By Ikechukwu Amaechi
ISLAMIC cleric Sheikh Ahmad Gumi is a man with a lot of clout in his neck of the woods. A retired army officer and a medical doctor who decided to be a full-time Islamic preacher, his people put much stock in whatever he says.
So, when he embarked on a self-assigned mission of talking his Fulani kinsmen holding sway in the ungoverned spaces of the North West out of banditry, Nigerians paid attention. So far, he has been to Kaduna, Zamfara and Sokoto states.
Emerging from the forests of Shinkafi, Sububu, Pakai and Maradun in Zamfara State where he engaged with outlaws who have declared war against the State last week, Gumi has riveted Nigerians with tales of a people who have an axe to grind with their fellow citizens and their government. The bandits, he told us, unfurled a catalogue of grievances, threatening there will be no peace until their demands are met by the Nigerian State they claimed abandoned them.
The Islamic cleric thinks they have a point, concluding that they are victims of the base conducts of unconscionable state actors. He also came to another conclusion. Judging from what he saw in the forests, the Nigerian State has no chance of defeating the bandits militarily and, therefore, they have no choice than to negotiate for peace on the bandits’ terms.
Most of these people who are holding Nigerians to ransom, Gumi said, are stark illiterates with no education whatsoever; but he thinks, nevertheless, that since they took up arms because of injustice allegedly done to them, then, “if they should be called upon and talked to, they could be persuaded to embrace peace.”
“They were victims of violence so they took arms to protect themselves. Wherever they are as cattle herders, they face problems with farmers; we saw what happened in Oyo, how their homes and cattle were burnt. These people live in huts while those killing them and destroying their homes live a better life,” Gumi said. He canvassed for amnesty for those who want to lay down their arms as was done for the militants in the Niger Delta region. Schools and skills acquisition centres should be built for them.
“Let there be peace; you all have a legitimate concern and grievances and I believe that since the Niger Delta armed militants were integrated by the Federal Government and are even in the business of pipelines protection, the Federal Government should immediately look into how something like that will be done to the Fulani to provide them with reasonable means of livelihood, including jobs, working capitals, entrepreneurship training, building clinic and schooling,” Sheikh Gumi told the bandits in their lair.
And to the rest of Nigerians, he said: “We cannot abandon them. I have a picture of some little girls that are drinking water from the same stream with animals. They have no social amenities; no hospitals and we are here talking.”
In an interview with Daily Trust, Gumi admitted that those he met in Zamfara forests were Fulani herders. Expectedly, Zamfara State Governor Bello Matawalle is happy and so is the Federal Government that has publicly endorsed the cleric’s efforts.
“When you want to resolve an issue like this, you use lots of back channels,” Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed said. “Again, it is not unusual for a respected cleric to have the confidence of (approaching) outlaws or bandits…. So, it is not unusual for him to act as a bridge between government and the outlaws in an attempt to find solution.”
Surprisingly, Kaduna State Governor Nasir el-Rufai, who has been an advocate of Gumi’s appeasement rhetoric of negotiating and paying ransom to bandits, disagrees. Rather than amnesty and compensation for them, he calls for their elimination.
Speaking in an interview with the Hausa Service of the British Broadcasting Corporation, BBC, on Monday, el-Rufai declared that any bandit arrested in Kaduna State will be killed, insisting that “the state is at war with bandits”.
El-Rufai said anybody who believes that a Fulani herdsman that is used to making millions of naira from kidnapping will stop is deceiving himself. “Anybody that thinks a Fulani herdsman that is engaged in kidnapping for ransom and is earning millions of naira would go back to his former life of getting N100,000 after selling a cow in a year, must be deceiving himself.”
He may well be correct. Before going into the forests to meet the bandits, Gumi was told by the chairman of Shinkafi local government that they had paid over N200 million ransom to the bandits. If a local government has paid that much, imagine how much the bandits are making from the state government and the entire region. And to imagine that there are little or no consequences. No bandit will give up such a lucrative business on a platter of Sheikh Gumi’s ridiculous platitudes.
Gumi’s ad-hominem fallacy which has become the battle cry of other Fulani ideologues such as Prof. Usman Yusuf, former Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme, NHIS, and Adamu Garba, the CEO of IPI Solutions Nigeria Limited and a former presidential aspirant under the All Progressives Congress, APC, in the 2019 elections, is disingenuous and dangerous.
To contend as Sheikh Gumi and his co-travellers are doing that the bandits are angry because they have been grossly offended, and their livelihoods taken away is to play fast and loose with the facts. Who offended the Fulani in Nigeria? Why should a people be compensated after killing people and destroying their homes?
In the last one week since after Gumi came back from the Zamfara forests, bandits have killed well over 43 innocent Nigerians and wounded many others in Kaduna State alone. On Saturday, 24 people were killed in an attack on Ungwan Gajere, Kutemeshi ward, Dankyawai, Janbala, Kishisho, Gwagwada-Kasaya, Agwa and Bugai, in Birnin Gwari, Giwa, Chikun, Igabi and Kauru local government areas. That attack was launched barely 72 hours after gunmen killed 19 persons in Birnin-Gwari and Kajuru local government areas.
So, what did the victims do to deserve death? And what kind of peace is Gumi talking about here? How can reward and compensation for banditry engender peace? Can there be peace without justice and equity? Who compensates the victims that have been driven away from their ancestral homes and are living in IDP camps all over the country? Who compensates the women that have been made widows and children who have been orphaned?
And make no mistake about this. Sheikh Gumi said those he went to the forests to talk to are Fulani. So, the identity of those committing these atrocities is not hidden. Of course, it cannot be all Fulani but that does not detract from the fact that the fire of this crisis that is threatening to consume Nigeria was lit by them.
To draw a moral equivalency between Fulani bandits and Niger Delta militants or Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, IPOB, activists as Sheikh Gumi and his ilk are trying to do is a fallacy that is unbecoming. It is as foolhardy as “comparing apples and oranges.” The Fulani don’t own every inch of the Nigerian soil as some of them claim.
If the goal of this violence is to cow other Nigerians into submission, it will fail. Why? Because no ethnic nationality has the capacity to impose its will on the rest of the country. If this madness persists, particularly “now that the war is on our doorstep”, as Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, said this week, there will be mobilisation. That is exactly what Sunday Igboho is doing in the South West. Nobody wants to be a slave in his country. That is as intolerable and unacceptable to Soyinka as it is to anyone else.
Whatever will make a man like Soyinka to declare that: “Whatever it takes, I stand ready to contribute in any way and I have made my governor understand this, we are here not just to live in but to live in dignity. Right now, our dignity is being rubbished,” is a serious matter. Incidentally, many Nigerians have come to that inescapable conclusion.
If I were Sheikh Gumi, rather than being an ideological prop to bandits, my message to the Fulani herdsmen would have been: Please don’t provoke a war you have no chance whatsoever of winning.