Ahmad Gumi is a famous Nigerian Islamic cleric. He has been outspoken and made very controversial moves on the lingering insecurity in the Northwest and North-central regions of Nigeria where armed bandits have been kidnapping and killing at random. Mr Gumi had visited some of the bandits in the forests in Zamfara and Niger states, taken medical services to them and has been urging the federal government to grant them a general amnesty.
Mr Gumi said his efforts in that campaign were for the sake of the peace and economic prosperity of Nigeria, but now alleges that the efforts have been sabotaged. Following the federal high court declaring the bandits as terrorists, Mr Gumi said he has quit mediating in the crisis because it will be dangerous for him to continue to engage with them.
In this exclusive interview with PREMIUM TIMES’ Ahmadu Maishanu in Kaduna, Mr Gumi, who is the chief Imam of the Sultan Bello Mosque in Kaduna, speaks about his understanding of banditry as well as his disagreement with the government’s handling of the crisis, and what he has been doing at individual level to bring an end to the problem.
He also speaks about rotational presidency, his relationship with President Muhammadu Buhari and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. He also responds to those calling for his arrest over his hobnobbing with the bandits.
PT : What is your thesis for banditry and its escalation in Northwest and Northcentral Nigeria?
Gumi: When you wrongly diagnose and treat a disease wrongly, it is liable to increase and become worse. For effective cure, we need to a have very specific diagnosis, you have to separate the chaff from the grain. That is to differentiate between things that look alike but are different. It is diagnosis that will make you to point out the exact problem and deal with it specifically. That is required especially for something that has to do with this scattered insurgency, unrest and civil disorder.
PT : Why do you believe that a general amnesty will make unorganised bandits abandon the crime?
Gumi: Amnesty is not a cure by itself but a part of a package that will ultimately put an end to banditry particularly in the Northwest. It has relatively worked in the Niger Delta, it has pacified them, it has brought some sanity. They (militants) allow for exploration of oil for a very long time until when the economic situation changed and the sociopolitical situation changed, then they partially returned to what they had been doing.
PT : If government grants amnesty to bandits, how does it compensate their victims?
Gumi: As I said, amnesty is a part of a package, because we have to understand these people (bandits); they are wise, unlike how we tamed them before. Their complaints is that, for any reason if they surrender their weapons, they are liable to be persecuted, arrested, and sometimes summarily executed. So for that grievances, if you can assure them with a genuine amnesty which contains rehabilitation, reorientation and reparations of all the victims in the conflict, that will go a long way to pacify the society and bring back sanity.
PT : Apparently, most Nigerians do not agree with you on this amnesty approach. How else can Nigeria resolve the banditry issue?
Gumi: Banditry, now we call it terrorism, I said diagnosis is very important because a big percentage of these people taking up arms are doing it for other reasons, not just for money. There is an ethnicity elements in it, now may be a religious element trying to creep in or has already crept in, compounding the issue. Until we are able to identify and separate them, we cannot squarely deal with this situation. There is a room for the military – I still believe in the Nigerian Army, they are very strong and disciplined – but for me, using the soldiers in this issue is like killing a fly with an hammer, you will end up destroying your furniture. I don’t rule out a specialised squad of military men for the operation.
PT: So, why have the military actions failed at checking the bandits so far?
Gumi: It is not that it has failed, it is that we have applied the military where they are not supposed to be. It is like claiming a hammer has failed to kill a fly.
PT: Many angry Nigerians have called on the government to arrest you for allegedly sponsoring and supporting the bandits. What’s your reaction to this?
Gumi: They are clowns, they don’t know anything about the Nigerian society, they don’t know about the Nigerian constitution and liberty. It is a constitutional right for someone to express his views, so long you are not calling for violence or to harm anybody. These people calling for my arrest, I don’t see them different from the bandits. To say that I am supporting or sponsoring bandits is malicious. I am just trying to cure them in my own way. I am trying to prevent it my own way and I have seen how my little efforts have helped. I just have a different perspective in addressing the issue. But to encourage them? No. To help them? No. It is impossible. I am also a victim of banditry.
PT: Victim of banditry? In which way?
Gumi: My senior brother was kidnapped; we had to pay a ransom. Also in our mosque, we have paid ransom. Even now, somebody is asking me to assist him to pay ransom. Our family driver who happens to be our relative, his son, a private soldier, was killed by bandits. So how I can support such people?
PT : Then why are you opposed to the Senate and the Federal High Court declaring them as terrorists?
Gumi: I don’t think they understand the situation. Today, very sadly, we heard a bus carrying about 30 people was burnt by bandits and Nigerians know that they don’t used to do that. That is as if we are teaching them to be true terrorists. It is just like a lady known to be going out and people started calling her a prostitute, there will come a time when she will come openly and say ‘I am a prostitute, so what?’ We are not using human psychology in our fight against terrorism or against banditry.
PT : Do you support the RUGA and cattle routes reclamation projects of the Federal Government as a way of addressing some of the root causes of this crisis?
Gumi: The RUGA that the Federal Government is suggesting is a good idea, I see it as a private-public enterprises. The Fulani herdsmen are widespread all over the country and the forests, it is not possible to put them together in a confined location. Even among themselves, they like to give space among themselves and that is their nature. The best thing to do is to establish for them satellite schooling, satellite medical centres and all the basic infrastructure that will cater for them. And it is cost effective, it will settle them down and also cure the helplessness and despondency have found themselves, suddenly, in the ever changing socioeconomic and geographical conditions the nation is facing.
PT : Does your friend, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar support your campaign for amnesty for bandits?
Gumi: I have never discussed anything with the former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. I am a friend to all politicians and I am not affiliated to any political party.
PT: You are a friend to all politicians, including President Muhammadu Buhari?
Gumi: Oh yes. Ask him how many times have I been to his house? I have been there severally.
PT : But you are critical of his government. Have you discussed with him one on one on how to address the issues at stake?
Gumi: Being critical of his government does not mean I am not a friend with him at all. When something has to do with public interest, there should not be personal interest in it, you have to talk. If you look at my father, Late Sheikh Abubakar Gumi, and ask him to contest for the Nigerian presidency, I would be the first person to say ‘No, father, it is not good for you’. For Buhari, since he became president, there was no contact again, but before he became the president we met so many times.
PT: Since he became the president, have you attempted to see him ?
Gumi: Yes, I made an attempt to see him but it was unsuccessful. But since the court declared bandits terrorists, there is no need to see the president. I have washed my hands off these issues. I have shown the government and Nigerians the way out of this but people are trying to turn the table against me. I am now a spectator, I pray to Allah to bring stability and an end to this problem.
PT : How can we address the explosive out-of-school children and street begging phenomena and the bastardisation of the Almajiri system in the North?
Gumi: Almajiri is just our own problem. If we build schools for them and enact laws that prevent them from roaming around, the issue will be gone. You cannot remove a walking stick from a blind person without giving him another one. The only government that attempted to cater for the Almajiri is under former President Goodluck Jonathan. His initiative supported building about 150 Almajiri schools, that is the initiative I will like to see sustained so that we don’t have any Almajiri in the street.
PT: What is your position on power shift and where should the next president come from?
Gumi: Powershift is archaic, retrogressive and old. Now as Nigerians, we should not look at ourselves from regional, tribal, or even religious affiliation bases because, even religion. which is very strong, whose religion or ideology are you going to adopt? You see, it will bring crisis. We just look at competency, who can unite Nigerians, bring economic prosperity for the nation, peace and stability. This is what we should be looking at.
PT: What is your view on the nationalist and secessionist agitations going on in parts of the country?
Gumi: All the secessionist agitators are half-baked and uneducated literates. We are in the 21st Century, man is going to space for tourism but you are still talking about my region, my tribe. What is tribe? What has your tribe contributed to humanity and you think that you are better than other tribes? Islam has taught us that the best of you is one who fears Allah; not tribalism, because tribalism is an old and retrogressive idea, so anybody calling for that needs to be re-educated if he is educated.
PT: What are the objectives and scope of the school you established for children of herders in Kaduna?
Gumi: The objective of the school is to tell the herdsmen that there are Nigerians that are feeling for their plight of neglect, abandonment and persecution. There are Nigerians ready to build for you, schools; so that you can educate your children, and to tell the government that it is the best way to permanently stop banditry through education. If you have such kinds of schools all across where the RUGA are, that will ensure that no Nigerian is left behind. That also applies to Almajiri, we have to build schools for them so that Nigerians should not be left behind uneducated, semi-educated and half-baked. This is why the nation is suffering from our illiteracy and our backwardness in education. Even those educated were not polished well. So when we take education as a national emergency, we shall put in place a Marshall Plan that no Nigerian should be left uneducated.
PT: Who is providing the fund and the manpower for the school?
Gumi: We have a mosque foundation established by my late father, it is meant for doing philanthropic work. The foundation is reactivated and we start with the school and health clinics, vocational training for the herdsmen.
PT : Have you got the buy-in of the government for the school?
Gumi: We are in the process of registration, it is going to be on the national curriculum, its Islamic content would be on The National Board for Arabic and Islamic Studies (NBAIS). We just want them to be part of the nation so that when they finish from the school, they can further ahead to higher institutions. I want somebody from the bush to be a medical doctor, engineer, pilot and that is our motivation towards them.
PT: Will the school be open to others apart from Fulanis and Muslims?
Gumi: When I went to the forest, I thought it was only the Fulanis that are living there. Incidentally, we met in the area other dwellers who are not Fulani. I met one Luka Mai-Unguwa who is a Christian and some others there. We welcomed them, we told them if they are many we can establish classes specifically to their own religion because whoever understands his own religion is less likely to show bigotry against others.
Support PREMIUM TIMES' journalism of integrity and credibility
Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.
For continued free access to the best investigative journalism in the country we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.
By contributing to PREMIUM TIMES, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.
TEXT AD: To advertise here . Call Willie +2347088095401...