Borno State, in the north-east of Nigeria, has for over a decade being terrorised by Boko Haram, which literally means western education is forbidden, this has been traced by many to a population with dearth of western education allowing a fundamentalist group to brainwash its youth. The current administration of Governor Babagana Zulum has seen this and has started taking steps to change the narrative. Michael Olugbode reports
According to late President Nelson Mandela, "education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."
Mandela's view seems to be in line with Prof. Isa Marte, the erstwhile Borno State Commissioner of Higher Education, who was recently appointed the Chief of Staff (CoS) to Borno State Governor. The respected Professor of Pharmacology and fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Science, who had the honour of overseeing the administration of higher institutions in the state which has been besieged by Boko Haram for over a decade said: "Education is the engine for social and economic development, it is the engine of industrialization so any society that ignores education is doomed to fail and that society, state or country will never compete globally so it is a necessity we have to train our people and education is the way out of poverty, it s a way out of unemployment, it is a way out of the insurgency we have."
He added: "Because if we have educated people, educated society nobody will come and brainwash people to go and start senseless killing of their own parents, their own children and people that have not done anything to them. So the number one priority to develop any society is to push for education and spend as much as possible resources to ensure that people are educated and that is why UNESCO set minimum portion of the budget to be about 26 per cent and if you look at our state Borno, this year we have about 19 per cent on education, education carries the lion share. Education is the way out of underdevelopment."
The erstwhile commissioner seems to be one of the favourites of the governor, no wonder his elevation and subsequent replacement with another erudite scholar, Dr. Babagana Mallumbe, who was given an additional responsibility of overseeing the Ministry of Higher Education with the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation he has had to handle since the inception of the administration.
The governor's passion for education is not in doubt going by what he had to do to get it and use it to rise to the top in all facets of life. Young Zulum had to drive a commercial vehicle for 16 years to finance his education, an investment which has brought him to the pinnacle in the academic field as a professor and took him to the political peak in his state.
The governor, who in the past recounted the story of his life, came from the humblest of beginning and had to join his father in tilling the ground at a tender age in Loskuri Village in Mafa Local Government Area of the state.
He, at a point in time, had to trek seven kilometers daily to reach his father's farm from their home. He combined farming with his primary and secondary school in Mafa and Monguno from 1975 to 1980 and 1980 to 1985 respectively.
He had to take the decision to work at getting education when he was in class 5 in secondary school.
He said: "From 1984 to around 1999 (16 years) I became a commercial driver of taxis, particularly Peugeot 404. At some point, I also drove buses carrying passengers to different villages, and neighbouring states. At a later time, I drove commercial pickup trucks carrying firewood from forests. While working as commercial driver, I learned how to fix any vehicle I drove."
He added in an interview with journalists over a year ago that: "In 1986, I gained admission into Ramat Polytechnic in Maiduguri, owned by the state government, to study for a National Diploma in Irrigation Engineering, and lived with relatives off-campus in Kofa Biyu, a densely-populated area.
"I trekked for eight kilometers from Kofa Biyu to Ramat Polytechnic and back whenever I had lectures. But I was already used to long walks all my life, as I couldn't afford transport to school. Whenever I drove taxis and returned the vehicles to owners, I used what I got for my basic school needs. I later also became a commercial operator of grinding machine, and I owned one in Mafa, and during weekends I went there to serve customers."
He obtained his ND in 1988, and in 1989, joined the Borno State Civil Service as an Assistant Technical Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture. In 1990, he moved into Borno State Unified Local Government Service as Senior Field Overseer.
He lamented that: "While working, the salary couldn't cater for my needs and some dependants, so I continued commercial driving to augment my income.
"It was still as a commercial driver that in 1990, I secured admission into the University of Maiduguri for a degree in Agricultural Engineering, I graduated in 1994. After three years, I got admission into the University of Ibadan for an MSc in Agricultural Engineering."
He said: "An experience after gaining admission in Ibadan will always remain memorable, as my registration was delayed for three weeks because I could not pay my registration fees. I did not have the money when I departed Maiduguri, but I believed I could get some work to do in Lagos. For three weeks, I lived in Alaba Rago working with commercial vehicles and there I raised the money for my tuition. I went to Ibadan, paid my fees and started. I graduated in 1998, returned to the civil service as a Senior Agricultural Engineer and later Principal Water Engineer," he noted.
After obtaining a masters degree, Zulum said he joined the University of Maiduguri in 1998 as an assistant lecturer. From 2005 to 2009, he obtained PhD in Soil and Water Engineering from University of Maiduguri, rising through the ranks, at some point Deputy Dean and acting Dean of the Faculty of Agricultural Engineering.
His passion for education made him to continue lecturing in UNIMAID even after his appointment as a rector of Ramat Polytechnic in 2011 by Governor Kashim Shettima. As a rector he ensured he expanded the school and erected capital infrastructure using internally-generated revenue and attracting interventions from federal agencies.
Though he had a glorious outing as a Commissioner for Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement, a position he held from 2015 and from where he blossomed, the development of education was prominent in his mind and he has a mission to use it as a launchpad to reinvent the state and bring it back to the track of development.
Zulum, having inherited a good foundation in the education sector from his successor, Senator Kashim Shettima, has started bringing his dream and passion into reality and things have started taking shape in the sector and most importantly with the higher institutions especially with the newly established Borno State University.
Marte speaking on the state government's plan on education, especially higher education, said: "The target is to train as many Borno State indigenes and prepare them for the training of manpower and also teachers for our schools, the secondary schools and even universities. We hope to train at least in terms of teachers of PhD and masters, 1,000 in the next two or three years."
He said higher education is the core in the plan of the government, adding that: "We have about nine tertiary institutions and about forty per cent budget to education goes to higher education, with the new state university, the government is spending a lot to make sure our students get access to higher education.
On investment in higher institutions, Marte said: "In the area of infrastructure we have done a lot, we have renovated a lot of structures, we have built a lot of structures and we have sponsored people, we have awarded scholarships to about 23,000 students domestically, outside we have spent to the tune of N26 million. Already the government has released over N300 million. So a lot in terms of scholarship to allow for human capacity building. Next we are now trying to purchase equipment for Borno State University and most of the courses because of the insurgency have not been accredited, we have started doing that. We have done that of Kashim Ibrahim College of Education and very soon we will start working on Ramat Polytechnic and Borno State University."
He regretted that: "Because of the insurgency most accreditation panels did not want to come to Borno State. So now we have to really change that as peace has come and for you to invite accreditation team you must make sure that you have everything on ground, you must have the structures, you must have the equipment and you must have the manpower. All these three are very important in getting accreditation and without accreditation that means you are running sub-standard courses."
He said everything has been put in place to make higher institutions in the state a place of pride and institutions that can complete with the best in the country.
Marte stated that there is no plan to establish additional higher institution (especially another university), but instead make the one on ground effective and efficient.
"I don't think we are going to establish a new university because we have to make sure that the one we have established is functional and it is optimum, that it has all the students it requires because apart from the state university there is a military university in Biu so there is no need to have so many universities. As far as I know, I don't think we have any plan to have additional university. This university is enough for now for the six million indigenes of Borno State."
But on the need for the establishment of Borno State University since the state has allegedly not filled its quota in institutions it has catchment, Marte said: "I don't think that is true, in Maiduguri alone, you can get between 2,000 and 5,000 students who have completed secondary school and have good scores in JAMB and are not able to get admission into higher institutions. I know of a fact that last year 2,000 of our students did not get into University of Maiduguri and when we opened the Borno State University, close to 1,000 that applied we admitted them. There are lot of students going around without admission into higher institutions and we opened a portal, thousands of them have applied and they indicated that they did not have jobs and they are not admitted into any higher institution. It is not true that we lack students who are qualified to go into higher institutions outside Borno State.
Marte said the establishment of the state university was of essence and not a status symbol. "We are opening opportunities for indigenes of Borno State who are not able to get admission into other institutions because if you look at NUC requirements for getting into higher institutions, the minimum for JAMB is 160 and there are so many students who have not gotten admission into other universities who have higher than 160, all these are qualified and most of them cannot go to private universities because their parents are not rich, this is an opportunity for our students to get into higher institution. Ramat Polytechnic alone has almost 22,000 students and we have almost 60 percent of students in University of Maiduguri that are from Borno State, and there are lot of students that are qualified to go to universities that have not been admitted, so it is not just that we are trying to showcase or see it as a symbol, no we don't have such money to waste. It is out of necessity that was why the university was established."
On investment in the state university to bring it to standard, Marte said: "We actually wanted to establish 11 faculties but you know you have to look at the budget, so initially we established five faculties and they include arts, science, education, agriculture and social sciences. Very soon we are going to establish Faculties of Engineering and Medicine. And to make sure that this particular university is very competitive, we built structures that are really solid and state-of-the-art facilities, we have already placed orders for state-of-the-art equipment but most importantly we have for now recruited a number of professors most of them are on sabbatical, but very soon we are going to recruit permanent staff and most of them we are going to send for PhD and masters immediately. So it is a pride for the state not just having the school, but to create an environment that is very conducive and give them the best education that money can buy."
Now Borno State seems to have gotten right how to end illiteracy and the brainwashing of its people and kill the life of Boko Haram and bring back the pride of the state with one big punch, education.