In the past one month, renowned Islamic cleric and preacher, Sheikh Ahmad Abubakar Gumi, has effortlessly put himself in the forefront as, arguably, the most talked about Nigerian alive presently.
Gumi has hugged the limelight, no thanks to the media that has consistently lapped up on his crisis management skills as he has become the contemporary interface between Nigerians and terrorists that are threatening to turn Nigeria into another Somalia.
Gumi has shown himself to be the big time negotiator, regaling the country of his forays to enemy territories just as he markets the terms and conditions of his hosts to the Nigerian leadership.
He has been able to do what the Nigerian military has had difficulties accomplishing, that is, exploiting available intelligence to traverse the vast forests of the North-East to meet with the bandits, preaching blanket amnesty and claiming that the turncoats were no criminals but victims of circumstance.
In the beginning
For those who do not know, Sheikh Gumi is not your regular nondescript and ordinary Islamic cleric. He is an informed Islamic scholar.
He attended the prominent Sardauna Memorial College (SMC), Kaduna State, for his senior secondary education, from where he went to the prestigious Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, where he studied medicine.
After his graduation, he was enlisted into the Nigeria Defence Academy (NDA) where he rose through the ranks to become a Captain.
He served in the Nigerian Army Medical Corp (NAMC) as a medical officer, and after his retirement, Gumi moved to Saudi Arabia to further his Islamic education at the Umm al-Qura University where he studied Islamic Jurisprudence and Tafsir.
His father, the late Sheikh Abubakar Gumi, was a renowned Islamic scholar and the leader of the Izalla Muslim sect in the country. The father was also a controversial and religiously radical who went against the authorities, organized protest marches in Kano and Kaduna State against any perceived injustice.
As a young man, Gumi obviously followed the pathway of his late father. Even before his father died and he became the leader of the Izalla sect, Gumi had been a radical and controversial figure as he also led the youth wing of the sect in protest marches against the government of the day and became an advocate of his followers.
A Fulani himself from Gumi local government area of Zamfara State, Gumi understands the language and logistics of warfare, and with his knowledge of the expansive forests in the state and other parts of the region, it was natural that his appreciation of the local terrain would be first rate.
A mediator is born?
Gumi’s profile as a mediator between the Nigerian government and bandits suddenly shot up in December last year when 334 students of the Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, Katsina State, were abducted and suddenly, he volunteered to broker a deal with the bandits which led to the eventual release of all the boys.
At that time, many Nigerians praised and commended his efforts as that of a patriotic countryman who was doing everything possible to see the end of banditry in the country.
At the last check, Gumi had made forays into forests in Zamfara, Kaduna, Niger and Sokoto States where he has been meeting with the bandits, pacifying and trying to deradicalize them.
Branding bandits militants
On February 4, Sheikh Gumi had reportedly visited bandits operating in forests around Shinkafi and Gumi local government areas of Zamfara State in a bid to “preach peace and the message of Islam to the Fulani herdsmen” with a view to swaying them away from kidnapping and banditry.
Gumi and his entourage, comprising of other Islamic clerics, had visited the bandits in their hideouts in the Tubali and Makkai forests in Shinkafi local government area of Zamfara which is said to be under the firm control of the armed Fulani herdsmen, and had a meeting with them.
While addressing the bandits, Gumi had said:
“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 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.”
While Nigerians were yet to come to terms with Gumi’s meeting with the bandits, he stirred the polity by urging the Federal Government to grant a ‘blanket amnesty’ to bandits who were willing to repent and drop their weapons, arguing that not doing so could lead to “serious bloodshed and merciless killings by the angry terrorists.”
Gumi, who spoke with journalists at the Government House in Gusau, the capital of Zamfara State, said if the Federal Government and state governments where the bandits currently operate from keep engaging security agencies to take on the bandits in shootouts, the killings and criminality will not end anytime soon.
“Negotiations remain the best option for conflict resolution. Negotiations settled the grievances of the militants in the South-South, so President Buhari should borrow from that ideology to end terror attacks in his own government.
“When I listened to them, I find that it is a simple case of criminality which turned to banditry, which turned to ethnic war and some genocide too, behind the scene; people don’t know.
“Almost all the heinous crimes in Nigeria are being perpetrated by unemployed youths who have no defined means of livelihood for a number of years and you know that a hungry man is an angry man,” he added.
In another statement, Gumi said:
“I will call on the Zamfara State government to, as a matter of urgency, ensure judicious distribution of any right that belongs to the Fulani people in the state as hijacking their rights will aggravate the already existing tension in the state.
“There is nowhere that peace can reign without justice and if there is justice, the Federal and state governments would not have been wasting huge amount of money to quell banditry in the state.”
Calling Nigerian military rogues
Taking on his former military constituency, Gumi, on February 12, accused the Nigerian Army of making billions from the terrorism war.
Appearing on Arise Television News programme, the fiery preacher said the military is the major beneficiaries on the terrorism war and as such, do not want it to end so their sources of funds would not be closed.
“The military is not encouraging matters at all because they are the beneficiaries of this insecurity.
“The so-called bandits are complaining mostly against the military killing innocent people. They resorted to buying arms. How did they get the arms? They resorted to kidnapping people which is an end result of these military actions.
“Look, they are ready to drop these arms and return to the fold of the Nigerians just for simple things; schools, hospitals, water.
“And there is an allegation: the military doesn’t want this conflict to end because of the billions of naira they claim for fighting insurgency. So the military is not cooperating.”
Again on February 18, like the ‘super mediator’ that he is, Gumi played the intermediary when students and teachers of the Government Science College, Kagara, Niger State, were kidnapped by gunmen and went to their hideout in the Tagina forest to meet with them and at the end of the meeting, said he had gotten assurances from the bandits that the captives would soon be released.
During an interview with BBC Hausa, the cleric said:
“Everyone has witnessed it that we negotiated with these people and they promised to drop their weapons and stop these activities; and I even promised to meet the President about the matter. But why will the army bomb their place?”
Claiming nomadic Fulani wars
The ever controversial Gumi, on February 22, gave another perspective on the bandits when he said they were merely fighting an ethnic war against the rest of Nigeria.
In an interview on Channels Television, Gumi said that acts of banditry witnessed in most parts of northern Nigeria “were actually an ethnic war levied against the rest of Nigeria by nomadic Fulanis who feel that their existence as an ethnic group has been seriously threatened.”
“What people consider as banditry is actually an ethnic war by nomadic Fulanis who feel that the existence of their ethnic group is being threatened by other tribes such as Yorubas, Igbos, Hausas and others.
“One can, in fact, address them as militants. Their mission is not to kill. They only kill by mistake, maybe two or three. All they want is money having lost their sources of livelihood to cow rustlers. Where there are killings, they are mostly ethnic revenge because one or some of their kinsmen had been killed by people of other ethnic groups.
“The Nigerian military has consistently been guilty of acts of injustice against nomadic Fulanis. In 2014, 300 Fulanis were killed extra-judicially by the Nigerian military under the guise of seeking solutions to cow rustling in parts of the north. So if you say they are criminals, where are the acts of criminality when they are only fighting an ethnic war like the Niger Delta militants did?”
Labeling Nigerian media criminals
On February 25, Gumi decided to take the war to the fourth estate of the realm when he accused journalists who tag the Fulani bandits as criminals, as being criminals themselves.
He accused the media of fuelling insecurity by describing bandits as criminals, and warned journalists to stop addressing bandits as criminals if they must surrender.
While speaking on Arise Television, Gumi said:
“You (journalists) are emphasizing on criminality, even the press are criminals too because they are putting oil into fire.
“These people are listening to you; you should not address them as criminals if you want them to succumb.
“Youths are ready to put down their weapons, now you are calling them criminals. How do you want them to cooperate?
“So you have to show them they are Nigerians, that they should not hurt children, be law-abiding. This is the language we want to hear; the press should assist us in getting the boys.
“You see, when we talk with them with nice words, they are ready to listen to us, put down their weapons, but when the language is about criminality, killing them, then this is what we will keep having.
“If you are stopped by armed robbers on the road, you will not use the word criminal on them.
“Tell them good things so that you will save yourself. We are trying to save the nation from these youths that have a false sense of authority. The language we use is very important.”
Claiming abduction is lesser evil
Sheikh Gumi took his amnesty advocacy to the extreme on March 1 when he declared that the abduction of students by bandits was a lesser evil compared to ransacking and killing in Nigerian communities by Boko Haram insurgents and other terrorists.
In an interview with BBC Pidgin, Gumi further advocated amnesty for the bandits, saying he had held fruitful discussions with the Fulani herdsmen and that they were ready to drop their weapons if the government would grant them pardon.
“Kidnapping children from school is a lesser evil because in the end, you can negotiate for their release. Moreover, bandits are very careful about human lives now.
“Before, the mission of bandits was to go into a town, ransack it and kill people. By this, I can say our preaching is working and hopefully, we are coming to an end of banditry in Zamfara and other states.
“Bandits are more careful about lives now and just want to do sensational attacks which would bring attention to themselves.”
Playing ethno-religious cards
Soon after the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) called on the Federal Government to caution Gumi on his utterances, having been captured in a video telling bandits that they were being killed by Christian soldiers, Gumi was to insist that the only panacea for peace in the country is the granting of amnesty to bandits.
Speaking on March 4, Gumi had argued:
“Even those that instigated civil war, the civil war that millions of people died, were pardoned. I see no reason why we cannot accept their (bandits) repentance and give them amnesty.
“You ask why do we give them amnesty but they told us specifically that they are ready to drop their arms and they don’t want to be pursued with legal actions after they repented.
“If the country could pardon coup plotters who committed treasonable offences in the era of military administration, the bandits can as well enjoy similar forgiveness even better under a democratic rule.
“These people in the bush, who have taken arms; they are criminals. I wonder who is not a criminal. Since Nigeria forgave coup plotters, forgave those that killed. Even those that instigated civil war; civil war that millions of people died, I see no reason why we cannot accept their repentance.
“Since that is the bottleneck and it is only the Federal Government that can give them that leverage. Strangely, we found out that they are victims too. They were victims of profiling. So many of them were arrested and punished just for looking like herdsmen.”
Is Gumi a mediator or pretender?
No doubt, Gumi’s self-appointed mediatory role has drawn a lot of flaks, with many critics demanding that his activities be interrogated.
This broad question finds some answers in Gumi’s seeming chummy relationship with the criminals whom he has repeatedly claimed are victims of circumstance.
The big poser has been why are the bandits so open to confiding in him and extending so much respect? And, is he privy to their operational pattern such that he is able to locate them with the greatest of ease and in the most difficult terrains?
More eyebrows are even raised against amnesty calls for criminal herdsmen given several claims by the presidency that most were foreigners from within the Sahel region.
Also inexplicable are concerns over the loud silence by Nigerian Government since Gumi alluded to ethnic and religious cleansing by Christain soldiers. Many have sought to know why it is difficult for Gumi to be queried for his potentially inflammatory claims.
Whether Gumi’s mission is driven largely by altruistic reasons or motivated by pecuniary goals would continue to be a matter for debate in a long while.
However, his latest tirade about coup plotters getting pardon is an indication that Gumi may be playing to the gallery while drumming up his advocacy for the same pardon to be granted the terrorists.
Though veiled, his subtle shade may be directed at former beneficiaries of coup plots like President Buhari, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, Gen. Theophilus Danjuma, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida and Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, all of whom, at one time or the other, had breached the constitution to seize power.
Indeed, his position may have been a reaction to Gen. Abdulsalami’s insistence, while addressing a delegation of the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF), led by its Chairman, Kayode Fayemi, that it would be a wrong signal for bandits to be granted amnesty.
While Nigerians continue to reel under the weight of the terror and bloodbath being unleashed daily by the marauding bandits, even in territories where government has granted amnesty, so will questions continued to attend the efficacy of Gumi’s missions.
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