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When will Gumi regain his freedom?

Burly, short-tempered but soft-spoken, the cleric was with Gumi through thick and thin and in 1992, the protégé succeeded the great ulama. Preacher, teacher and…

Burly, short-tempered but soft-spoken, the cleric was with Gumi through thick and thin and in 1992, the protégé succeeded the great ulama. Preacher, teacher and former Grand Khadi of Northern Nigeria, Gumi was like a Colossus within the Izalatil Bid’ah wa’Ikamatis Sunnah movement. In addition, during the month of Ramadan, he delivered the tafsir at Sultan Bello mosque, situated at Unguwar Sarki Kaduna and upon his demise, Lawal Abubakar stepped into his shoes. However, in other respects, Gumi took his shoes along because as yet, few have matched his qualities.

Politics, as in everything, played out after his demise and the jostle for succession was between Lawal Abubakar and Sheikh Ahmad Sanusi Gumbi, a young, knowledgeable and fairly well-off Malam. However, Gumbi is as controversial as they come as he relished in debates and the upstart, on that account, was very unpopular amongst Izala rank and file but Gumi embraced him. Occasionally, when the Malam was away, Gumbi stood in for the old man but that did not assuage critics. Basically, opponents saw Gumbi as a man in a hurry but all camps rallied round Lawal Abubakar and the Maiduguri Road Mosque Imam succeeded Gumi. For 12 years, Lawal Abubakar preached at Sultan Bello mosque during Ramadan.

In 2004, following Abubakar’s death, the position was again up for grabs and the scramble was bitter and divisive but this time, Gumbi watched from the ringside. Largely, the contest was between Sheikh Jafar Adam, a Kano-based cleric and Dr Ahmad Abubakar Gumi, Sheikh Gumi’s son. The young Gumi is a medical doctor and a retired army officer and was based in Saudi Arabia and according to reports, was a reluctant candidate, as was Jafar Adam. However, Sheikh Yusuf Sambo Rigachukun and some Izala top hats contrived a contest, laid out the ground rules and rooted for Dr Gumi. Alhaji Ahmad Sani, then Zamfara State governor, provided funds and logistics for the shuttling to and from Saudi Arabia. Basically, the new preacher should be Islamically learned, western educated, broad-minded and fair. Dr Gumi fit that bill and based on these criteria, he succeeded Lawal Abubakar, his father’s successor.

Significantly, Dr Gumi commenced the annual tafsir and his turban and his bearded face resembled his late father’s. Last year, he stirred intra-religious disharmony when he took on he took on the Darika sect, shiite group and the salafiya elements, declaring them apostate. In addition, he dabbled into partisan politics. In 2007, after the presidential election, Gumi advised General Muhammadu Buhari, the ANPP presidential candidate, to accept defeat as leadership comes from God but the general stuck to his guns. Similarly, he rallied support for Alhaji Umaru Yar’adua. Gumi, by his own account, sought the way out of the nation’s power crisis and in this search, he went to Kainji Dam, saw the extent of damage and advised on the way out.

Ibrahim Hassan, one of his supporters, sees Gumi as a mature, temperate and broad-minded scholar who sees issues dispassionately. The sheikh, according to him, is not the usual run-of-the-mill preachers whose stock-in-trade is making incendiary statements. Such preachers, he pointed out, criticise to either win followers or impress their flock but with his pedigree, popularity and knowledge, Gumi does not need such publicity stunts. Silently, without fanfare and name-calling, Gumi told truth to power but given his nature, according to Ibrahim, the preacher would not run down leaders in public.

However, on February 24, the Saudi authorities detained Gumi in spite of his moderation. Simultaneously, the arrest was as surprising as it angered Muslim ummah and no reason was given for the detention. Specifically, Alhaji Abdullahi Garba Aminci, the Nigerian ambassador, was neither briefed of Gumi’s offence nor was he allowed to see him by Saudi securities. However, the detainee had access to members of his family but he was neither charged nor arraigned before a court. Appeals, questions and enquiries since the arrest, have inundated Ulamas, Izala chieftains as well as diplomats but the efforts came to nought and Gumi’s offences remained mere speculations.

Remarkably, as Ramadan approaches, the noise climbed higher as the prospect of Gumi’s absence, especially for the annual tafsir, is discomforting to his teeming supporters. In the last few months, according to Rigachukun, he gets about 100 telephone calls daily from concerned Muslims, asking for Gumi’s whereabouts, his living condition and whether or not he will be released before Ramadan.

On May 20, a delegation of Izala top shots, led by Rigachikun, wrote a letter to Saudi Arabia and hand delivered it to the embassy. In the letter, the group traced Gumi’s genealogy, religious trajectory and the preacher’s antecedents, arguing that in his 20 years stay in Saudi Arabia, Gumi had never run afoul of the law.  In addition, Gumi has never interfered with the governance of his host country and his moderate brand of Islam is in tandem with the Saudis’. In the end, they asked for Gumi’s release, arguing that it is wrong to detain him. On May 23, three days later, the Saudi ambassador sent emissaries to the delegation, requesting audience with them. The delegation, comprising Rigachikun, Abdullahi Sale Pakistan and Saidu Alhassan Saidu Sale, met the Saudi envoy and made further explanations. Last Tuesday, the embassy told Rigachikun that the reply to their letter was ready.

Briefly, the Saudis explained that investigations are still on, especially on his links with Farouk Abdulmutallab, the suspected December 2009 bomber. The matter, they were told, is being handled between Nigeria and Saudi government but their security agents are still investigating the liaison between Mutallab and Gumi. Thereafter, the Rigachikun delegation wrote to Alhaji Shehu Idris, Emir of Zazzau, giving him the update and the missive was copied to Sultan Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, the Sultan Bello mosque management committee, Jamaátul Nasir Islam and Alhaji Umaru Abdulmutallab, Farouk’s father.

Before now, Dr Gumi was detained in Jeddah but the preacher, according to Rigachikun, is now under house arrest in Mecca, in good living condition with family members allowed to visit him. The matter, as things stand, is between the Nigerian and Saudi governments but whether or not Gumi will regain his freedom and deliver this year’s tafsir is the current bone of contention.

Nigerian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Ambassador Abdullahi Garba Aminci told Weekly Trust that from all indications Sheik Gumi will soon be released. “Right now they have brought him back to Makka. You know since he was arrested they took him to Jiddah for interrogation but he is back to Mecca where they picked him from. From information I got from the family members who have been going there to see him, they said he is hale and hearty. Up till now they have not allowed any embassy official to see him but his family members have access to him. The family members informed me that Sheik Gumi told them that the Saudi authorities have concluded their interrogation and forwarded the report to the government. Sheik Gumi also told his family members that they didnt find anything incriminating against him. General Abdulkadir Gumi and Dr. Hamza Gumi came to visit him from Nigeria recently and they also confirmed that he was doing well. In fact the embassy has sent a letter to the Saudi Authorities informing them that a lot of people are worried back home because of his continuous detention. We appealed to them to hasten the process of his release.”

The Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) is also trying from its own end to push for his release. T he Secretary-General of (NSCIA), Dr. Lateef Adegbite said they have made representation to the Federal Government over the matter. “We have taken the case to the highest level. We have written letter to the Federal government asking them to intervene because it is a diplomatic matter. We have not been told what crime he committed.”

A family source who spoke to Weekly Trust on condition of anonymity said his release is taking too long. “Look Dr. Ahmad has been in detention for over four months now and the Saudi authorities even then promised that he will be released soon, maybe July. So, how soon is soon?”

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