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Military must be immuned from politics to restore professionalism – Sheikh Gumi

Sheikh Ahmad Gumi is an Islamic scholar, a medical doctor who retired as captain in the Nigerian Army. In this interview on Trust TV’s Daily…

Sheikh Ahmad Gumi is an Islamic scholar, a medical doctor who retired as captain in the Nigerian Army. In this interview on Trust TV’s Daily Politics, the cleric, who had at the height of banditry in the North West during the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, played mediatory role and brought out many Fulani armed militia from the bushes before he abandoned the project. He has said he is willing to go back and finish what he started if there is a commitment from the President Bola Ahmed Tinubu administration. He also bared his mind on the retirement of military generals whenever there is a new government, saying it is not ideal.

 

What is your take on the retirement of over 100 generals? Is it really normal that after every transition, the new government retires high profile generals from the Army, the Navy and the Air Force?

This thing started in 1999 when these positions were politicised. They have lost their professionalism. People look at their regional affiliations, ethnic or religious inclination, not only the qualified professional acumen that is supposed to be of such an institution.

It is very unfortunate. It is a very bad development that we lose officers after training them, some of the abroad. We spend a lot of money to train them on different kinds of warfare, then suddenly, because of ethnic, religious or regional consideration, many of them get retired after the appointment of some officers.

You see, the hierarchy in the army does not allow a junior to preside over his seniors or there will be a break of change of command, so they have to be retired.

And we don’t have to put anybody who is a junior just because of his tribe or religion or where he comes from to head such institution, especially in a time when our main problem, the elephant in the room, is the security issue. We need qualified hands, people who have experience; people who understand and are intelligent.

I hope that as we develop our political programmes we would come to overcome this. The military and the judiciary should be off the hands of politicians, otherwise they will be politicised and vandalised. You see, they have made the institutions a laughing stock.

In the civil service, someone must serve for 35 years or attain the age of 60 before he is retired; are you saying these officers were retired because of politics? Is this what obtains in other countries?

Our security apparatus is very sensitive. When Barack Obama became the American head of state, he left all the service chiefs appointed by the Republicans because there was war in Iraq.

I think we should not touch the military and the judiciary just because there is change of political leadership. Even the civil service is now affected. The position of a permanent secretary is supposed to be purely for professional civil servants, but you find out that it is now also politicised.

Politicisation of every sector of our public life is part of the corruption that is becoming endemic in the society.

Between 1999 and now, hundreds of generals have been retired, how much does it take to train someone to become a general, right from early years in Nigeria Defence Academy (NDA)?

Financially, I cannot say that because I was never in the financial department, but definitely, hard currencies would have been spent to train an officer in Sandhurst, America, India or Pakistan on special military warfare courses.

What about the expertise we are losing?

Yes; it is very evident. For instance, in the last dispensation, I had the opportunity to sit with some the last crop of officers and I could particularly see the difference with the former Chief of Defence Staff.

He is a very intelligent person. When we had discussions on kinetic and non-kinetic approaches to solving security problems, I could see that he really understood it. You could see how he managed to free some of the hostages captured by some bandits because he understood the issue.

Just imagine that all officers in all cadres are well experienced and are intelligent enough to understand the implications of security in Nigeria. We could have been better than what we are facing today.

 You cited an example of the United States where a new president inherited the generals that served under the man before him; why do you think we are changing ours?

Politics spreads to ethnic, religious and regional considerations. This is to the extent that if a service chief happens to be from a certain religion, you would see then dancing as if he is going to bring something to their community more than what the others would not do. This is a wrong path we are teaching Nigerians.

In the last dispensation, we had our men all over, but people were dying in Zamfara, Katsina and Kaduna South. People are fighting but the government does not know how to separate the fight; it will rather take sides and label some bandits and others criminals. And it will be an ethnic problem that just needs something like amnesty. Instead of doing something like social amenities that can bring people together, they will prefer to spend billions of naira in buying military equipment that cannot actually solve the problem.

During the President Buhari administration you were famous for trying to address the problem across Nigeria because it is not just about North West, where we have banditry till date, what actually informed your decision to get into that risky endeavour, going into bushes, talking with bandits and all that?

We cannot just fold our arms and see the whole country bleeding when we can do something to stop it. I realised that when you have more than 20 people with guns in the bush attacking, it is more than criminality. This is what you try to investigate.

After our diagnosis it was realised that it was the farmer/herder clash that metamorphosed into what we are seeing. And we decided to cross the aisle and see the other side and hear what they have; maybe the government and security forces could benefit.

We made sure we didn’t go to meet them without the presence of some security elements so that they could also understand what these people are saying. It is something that can assist them, especially in the non-kinetic approach to conflict resolution.

You actually covered a lot of ground, but you got frustrated and handed off the intervention; what really happened?

You see, when we told the government to do A, they would do the opposite. We told them to sit down with these people; in fact, we were able to gather most of the commanders that today. We wanted to sit down with them put an action plan and do what we did to Niger Delta militants, expecting to see results.

It is their right. They have right to education and life of dignity. They are humans, so let’s bring them close, but the government will do the opposite.

We called them bandits, but now, we call them terrorists. As a Muslim scholar, I cannot deny that religion has told us that thousands of years we would have terrorists. The prophet told us that we would have youths at the end of time, killing people. But you are not supposed to be killed in the name of God.

But these people, the herdsmen, are not terrorists; they are people who think they are fighting for their rights. They were displaced from their lands, and their grazing reserves have been encroached upon. Worst of it is that if they had any case with anybody, they won’t get mercy from the police, judges and local emirs. Everybody is against them because they have cattle.

And they are easily framed because they don’t have access to law, lawyers and educated people. So we found out we could go in and embrace them, but the government will always do something different.

We came to understand that it is also politics. And you know it was a government you were not on the same page with it. The government was always thinking that this man was trying to outshine them, expose their weakness or trying to do a negative propaganda against them. They didn’t look at the real intention.

Why would I take myself into the bush for any politician? I value my life more than any politician; they should have also considered their lives.

Now that they have left government, let them see how many people would be following them. People discard politicians once they lose their power. Why should I give my life to a politician the people don’t even respect?

If former President Muhammadu Buhari, who happens to be a Fulani man and someone from the North, could not solve the problem, what are the chances that a new government with a president from another part of the country would understand its complexity and address it head on?

They are starting from the scratch, so I think they have the opportunity to learn and take the right course. I think that having Nuhu Ribadu as the National Security Adviser is a positive step for us in this area.

However, I hope he would not be a figurehead; the security chiefs should cooperate with him and coordinate with him.

What we usually lacked in previous administrations was lack of coordination. Different services are also in competition; in fact, they are jealous of one another, so they don’t cooperate and coordinate their actions. I think we can have peace if there is coordination.

In the event that President Tinubu calls you to continue from where you stopped, would you accept?

Yes. You see, it is not only establishing contact, it is about confidence. We have built a bridge of confidence, not just contact. I think this is the time to come down and put everything on the table. But let the approach be holistic. That is my advice to the security chiefs.

It is not only me. I know experts in this area who have gone and met them. We are all talking together, we are putting a blueprint. It has to be holistic. We are afraid that some people may try to hijack this project for some material gains. It has to be holistic because everybody involved who is capable should be brought on the table.

Emirs, religious scholars and the military should be brought in let’s see how we can get out of this mess. The bandits should also come in.

Are you in touch with Tukur Mamu, who had been your spokesperson up to the time he was arrested and thereafter incarcerated by federal forces?

His detention is now less strict. His family and lawyers now go to see him. His case is in court; and this is what we are saying. Don’t try somebody in the media, allow him to face justice, if he is found guilty then the law should go over. We are very optimistic. I think he may be coming out very soon.

People think you don’t want to talk on his behalf because you were frustrated; is that correct?

Since the case is in court, there is no need to jump over.

One of the allegations was that he also collected money from families of victims; if the government hands him over to you and tells you to vouch for him, saying they would hold you to account if at the end of the day he is found culpable, would you accept and take him?

I don’t think this man would do what they are accusing him of. He was always helping the poor and needy. His office is always filled with people.

We have an organisation that assists people. He never embezzled money. He is compassionate. I appreciate his effort.  He is a religious person. He is also very courageous and fearless. I think these are the problems that put him into problem with the authorities.

Before you stepped aside from the negotiation you advocated amnesty for the bandits; why did you take that path? Assuming you are called back, would you still emphasize amnesty?

I am very glad that the former governor of Zamfara State, Ahmed Sani Yerima, recently said there was the need for dialogue with them, specifically, the need for us to do to them what we did for Niger Delta militants. In fact, they are militants like Niger Deltans, who were breaking our pipelines. These people are preventing people from farming, so they all have economic impacts, which are affecting the country.

Secondly, like the Niger Deltans, these herdsmen are left without education, and there is environmental pollution. They have lost their livestock, which is big wealth for the country. So they have a lot of things in common with Niger Delta militants.

It is believed that these people now make more money from kidnapping than rearing cattle, which take a long time to grow. For example, they can make up to N100 million from abducting just one person but can spend five years to nurture a bull, only to sell it at N350,000. Do you think they would accept the overture of going back to herding?

Yes; it is from their initiative. They told us that they were tired because they were living in the bush with the money they were making. So they are not enjoying it. They make mattress with it to buy weapons. They have not really changed. The only thing is that we need to wean them off because a lot of them are on drugs. That is another challenge.

They are tired and want to be accepted. They want to go to market and villages. In fact, one of them said he would like to go for hajj if there is peace. I think it is feasible.

Part of the programme is that we cannot allow all of them to be herdsmen. Some of them have to leave livestock rearing. They can go to school and become doctors, engineers, army officers. So, all of them are not going back to livestock farming, but most of them, especially the elderly ones, should be supported in that sense.

So you think there is a way forward from what we are witnessing?

Definitely. I hope that this dispensation would continue on this dialogue issue. However, I don’t rule out the use of force, but it has to be the last resort, and it has to be specific. It should not just be about bombarding RUGA and killing very innocent people.

In Nasarawa, we saw how the Air Force bombarded innocent people. And they have been doing it in the bush for a long time. When we went to Niger State we saw a whole town and village right in the middle of the bush decimated. There was genocide there. Those who were able to escape showed us where they dumped dead bodies. And it was not even a Fulani area but one of these tribes in Niger State.

In an interview with the chairman of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), Baba Ngelzarma, he claimed that the Fulani, who have been grossly affected by cattle rustling and other crimes, not only in North Central or North West but across Nigeria, had never been compensated; are you aware of this?

Yes. In fact, a former governor of Niger State once told us that he was with governors of the northern state over this issue and he noted that in all the budgets, they allocated money for compensation if there was flood and farmers lost their crops, but there has not been money for herdsmen. This can also be the reason there is such agitation. So he is not the only person saying it. Everybody knows that they have been marginalised. This is the time to correct this marginalisation and give them their share of the national cake.

There is this allegation that some government officials at the centre and even in Kaduna said they disagreed with some of your prescriptions because they felt you were against the All Progressives Congress (APC), is that correct?

I am not a partisan person. I think I was harsher against the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Obasanjo and Jonathan than Buhari. On Buhari, we had to put some break so that people won’t think there’s something underline from our criticism.

What is keeping you going – your military experience that makes you fearless?

I don’t think so. You see, even a hare, which is prone to be afraid, when you put it to a corner, will return and fight back. Nigeria has reached a stage where we don’t have any option if we want to survive as a country. We just have to stand and face the wrong doings and whoever is involved in criminality.

Why did you leave the military when you were a captain?

I left because of the circumstances that led me into the military.

Can you share that with us?

There was a certain Captain Bello who fought in the civil war and used to tell my father about the situation in the army. So my father used to preach that people should join the army and other forces, work in banks, as well as join politics. He encouraged Muslims to be participants in nation building.

This man told my father to put his male children in the army so that they would see what he meant and not just telling people to put their children there. He encouraged him to walk his talk.

That was how we were inducted. We went through selection, the physicals, medicals, everything and were qualified. I and my brother, who also left the army as a brigadier-general, joined as an example.

As a kid I had the ambition to learn Islamic and Arabic Studies.

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