of various projects and facilities in the State, without the use of sirens. A few state officials also accompanied us on the tour.
The first ports of call were the state-of-the-art primary schools newly built by the Borno State government, where the Commissioner of Education, Musa Inuwa Kubo took us round air-conditioned classrooms. The beautiful furniture there were locally produced in Maiduguri, even if the digitalised teaching boards and modern gadgets were unavoidably imported. The schools have fine libraries, expansive dining halls and roomy dormitories. I pinched my cheeks harder to reassure myself I wasn’t daydreaming in fantasy when we entered a spacious Disneyland-like playground.
We also inspected mega secondary schools with exquisite boarding facilities, infrastructure and sports arena. The newly constructed Borno State University is another world on its own, which is better than most newly established universities in terms of space, its physical ambience and buildings, and a conducive learning environment. The campus is slated to commence operation soon with the recent engagement of its principal officers.
Again, Shettima, who is equally the Senator-elect for Borno Central, led us to the newly established Industrial Park on the outskirt of Maiduguri, where the manager of the facility, Engineer Ibrahim Ali, informed us about the 16 tightly knit plants there, which have machinery for solar panel production, with the capacity to generate 120 megawatts of electricity. There are also plants in the Park for crop dehydration, and the production of PVC pipes, canopy-yarn, laminated sacks, plastic mats, school desks and chairs.
In our presence, plastic tables and chairs were produced, some of which I sat on with the fullness of my weight in order to test their strength, and quite impressively they were as solid as the rock of Gibraltar.
In the Industrial Park, there are also plants for processing cassava and tomato, biscuit making, and the extraction of assorted juice, among other plants whose raw materials are produced locally in the State. In fact, there is a plastic-roofed greenhouse near the park where two types of tomatoes are farmed. There, I plucked and munched on some of the ripe tomatoes to ensure they were not plastic ones.
We were all amazed at the immense scale and beauty of the residential estates built by Governor Shettima. Most of the buildings are duplex apartments, flats, and bungalows. One may not likely have the fear of Boko Haram, If only one could be able to live in any of the glamorous estates in the serene environment!
While thrilled at the amazing discoveries, we could hardly feel the intensity of the over 40 degree Celsius sun, when the Governor swiveled his saloon car towards to the Borno Specialist Hospital. There, we were received by the State Health Commissioner, Dr. Salisu Kwayabura, who conducted us round the medical facility that offers the latest in high-tech medical care and advanced imaging services, such as latest mammogram, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and echocardiogram equipment for the early detection of cancer in the human body.
There are also sophisticated Computer Tomography (CT) scanners that features “intraoperative teleconferencing technology”. Some of the new equipment in the facility are rare or very few in the West African region. The multi-disciplinary medical services on offer at the Borno Specialist Hospital, which feature cutting-edge tools that are fully digital and Internet-enabled, are designed to manage the data of patients electronically, in a completely paperless manner.
The hospital’s ultramodern kidney dialysis centre has the capacity to handle more than 40 patients, while the Intensive Care Unit and the theatre are fitted with facilities for neurosurgery and other advanced procedures from General Electric (GE), including the 4D ultrasound (Voluson E10) scanning machine for finer clinical details and diagnosis.
While I didn’t pray to fall sick during the visit, yet I felt like I could be very easily diagnosed and treated in this five-star, technologically advanced medical facility in Maiduguri for any future ailment or sickness. It is simply so cozy and soothing as a place of medical care.
I wondered how contractors, engineers, technicians, suppliers and other labourers were able to successfully deliver on the projects in the State considering the existence of Boko Haram terrorists and political insurgents in contiguous area, who could have wreaked havoc on them to make a strong statement?
After over six hours of tours, Governor Shettima led us to the Government House for a dinner with the incoming governor, Professor Babagana Umara Zulum.
When I was asked to speak on behalf of the senior media practitioners present, I commended the governor for personally taking us round on the inspection tour of the beautiful structures and highly sophisticated facilities his administration had remarkably put together without any armed bodyguard or the use of sirens. I nevertheless expressed my fear about the management of the huge projects, both in terms of their maintenance and the quality of personnel to be hired to man them. I then asked: “Would these projects boost the internally generated revenue (IGR) of the State?”
Governor Shettima’s response was apt. He said: “My tenure will expire in about a month… What gives me so much joy is that the structure, infrastructure and the facilities we put in place will be adequately maintained and improved upon, because we are privileged to have Professor Babagana Umara Zulum as my successor. And this is because he has demonstrated a consistent passion for our dearest Borno.
“Professor Zulum is head and shoulder above me in intellect, competence, compassion, and integrity. He has demonstrated those qualities, especially with his tremendous sacrifice and the risk he took as the Commissioner of Reconstruction and Rehabilitation in addressing the plight of the distressed and displaced people in the State.”
Governor Kashim Shettima, a humble person, is quite an erudite intellectual with brilliant and remarkable ideas on governance, politics, and social development. His outstanding legacies in revolutionising the key sectors in Borno State, despite a debilitating insurgency, shall remain indelible in the minds of the people, and in history.
After the dinner, I couldn’t help but contemplate what could be the nature of the future relationship between the outgoing and incoming administrations in the State. That is, beyond their apparently pleasant rapport at this time, would the mutually supportive relationship between Senator-elect Shettima and Professor Zurum endure after their different inaugurations or take a frosty turn like the known cases of the Kwankwaso-Ganduje saga and the Tinubu-Ambode imbroglio? Or the Orji Kalu-Theodore Orji clash, the Goje-Dankwambo rivalry, the Attah-Akpabio conflict or even the Akume-Suswan fiasco, among other similar incidents between political godfathers and their godsons?
Someone tells me that theirs will be a perfect example of non-interference but mutual encouragement in their respective constitutional mandates. I fervently pray that this is so.