By Ibrahim Hassan-Wuyo
SHEIKH Ahmad Abubakar Mahmud Gumi, a prominent Fulani Muslim leader from Kaduna State is a man of strong conviction and appears to have his own position on every government policy and programme and feels proud about that.
He is not given to any pretence and prefers to shoot directly at any form of disagreement with his standpoint. At a time government is trying to stem the tide of kidnapping and banditry, Gumi, a trained medical doctor and retired army captain, is of the view that bandits should be paid ransom to free their victims. He is not afraid to enter the deep forests in many parts of the North to negotiate with bandits and terrorists to free their captives. While some see him as a ‘negotiator with bandits’, many others consider Sheikh Gumi as an ‘ambassador’ and mediator of peace between the bandits and the rest of Nigerians.
He has consistently denied supporting bandits and Boko Haram terrorists in their heinous activities, but remains a strong advocate of amnesty for terrorists and bandits as opposed to kinetic confrontation by the military. But that is not all. Sheikh Gumi early this week left most Nigerians in shock when he announced that he had set up a special school for the training of bandits and armed herdsmen in a Kaduna forest. It was difficult to believe initially that such a school was indeed in place, but he has personally confirmed it and went ahead to release pictures of the school with further confirmation by his supporters and aides.
Last week, Sheikh Gumi came out with a strong position that the bandits were ready to drop their arms if government provides them with educational opportunities and other basic amenities are provided for Fulani herdsmen at the grassroots. This speech was actually delivered at the unveiling of a school: “Sheikh Othman Bin Fodio Centre”, built by Sheikh Gumi and funded by his “Mosque Foundation Limited” at Kagarko Grazing Reserve near Kohoto Village in Kaduna State. After unveiling the school, which he said is for the training of herdsmen, Sheikh Gumi said if such centre is replicated across the country, Nigeria would know and live in peace instead of spending billions on military hardware to fight the bandits. Gumi who remarked that Nigeria should spend such money on schools and teachers, added that he had personally spoken with the bandits and secured their approval to drop arms and embrace peace once their children are given education and social amenities.
He said: “What motivated me to start this project is my desire to solve the insecurity problem we have from the root because every crime has its perpetrators and perpetrators are drawn from a pool; so we want to go there and dry the pool and we found out that education is the best cure. If they are educated, they will not be doing what they are doing. So, we say we must take education to the grassroots. We embarked on the project to also be an example for others – local government, state and federal as well as wealthy individuals and corporate entities- to come up with what can help educate them and enable us to live in peace.
“What we have here is a centre containing six classrooms that can be used for primary and secondary schools and at various times you can teach all categories. The place will be engaged for 24 hours because the herdsmen usually take their cattle out by 10am and bring them back by dawn or sunset.
“So they have two hours before they take their cattle away and we have two to three hours because we like to put some solar light so that they can read 8, 9, 10 in the night so that the herder can go and come back. We have schools, we have hospital and also showing them how to grind the foliage which they can use to feed their animals. Some of them don’t need to go out because those things are so cheap and farmers are throwing those things away; soon farmers will start charging for it. If we can duplicate this everywhere Nigerians will live in peace.”
Addressing the community, Gumi said that though the construction of the centre is still ongoing, the three tiers of government can come in and partner on training the herdsmen on how they can be economically viable, describing herdsmen as the most peaceful. “For those that have used banditry and criminality to express their grievances, we want them to know that there is another way,” he said.
But though the establishment of the school has already become controversial and strange, Gumi has already received support from some groups and some knocks from the Christian Association of Nigeria. While the Coalition of Northern Groups, CNG, lauded Sheikh Gumi for setting up the school for bandits, CAN derided the idea, wondering when it became a norm and a thing of celebration to set up a school for people who were causing trouble across the land.
Spokesman for CNG, Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, noted that there should be no controversy about the school being set up by Gumi since he is funding it with his own money, whose source nobody has ever queried. “As far as the CNG is concerned, there is no controversy here. The school was built through a foundation’s funds and the foundation is legitimate. Besides, nowhere was it mentioned that the school was built for bandits but for herdsmen. Unless we are trying to say that every herdsman is a bandit or every bandit is a herdsman, which would amount to deliberate profiling and vilification of an entire pastoral community most of whom are peaceful Nigerians. It is only in Nigeria that we derive joy in seeing negativities even in well intended actions particularly from certain sections of the country.
Gumi’s spokesperson, Malam Tukur Mamu, describes the school for bandits as a laudable approach to ending banditry in the country and pleaded with Nigerians to support the project. According to Mamu: “With Gumi’s genuine intention, sincerity, commitment and even sacrificing his life to visit the enclaves of bandits in the remotest locations, an act that even those in position of leadership cannot afford to do because of the fear for their lives, Nigerians, especially the Press that was hitherto suspicious of activities of the highly respected cleric of Islamic jurisprudence, are now beginning to understand the message and approach of the Sheikh as the only solution and not bombs or politics of wasting billions in security votes by both states and the Federal Government in ending banditry and other acts of killings and kidnappings.
What Gumi is achieving as an ‘Army of One’ with the active support of those close to him and the foundation under him cannot be quantified in terms of money. The foundation under Sheikh Gumi has invited journalists to see for themselves what he has done in a remote herdsmen settlement in a forest of Janjala in Kaduna. Gumi has visited the hitherto dreaded forest that used to be one of the epicentre for bandits more than seven times.
“With the completion of the project that cost Sheikh Gumi and the foundation over N50 million, the number of enrollment has more than doubled now in the school. The school is also being attended by non-Muslims with freedom to attend the lessons they choose.”
But Rev. Joseph John Hayab, Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, in Kaduna State disagrees with CNG, arguing that there should be no discrimination about religion or tribes, rich or poor, herdsmen or bandits in the establishment of school as is being done by Christian missionaries. “The recent declaration by Sheik Gumi that he has built school for bandits should have been a matter to celebrate, hoping that with education these bandits may soon drop their evil ways and embrace civility; but we do not understand why the school is in the forest where our school children like students of Bethel Baptist High School were taken for almost 140 days today with four of them not yet released.
“How are we sure that the forest school will not be another training camp for more terrorists? Why do they not extend an olive branch to the bandits to accept education and that their children will be given education in an integrated school environment where they will study with others and see them as fellow human beings and citizens not victims that they will take weapons to dehumanise them? Another question is: who will supervise the schools since they are terror to any security agent and people who do not do what they are doing? Are we going to have a new bandits government and budgets for them?
“If they will be fully funded by individuals whose identity and interest is not known to Nigerian people and government, what will happen in the future? Every school established must have government registration and approval by the Ministry of Education. Our concern here is which ministry has this forest school Gumi is talking about registered with?”
When asked if the Kaduna State Government has given approval to Shekh Gumi’s school for bandits, the state Commissioner for Home Affairs and Internal Security, Mr. Samuel Aruwan, referred Arewa Voice to the state Ministry of Education for proper reaction. But as at the time of filing the report, the ministry was yet to come up with a response.
leaving the nation with anxious wait over a matter that continues to generate more controversy, anxiety and suspense than answers.