By Lasisi Olagunju
Respected Islamic cleric, Sheikh Ahmad Abubakar Gumi, has lately been mounting campaigns for amnesty for murderous bandits. He has also been meeting with them in their forested hideouts. This past weekend, the Sheikh went beyond the bandits; he looked south and labeled Yoruba and Igbo youths demanding security, equity, restructuring and true federalism as secessionists who are no better than Boko Haram. The cleric grouped those southern activists with the Boko Haram while bandits, to him, were “insurgents” with “genuine concerns and grievances.” Gumi told BBC pidgin that southern people protesting marginalization are miscreants who “are all the same group of people with Boko Haram.” He submitted that “Yoruba leaders and Igbo leaders should take care of their miscreants as we are handling herdsmen and Boko Haram which are miscreants in the north.”
The credentials of the man who said the above interests me. This Sheikh Gumi is not your run-of-the-mill Northern Nigeria preacher. He is a well-prepared man built on solid education. He was at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, to read medicine. He was at the Nigeria Defence Academy (NDA), Kaduna; he left the army as a Captain. He was at the Umm al-Qura University, Saudi Arabia where he studied Islamic Jurisprudence. His records say he is an ethnic Hausa. I have followed his latest interventions in the insecurity wracking the north west. The offerings he is giving the nation worries me – considering the stature of his credentials.
He is tasking Nigerians – the victims – to “embrace peace” and allow the bandits “to have a share of the national cake.” Murderous bandits are the focus of the Sheikh. I have not heard his word for the victims.
In the closing months of 2018, my primary school teacher lost his police-officer son in a Zamfara forest. The officer from Osun State was drafted to the north-western state as part of a police squadron battling banditry there. I was with my teacher in January 2019. It was supposed to be a happy reunion of teacher and pupil but it was a condolence visit. “The bandits of Zamfara shot him in the head,” he told me, pointing at the right side of the head. “We buried him in his new house over there. He didn’t sleep a day in that house.” Police authorities gave the parents a hundred thousand naira, the old couple said they added a hundred thousand more to bring the corpse of their son home for burial. My teacher spoke as if he wanted to say more but the sorrow of a father choked the words from coming out. I changed the topic. The old man did not survive the trauma; we lost him a few months later. As I looked at the bandits turning out in full regalia, meeting Sheikh Gumi last week, my mind’s eyes scanned the faces in search of the murderers of my teacher’s son. My teacher sweated and struggled to educate and train his son to a responsible, useful adult but that son was shot by children of those who did not see any need to educate their own.
The Chinese are very wise people. Their ancestors taught them how to dominate the world using the values of corn, trees and knowledge in proverbial terms. When planning for a year, they were told to plant corn; when planning for a decade, they were taught to plant trees; when planning for life, educate the people was the counsel. There is no society that followed the above advice that has failed to conquer the world around it. Again, every people in history who chose ‘corn’ and scorned education has ended up as a curse to its era. Northern Nigeria is a super spreader of sorrow and tears across the country. I have just told you of my old teacher’s share of what the north does daily. There are millions of others grieving silently in their homes in the north, in the south. I remembered my teacher and his slain son when I saw the bandits of Zamfara in their full regalia of death as they met Sheikh Gumi. If you didn’t notice what I saw, go look at the photographs again; look at their dress, their blood-stained palms and teeth, their guns and their RPG bullets. Whoever chose the venue of that meeting was poetic in rebellious sarcasm. The Sheikh met with them in a decapitated classroom – it has no roof – the sky is the roof; there is a doorway with the frames savagely torn off; the walls have equally suffered violence from either the elements or from the bandits themselves. But for the inscription “ZSUBEB/UBEC 2nd quarter project, 2006,” on the wall, the structure would have passed for any of the savage buildings in war-destroyed Syria.
Gumi was heard asking us to start calling them ‘insurgents’ and not ‘bandits.’ I found that quite funny and insulting. These are common felons without any mission outside money, and no vision beyond their cows. Why should we stop calling them bandits? A bandit is an outlaw operating with his likes in a lawless area. An insurgent is a person fighting against a government, a member of an invading force. That is what the dictionary says. So, which of those words aptly captures the murderers and kidnappers of the north west? When did they claim to be fighting the government? At least, we know the poor people they kill or kidnap for ransom have no relationship with government. Gumi must not be allowed to clothe them with the patriotic, nationalist fervor of the Mau Mau of Kenya. Gumi said they had “legitimate concerns and grievances.” What concern or grievance drives people who kidnap for ransom? Our respected cleric also compared them with Niger Delta agitators, people who protested against the exploitation of their oil-bearing communities by the Nigerian state. Hear him: “Since the Niger Delta militants were integrated by the Federal Government and are even in the business of pipelines protection, the Federal 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.” Sad submission. Why is justice afraid of going for the Fulani bandits? Did Niger Delta militants turn their guns against their own people? The Okahs of MEND, accused of bombing Abuja on October 1, 2010, were they not promptly arrested and taken to justice? Why would a well-schooled somebody like Sheikh Gumi choose that dubious line, singing joy in front of death?
What do armed robbers do that the bandits of the north west don’t do? The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) did an insightful report on these bandits in July last year. I recommend it to Sheikh Gumi and all like him who see the bandits of Katsina, Zamfara, Sokoto and Kaduna as freedom fighters. The report was on what the BBC described as “Motorcycle-riding armed bandits operating out of abandoned forest reserves” who “are ransacking communities in Nigeria’s north-west.” While saying that the groups were the latest to join “Nigeria’s lucrative kidnap-for-ransom industry,” the BBC noted that the bandits “are quite brazen in their operations,” citing two separate occasions when they targeted villagers who had received food handouts from the government during the coronavirus lockdown. “They were about 200 on motorbikes, each bike rider carried a passenger and they all carried AK-47 guns,” Bashir Kadisau, an eyewitness, told the BBC. He said he climbed to the top of a tree when he saw the large number of motorcycle riders coming into Kadisau village, and saw the attackers loot shops, steal cattle and grain, and shoot people who were fleeing. The herders are mostly nomadic and can be found on major highways and streets across the country herding their cattle…The report identified the bandits as armed groups within Fulani communities. Significantly the BBC quoted a security analyst as saying that “the herders now see kidnapping and pillaging as more lucrative than the herding. The biggest cow would go for 200,000 naira but one kidnapping would fetch millions. This report should be enough light on the mission of the felons. Now, let me ask the Sheikh if he is still saying the bandits he met with in that forest have “genuine concerns and grievances”?
It is a misfortune to share same space with strange people whose entire lives are built on strange ideas. I also heard Sheikh Gumi declaring that what the bandits needed was education. But is it not too late for these wild men already? How do you train people who grew up sipping blood to be well and responsible again? The time to mould people who chose to be bandits and who profit from banditry is past. Those ones we saw with Gumi wrapped up in taliban turbans with unimaginable weapons of death are too far gone. They cannot be saved. What we need to work on is how to be safe from them and from the violence that will come tomorrow from their descendants.
The solution for today is a firm, responsible government that is willing to give them what they deserve which is justice. The solution for tomorrow is education in the right measure for the kids of the north. We were taught very early in life that work is the antidote to poverty (Ise l’ogun ise). We were also told that education is the only stairway to greatness (eko nii so nii d’oga). J.F. Odunjo, in the old Alawiye series, warns the children of Yorubaland to run away from those mocking education. He tells us that education makes one the boss. He adds strongly that we must acquire it very well. He goes on: Bi o si ri opo eniyan (And if you see a multitude of people); Ti won nfi eko s’erin rin (who are mocking education with laughter); dakun ma f’ara we won (please do not keep their company); Iya n’bo f’omo ti ko gbon (suffering will soon come for the unwise child); Ekun n’be f’omo to nsa kiiri (wailings and tears are for the truant child); Ma f’owuro sere ore mi (do not play with your early years, my friend); Mura si ise, ojo nlo (work hard, time waits for no one).” That was the philosophical foundation that framed every Yoruba child of my generation. We went to school but our neighbours far north mocked (and still mock) education. Now, because of them, our schooling and all we acquired are almost useless. Worse is, we can no longer sleep. And their leaders say we are not allowed to call them criminals.