…but can’t nail Sheikh
•Says Sultan, DSS DG, AGF, NSA, Service Chiefs knew of visits to bandits in the forests, President didn’t give consent
•‘Critics attack Muslim cleric because he is completely misunderstood’
By Our Reporter
Islamic cleric, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, is in the eye of the storm following statements he makes that appear to be in support of bandits terrorising the North-West.
Many Nigerians have wondered why the Islamic scholar had not been reined in by President Muhammadu Buhari especially when he said lately that the corporate existence of the country could be threatened if the Federal Government goes ahead to label bandits as terrorists.
However, his spokesman, Tukur Mamu, says, in this interview, that Gumi had been completely misunderstood by critics, noting that most of his statements had been twisted to give the impression that he was supporting bandits. According to him, Gumi is also a victim of the system that threw up banditry in the country. Mamu, also a Kaduna-based publisher who says he was on the entourage of Gumi during his visits to bandits in the forests to get them to stay off banditry, bares it all.
Why does it seem that Sheikh Gumi is sympathetic to the cause of bandits?
It is not true that Sheikh Gumi is sympathetic to the cause of bandits; I can tell you that it is the opposite. I want to give you a very simple example. The recent article he wrote about the plan of Federal Government to designate bandits as terrorists, the media reported the whole thing the wrong way; if you go through what he presented, it is a kind of diversionary or to create hatred or enmity between Muslims and Christians. If you analyze the content very well, he said all the acts these people are perpetrating are pure acts of terrorism and that it’s not accepted for any society to see these things happening.
But in his own opinion as a religious leader, he is saying, for example, that Boko Haram believes that you and I as Muslim or Christian, if you don’t follow their own ideology, they can kill us. And these are the people that believe that if they die now, they will go to paradise. But these bandits are not fighting religious war, they are fighting an economic war, they’re looking for money by all means and through any means.
We learnt that majority of the bandits are not Nigerians?
No, honestly, most of them are Nigerians. I can tell you, in most of the bushes we have visited; you will find more than 1, 000 young people, largely Fulani, between the ages of 14 and 18. You will see them clearly injecting themselves with drugs and they are with sophisticated weapons. Where are they getting these weapons from?
So where are they getting weapons?
That is the issue Gumi is trying to make people understand. Government officials, security agencies are benefiting from it because, why will you allow some people in the community to have access to these sophisticated weapons; where are they getting them from? And then, what do we do? If we have the will, intelligence people should go after these people and flush them out once and for all so that everybody will have peace. Let government do it, that’s what he said. But the present situation is that we don’t have the capacity, intelligence and we may not even have the sincerity to pursue this thing to a logical conclusion.
So, he (Gumi) is saying that in view of these predicaments, instead of always allowing the bandits to waste innocent lives, why can’t we go into dialogue with them for people to have peace? I can tell you, next year in the North-West, hunger will be unprecedented because people didn’t go to farm.
We also learnt farmers have to pay tax before they can go to their farms to harvest their produce. Is this true?
My brother, the situation is bad and we are very much concerned.
But Gumi has access to the Presidency and the people in government, why is he not talking about what he saw going to the forests to interface with the bandits?
We have reached out to the President many times for us to have one-on-one discussion; you know the President is somebody that holds something in his mind.
The first problem Gumi started having with the President was during the time of President Yar’Adua. After that election that brought Yar’Adua to power, Gumi called the two of them, I was part of that meeting, he said “I want to advise you, since this election has been declared and Yar’Adua agreed that the process was flawed and he will correct the process, please and please, don’t go to court”. But Buhari went to court, that was the time they started having problems.
The second problem Gumi had with the President was before the 2015 general elections when he said both Jonathan and Buhari were not fit to be President and that we wanted younger persons. He said that in view of the security crisis and corruption we were having, we needed younger people to succeed Jonathan in 2015 and he disqualified both of them. So, that angered Buhari so much. When we started going to the forests, we applied through the Chief of Staff, we met the Sultan, the Director General of DSS, Malami (AGF), NSA, Service Chiefs but Buhari didn’t give his consent up till today.
Why did you meet those Security Chiefs?
We met them because there should be an official engagement. For example, people are accusing Gumi that he is romancing bandits. So what he is trying to do is that, “this thing I’m doing, I don’t want to do it alone, I want this thing to have official backing so that wherever I’m going to, let them follow me”. And that’s what we have been doing. Anywhere we went, the police cooperated but the army didn’t cooperate, the DSS said they will not participate but they have been following our activities. So, if somebody has something to hide, why will you engage government people in what we are trying to pursue? Well, some of them are disposed to the idea Gumi is bringing on board, you know the President didn’t give his blessing and whatever you do. I can tell you, if the President is not involved in it, there’s virtually nothing you can do.
If they have anything incriminating against Gumi, with the kind of grudge that Buhari has, he would have been arrested by now. He is also a target but people think Buhari is over protecting him, no. Buhari wants an excuse that will even nail Gumi but he couldn’t get it. All his pronouncements and preaching to the bandits is that, “your religion doesn’t allow what you are doing, this thing you are doing is not accepted in Islam and under no circumstance should you say because you have one grudge or the other, cases of cattle rustling in the past, you should take up arms, that this should not be enough reason for you to go into banditry and start killing”. I am telling you, some of the places we went, everybody was afraid because we didn’t even know if we will come back alive. But when he started preaching to them, you will see them dropping their Indian hemp, guns and listening to us till we finished.
But what is happening now in banditry, insurgency and drug problem, is that not failure of northern leaders?
That is why we are clearly against them. He sat down with virtually all of them, the governor of Sokoto, those of Zamfara, Niger and Kaduna. There’s a lot of money in this business. People are using security vote to enrich themselves as much as they can. So what is happening, especially as far as northern state governors are concerned, there’s division on how to properly handle it.
The second issue is how to go about this in a holistic way to deal with the problem and then there’s the issue of insincerity among them. I can tell you that most of the governors are not sincere. I will give you an example of Zamfara State government. When he invited Gumi to come and meditate, we spent nine days in Zamfara, going to all these bushes.
We contacted virtually all of them. And then the simple agreement we had with the bandits as of that time, Gumi told them that “government will not take money and give it to you but what is due to you as citizens, we will encourage the government to give it to you”. For example, for decades, they don’t even know anything like school, water, clinics and for all these periods, they don’t feel the presence of government.
Gumi told them that first, “I will encourage government to deploy resources so that they will start doing these things gradually for you”. And then, secondly, there’s the issue of unemployment because most of them have been dispossessed of their cows. A normal Fulani man, if you dispossess him of his cow, there’s no other means of livelihood. So “there should be a process where government will assist you at least to come back to life, by way of giving you some cows”.
In addition, he suggested to the governor that since these people have sophisticated weapons and there’s no likelihood they’ll agree to submit all the weapons at once, “you people should engage them like local vigilantes and then you can make them forest rangers to be guarding the forest, make it official, document them and then pay them stipends to start weaning them off banditry”. So, we reached that agreement, we presented it to the governor; he agreed and said he will start full implementation. So, we were waiting, one month, two months, three months, some people advised him against it and what we noticed, you can ask your reporter there, between that period that we went and three months, there was no single attack in Zamfara because the bandits heeded our agreement that, at least for now, there should be trust and cessation of hostilities, pending when government will start implementation of their own part. I am telling you, government didn’t do it.
• In part two of interview next week, Mamu speaks on the report of the panel Zamfara government set up on banditry that has not been implemented and why many emirs in the state cooperated with bandits.