Negotiation with bandits: Between two Malams | Dailytrust

Negotiation with bandits: Between two Malams

Amid worries about the capability of the Nigerian military and other security agencies to end banditry in northwestern Nigeria, many observers, including public commentators and religious clerics, continue to propose alternative strategies.

A prominent Kaduna-based Islamic cleric, Malam Dr Ahmad Gumi, doesn’t only believe in the imperative of engaging the bandits in negotiations but has taken it further by reaching out to them. His initiative has been welcomed by many and dismissed by many others.

The Kaduna State Governor, Malam Nasiru El-Rufa’i’s dismissal of Malam Dr Ahmad Gumi’s initiative triggered a clash of views between the two Malams. On the one hand, the former who got his “Malam” title at some point of his life perhaps in reference to some “Malam qualities” he had, or maybe he was simply named after someone of Islamic scholarly repute in his immediate or extended family, insists on the need to deploy overwhelming military force to crush the bandits once and for all.

On the other hand, the latter who obviously earned his “Malam” title from his training as an Islamic scholar albeit with a previous military background advocates negotiations and reasoning with the bandits to desist from banditry.

Until the recent BBC Hausa interview with Governor El-Rufa’i where he stressed that stance, many observers had probably assumed that Dr Gumi’s initiative was at least approved by the Kaduna State Government for, after all, other governors in the region have been involved in similar negotiations with bandits in their respective states.

Now, the question of who is right or wrong between the two Malams requires some considerations to address, for neither is absolutely right nor absolutely wrong. The validity or otherwise of either’s stance depends on the extent of its pragmatism.

Interestingly, a typical competent government fighting, say, insurgency or banditry never sounds desperate for negotiation with the bandits or insurgents even when it’s actually not strong enough to crush them. This is a common tactical strategy to preserve the prestige of the state and avoid inadvertently demoralising the security personnel and emboldening the criminals. Besides, doing so undermines the government’s bargaining position during any future negotiation and enables the criminals to blackmail the government into making unnecessary and costly concessions.

Anyway, during the interview Governor El-Rufa’i was not talking from that tactical perspective; he instead meant exactly what he said.  And looking at his stance against the backdrop of the current circumstances, it is hard to rightly dismiss it. Because, unlike Dr Gumi, being the governor of the state, hence its chief security officer who has access to sensitive security intelligence, he must have had compelling arguments to justify his stance.

Besides, as things stand at the moment, nothing justifies let alone warrants negotiation with the bandits for now.  That could only be rightly considered when they have been largely eliminated with the survivors on the run desperate to cling to life.

The charades of reconciliations with bandits, which some state governors in the region oversee, only embolden the criminals. A typical so-called reconciliation occasion where bandits show up well-armed and speak arrogantly suggests extreme desperation on the part of the government, which the bandits capitalise on to dictate their terms. For instance, a particular viral photo of Governor Masari of Katsina State posing with a ragtag bandit clutching an AK-47 rifle during one of such purported reconciliation occasions is particularly frustrating.

That also explains why after every so-called reconciliation the bandits only suspend operations for some time in the relevant area while probably still operating elsewhere before they resume operation in the same area as well. Meanwhile, other bandits out there who weren’t part of that “reconciliation” perpetrate their operations in any case.

Anyway, though the controversy generated by Governor El-Rufa’i’s stance wasn’t unexpected, he should be challenged to, in return, challenge the federal government to order the military and the other security agencies to embark on an overwhelming operation against the bandits as he envisages since he believes it remains the only feasible option.

However, while I for one also have the same view in this regard, I believe Malam El-Rufa’i’s stance doesn’t downplay the importance of Malam Gumi’s initiative. The two strategies can be pursued simultaneously, for they aren’t mutually exclusive.

Yet, Malam Gumi can achieve better and more sustainable results by focusing more on persuading the bandits to first and foremost be committed to the teachings and values of the Islamic religion, which most, if not all, of them claim to believe in. Because having been accustomed to making easy money through banditry and kidnapping, only that commitment would enable them to develop sustainable spiritual resistance against the temptation to revert to banditry. After all, there have been many instances of some so-called repentant bandits resuming their activities.

Also, as Governor Malam El-Rufa’i rightly observed in that interview, mere negotiations cannot make a bandit who in the past could hardly make a hundred thousand Naira a year from a cow sale but now makes millions from banditry, to desist from it.

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