If Sheikh Abubakar Gumi’s intention in rubbishing the security agencies and pontificating as the self-appointed capon of banditry and kidnapping in Nigeria, is to attract attention — he has succeeded spectacularly.
Although the government pretends not to notice the man’s dangerous rhetoric, the Nigerian Army which was at the receiving end of his latest series of wild allegations has spoken up to defend its image.
Reacting to Gumi’s allegation that Nigerian soldiers colluded with bandits and kidnappers perpetrating various crimes and atrocities against Nigerians, the Director of Army Public Relations, Brig-General Onyema Nwachukwu, said the claim was untrue and unfair. It was, in his view, “A calculated attempt to denigrate the Nigerian Military and undermine the sacrifices of our patriotic troops, who are working tirelessly to restore peace and stability across the country”.
He reminded the public that the same military being accused of connivance were the ones who, at great risk, rescued abductees of the Government Secondary School, Birnin Yawuri from kidnappers.
The army statement ended with a warning: “It must also be pointed out that while the Military is very much receptive to constructive criticism, it should not be perceived as a gateway for derogatory comments that have the potential to embolden criminals… Opinion leaders are enjoined to demonstrate patriotism in building the peace, rather than being agents of destabilisation, thereby aggravating the current security challenges facing the nation.”
That wasn’t the first time Gumi was casting aspersions on the integrity of the armed forces. Several months ago, he had insinuated that non-muslim soldiers were the ones killing muslim bandits, thereby tarring the armed forces with the ignoble brush of religious stratification. Many people felt Gumi was trying to divide the armed forces using the twin bombs of religion and ethnicity.
When confronted with the implications of his statements, Gumi usually engages in circumlocution, unsaying what he had previously said and re-saying what he had disowned.
He must be the only one confused about where he stands in the war against terror and banditry. To watchers of his ill-disguised missionary journeys in support of terrorists, his loyalty doesn’t appear to be on the side of Nigeria but that of the terrorists.
I had given Gumi the benefit of the doubt when he first started his expeditions into the wilderness to confer with the terrorists. He seems to know where their camps are and even acknowledges that he knows the family members of some of the terrorists. It is befuddling to consider that Gumi being a former captain of the Nigerian army will not pass information on the location of terrorists to the army but opt to hold court with the criminals in their den and then blame the security forces for inflicting any kind of damage on the bandits.
His loyalty is unashamedly on the side of the terrorists.
Following the abduction of about 20 students from Greenfield University in Kaduna State in April, Gumi reportedly urged the Central Bank of Nigeria to pay the $260,000 (£190,000) ransom and 10 Honda motorcycles demanded by the kidnappers. While the Kaduna State government insists that the kidnap crisis is being fuelled by such ransom payments, the Islamic scholar advocates that vigilante groups set up in the wake of the terror attacks be disbanded to give free rein to the bandits while government reaches out to them with compensation to stop attacking fellow Nigerians.
To justify his advocacy, Gumi equates the current wave of terrorism sweeping through the North to the Niger-Delta struggle where the militants rose up against environmental degradation. The whole world knows the issues involved in the Niger-Delta. Men and women of good conscience across all divides agreed that the region which lays the country’s golden egg was being shortchanged. The Yar’Adua administration wisely reached out to the militants and the Jonathan government followed up with the implementation of the amnesty programme which now led to an increase in crude oil production from about 800,000 bpd to over 2 million bpd.
“They learnt kidnapping from Mend (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta). I do not see any difference. They were the first victims of rustling, their cattle is their oil,” he said.
Logicians say it is elementary and commonsensical that cows are not mineral resources and environmental advocacy is totally different from armed banditry. Niger-Delta militants had a political cause — greater control of their region’s oil wealth — while the bandits are basically kidnappers looking for free money.
Gumi redefines criminality to make it appear legal, almost a duty: “What you call banditry, when you cross to the other side, you discover Nigeria is fighting a tribal war and government is supposed to be the mediator, it is supposed to be neutral, it’s not supposed to take sides…. This is tribal war going on and the government is taking one side.”
How can that be sanely translated? Do bandits constitute a tribe of their own? And is the government supposed to stand akimbo while criminals abduct law-abiding citizens and spread terror in the land? Is law enforcement tantamount to taking sides? Indeed, if the government cannot enforce the rule of law, does it have any reason to exist? If the government were to hand over fiefdoms to bandits in pursuit of a mythical truce, what stops new sets of criminals from carving out new territories where they’ll demand a toll?
As a society, is there any doubt about the set of moral principles that govern our behaviour and activities? Wither our moral principles? Certain customs or behaviours are recognised as good and others as bad; our sense of morality is the summation of our value system as human beings.
But Gumi insists we must reward criminality. “Now, the herdsmen are controlling a big chunk of land whereby they are preventing farmers from farming. As the Niger Delta is important to the economy, these herdsmen now are becoming important to the Nigerian economy”. He argues that existing government organs such as forest guards and vigilantes should be disbanded and replaced with bandits. “They can be our guards, they can guard the forests. They have qualities that we can tap from,” he says. He advocates that a package of incentives be rolled out for bandits as was the case in the Niger-Delta.
After handing over forests to the bandits, the government should also build schools, hospitals and municipal facilities in the forests to keep the bandits happy, argues the 61-year-old sheikh.
While Gumi places the blame for banditry on the doorsteps of the government, no mention is made of responsible parenting. Why, for example, are people continuing to have so many children they cannot cater for? Should the government be responsible for feeding and raising such children?
Gumi’s tactic is brazen blackmail: Bow to the will of the bandits or face a future of violence and social dislocation. In his words, “To secure schools, why not engage the bandits? Engage them; they are not many… In the whole North-West, they may not be more than 100,000 bandits. And that is just a drop in the ocean. That is talking about those with weapons; because not all of them have weapons.
“Ninety per cent of those who have weapons use them to protect themselves against cattle rustlers. They are victims too. Aerial bombardments will only worsen the situation because when you start killing their children, you remember they also have our children”, he added.
Now the long-suffering victims of banditry in the society are being told that their tormentors, the bandits, are the real victims. We should apologise to the bandits for calling them criminals. They are really freedom fighters. Whereas other criminals kill people, bandits only kidnap them for some time in exchange for money. Such compassionate creatures! In this era of scarce jobs, why do we want to destroy the banditry industry which provides employment for thousands of our tribesmen?
How do you find a common ground or share the same national ethos, the same kind of heroes, the same collective aspirations for the future — with anyone who reasons like Untouchable Gumi?
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