Despite the mixed feelings over his seeking out bandits in their fortress in parts of the North, mercurial Islamic preacher, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, says he remains resolute in his mission, bares his mind, during an interview with Northern Bureau Chief, MUHAMMAD SABIU, on a controversial video of one his engagements with bandits and what he meant by his description of journalists as criminals. EXCERPTS:
RECENTLY, the governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El-rufai, said your recent peace mission with bandits was a waste of time, How do you view the statement?
I found this peace mission I’m embarking on to be useful than any other security measures. I have seen a positive result in Zamfara State. Even these sporadic attacks of schools are an indication that the peace mission is working. The abduction of school children in Niger and Zamfara states was carried out by sprinter groups because all the bandits that are involved in the peace processes in the two states affirmed that they didn’t have a hand in all the abductions.
I found out negotiating with them, as well as interceding on behalf of the government rewarding. We just have to negotiate with the bandits; we just have to reach out to these splinter groups now in the interest of the public. This is the best thing to do in the present circumstances. A lot have been achieved.
Can you please tell us whether the repentant bandits surrender their arms and ammunition to you?
No bandit has ever surrendered his arms to me. They surrender instead to the government and security agencies but on one condition that they would be granted amnesty; amnesty in the sense that they would not be arrested or prosecuted. They would become full citizens and be integrated into the society. If they are assured all these, many more are willing to surrender their weapons. In the first place, they made me to understand they are doing this because of the injustice meted on them.
But some people and institutions, especially the Federal Government are ruling out amnesty because it is like you are trying to glorify banditry. Don’t you think so?
All Nigerians should not have doubt in amnesty. We need to look at other ways that will bring peace. So far, for over a decade, the military solution has not really addressed it. So let’s try amnesty and see how it would work. If it doesn’t work, we think of another thing until we find out what will really work. If it doesn’t work and if returning to a military action would bring the desire peace, so be it . But let’s give this a try. I’m sure if the amnesty is a blank cheque, without anything attached, we will marvel at those willing to surrender wholeheartedly and embrace peace.
What actually informed your decision to embark on this peace mission?
I believe every Nigeria should play his or her part; I’m playing my own part. I discovered that the type of life they (bandits) chose to live was not the best. I told myself, ‘let me reach out to them and see how it goes. Most of them are not knowledgeable about their religion. They don’t understand it. If they had received formal Islamic education, they would not be doing what they are doing. They will definitely know that killing is unacceptable. They will also know that kidnapping and stealing are unacceptable and condemnable. So, I realised that they ought to have something doing, apart from looking after the cows, especially those who lost their cows.
After meeting with them, we started teaching some herders different skills so that they would not be attracted to any form of criminality but something to fall back and carry on with their lives in a decent ways. So, we have started training them in the craft of making brick blocks. You can see in front of my house that they are making the blocks. I told them it is important for them to learn other crafts too, not only rearing animals. Many of them have lost their cows and they cannot get their animals back.
You were in Zamfara State recently and just three days after, we heard of the news that more than 300 female students were abducted are you shock over this?
Yes, I’m shocked and on the other hand, I’m not. I am shocked that such a number of students could be kidnapped without being track by the security. Not shock when I learnt that those I met were not involved in the kidnap saga. Before this time, how do the bandits operate? They will storm a village and kill people, burn down their houses, rape their women and so on. Now, they are not doing so. In fact, the level of attacks on villages has drastically reduced in the state. You can see they are no longer doing so. They are tired and not only that, they are now seeing sense in our peace mission.
But I was made to understand that it was a splinter group that carried out the recent abduction of the female students in Jangebe.
This splinter group you are talking about, did they give any reason why they kidnapped the girls? Today, we have started an inquiry about the identity of the kidnappers to know the motive behind what they did. We were able to reach out to them. Yes, If you hear the reasons they gave for their action, you would be marveled. One of the reasons they gave was they heard there was a peace process between the government and some of the bandits to the extent that the government even pardoned some of them. But they said they were excluded. Why were they left out in the peace deal?. Why were they not invited to the peace deal?. So, since they were not invited, they had to show they are stronger too.
When I was there (Zamfara), some of the bandits called me to complain that I went to Shinkafi area and other places but left them. They queried why were belittling them? . So, don’t be surprised with their logic. These are people, who don’t have formal education. The only thing they know is to rear their cattle. But I want to assure you that we are coming to an end of all this. We shouldn’t be discouraged by sporadic attacks of soft targets. We shall overcome the situation.
There is a video clip that has gone viral, showing you discussing with the bandits about Christian soldiers allegedly killings some of them. Tell us more about the video?
I saw the video but it was purely an act of mischief. The video clip was intended to malign me as a person. Some of these media outlets too are not left out. I’m aware that there are many people, who don’t want peace to rein in the North. They don’t know the psychology of peace negotiations. If they know, they shouldn’t have displayed the video the way they did.
You see there are instances the bandits will say no recording. So, I will tell those on the entourage they should not record because I know quite well that dealing with these character needs a lot of tact and logic. If I had known some people would record the conversation and made it public, I would have put it in a way that it would be palatable to the public.
The mischievous thing done is that they edited the clip because unknown to them, whenever we met with the bandits, we allowed them to speak for as long as they wanted to. We are always patient with them. We don’t cut them when they start speaking. When we met the bandits, they told us they were fighting because the military had killed many of them. According to them, thousands of their people were killed by non-Muslims. This is what they were saying. So, I told them a soldier too came to tell me the atrocities committed by the non-Muslims soldiers. They did not allow the video to show the place instead, they edited the place to show the world as if am siding or instigating them.
So when the video clip went viral and people began to comment unnecessary, I decided to post the full unedited video on my Facebook wall so that people would see and make their judgment. Everything the soldier told me is there. He mentioned the names of those who did that genocide against the herders. The soldiers said the genocide was committed between 2010 and 2015. So, they said it was the genocide that led to the insurgency now. They were not happy with what I’m doing. They know the peace deal is very important. They know it is working. And they know it is the only solution to the current security challenges facing the country, particularly the northerner region. There are people, who don’t want this peace to happen. They are using some zealots to make noise about us. But I’m happy we are gradually getting to the end of this problem. I know it will end. These zealots wanted us to continue to kill each other. I was a member of the Nigerian Army. I know the army is very professional. I know the capacity of our army. I know the military will take care of this kind of officers, who committed such atrocities.
Are you optimistic that the Jangebe students will be released?
I strongly believe they will be released very soon because negotiations are going on between the repentant ones and the other ones.
In a recent interview with TVC News, you were quoted to have said all journalists are criminals and the video has also gone viral. What exactly did you want to say about journalists?
I was trying to emphasise that bandits are criminals. They are committing criminality. Kidnap is criminality. Rape is criminality. But I said don’t refer to them as criminals. Why? If you recall, there was a peace treaty between the late President Umaru Musa and the Niger Delta warriors. Were they called criminals? No! They were called militants. To me, the word, militants given to them was rather to justify what they were doing. So, bandits shouldn’t be branded as criminals too. Don’t call the bandits terrorists or label them with derogatory adjectives because we want them to come to negotiating table. If you keep calling them criminals, you are not encouraging the peace process. If you as a journalist, you are putting oil in the fire. The nation is in flames and you are putting sentiments and fire to combust it. Is that not criminality? That’s criminality. So, a journalist can be criminal too if, for instance, there was a clash between a Muslim and a Christian in Kaduna and hundreds of people died and the journalist, instead of mellowing down his report, decided to add oil to the fire. Journalists, in times of conflict, should mellow down their reports so as not to incite the public. Journalists can trigger war. So, any journalist who does that, that is criminality. I’m not referring to all journalists but a particular case; that journalist that is putting oil in the fire. Am I not a friend of journalists? I have nothing to hide. And all these places I’m going, I moved with journalists. When I was going to Sokoto, I travelled with Arise TV, TVC and NTA.
So, how long do you intend to pursue the peace crusade?
As long as all these criminalities continue, I will not be tired. I want to see the end of it. I believe it is coming to an end. We only want the government to come in. We are not saying the government should pardon the bandits straight away. No, let them pardon the repentant ones. Somebody is a bandit; he was never caught but willingly came forward to say ‘I have repented and I have surrendered all my arms to the government.’ The plight of such person should be looked into. All the bandits I met are ready to give up their arms.
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