In this interview conducted penultimate Friday, Islamic scholar and retired military officer, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, speaks on wide ranging issues around the problem of banditry afflicting a number of states in northern Nigeria. Excerpt:
You are among a few people who have tried to engage in a non-military means of ending the issue of banditry in northern Nigeria; what has been your experience since you started your engagement?
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I got a lot of cooperation and goodwill from many Nigerians. But unfortunately, and I was not surprised too, there are so many people who are opposing it too. There are people who are happy, ‘they are killing themselves’ and they like us to continue. They don’t want to understand, so any solution proposed they will fight it, by trying to make it black. And there are people who are just hurt by the evil crimes committed by the bandits; killings, raping, extortions, everything they did, so what these people want is vengeance; anything short of liquidating them, they don’t want to hear it.
And there are people who are benefiting from the crisis, they get big allocations, a lot of it. So it is a mosaic of different intentions, different persuasions, different perspectives; some are honest, some are not, all combined together in microcosm of Nigeria; so I expected to see what I have seen.
What are the successes you would say you have made?
The success I have done is one, I realize we can stop killing each other but we need the right environment. If it is not available now, it will be available in another time and that has reduced my anxiety to about 20 per cent. Before I was so anxious; how are my children going to live on this earth if such is the case. What I realised is, this is a very simple socio-economic problem which can be solved if the right environment is there, the right political atmosphere is there, and politics I know it is just like a cloud, it will come and go. So I feel happy, it is not an intractable problem.
Your emphasis is largely seen on advocacy for forgiveness or rehabilitating the bandits but forgetting the atrocities they committed. It is like you’re being sympathetic to them.
This is naïve! Let me give you a scenario; you know every person listens to somebody, even a mad man there is somebody who can shout at him and talk to him.
So now you have a mad man in a market, stabbing anybody that comes across him and this man was instigated; they are calling him mad man and he said ‘okay, I am mad so I am killing people’. Somebody who knows him says come you are not mad, bring you knife and trying to pacify him; is that man aiding in the carnage or helping in solving the problem?
Is that your mission?
That is my mission! So, I am dealing with people who are already steered, angry, vicious, illiterates, armed, on drugs and they are killing everywhere. But I know they listen to somebody.
But some said that even with your intervention, the killings are still…
(Cuts in…) No, it stopped! I was sabotaged from outside. So they [bandits] are the ones telling me, ‘look at what we’ve told you; these people are deceiving you, these people are not honest and you will see’ and so I found what they said is true.
Let me tell you, people are firing here and there and I told them I want to see you, come let us get together and speak and they all came. Some travelled on motorcycles for two days, didn’t that show seriousness? But I cannot call anybody in government; I cannot call!
Because they will not answer. So, who is easier to negotiate with?
So the bandits are more amenable to resolution?
That is the paradox!
But some say the bandits are used to free money and are used to violence. Do you think…
(Cuts in…) Our politicians are more used to money. If all they have collected is N1 trillion, how much did our politicians collected of the Nigerian money?
So now if you asked between the military solution and the non-military solution..?
There is no military solution! We are just killing our boys. I lost a relative. The son of our family driver, Private Sanusi, was killed by bandits. There is no military solution and that is why I said okay since they are disposed to dialogue, why not? Why not adopt the peace?
But why do you insist that there is no military solution?
There is no military solution. No way! It didn’t work for Afghanistan and it didn’t work in Borno; this is 12 years of carnage it didn’t work, so why will it work?
But what do you think is fuelling the anger of the bandits?
So many factors. An innocent Fulani man can be apprehended on suspicion and he will lose his cattle, the same way an innocent man will be kidnapped by bandits and he will lose his possession. So all the people holding guns are now liable to exploit and extort people, either on the government side or the…
In fact they are justifying what they are doing from the experience of their own people at the hands of the rogue security agents. I don’t say all the security are like that but from the rogue ones we have and with that experience they said ‘okay we are revenging’ and that is why they don’t have any remorse for committing any of these crimes. You don’t know the crimes committed against them, even genocide was committed against the Fulani’s herdsmen.
But people say Sheik Gumi always condemn the killings of Fulani but not Fulani’s killing of other people. Why is it so?
Action and reaction are equal and opposite. You condemn the action, it is futile to condemn the reaction because I know the effect was started on them. There are so many researches, Yan Sakai started killing them indiscriminately, extrajudicial killings, extortions. Ali Kwara had said that. There was a radio programme which exposed officers come from Abuja to extort Fulanis. So how I do I talk of reaction when I am not talking about action? They are steered and pushed into criminality.
There were calls for the government to declare the bandits as terrorists; what is your reaction to that?
That is unfortunately driven by prejudice and bigotry. IPOB is an organization, it does not mean Igbo. Boko Haram is an organization and it does not mean Kanuri. So you can declare Boko Haram terrorists, you can declare IPOB terrorists. In this case what are you going to declare terrorists?
They said the armed men, the bandits committing crimes…
(Cuts in) Bandit is a vague description. What are you declaring? You want to say herdsmen are terrorists? That is one. Secondly, IPOB now is declared a terrorist, how has it changed? America, European Union, everywhere did not recognized that declaration. They have not sanctioned them, stopped them from travelling, contributing money, probably because they are not us, they are them.
And in this case, if you say Fulani herdsmen are terrorist because that is the only words you say, you cannot say bandits are terrorists, bandits commit terrorism but they are not terrorists.
What is the difference?
A mobile policeman SARS, what brought about anti-SARS demonstration, it is because of the terror committed by policemen. So policemen can commit terror but they are not terrorists.
There are dimensions to this conflicts that are being reported about the possible infiltration of the jihadist groups…
That is what I am afraid of and that is why I want to rush there. It is just like a rogue person, everybody is searching for his soul. I can’t wait here, for terrorism to be implanted in these people.
But what is the situation now?
I have gotten them but I am not encouraged and the terrorists have access to them because they are armed too, they are brothers in conflict and you know it is said my enemy’s enemy is my friend, though not necessarily.
The former deputy governor of Zamfara, Wakkala, once told me; in the initial stage of the conflict, bandits brought Boko Haram members to court for trying to infiltrate them. They said, ‘Our struggle is not religious fanaticism, we are ethnic’ but the boundary is fading. This is what I am afraid of.
Look at what happened Maiduguri; you see when somebody is fighting with the book, it is difficult to convince because if you quote verse A, he will quote verse B. But these people if you quote verse A, they pull back.
So at the end what do you think is the peaceful outcome?
(Cuts in…) the end is dialogue, dialogue!
You still insist…
Yes, it is the only way.
Is it because the country is too weak to fight these people or…
Among it! We are too weak and secondly is that they are willing. If they are not willing I will not say dialogue, they are willing.
Like IPOB now fight them because they are not willing, but if they are willing, even Kanu if he now says I will rescind all I have said, okay I will say dialogue with him.
There was a recent article online where someone claimed that initial links of terrorist organisation to Nigeria had to do somehow with your family; did you encounter that? What is your reaction to it?
That was a pseudo-journalist writing nonsense. We fought…if not because of our stand, terrorism would have taken over. Look at how Jaafar and Albani debated theologically with them and even my father was the one saying politics should take precedence over prayers. He enjoined people to participate in democracy rather than go to hajj and Boko Haram is antithesis to democracy.
If not for us, they would have taken over this country like ISIS but we have stabilised Muslims to say participate in civic government, participate in banking, so how can we reconcile that.
So it was just nonsense, bigotry and prejudice [he was] just making useless noise. These are the people saying ‘let them kill themselves’.