By Tajudeen Suleiman
Source From WHISTLER
It’s easy to locate his residence in Kaduna; everyone knows him and who he is. He is Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, known as an outspoken Islamic scholar who does not shy away from taking on the powers that be.
Recently, he has become a controversial figure provoking heated debates among Nigerians due to his advocacy for bandits operating in the forests of states in the North West.
THE WHISTLER visited him in his base in Kaduna for a scheduled interview last Tuesday.
He was talking to a group of over 60 youths on some religious issues inside the mosque at his old house at the GRA when the reporter was ushered in. His listeners all sat on the floor of the mosque as he talked, while a few of his aides sat on chairs close to him. Other aides stood behind him, including his police guard who was in mufti.
After some 40 minutes later, he ended the talk and the reporter, along with a dozen of other people who had come to see him, was invited to follow him into the residence.
One after the other, he attended to all. No one was too small to see him. And no one was too big to be kept waiting in the modestly furnished parlour of the house. He listened to everyone, including young Islamic students who asked to see him.
We had the interview in a private office in the house, with a shelf filled with award plaques from different religious and non-religious associations. He responded calmly to questions for about 45 minutes and only raised his voice when asked to defend his call for amnesty for bandits!
He responded to questions on how to stop banditry, why insecurity persist, the Buhari administration, IPOB and the 2023 general election. He spoke with TAJUDEEN SULEIMAN, Editor.
FG must listen to bandits:
Everyone knows you as an influential Islamic cleric. How did you become the spokesman of bandits?
I’m not a spokesperson of bandits but a spokesperson for Nigerians who have no voice. That lack of voice has led them to great criminality. So I am saying lets listen to them, let’s hear from them and then if we understand their grievances that would be the first step to solving the problem we have. So I’m not speaking on their behalf, but acting like a doctor would do the patient.
You recently suggested that the military should work with bandits, the good bandits to neutralize the bad ones. Are their good bandits?
A good bandit is a bandit that has repented and is ready to join the society and respect civil laws. He’s a good bandit because he has repented. You can use them to suppress those who’re recalcitrant, the real thieves, who are doing it not for any other thing but for criminality. You have criminals in every society.
If you say the government should work with repentant bandits. Are you saying the crimes they had committed should be forgiven?
Ojukwu caused civil war by embarking on armed conflict for secession. It resulted in the death of millions of people. But he was forgiven completely for national reconciliation. So if somebody who caused the death of two million people can be forgiven, why not forgive people who will bring peace? Because the forgiveness will come with peace. Its not just freeing, We’re not just freeing a criminal, we’re doing a thing that will stop criminality further. If you say you’re not going to forgive him, he will kill more people further and we don’t have the capacity to tackle them.
Because any crime that people are committing in hundreds of thousands is no more crime, its agitation. So, you don’t deal with them as simple criminals but as agitators. That’s why when the Niger Delta militants were abducting foreigners, vandalizing pipelines and killing police and soldiers, what happened at the end of the day?
When the amnesty programme came, Nigerians accepted it. So its not something new I am saying. It’s just that after I went into the forest, I discovered that there is a large number of them that can benefit from amnesty and that can cure the problem.
If you look at our experience with terrorism, many of the terrorists who repented were rehabilitated but it has not stopped terrorism?
No, you see whatever we do in Nigeria we do it half-baked, not fully. May be somebody needs rehabilitation for two or three years and you do it for six months.
He’s not well rehabilitated. It’s an economic war which is tinged with religious flavor. You bring somebody out and he still finds himself in the same situation; he finds himself still with no work, still dejected, he will tell himself maybe I should kidnap and get money. So, there are so many dimensions to it.
So, you think the rehabilitation programme is not comprehensive enough.
Yes, it’s not comprehensive at all. If it’s comprehensive they will not turn back to terrorism.
So, what would you like to see?
I want to see a comprehensive programme. Then, you see, the root cause of this thing is economic war.
There’s too much disparity in distribution of wealth in Nigeria, so many people are poor, so many people cannot cure themselves. They just use tribalism and religion, and for herdsmen they’re using ethnic card.
But it’s an economic war. So why don’t we try to bring about equitable distribution of wealth and bring people out of poverty. China was able to bring out one hundred million people out of abject poverty to an acceptable level in one year. Nigeria should do that if not crimes would continue.
The federal government has claimed that some influential persons are sponsoring the banditry in the North west. You have been to the forests and met these bandits; do you believe there are people sponsoring them? Who are these people?
No, nobody. They’re just looking for escape route not to take responsibility. Nobody is causing that. Infact if there’s anyone it’s the Military that is contributing to terrorism. Just two days ago the military destroyed Fulani ruga settlement. They destroyed it and you see women and children crying. It’s behind the NYSC camp in Kaduna. It’s on Facebook.
So, the military has contributed to the high-handedness of the bandits. It’s not a hidden secret; extortion by police and the military of the ordinary herdsmen.
They catch them without committing any offence and they would have to sell their cows to bail themselves. If you interview any Fulani man on the road they will tell you. Ask him how do you see our security people?
They will tell you they’re useless people. They’ll arrest you for no offence and ask you to bail yourself by selling your cows.
Who’s sponsoring who? For what? How do you sponsor somebody to come and start killing people? No. It’s the criminalities, the rustling of their cattle and the extortion. Infact, rustling of cattle affected the Fulani more than any other.
When they lost their cattle, then they’re extorted. And they don’t have right to complain because if they are taken to court its extortion again because they are considered illiterates.
And they have wives which is the cow. Everybody is feeding on them until when the cows are finished, they realized that they have been targeted and profiled.
Then they form into an ethnic enclave and say we have to fight back. And then they’re introduced to drugs, kidnapping and they’re making money now. So you have to break the circle if you want to stop the criminalities. Remove the ethnic element, empower them, give them cattle, settle them and educate them. Without education they would come back to the crime because an ignorant man is an atomic bomb.
So, I don’t think there’s any politician that will like to see all these mayhem that is happening. No. May be the Boko Haram, yes, it started with politicians. But this herdsmen issue is something which started within them.
I understand that Fulani people respect their elders. Is it not possible to talk to them?
Yes, this is what I’m saying. I don’t want to exaggerate, but just give me one month and the support of the government. Let’s gather all Fulani herdsmen, all bandits and we will solve the problem. Its just engagement they need; nobody is engaging them. They only deceive people, dropping bombs on them.
Buhari is incompetent:
But why is it difficult for you to get the government to support what you’re doing?
Because, right from the inception of this regime, I have not been in their good books. And this is one of the bad things with this government, and especially with Buhari .
When he thinks you’re not his friend, he excommunicates you. You may have the cure for his problem, but if you’re not his friend, he would say No. He doesn’t have that wide chest like IBB who can accept people who criticize him. You can see that in the way he handled the Twitter issue.
That is the attitude of the government. Whoever they think is against them they will not do with you. But I’m only against them the way I was against IBB, Obasanjo, Jonathan and others. When I see policies that are anti-people, I speak out.
Do you think APC is the same as Buhari?
They have come to realize that Buhari can only listen to you when you sing his song. Nobody can dare go to the president and tell him things, nobody. If you tell him what he doesn’t like, tomorrow you will not get access to him They all know that. If Buhari is not there, APC is different.
Jun 12, 2021
Let’s talk about Miyetti Allah. Some of their utterances have inflamed passion in other parts of the country. What’s your assessment of that organization?
When you ask the nomadic herdsmen about Miyetti Allah, they tell you they don’t trust Miyetti Allah.
They accuse them of collaborating with government to cheat, attack and arrest them. So they don’t trust the leadership. But I can understand the position of Miyetti Allah, it’s a non-governmental organization.
All NGOs, especially in the north are beggars. They are at the mercy of politicians. They don’t have money of their own, and they have to go around for money before they can do anything.
The Fulani have come under attack in the south because of alleged criminalities linked to them. Are you worried that herdsmen are turning to criminals?
No. There’s criminality in the whole country. There’s madness everywhere. We were just talking about the government we’re trying to assist now, but it does not have the sense to see that they need help.
So, what is happening to the government is happening to others too—madness. The herdsman is an illiterate, no form of communication with him.
So, if he behaves like this in this toxic environment…infact I find him softer and easier because when I go to them they’re ready to listen, ready to accept suggestions. They’re only suspicious.
Just to sit down and speak with them is something the government is not interested in. It’s something that can bring peace.
I was discussing with someone that if you look all around, there’s corruption everywhere. So, why are you surprised that the herdsmen too have realized that with drugs and kidnapping, they can earn money?
Why are you surprised?
They have seen the porous nature of our security. They have the sanctuary, which is the forest. They also have the courage because they have been herding animals in the forest so his heart is hardened.
No Fulani Agenda:
The violent activities of herdsmen have led some people in the south to think there’s a Fulani agenda against other ethnic groups in the country…
I was telling a respectable southern leader, I said look, don’t overrate these herdsmen. One, it’s like an ocean where the big fish swallows the small fish. One of my students was kidnapped and he spent nine days with the kidnappers.
He said in the night when they are moving and they see light from the vehicle of another group of bandits in the forest, they would hide. They have to hide when they see another group of bandits that are more than their own group, if not they will attack them, collect their weapon and their victims. So, he told us they and their kidnappers would be hiding from other kidnappers in the forest.
So what I’m trying to say is that if the Fulani bandits do not have unity among themselves, can we talk of any agenda? Which agenda? These are ignorant illiterate people. What agenda?
Some have suggested they are carrying out a Fulani agenda for Buhari…
Nooooooo! Which Buhari? I will show you a clip of a herdsman abusing Buhari. No one has abused Buhari like that in Nigeria. I told you the army destroyed their camp yesterday.
So, I really feel sorry for Buhari when I hear people from the south criticizing him. These people don’t know Buhari. He is not there for anybody. He is not for anybody.
There’s a lady related to him who spoke about Buhari in a video that had gone viral. She claimed to be same family with Buhari but she’s a beggar!
So, the man is not helping anybody. When he said he’s working with the constitution its true; he’s working with the constitution. If you’re related to him and the constitution doesn’t say he should do anything for you he won’t do it. Let’s be honest, there’s no agenda.
Buhari is not doing anything for herdsmen. If there’s anybody getting anything, maybe he doesn’t know. They know his weakness.
Let’s talk about IPOB. The government had declared the group as a terrorist organization. Would you suggest that the government should also grant them amnesty and dialogue with them as you’re suggesting for bandits?
Yes, if they’re seeking amnesty and dialogue.
But are they seeking? The bandits are seeking, they are saying come and sit down and let’s talk. But are IPOB also saying that? They’re not. Yet, a good government would have called them for dialogue because they’re youths. They’re Nigerians and we should not kill them.
Even when Nnamdi Kanu was arrested, I asked them to release him. Same with Elzaky-zaky.
A government should try to pacify and seek peace despite their criminality. As I have said, if you have hundreds of thousands of people involved a crime, its no more criminality. It’s agitation. So IPOB is agitating.
Do you think their agitation is right?
No, whether it’s right or wrong, the way they’re going about it is wrong. You cannot be burning INEC offices, police stations and killing security men and say its right. But still the government can engage them in dialogue.
Some people have accused northern elite of sponsoring violence in the south so they can remain in power.
No no no. IPOB is delinquency of the youths in the southeast just as banditry is delinquency of herdsmen and Boko Haram is delinquency of youths in Borno State.
They’re just spontaneous reactions to disparity in wealth distribution. People are poor so everybody is clinging to tribe or religion.
Nigeria is breaking:
What are your major worries about Nigeria?
My major worry is that if Buhari continues the way he’s doing, one and a half years remaining from his tenure is too long for Nigeria. There would be too much casualties. But I’m sure a concerted leadership will cure this problem in no time. It’s just leadership problem that we have. Give it to the right man, things will go well.
So, you can’t wait to see the end of the Buhari administration?
No, this is why I pray all the time that he ends well and Nigeria doesn’t disintegrate.
Do you have fear that the country could break up?
Oh yes, it’s almost breaking now. Things are falling apart and the army is overstretched. The economy is bad. Modern economy is tied to stability of the country. No stability, no economy.
When you pray, what do you ask God to do for Nigeria?
Oh yes. I pray for God to give us a good leader. The problem is leadership. Only good leadership can hold this nation.
Where do you want power to go in 2023?
I don’t want power to go anywhere.
You want it to remain in the north?
No. Power is not in the north. Do you see power in the north, with poverty, diseases and so on?
A northerner is the president…
No no no. Is it because a northerner is president? When his people are wallowing in poverty and diseases? Is that been in power? What we need are leaders who can bring equitable development to everywhere. That’s what we need.
Is there anything you will like to tell Nigerians about what you are doing?
What we’re doing is trying to pacify the north. We have seen reasons why people are agitating and we’re trying to pacify them. I will like to see leaders in the south west who would also pacify the people of the region. I will like to see same in other regions. We should forget about ethnic nationalism. Nigeria is a great country.