The Governor of Borno State, Babagana Zulum, is currently holding a retreat with his cabinet members in Damasak, the headquarters of Mobbar Local Government Area.
Damasak is one of the communities in Borno State that became virtually empty after repeated attacks by Boko Haram. The town, one of the largest in Borno, shares a border with Niger Republic.
Attacks on soldiers and the few civilians left in Damasak by the Boko Haram is commonplace. But that did not deter the governor from holding his retreat there.
Mr Zulum said that defying the security threats to hold a retreat in Damasak was not intended to put his cabinet members in danger but to make them appreciate the enormity of the problems faced by his new government.
Isa Gusau, the governor’s spokesman, who provided details of the retreat, said the retreat is holding in Damasak, “which has remained a shadow of Itself since it was occupied by Boko haram as a caliphate.”
He said, “Damasak, hitherto a major agricultural community in the fringes of the Lake Chad that is less than 10 kilometres away from Diffa in the Niger Republic, was occupied and administered by Boko haram from November 2014 to 2016 before it was recovered by multinational forces.”
“Damasak had come under repeated attacks including early this year,” the spokesperson said.
In his opening speech at the retreat, Mr Zulum was quoted as saying that the choice of Damasak was to bring top government officials “face to face with the realities” on the ground and to remind them their appointments were not opportunities for luxury but for the serious task ahead of them.
“By tradition, retreats are held in the most serene and oftentimes, luxurious environments. However, holding retreats under the serene atmosphere is reserved for those who live and operate under normal circumstances.
“Fellow members of the state executive council, I will like to remind us very strongly that our circumstances in Borno State are not normal. If we decide to hold our retreat in Maiduguri, Abuja or perhaps at Obudu Cattle ranch in Cross Rivers state, we may not totally true to ourselves and sensitive to the plight of our people.
“The wisdom of convening this retreat in Damasak, headquarters of Mobbar local government area in the most troubled northern part of Borno State, is to bring all of us, face to face with the realities of our challenges in Borno.
“Driving from Maiduguri to this place, we have passed major towns like Gubio and Kareto which have become near ghosts of what they used to be. We have seen villages that are without human occupation. We have seen on the road, soldiers at different points, clearly indicating that all is not normal with Borno.
“Damasak, where we are today, used to be one of Borno’s agro-economic centres. Damasak used to be a large scale producer and exporter of farm produce like tomatoes, pepper, and other vegetables. Thousands of wealthy farmers and transporters, other fellow citizens have been killed, displaced to the Niger Republic and forced to become beggars. The story of Damasak business persons and fellow have become poor due to the We are here to remind ourselves that the oath of offices we differently took in May, June, August, and September 2019 is not for luxury.
“Borno has serious challenges and we have individually sworn with the Holy Qur’an and the Holy Bible to do whatever we can in trying to address the challenges facing Borno State,” the governor said.
Mr Zulum also charged the participants to see Damasak as an example that tells the realities of the 27 local government areas in the state. He said, “timelines are going to be created for the attainment of goals determined at the retreat.”
“At this retreat, ladies, and gentlemen, we shall not only come up with ideas that are achievable but insha’Allah, we shall be setting for ourselves timelines within which we are to achieve every goal we aim. We are here to spend only a few days in Damasak but there are thousands of our fellow brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, who live here on a permanent basis. We are here to feel their stay and to remind us of their needs for continued safety; their needs for shelter; their needs for medical care; their needs for water; their needs for schools; their needs for means of livelihoods.
“When we drove into this lodge, we saw hundreds of our young sons and daughters welcoming us happily. We saw wives, sisters, mothers, and fathers joining to welcome us. Whereas they all wore happy faces, we know that the majority of them are in distress. We should, therefore, regard Damasak as an example of the realities facing all of our 27 local government areas, particularly those in northern Borno,” the governor was quoted as saying.
Earlier, secretary to the state government, Usman Jidda, said the retreat was meant for top government officials to cross-fertilize ideas “towards better service delivery in line with Governor Zulum’s vision and approach to governance.”
He said the retreat had resource persons who discussed topics “peculiar to the challenges facing the state and suggestions on ways to solving them.”