COALITION OF SOME NORTHERN elders, on the platform of “North East Elders for Peace and Development”, in a statement, Wednesday, disclaimed Islamic Cleric, Sheikh Abubakar Gumi. It is the aftermath of Gumi’s unguarded utterances and unauthorized adventures, into some northern forests; which he claimed, was a mission in search of armed bandits terrorizing, mostly, Kaduna, Zamfara, Katsina and Niger States, and extending to other parts of the country.
Divisive and inflammatory statements, capable of inflaming conflicts in the country, have been linked with Gumi. He was alleged to have stated, during discussions with delegation led by Secretary to Niger State Government, to negotiate the release of kidnapped Kagara students, that non-Muslim soldiers carried out the killings in some communities in the region.
Gumi has acknowledged he made the statements. But claimed that the interpretation given to the statements, did not represent what he meant. The statements read: “What I want you people to understand is, soldiers that are involved in most of the criminalities are not Muslims. You know, soldiers have Muslims and none Muslims. The non-Muslims are the ones causing confusion just to ignite a crisis”.
The northern elders noted that Gumi’s allegations did not represent the position of the region. They urged the public to take Gumi’s allegations as “his personal sentiments”. The general public was urged to discountenance the allegations. And attempts by individuals or groups to profile the military in bad light, would resisted, the elders stated.
Prominent groups and organizations in the north, the elders said, needed to condemn Gumi’s dangerous claims, in order not to give the impression that he was speaking for the region. Gumi’s statement, they said, could mean justifying armed banditry and all that was associated with such crime.
They said: “As Northern elders committed to a united and indivisible nation, we hasten to condemn in very strong terms the allegations made against the Nigerian military by one of our leading Islamic Scholars, Sheikh Abubakar Gumi”. Of further concern to the elders, was why an Islamic Cleric, after taking the initiative to discuss with bandits, would result to taking sides with the bandits.
SHEIKH ABUBAKAR GUMI, has been traversing forests, in Kaduna, Zamfara, Katsina and Niger States. He claimed he was consulting with bandits to lay down their arms and be granted amnesty. Gumi had argued that the bandits had good cause for taking arms against the Nigerian state – kidnapping for ransom, maiming and killing innocent citizens, including women and children; and dislocating economic life in the region.
Condemnations have trailed Gumi’s escapade and comments. He had claimed, on Channels Television programme, Politics Today, that the bandits were pushed by circumstances, and that they only “killed for revenge”. The bandits, he said, “killed a few people accidentally”.
“We are having an ethnic war. The Fulani feels his existence is threatened. What they do is to call other people from other places. Irrespective of where they are, a Fulani is a Fulani. They go to defend their kinsmen, that is why they transit the borders and then go back”, Gumi stated, during the Channel Television interview.
Referring to the bandits, Gumi further stated: “I choose to call them militants because they are fighting an ethnic war. They are kidnapping to get money. Look at the case where they released a bus full of people, they were asking for N500 million but now, they freed them with mere negotiations for free. Nothing was paid. Even one of them victims’ father called me to thank me”. He was, perhaps, referring to the kidnapped travellers on Niger State transport service.
Gumi is often, seen in group photographs, discussing with bandits who are fully armed with sophisticated weapons in Zamfara and Niger State forests. He compared the genocide activities of the bandits; with Niger Delta militants who were agitating for federal government’s attention, to right the wrongs inflicted on them, by degrading their environment, due to oil exploration in the Niger Delta region.
NASIR EL-RUFAI, Governor of Kaduna State, one of the states ravaged by banditry, has stated and restated, that his government was against negotiating with bandits, who are terrorizing the state. A recent interview he had with BBC, Hausa Service, El-Rufai stated that bandits arrested in Kaduna State would be killed. He said “the state is at war with bandits”.
Insecurity, he stated, would continue to escalate in the northwest: “If we cannot come together for the federal government to provide us with soldiers and police to enter the bush and kill all the bandits, it will be difficult to succeed in the fight against banditry”.
El-Rufai added that: “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. Why should we compensate them after killing people, destroyed their houses? Who offended them? Ahmad Gumi is my friend and I told him my position when I discussed the issue with him”.
He regretted lack of unity among northwest governors in dealing with banditry. While some of the governors believed dialoguing with the bandits was the solution, others disagree. El-Rufai noted that governors of the northwest were not united to eliminate the bandits. And doubted, if a Fulani herdsman, who is used to making millions of naira from kidnapping, would stop.
El-Rufai said he has been communicating with his Niger State counterpart, on how to end banditry. And had told Gumi that “majority of the Fulani bandits don’t believe in religion and I don’t believe in what he is doing and I disagree with his suggestion that they should be forgiven and compensated”.
El-Rufai has been the most vocal on military actions against the bandits, among his colleagues governors in the northwest region.