In this interview with ADELEKE ADESANYA popular Islamic cleric, Sheihk Ahmad Gumi says bandits are ready to help the Nigerian government to protect schools and defeat the Boko Haram insurgents, if given the chance. Gumi also speaks on Sunday Igboho and other issues of national importance. Excerpts:
What is your opinion about the religious leaders’ efforts to tackle the security challenges facing Nigeria? What do you think they can do to help the country at a time like this?
I think there are many things religious leaders can do to help the country overcome the current security challenges. But surprisingly, some of them are the ones inspiring the religious conflict, on both sides, whether Christian or Muslim. But I think this is very unbecoming of people who are professing and teaching people the word of God to be sowing what I see as witchcraft into people.
You have been to the frontline to engage the bandits in conversations, don’t you think more religious leaders need to join you in this endeavour to bring peace to the country?
Yes, they need to, but where they are needed. Each clergy should be involved based on where they have strength. For instance, since they are Fulani Muslims, just not to compound the issue, I think the Muslim scholars should engage them locally. And at the other ends where we have the IPOB who are mainly Christians, the Christians, especially the Catholic priests, should intervene to pacify them and where we have the OPC, the traditional leaders should step in.
So many criticisms have trailed your relationship and conversations with bandits, lately. How have you been able to handle this?
Yes, I quite understand their position really. Maybe because of my background training, I have been taught to listen and think towards the investigation. If I don’t have this investigative mind, trying to face the root cause of the problem, I will just be like them exactly. So, I can excuse them. They have the right to think that way because they don’t know what I know. Once you venture into this problem, see the bandits, speak with them and try to unravel the origin of their grievances with their agitations, or even their struggle now, you will be different from somebody who thinks from the pages of the newspapers.
You were recently quoted in the media to have advocated for the employment of bandits to protect schools in Nigeria. Could you explain this?
This is simply about the question of whether the military and the police should be used to guard schools, and I said no to it. It is not practicable because you can’t man all the schools with the police and the military. But if they come to fix dialogue with the bandits, if they are ready, they are ready and willing to protect the schools. But it is only the government that is not ready to sit down with them. It is the government that said no negotiation. It is the government that said we are not going to give them any amnesty, we must fight them and kill them. If they want peace, why don’t you have peace brokers come between the government and them, then they sit there and say why don’t you stop all those insanities, you sit there and said they should guard all the schools, which is not possible.
So do you mean the bandits are ready to negotiate with the government, if the government is ready to speak with them today?
If the government wants to speak with them, they are ready, one hundred percent. In fact, we have so many clips where if we go there, they said we are ready for peace, and this is our grievances. I can send you links, if you speak Hausa.
Just like when the militants in Niger Delta were guarding the pipelines, the bandits can also guard the forest for you, they can plant trees in the forest because that is another climatic calamity we are going to face soon. You can employ them and use them as supplements for security and keep the country safe. Yes, they are ready.
Does that mean they can also help to fight against Boko Haram that has been disturbing the peace of the nation in the North?
Oh definitely, and this is what most people don’t know. Most of the big serious commandants are in Boko Haram, and even the Fulani from this area, Adamawa people and all those places. This is what most people don’t know because they are natural warriors, they are used to the bush and forest. You need to take a soldier to America and somewhere else, you spend millions on him for jungle warfare before he can fight in a terrain. But these Fulani herdsmen are already naturally trained by nature to be able to stand and live in the bush without any support, without any logistics. So, how can we not use them? And we have known them, they are peaceful people, and they have their own pride, they don’t beg, they don’t steal. So, how can we leave the evil forces to take over these people? This is what I’m saying. They should go and reclaim our people and we should use them to suppress the bad ones.
Are you not discouraged that people don’t seem to understand what you are trying to do?
No, no, no, I’m not surprised. If they don’t understand me, it’s because they don’t know what I know. So, when I hear some people abuse me, I just laugh, because in the long run, it must be that way. Why? Because you can’t kill all the herdsmen. It’s impossible. In the long run, we must come to the table and do this thing I’m saying.
Some herdsmen have allegedly been terrorising some villages in Southwest. What do you think can be done to stop this?
You see, the Fulani need a consensus because they do not have a central leadership. So, what we are doing is that we are trying to convince all of them to come to a consensus. If all the Fulani herdsmen have a consensus, no more kidnapping. Kidnapping will stop all over because they deal with their members who obey their common agreement, you know? And now in Kwara State, I heard the same Fulani are preventing kidnapping, and they are trying to do it in Kogi now. So, we can use them, but they need a consensus and this is what we want to do, bring them together let them have a consensus, just like when they fight too they do have consensus, you know. When you attack one of them they gather the rest, come and assist us, the same way if they all gather themselves and say look no more kidnapping, no more criminality, let’s be good citizens. All these criminalities will just come to an end.
What efforts are you making to ensure that government listens to you?
My problem is for the government to understand me. It is easier for me to go to the real bush and meet with the real strong bandits than to convince the government. I want the government to soften down. We are trying to help and assist, this is not political, this is not religious, this is not regional or sectional. This is peace, we want peace in this nation, people are dying, they are not farming, the situation is critical.
What is your view about government’s efforts to stop banditry?
Using the military against the bandits will not solve the situation. It will make it worse, and in fact, it is one of the first causes of banditry itself, because the Fulani herdsmen are not formally or informally educated. They are extorted by security, even Nigerians, when there is a roadblock by the military or the police, just ask these people that are driving all these trailers how much extortion did they get from the security men? Much more a Fulani man who doesn’t know anything, they are extorted. So, they play a very big one, but let us dialogue and peace negotiation take over and there should be a consensus of all hostilities because we saw it in Zamfara. We are doing dialogue, we are getting results and there is no synchronization between the military and what we are doing, and they are making things worse by attacking harmless people and these people will get angry by coming back to attack the villages and the mayhem is returning back again because of this action. So, we are calling on the military, please, let’s have a period of consensus of all hostilities, we are seeing peace working in Zamfara State. It’s an advantage whereby negotiation, dialogue, interaction and engagement by gunmen, and here I will have to specifically thank the Governor of Zamfara State, Matawale for his initiative and his concern about seeing that there is peace in that state, and been over it even though the military there is marring what he is trying to do.
What is your perception about agitations for disintegration by some people in the country, especially in the South-East and South-West?
I think is it is retrogressive. I think the country is even too small for us. I was thinking that we should be convincing Cameroon, we should be convincing Chad, Ghana, we should be thinking of a coalition to form a United Africa, or at least united west Africa. But disappointedly, some people are thinking about tribal regional small areas to fellow countries. I think it’s retrogressive, and it is not well thought out. I’m happy the leaders of all these regions are not agreeing with all those youths in their regions.
Some people believe that President Muhammadu Buhari is running a government that favours the North alone…
I don’t believe in that.
The President, as I know him, he is just bringing people he trusts because he is a victim of military coup detat. When you have your own lieutenant taking over government from you, that I think has psychological effects on him. He doesn’t trust anybody, so he likes to bring people he trusts, you understand? And they cut across, they are not only northerners. In fact, without Southern support, General Buhari would never be president.
Do you support power should go to the South in 2023?
Well, I think Nigerians should wean ourselves and let us be democratic. Give a level playing ground for everybody wouldn’t like anybody to say Muslim, Christian, Hausa, Fulani, Yoruba, Igbo. What people don’t know is the minority Nigerians are the majority; there are about two hundred tribes in Nigeria. If this minority will come together, they are more than the Igbo, the Hausa, the Fulani and the Yoruba. We are just making noise they are the majority. So, why should you say ethnic affiliation should be the reason for the presidency? Anybody can be. Tafawa Balewa was not Hausa, he’s not Fulani but look at him. He’s a pride to us if you go to the United Nations. So, we should leave tribalism, not in the 21st century.
What is your view about Sunday Igboho’s clash with Fulani herdsmen recently in Oyo State?
The Fulani leaders should sit down with him and negotiate. This 21st century is not the century of ethnicity, it is a century of humanity and knowledge. People are going to Mars, and you are talking about Yoruba, Fulani. This is the 21st century, let them sit down with him. If he cannot speak English, let them bring somebody to interpret in Yoruba.
Do you mean they should negotiate with him?
Oh yes, sit down with him and negotiate with him. Look, they should put tribe behind, and the herdsmen should take care of any criminal there, you know and they should talk with the security outfits in the southwest to make sure that crime is not committed there. They should suppress the bad element in the South-West as we are doing in the North.