Islamic cleric, Sheik Abubakar Ahmad Gumi, has called on the Federal Government of Nigeria to grant bandits and killer herdsmen the same kind of amnesty offered to the Niger Delta militants some years ago for peace to reign in the country.
In a monitored interview on Arise Television on Wednesday, Gumi spoke on various controversial issues.
How can you describe the government’s effort in trying to confront the numerous security challenges facing the country?
Government is not supposed to take sides because when that happens, it becomes part of the conflict, and this is what I saw in Zamfara, Niger and other states. This is a tribal war going on with the government taking side. I know that if the government can cross over to the other side, listen to their grievances and understand their agitations, it can easily, in a very short time, cure the problem we are having. When you say the bandits are committing crimes, yes, I agree that they are committing crimes because they are killing, kidnapping, raping and committing all sorts of atrocities. But, have you, for once, gone to their side to see the kinds of atrocities committed against them? Do you know that ordinary herdsmen are lynched in many towns in Nigeria? We have seen that in Oyo, Anambra and many other states; children decapitated and people don’t look at that. So, I think there should be well-meaning Nigerians that should stay neutral in these tribal wars. It is rather unfortunate that in the 21st century, because of the fracture in our governmental structure, people hide under tribalism or religion to express their grievances. I think in the 21st century, we should also have a sense of collectiveness and build a nation whereby equity, transparency and even love for one another abide. But the atrocities committed on one side are appalling; we condemn it and we don’t support it. I don’t speak for the bandits and I don’t speak for those committing atrocities against the bandits. I am trying to be neutral in this case; to look at it objectively and even scientifically.
You said it is easy to resolve the matter but looking at Gov Bello Masari’s model in Katsina State where he has granted amnesty on two occasions but that didn’t stop banditry in his state, one may want to disagree with you. So, do you think it is as easy as it seems?
You see, when you grant a political amnesty, what do you expect? I mean you grant amnesty in front of the media and press, but in the real sense, there was no amnesty. Amnesty comes with a package and the package is that you rehabilitate these criminals, provide for them social amenities like schools and hospitals; engage them and try to entice them to leave the forests by engaging them in different kinds of professions because not all of them can be herdsmen again. But, there was no project put forward; it is just the ceremony of handing over weapons and that cannot stop banditry. But, I can say now that from what we are hearing, there is relative peace in Katsina State. The Katsina government is truly engaging them; and that is why the state is finding out that dialogue and real amnesty, not political amnesty, is giving results. And we have seen that in Zamfara State. I have been to Shinkafi Forest, where there is such an arrangement with the Zamfara State Governor and it is working very well. People are now moving about and markets are open, but in the past, nobody dared to go to market. But even the peace in Zamfara is still not what we expect. I can understand that the state government is financially constrained to grant amnesty, and that is why we are calling on the Federal Government to come in here and it will be easily solved.
Sheik Gumi, what do you really want? Do you want a Niger Delta kind of amnesty programme? And how much do you think could be set aside if that’s what you want?
Let’s start with the amnesty. I think we can take an example from the Niger Delta amnesty programme. When they were vandalizing the oil pipelines, which affected the Nigerian economy, the nation went into negotiation with them and even gave them the pipelines to guard and that brought about the little peace we had then and Nigeria was having a continuous crude oil supply. The herdsmen too are now controlling a big chunk of land and they are now preventing farmers from farming. And it is very important for the economy of the nation because when you leave a big chunk of the population hungry without farming, it is going to have consequences which we don’t want to experience. So, in the same sense, as the Niger Deltans are important to the economy, these herdsmen now have suddenly become very important to the economy because they can prevent farmers from farming; in fact, they are preventing people from farming. So, we can approach them to guard the forests; we have spoken with them and we have seen them guarding the forests in the Shinkafi area where there has been no kidnapping for about 10 months now. In fact, they have even freed some people that were kidnapped. Let us not forget that there are thousands of Nigerians held captive in the hands of these herdsmen; they are not in a hurry. Last week, I learnt that two nurses who were kidnapped in April in Southern Kaduna are yet to be released. We are trying to locate them, know the people that kidnapped them and see if we can plead with them. Look at the suffering Nigerians are going through simply because we are not dialoguing with these people. These people are not aliens from mars or any outer space; they are Nigerians and we know them. We know their relatives, we know everything about them and they have qualities that we can tap into. That is the Fulani man that is known to be shy and very respectful to his elders and they work in unity and community. We can gather them all together because they are ready to sit down. They told me that they were ready to sit down with the government. So, I don’t know what is stopping this national congress of herdsmen, because if they can come together to say there is no more kidnapping, the war is finished, and this is our condition. I don’t see any other Fulani man breaking that agreement and continuing with crime. So, for me, it is a simple thing; it only needs engagement from the government.
You talked about a tribal war going on; can you expatiate on this tribal war?
I have been saying it is an ethnic war but people didn’t understand me because in Nigeria, we don’t understand ethnicity. The Fulani is an ethnic stock, different from the other groups but what I see now is a tribal war because you see the Fulani fighting the Yoruba in the Southwest, the Igbo in the Southeast, and other tribes in the North depending on which region; so it is a tribal war that is going on but when a governor, or the president or the military especially takes side, it worsens the situation. I have been to a Fulani settlement that was ravaged and destroyed by the military. They came to me to tell me what happened and I went there and saw that their huts were burnt and they have been there for more than 40 years. What is the military saying? They said the people should leave the place and move to the town to settle. Is that how things are done in a civilized society? Even if you want to displace people, you should build a place where they can relocate to; you don’t just come and burn people’s houses with children and women crying. As we were still there, a contingent of military and some civilian JTF came with a Captain as their leader. I asked the Captain who burnt the settlement and he said he didn’t know. I told him that since he was in charge of security in the area, he should give them his numbers so they could call him for protection in case of any problem because they are Nigerians. In fact, the Captain was very kind; he even gave the people N5000 and peacefully settled everything. This is the kind of engagement I would want the military to get involved in and not just kill innocent people. They are Nigerians too and they should be protected. And for the JFT, I advised them to make the herdsmen part of them to be able to fight the bad ones among them and the herdsmen are ready. In fact, there is a Fulani organisation that came to me to say that they have more than seven commanders and that they are ready if the military is ready to cooperate with them to put this banditry and kidnapping to a stop. They are Fulani herdsmen. Why can’t we engage them? I cannot understand. So, I think the government, the media and other tribes are taking sides in this war and unfortunately, the Fulani herdsmen have nobody to tell their own side of the story, and this, I think, is what is prolonging the issue otherwise we can finish it in a short time?
Which group are you asking the Nigeria government to negotiate with? Is it Boko Haram, the bandits without label or the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP)? People are saying that since you know where the bandits are, you should be leading the security forces to the place to route them out but here you are defending the bandits instead of the Nigerian state.
This is oversimplification of a complex matter. Abubakar Shekau has been causing mayhem in the country for more than 10 years and the military could not kill him but ISWAP, a splinter group from Boko Haram was able to eliminate him. It is the same thing with the herdsmen; we can use them to suppress the criminals among them. We all know that at a point, the Boko Haram wanted to dialogue with the government. In fact, they even suggested the current president to be the man they trust that could negotiate well for them at a point. And the former president, Olusegun Obasanjo has also tried to broker peace with the Boko Haram but he didn’t get the cooperation of the government then. So, it is a story that has been there; government doesn’t want to recognise that there are agitations. Even with the IPOB, if I were the government, I would call them to a round table to find out why they are agitating and carrying weapons against the country. We can also do the same with the herdsmen; let’s negotiate. But the difference with the herdsmen is that they are ready to sit down; they have told us that they are ready to sit. The herdsmen are gradually being radicalized; radicalized in a terrorist form, I mean religiously. And this is a bad omen for us because when a criminal will come out reading religious text and trying to justify what he is doing, then such persons are even more difficult to convince. I have been warning that we should go and get them before the evil forces capture them.
Sheik Gumi, it is not proper comparing IPOB and Niger Delta militants with the herdsmen because they were not kidnapping school children as the herdsmen are doing. And these are people you are suggesting that the society should embrace and make to secure such schools; does that not amount to a fox guarding the hen house? How can people who have tasted a lucrative business like kidnapping go back to mere guarding of schools?
IPOB is attacking the police, the army, INEC offices, government institutions, and killing our men in service. And the herdsmen are kidnapping children not to kill them but to get money. So, how can you compare somebody who is killing our gallant men in the armed forces directly with somebody who is kidnapping to make money and not to kill them? Look, we need to be fair in what we do.
As a retired captain who swore allegiance to Nigeria, where does your loyalty lie; to the government or people who want to destroy the sovereignty of this country?
My allegiance is to the Nigerian people and government, but I will not accept criminality, whether it is from the government, the military, individual Nigerian, tribe or group. I am against criminality from whatever quarter it comes.
People want to know why in your peace efforts you are concentrating in one part of the country. Why have you not visited the East or Ibarapa in the Southwest?
We are already making arrangements to visit the Southwest to gather the herdsmen and educate them on how to live in communities where they are not indigenous. The situation in the North is very hot and that is why we are engaged there. However, we are not in government, so we don’t have all the resources to go round the country but plans are in top gear to visit the Southwest and Southeast and show the herdsmen how to behave and channel their resources.
Are all the bandits Nigerians? If some of them are foreigners as some governors in the North have said, then it seems you are defending foreigners against the sovereignty of Nigeria.
I am not an Immigration officer to know who is a Nigerian or not by mere looking, but the people we saw in the bush are Nigerians. So, to us, they are Nigerians. If you don’t know, these bandits are cooperating with a lot of elements in our security system. This is a business and so many people are involved
Are you saying the security agents are working with the bandits?
Yes, they were caught in Zamfara State and other places. How can these weapons cross our borders and get into the forests without the cooperation of some bad elements in the security system? It is not possible. Part of fighting this banditry is to overhaul the security system.