In a novel effort to tackle insecurity that is bedeviling parts of North West and North Central Nigeria, the Kaduna-based Muslim cleric Sheikh Ahmad Gumi initiated a non-aggressive approach to finding a workable solution to banditry and kidnapping. He began his peace mission in the early part of January 2021 when he visited some communities along the Kaduna-Abuja highway over rising cases of abduction in the area. Recognising high rate of illiteracy among the Fulani ethnic group, Sheikh Gumi disclosed while addressing a large audience that some Fulani natives in the area would be selected for a series of training, after which they will educate their people upon return. Some of the Fulani leaders, who spoke at the event, admitted that while their major challenge was illiteracy, they have been left without access to education and basic social amenities.
In continuation of his peace mission, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi extended his preaching for peace to some communities in Birnin Gwari, Igabi and Giwa local government areas of Kaduna state where over 600 kidnappers and bandits including their commanders agreed to lay down their arms for peace. The Fulani communities said bandits in the bush have their accomplices in the city. They said it’s impossible for the Fulani who predominantly live in the bushes to personally know their targets, locations of houses or to even identify the rich without such internal collaborators. The bandits also accused Nigerian security agents of benefitting hugely from the current security challenges.
Moved by the cleric’s preaching words, the repentant bandits promised to mobilise their men immediately to cease hostilities. The top commanders of the bandits lamented the condition they were subjected to and expressed the frustrations that led them into kidnapping and banditry. They said they were forced into taking up arms due to constant humiliation, harassment, arbitrary arrests, extortion and even killings of their innocent kinsmen by law enforcement agents. They also complained of lack of government’s presence as they lack basic necessities of life, such as water, schools, and clinics.
Acknowledging the predicament and frustrations of his audience, Sheikh Gumi said that was the first time he was hearing directly about their dilemma; noting that it was difficult for someone in such a condition to resist the temptation of taking up arms for revenge and for means of survival. He therefore pleaded with them to give him the benefit of doubt by immediately ceasing all hostilities including kidnapping. The cleric promised he would personally see President Muhammadu Buhari on the issue and the need to immediately address their grievances and demands. The top commanders of the armed Fulani militias pledged to work with Sheikh Gumi and assured him of security in Zaria-Giwa axis as well as the notorious Birnin Gwari road.
Sheikh Ahmad Gumi thereafter took his mission to bandits in their hideouts in Zamfara State during his visit to Shinkafi and Maradun local government areas. The visit resulted in about 500 bandits repenting and denouncing banditry. During Sheikh Gumi’s courtesy visit to Governor Bello Matawalle at the Government House in Gusau, he said bandits have completely turned into insurgents following their wrong profiling by the people of the state. He maintained that most of the bandits in Zamfara forests were only carrying weapons and attacking people because of persistent attacks from the vigilante group known as the Yansakai; adding that most of them indicated their readiness to surrender their weapons and embrace peace if the Yansakai would stop attacking them (the bandits). Gumi expressed optimism that dialoguing with bandits could bring a lasting end banditry.
However, Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai affirmed during a recent interview with BBC Hausa Service that his administration shall not negotiate with bandits because it is at war with criminal elements. He ruled out the possibility of granting forgiveness and compensation for bandits as being advocated by Sheikh Ahmad Gumi. Governor El-Rufai who stated that eliminating the bandits is the only solution to banditry in the region also said he never believed that a Fulani herdsman who ventured into banditry and collecting millions of naira as ransom will repent. He said he told Sheikh Gumi that a majority of the bandits neither believe in religion nor practice one which is why they kill mercilessly.
According to El-Rufai, it would be difficult for a Fulani herdsman that was used to getting only N100,000 in a year after selling a cow to stop kidnapping from which he makes millions of naira paid as ransom. The governor who walks his talk believes that people who kill and destroy houses should not be compensated. He further lamented the lack of synergy among governors in the region on a united front against bandits.
Sheikh Gumi’s peace initiative is making bandits to declare cease-fire. They are also taking advantage of the situation to express their long-standing grievances, which they expect government to address. Having failed as a government and as an institution to halt the spate of insecurity, Gumi’s reconciliation project that is yielding results should be commended. While it is important for state governors to be united in dealing with insecurity within their regions, we have (unfortunately) come to find ourselves in a situation where we need to use every strategic means that will bring permanent end to the security challenges threatening our existence.
Governors and other chief executives that exercise authorities over security apparatus in their domains should hold carrot and stick in their hands so as to apply whichever one they find effective in dealing with the situation at hand. While carrot could be used to win back repentant bandits, stick should be used to deal with the hardened ones among them. We encourage government to support Sheikh Gumi’s peace initiative, especially in terms of logistics. We, however, advise the Muslim cleric to resist any attempt by the federal or state governments to take over the peace initiative in the name of funding because such could to lead to its collapse. We urge Muslim scholars in other states within the regions being terrorized by bandits and kidnappers to emulate Sheikh Gumi in the sincerest manner. May Allah (SW) back and strengthen our individual and collective efforts at ending all the security challenges confronting us, amin.
With a heavy heart, we condole with the family late Waziri Agaie, Alhaji Ndagi Mamudu, over the death of one of his children, Barrister Suleman Mamudu who died after a brief illness on Wednesday, February 10, 2021. May Allah grant him eternal forgives and mercy, amin.