…Insist only negotiation by govt, not use of force, can stop it
…Asks govs to stop ‘political amnesty’, back it with actions
…Urges Buhari to invite IPOB for negotiations
…Army dismisses Gumi’s allegation, says troops not colluding with bandits
By Kingsley Omonobi
Renown Islamic scholar, Ahmad Gumi, claimed yesterday that bandits operating in Nigeria were doing so in connivance with some security agents in the country.
He also described the banditry going on in Nigeria as a tribal war between herders and other tribes in the country, attributing this to the killings in the South West and South East.
Gumi, who spoke in an interview on Arise TV, said: ‘’These bandits are operating with a lot of people in the security system. This is business, otherwise, how can these big weapons they use cross the borders into the country if money is not exchanging hands.’’
Explaining that the banditry in Nigeria was more of tribal war between herders and other tribes, Gumi said it was further compounded by the partiality of the government.
According to him, government which is supposed to be neutral is taking sides against the bandits, sending security agents after them.
‘’We over-simplify a very complex issue and this breeds confusion. Nigeria is fighting a tribal war and government is supposed to be neutral but it is not. This is what I saw in Zamfara; this is what I saw in Niger.
“When you say these bandits are committing atrocities, yes, agreed, they are committing crimes – they are killing people, they are kidnapping, they are raping, they are doing all sorts of atrocities. But, have you for once gone to their sides and see all sorts of atrocities that are also committed against them?
“So that rather than wielding the big stick and relying on military action, the Federal Government will do well in restoring normalcy by engaging the bandits in negotiation and using willing volunteers among them to win the battle.
‘’Boko Haram leader, Shekau, had been causing havoc in the country for more than 10 years and the military could not kill him but ISWAP, a splinter group from Boko Haram was able to eliminate him. So is the case with the herdsmen. We can use them to suppress the criminals among them.
“As we all know, at a point, the Boko Haram were ready for dialogue and at a point, they even recommended the current President (Buhari) to negotiate for them. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo even tried to broker peace with Boko Haram.
‘’People should be neutral in this tribal war. The children of herders who are now bandits are also being killed in different parts of the country. Look at what happened in Oyo area of the South West where herders and their children were killed.
‘’I don’t speak for bandits committing atrocities; I also don’t speak for those committing atrocities against the bandits, I’m only trying to be neutral.
‘’People do not understand when I say it is ethnic war going on. You see Fulani fighting Yoruba in the South West, Igbo in the South East and other tribes in the north. I wonder why government should be taking sides with other tribes against herders. Bandits are ready to stop banditry if the military is ready to cooperate with them,’’ Gumi said.
He described the amnesty granted bandits in some states of the north as mere ‘’political amnesty’’, alleging it was not really backed up with actions in the form of building of schools, hospitals etc for the bandits and their children.
‘’What Masari granted in Katsina initially was a political amnesty, granted in front of the media for the bandits to surrender their guns. Amnesty should be in the form of providing hospitals, schools and other facilities.
‘’But now, there is relative peace in Katsina because the government now appears to be implementing real amnesty. We can understand why Zamfara cannot implement amnesty for bandits. It is because of financial constraints. We can take examples from the Niger Delta where government even gave militants the job of protecting oil pipelines in the region.
‘’The same can be done for bandits who have promised to guard the forests to enable farmers return to their farms and release hundreds of captives held by them. The bandits are ready to sit down with the government to discuss issues but I don’t know why government is not forthcoming on this,’’ Gumi said.
On why he has not visited Ibarapa in Oyo State, and other parts of the south where there had been frequent killing of farmers by killer herders, the Islamic cleric said he had concluded arrangements to visit the South West this week, adding that the essence of the visit was to talk to the killer herders out of criminality and re-orientate them on how to behave well in their host communities.
Gumi said he also had plans to visit the South East for the same purpose, disclosing that the peace initiative he started with former President Olusegun Obasanjo was stalled by the death of a Fulani leader who was the intermediary between them and the bandits.
On the release of Tegina pupils kidnapped in Niger State, Gumi said the political atmosphere there was not encouraging peace, adding that the governor’s formation of a vigilante group to go after bandits in the state had further compounded the situation.
He, however, said the bandits agreed to release all their captives in the forest, if the government cooperated with them and release their own colleagues in detention.
He, however, advised the federal government to also invite to the negotiation table the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, IPOB, to ask them why they had decided to take arms against the state.
“Government doesn’t want to recognize that there are agitations. Even with the IPOB. If I were the government, I will go and sit down with them and ask what the problem is.
“Why are you carrying weapons against your own country? So is the case with the herdsmen. They are ready to negotiate.”
Reacting to Gumi’s allegation yesterday, the Nigerian Army dismissed it in strong terms, saying troops would never collude with bandits and herdsmen perpetrating kidnapping and other atrocities against citizens.
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Brig Gen. Onyema Nwachukwu, Director Army Public Relations, said in a statement, titled ‘’Nigerian Army not colluding with bandits’’: “The Nigerian Army wishes to state that contrary to Sheik Gumi’s claims, the NA remains a bonafide symbol of national unity that has conducted its constitutional responsibilities in the most professional manner, in line with global best practices of adherence to the rules of engagement and protection of the fundamental human rights of the citizenry.
‘The sweeping allegation peddled by the scholar is not only sad and unfortunate, but also a calculated attempt to denigrate the military and undermine the sacrifices of our patriotic troops who are working tirelessly to restore peace and stability across the country.
“It is essential to remind ourselves that these same military being accused of connivance, are the ones who recently put their lives on the line to rescue abductees of Government Secondary School, Birnin Yauri, from kidnappers.
“While the NA will not attempt to excuse the possibility of black sheep among its fold, it must be stated unambiguously that it will not condone any form of sabotage or aiding and assisting the enemy by any personnel, as provisions for dealing decisively with such acts are crystallised in Section 45 (1) of the Armed Forces Act CAP A 20 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.
“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.
“It is also necessary to reiterate that patriotism must be taken to a trajectory where subversive conversations on the state are brought to the barest minimum.
“Opinion leaders are enjoined to demonstrate patriotism in building the peace, rather than being agents of distabilization, thereby aggravating the current security challenges facing the nation.”
“The NA wishes to reassure law abiding citizens, that troops will continue to conduct themselves professionally in consonance with the code of conduct guiding our operations in all combat engagements, in line with the provisions of the Nigerian constitution and global best practice.
“Citizens are enjoined to continue to support military operations by providing useful information to defence and security agencies and together, we shall rid our society of these criminal elements.”