July 15, 2023
Sheikh Gumi to Tinubu: Money stolen under Buhari can help your govt
The popular Kaduna-based cleric, Sheikh Ahmad Gummi, has again called for negotiation with the bandits, expressing his readiness to join the negotiation team if invited by President Tinubu led government. In this interview with Saturday Vanguard, Gumi said the talks with the bandit is so longer a secret, revealing why such talks will end up as another ‘government contract’, an avenue for some people to siphon money. Excerpt.
Is it true that peace talks have started with the bandits?
I heard that there were some contacts made with the bandits but I am not part of it.
Why do you choose negotiation with the bandits instead of military action?
You cannot rule out the role of the military. In fact even if you are negotiating, you will not be doing that from the standpoint of weakness. So, the military has a great role to play, but the military alone cannot do it because this is a socio-political issue, and the Military does not solve political problem. We have to go to the round table.
Also, nobody can tell me the bandits do not want to sit on the table. I have sat with them, I called them, they also came to me, they told me their grievances. The moment fire is exchanged, while the other side is ready to sit down for talks, it will complicate the whole issue. I don’t think that is logical, they will continue to blame each other. You can sit and discuss the way out and broker peace which is very possible. That is the way to go.
What did they say their grievances are?
Their grievances are that they displaced them from their ancestral homes, they are killed and bombarded. And when they surrendered, they came back and picked them and killed them in extra judicial manner. They also said the amnesty programme failed after the negotiation.
Luckily for us, they are not challenging government authority. That is on the positive side, but the danger is that we have terrorists that are trying to infiltrate them. So, we either bring them to our own side or we allow the terrorists hijack them, and certainly that will be another story. The Boko Haram recently ambushed Army and killed many of them.
Guerilla warfare does not end like that. We don’t want this issue of banditry to be prolonged, we want a quick solution. They have not joined the religious terrorists, and when you look at their grievances, which according to them are, no school, no social amenities, no roads, they feel they should have their share of the national cake as Nigerians.
If they have grievances such as these, why don’t they utilise the political means to settle them instead of resorting to violence?
First, we introduced violence to them and they now found it as the way. Secondly, they are not schooled. They don’t reason like you and I do.
How would you want somebody who is not schooled to reason like you? If you give them all the opportunity to good life, school, social amenities, etc, then if they come up with weapons we can crucify them.
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So, I will advise the government to come up with a very strong committee, that will look holistically into the problem. All stakeholders will be on the table and we iron out an action plan to solve the problem, not the political gathering like the one they did in Katsina or Zamfara. No! It has to involve everyone of them and a solution will be reached.
If you were to be part of the negotiating team what would be your demand for both sides or what kind of concession would you want from either side?
My approach to all of these is that it has to be holistic. It has to be with the military, the politicians, the traditional institutions and the religious leaders, the traditional Fulani leadership, the vigilance group, as well as the communities in the bush comprising of the women, farmers and families.
If we bring all these people together with the bandits, insha Allah, we will have fruitful and lasting solution.
But when people go to government and tell them, ‘I can facilitate negotiation with the bandits,’ government should first look at their motive and their sincerity in doing this. Some of them are out to make money, because they use this kind of situation to siphon money.
Also, if the bandits do not see the faces they know and can really trust, it will not work because it is all about confidence.
Also, there are many people with different grievances. I just heard from a security source that in Niger state, a few days ago, that one Fulani man lost over 200 cattle. Then a bug truck loaded, full of rice was attacked and confiscated, with a proviso that their cattle are released.
So, it’s like attacks and counter attacks. Sometimes, it is some people seeking vengeance. It is a complex issue. We need to all come together. But if a certain people persuade the government into making a negotiation without making it holistic, then it may not work. The meeting with them is no more a secret. But what I am calling for is a holistic approach to resolve all aspects of the issue.
And if after such holistic meetings where all sides to the issues have been discussed and resolved, and violence continues, no one will blame the government if it decides to use the bomb to deal with them. But if you don’t give room for a wide peace meeting, you can’t do that, even God will not forgive you if you do that.
Recently again, they caught a police man with riffle attacking people in Plateau. So, government and all the security agents need to come clean too and purify themselves. There also have to be reconciliation between the indigenous people and the settlers as well. So many people are going to be involved. It is not just a few people who think they can speak grammar.
The bandits also are ready because they speak with everybody. If you go to the forest now, they will speak with you. But the important thing is that they have to be sure that it is not another government contract, it has to be a serious and holistic meeting for peace. They are so tired and bored about meetings because people have been using them to make money from government and yet, no result.
So, you don’t have confidence in those who are allegedly having talks with the bandits now?
Not about me, even the bandits themselves will not take them seriously, if the meeting is not holistic. comprising of members of people they know and those in whom they repose some level of confidence.
Their feeling will be that ‘oh, you’ve got a contract from government to discuss with us, so let’s share the money.’ That is their mentality and that is what is happening. But we have to approach it seriously so that people can go back to their normal lives and develop the livestock industry. That industry has been destroyed and we need to revive it for the sake of our children.
So, who and who would you suggest to be involved in the talks?
We know ourselves. We know the emirs, the military officers that can come in, the academia, the politicians, the religious leaders, traditional institution that will be involve.
We have done it before but you know, they are afraid that if they put down their weapons, others will be using their weapons and collecting money from government.
What role would you like to play in this proposal?
I can be their adviser, guide them and show them how to reach peace talk.
I am ready to play my part as much as I can. Let me tell you, I am even a victim more than anyone of them in government now.
How are you a victim?
My relative, a soldier, was killed by bandit during a fight with them in the forest. So, I have lost a relative in the hands of the bandits.
Secondly, my senior brother was kidnapped by the bandits and we had to pay heavy ransom to free him. Thirdly, I am a preacher, and I have students, some of them were kidnapped and we had to pay ransom to free them.
Also, I am currently feeling the crunch of my inability to go to my farm with the attendant consequence of lack of food, even with the danger of the fear of being kidnapped anywhere. I am in the middle of the storm, so I can’t imagine somebody who has not faced what I am facing will question my resolve and readiness to be part of finding lasting solution to the problem.
But some will wonder that a reputable Sheikh like you will want to have relationship with bandits?
Not having relationship with the bandits. It is just to find a way out for the nation including the bandits, because they are also in the cul-de-sac. They are very eager to end violence. This is what we hear from them. You can ask the foreign journalists that interviewed them.
So, why should we continue in violence? Again, I have seen so many innocent people die. In a warfare, you can’t rule out collateral damage, but if it is avoidable, why should we continue to let innocent people. We can’t fold our arms and watch this government fail, this is not an option. We have to come in.
Honestly speaking, remove religious and ethnic sentiments, when the bandits catch any Fulani, they are harsher on them than the ordinary people. They tell them: “Oh, you are conniving with people that are oppressing us. Is that right?”
What is your advise for President Tinubu?
When Buhari came in as President, I proposed to him to draw a red line and close his eyes to what happened in the past. But instead he continued using the institution of fighting corruption to hound and blackmail opponents.
So, his corruption war failed. So, Tinubu should have the courage not only to deal with anyone found to be corrupt, but also bring back all those who have enriched themselves in the past government to vomit what they have stolen.
They have to vomit what they have eaten. Nigeria is broke now, and instead of taxing common Nigerians to raise funds to run government, let the stolen money be returned and met out appropriate punishment on them. If he can do this, I will support him 100%.