•Wants Buhari to lead elites, not only masses
•To convene a proper National Conference
•Says he should court Jonathan, release Dasuki, Kanu
•Speaks on Southern Kaduna killings, Shiites, Boko Haram, Biafra, South South Militancy
Though Dr Ahmad Gumi trained as a medical doctor and is a retired officer of the Nigerian Army, he is known more as one of the foremost Islamic scholars in the country. Soft spoken, calm and obviously very intelligent, he sat down with Ben Agande in his modest office in Kaduna and spoke on wide ranging national issues, calmly but forcefully
In the run up to the 2015 presidential elections, you famously advised then President Goodluck Jonathan and President Muhammadu Buhari that because of the divisiveness their candidacy was causing in the country, they should not contest the election. One year after, looking back would you say your advice was unfounded?
I have been asked this question before. It is more than one year. We are approaching the second year. Events have overtaken it but it was not a misjudgment on my side. What I envisaged is what the country is going through now. What we should concentrate on now is how to salvage the situation? What is the way forward? What is the way to unify, harmonise and streamline our objectives? We need to do that seriously. No doubt Nigeria is fragmented. The hot area of contention now is the southern Kaduna herdsmen/indigenes clashes which have taken lives of peoples. In the same spot, the same place in 2011, there was mayhem and it happened again in 2017. We need to do something and very urgently to see that we cure this problem from its roots. Part of it is politics, part of it is economy. When we advise political leaders, we do so not based on personal interest but national interest. It is not always what you think is good that is good if you look at it from a general context. Sometimes you need to be a doctor to appreciate this kind of thing.
If I bring you a cocaine addict for medication, if the doctor says lets continue to give him the cocaine, you will be baffled. But he will continue to give him the cocaine but reduce the dose gradually so that he does not have a withdrawal syndrome.
You will be curing him with the same disease that he has. Gradually, there will be a slow withdrawal of cocaine because if you withdraw it suddenly, he can go into delirium, mental confusion and kill himself.
The problem in curing can be the same dose of the same disease. Here in the north when we explain to people why they need poliomyelitis.
The argument of the people then was that they said they heard that the vaccine was an attenuated virus. It is a disease so how can you take a disease to cure a disease. They could not understand that you can take a small, ineffective disease to trigger antigen reactions to produce antibodies against the real original disease. It is a chain reaction.
Politics too has inoculation; it has vaccination and gradual treatment. Once you are treating a nation that is chronically involved in a malady, especially corruption, if you drastically approach it, you will kill the nation. You will kill it. What you need is tactful, careful, well coordinated, planned remedy that will not disturb the ethnic, religious and political balance of the country that could lead to instability.
Nigeria is like a murky, muddy cup of water. If you leave it long, the mud will settle down and the clear water will be up. But if you come with a tea spoon to stir up the water, it will become opaque. Politics in Nigeria should be such that we do not stir the water.
Will you say that this government and even previous governments have done well in this regard?
They have been stirring the water. Why did the north reject Jonathan? Let me give you an example. If you came here during Jonathan’s time, soldiers with road blocks in every city and corner would make people get down from their bikes and cars. An old man will be humiliated. The security services were humiliating people who were supposed to vote for President Jonathan in the name of fighting Boko Haram. The north is the victim of Boko Haram. Maiduguri is the victim of Boko Haram. Majority of the people don’t like Boko Haram. It is just a minority that is involved. When you institute stringent measures that punish the population, they turn against the head. Jonathan is a good person but the security deceived him. They stirred the anger of the people against him. And they were taking bribe. This was a man who was doing his best but his agents did not do well for him.
President Muhammadu Buhari too is a good man. He is trying to do his best. But with the same set of people, they are going to spoil his government. They will do it.
How can he extricate himself from this cycle of bad men?
He has to be very tactful. He has to be subtle and wise. It is just like removing a tumour from the brain. Ask a neurosurgeon he will tell you that a small tumour may take you fifteen hours to remove. You cannot rush. This is how Nigeria is: delicate. All these drastic measures, stringent measures don’t work. For Jonathan, the way he handled Boko Haram did not work for him. Same way the present administration is handling corruption, it is not working too. I am not supporting Boko Haram or corruption but it is the way they are being handled.
If you bring somebody to the hospital with chronic appendicitis, you can’t just open him up because you want to remove it. If you do that, you will kill the patient because the bacterial will spread all through the abdomen. Put him on antibiotics until he is ready to be operated. This is how Nigeria is. Nigeria needs good managers.
Lets talk about one menace that has left a negative impression about the north and Islam in the region; the issue of Almajiri children. From a religious perspective, how do you think the issue of Almajiri in the north can be brought to an end without affecting the exposure of these children to Islamic education?
Let’s look at it from a historic perspective. Before now, the means of transportation were camels, donkeys or horses but we now have cars, aeroplane and all that. Does it mean that because I am in an air-conditioned car, I will condemn the person in the village using a donkey? No. I will only encourage him to leave the donkey now as a means of transportation, to adapt to the modern way. Almajiri system is an old system of education which guaranteed scholarship. You take your child to a teacher who teaches your child for free. How does he sustain himself and the children? After the period of learning, they have a window when they go out to beg for food to eat and the society is ready to give them food to eat free. They sometime farm for the teacher so that from the product of the farm he can sustain them. It is a kind of school system but it is obsolete, it is archaic and retrogressive. Just like the donkey cannot solve our transportation problem at this time, so is the Almajiri system. We have to phase it out.
Are the people ready for the system to be phased out? I will tell you they are ready. They are ready one hundred percent. But like the village man with the donkey, you have not given him a car, you have not even paved the way for the car to pass if he buys one and you are complaining that he is riding a donkey. He will continue using his donkey. What have we done to replace the Almajiri system? As conservative as the north is, anybody can say bring your children, I will put them in school and they will give him. They want the school but who is giving them the school? You have not given them the school and you are making noise about Almajiri.
The effort of former president Goodluck Jonathan when he built four hundred Almajiri schools was the absolute right thing to do but unfortunately, in executing it, because of politics, he was not able to execute it. That would have killed Boko Haram. Politics set in, people diverted the funds. Jonathan had the answer to the Almajiri issue but it was not executed.
What is the way out?
The way out is let’s come back; lets look at the things he had done in the past like the National conference, which was a good idea but did not work because he selected those he liked. When you want to dialogue, you don’t select the person you want to dialogue with. Get the opposition, get where there is friction, get them to the table not selecting people that will go on with your idea. This government too can institute another national conference but it should get the real opposition people.
Can’t the National Assembly handle what you are canvassing?
No, because members of the national assembly are not necessarily the opposition. There are many ways to get to power. Those in power now are maybe pro-Jonathan if they are in the Peoples Democratic Party or Pro-Buhari if they are in All Progressive Congress. They are not necessarily the people who are concerned with the issues in the nation. Get people who are agitating on the table and let them think out a way forward for the country. They will come out with a solution. Don’t control who comes in.
Any educated person in the country knows that nations are trying to come together. Look at Europe. It is not even good for Britain to be out of the European Union. They are still finding it difficult to get out. The world is coming together. You cannot live in isolation, so dividing Nigeria is never a solution to any body that is intelligent.The fact is Nigeria as it is now is too small for us. Globalisation is a force. We cannot afford to be parochial and regional in our thinking. It is archaic.
Get people on the table, not through the use of force but through dialogue so that we can come out with a workable solution to the various problems of the country.
What, in your opinion, is responsible for the deepening religious crisis in the north especially the emergence of Boko Haram?
The north has no cohesive leadership. That is why there is a breakdown of law and order and respect. Also half knowledge is dangerous. The north is just learning. Even these boys that are making noise in the name of Boko Haram are just learning the basics of Islam. When you have deep knowledge of Islam or Christianity, you won’t do certain things. There are people who are illiterate in the affairs of religion. Those going into the university get a little of western education, a little of Islamic education then they have this nostalgia about the triumphant days of Islamic civilisation, mixed with myth, then they think they can apply it now in modern time without going into detailed historical perspective of issues. It is lack of knowledge but we will overcome it, Insha Allahu. We need more support of education and people are willing to be educated.
Is the political leadership in the north doing enough in creating access to education?
They have not done well. Since the first republic when they built universities and assisted primary schools, education has been suffering today. There should be more funding of education because it is the cure to our problems in the north.
There have been recurring problems of violence in southern Kaduna, culminating in the recent killing of more that 300 people. What do you think is the solution to this crisis?
What is happening in Southern Kaduna is not out of a vacuum. There has been a long standing problem. In 2011, there was massacre on one side, now the people seem to have gotten some power and redirection and they are revenging. It is wrong to revenge and it is wrong to attack. How can you attack an innocent person in the name of revenge? He is not the person that killed your person. it is so wrong but people were left in ignorance and poverty and without direction. As I said, the north has lost leadership. The north lost Ahmadu Bello and Tafawa Balewa who could have groomed another crop of politicians that would have the respect of the whole society, not a segment of the society, not resentful part of the society, that is why we have problems.
As a result of the resentment against corruption, oppression and neglect, the Talakawa (poor masses) have rallied round president Buhari. But that is not the kind of leader I am talking about. I am talking about a leader that looks at the whole society and not a segment of the society. If you are a leader of the Talakawa, how about the elites? This is what the north lacks. Nobody controls the north.
Is it a hopeless case?
It is not hopeless. If president Buhari can turn himself from being a leader of the Talakawa to a national leader that will try to pacify the nation, not to stir the cup of murky water; bring people from different backgrounds and assure them that ‘I am like your father, I will make sure you are not cheated’, release all the people that are being detained because of this corruption-yes the Talakawa will be angry but let them be angry- then chart a new course for Nigeria and listen without prejudice, then things will change. That is why I wanted President Jonathan and Buhari to have mercy on the people (by not contesting) so that we can have new faces. If the new face is an Igbo man or a Hausa man, he will be better understood than those old faces. If we have new faces, then we can sit down and chart a new course for Nigeria to heal after which we then put it on a sound footing. But now, no matter your intention, if you are of the old stock, you will get opposition. This is what I saw and this is what I am seeing.
If the Talakawas want you to bring money back from the so called corrupt people, you will have problems because more than 40% of Nigerians benefited from this corrupt system. you will have religious problems, you will have regional problems.
Are you saying the fight against corruption is not being fought right?
Yes. The market is very volatile. It does not want disturbance. Look at naira, it has crashed against the dollar and the economy is grounded. It would have been slowly and subtly done. If you go to Malaysia or Saudi Arabia the rate against the Dollar remain the same. They will do everything to ensure that it does not change because once you allow it to fluctuate, you will lose control of the economy and once you lose control of the economy you have big problem. Now, the corruption we are trying to fight has tripled because once there is poverty, the brain does not accept what they see as corruption. You cannot get anything now except you give money. You don’t smash your television set simply because you want to kill a rat in your room. You have to tactfully see how you can kill it without destroying your properties.
This is how the fight against corruption should have been approached: gently and slowly. It is part of the problems we have because unfortunately, it became a tool of getting people hurt. Eighty percent of the people who are poor are happy when you catch a big man but catching a big man will bring turmoil into the stability of the market and that instability can cause problems that even if you humiliate him and catch him, before you can stabilise the market, people will suffer. I saw all these coming.
I am not pro-disorder, I am not pro-corruption. How do we cure this volatile situation? It is by gently navigating it. You have to galvanise the people, talk to them. Not the people that praise you. Bring the people who criticise you together and let them see your reason.
The Kaduna state government has banned the Islamic Movement of Nigeria. Do you think the government was right in doing so?
Yes for banning them, the government was right because you cannot allow a big organisation like that to be mobilising people, training them in military drills and training without registering with government. In fact it is one of their pronouncements that they do not recognise any authority. They say the government is a devil. An organisation that terms the government a devil and continues like that without being registered is an outlaw organisation and the government has the right to ban it. In fact it should have been done earlier. If you want to operate, get registered and if you are registered, you will not infringe on the rights of other people; you don’t insult people’s religion, you won’t block roads. The Quran is categorical about it: you should never ever abuse other people’s god. How can you make it a religion to be abusing people’s religion? We don’t abuse people’s religion in Islam. You can explain. You can disagree but not abuse. The centre piece of the Shiites religion is to abuse people.
Is Shiite a religion or a sect of Islam?
We are talking about the state government proscribing them because they are not registered. These same Shiites were saying the whole government was a devil and now they are crying because this ‘devil’ has proscribed them. They are now camouflaging by saying they are peaceful and law abiding when in the real sense, they do not see the government as an authority. The same thing they are doing to the government is same thing they are doing to Islam. They say they are Muslims but how can you be a Muslim when you have abused all the cardinals of Islam? It is not possible. They are just pretending to be Muslims. Now they are pretending to be law abiding before government. It is all pretence. You cannot abuse the cardinals of Islam and say you are a Muslim. They claim to be but do we take serious their claims? No.
What do you think is responsible for the renewed agitation for secession by the some people in the south east?
It is politics. They feel there is oil there and they are not benefiting from it so they want to secede to take control of the oil. That is just it. But they fail to realise that oil is fossil which will end one day but Nigeria has a big land mass. Get what you can get from the oil and invest in the hinterland. That is better for you for your future. That place is too small for you. Generally, they are good people but they do not have intellectuals to direct them on what to do and how to do it. This is what they lack. What we will do is to assist them to have good intellectuals.
The president can be a very important tool in stabilising the south east. Being in power, he has seen how men can deceive. Now he is in a better position to lead the south east and the south south into accepting the greater nation and also negotiating for a better deal. Getting out of Nigeria is not good for them first before anybody. As much as they have oil, we have land. How can one be so naive? Just because you have oil that will finish one day, you prohibit yourself from investing in the vast land that is available for you and your children to own?
Do you think that the unconditional release of the leader of IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu can assuage the feeling of the agitators?
He should be released immediately. He should not only be released from prison he should also be brought to the negotiation table. Government Ekpemupolo, Asari Dokubo should be brought to the negotiating table. Kanu should not be in prison. He is merely agitating and they have a reason to agitate. Bring them to the table. They are different from Boko Haram. Boko Haram we had to use force but I think we can bring them to the table now because they have seen their experiment did not work. Bring them to the table. Let them drop their weapons.
Government should tell them if your problem is you don’t want Boko, you do not want English, no problem. Let the government give them three local governments to establish the school system that they want. Lets withdraw our doctors and engineers from that area. Any body that has western education should be withdrawn from that area. If anyone among them is sick, they should not be admitted to any orthodox hospital.
As for Kanu, he should be brought out and negotiated with. Ask him what he wants. Bring Europeans and teach him how to negotiate. It is not by force. If you paralyse Enugu with demonstration, you are destroying the economy of Enugu. It is not good for you. Why do I have to break my house because I am agitating? Bring peace in the south east, develop the south east then negotiate.
Kanu should be educated. If you imprison him, you are giving him power to draw sympathy from even those who do not support what he is doing. I do not think that he should be incarcerated because he is agitating.
Does this extend to the former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki who is also in detention?
He should be released immediately because the president knows that he cannot arrest (former) President Jonathan and Dasuki was under Jonathan 100%. As a National Security Adviser who is answerable to the president, if you cannot arrest the president, then you should leave the NSA because the buck stops on the president’s table. If you cannot arrest the president because of political reasons or for whatever reason, then release Sambo Dasuki and others too. I am not saying he should arrest the former president Jonathan. Jonathan is even needed in the country more now to bring stability to the country. Give him his due recognition. He did well too. He made mistakes, every body makes mistakes. This government should use former President Jonathan now to stabilise the South East and the South South.
This government should forget about the past corruption and concentrate on the present. Put in place a system that will make it difficult for people to steal. Stop the bleeding. Encourage the people who have stolen to come back and invest. They will pity Nigeria and come back and invest because anybody who goes to Europe will know that he is not wanted there. But we have already charged the local man here. It is a good political weapon to talk about fighting corruption but Nigeria is beyond politics now. It is beyond getting power. We want unity and for Nigeria to be put on a proper footing for prosperity in the future. We have to forgive and forget. Forgiveness is what will heal Nigeria. We will continue to pray for Nigeria that we should have peace.