Dangerous romance – The Nation

  • Sheik Gumi’s apologia for banditry is counter-productive and indefensible

It is disturbing that apologists are redefining the bandits terrorising Nigerians and escalating insecurity in the country. Portraying bandits in a manner that downplays the danger they pose to security is dangerous.

Islamic cleric Sheik Ahmad Gumi, for instance, has been speaking about bandits in a way that only he and those who think like him can understand.

“They are Nigerians. I hate to call them bandits. They are militants fighting for ethnic survival. They want to defend themselves. If there is peace, you will not see such things as banditry, kidnapping among others,” he said on Channels Television’s Politics Today. This argument that presents criminality as self-defence is familiar. But it is indefensible.

Gumi, a medical doctor and retired Army captain, is involved in “peace processes”, said to be aimed at reforming the bandits. But his public utterances on the issue not only rationalise banditry but also promote the curious idea that the bandits are victims.

Interestingly, he does not deny that gun-carrying Fulani herdsmen are apparently involved in the rising cases of banditry and kidnapping. He argued that “The Fulani herdsmen are victims of military excesses. The armed herdsmen are kidnapping to make money…It is a form of revenge. It is not because of criminality, it is ethnic revenge.”

His defence of armed herders involved in kidnapping coincided with the release of 53 passengers of a Niger State Mass Transit bus abducted by bandits. One of the abductees said when they were released, a week after, the kidnappers “escorted us because they said if they left us to go on our own, some of their partners might re-kidnap us.” This account shows that bandits-cum-kidnappers are all over the place.

Significantly, other recent cases of mass kidnapping by suspected bandits underline the problem and the need for an urgent solution. In the same state, armed men abducted students and others from Government Science College, Kagara, on February 17. The 27 abductees have just been released. Also, gunmen abducted 317 students from Jangebe Girls Secondary School in Zamfara State, on February 26.  The number of abductees in this case is alarming.

It is a dangerous combination when bandits are also kidnappers. Such a combination compounds the terrorism of Boko Haram insurgents in the northern region, for instance.  Indeed, there is a possibility that bandits could become insurgents. Gumi observed that bandits “are not Boko Haram but we have to be very careful.” His warning should be taken seriously.

Gumi’s publicised interaction with bandits, in a quest for peace, suggests that the authorities have abdicated their security responsibility. It is inexcusable that non-state actors are acting on behalf of the authorities concerning security.  According to Gumi, “The military knows where they are. When they go in and start killing, the military realise they are creating a monster. The Federal Government should go in and negotiate.”

Negotiating with bandits is unacceptable. It reflects state incapacity and sends a wrong message to criminals. The authorities must not give the impression that there are ungoverned places in the country.

It is reassuring that President Muhammadu Buhari has responded to “the various dimensions of security challenges” with a sense of responsibility, saying, “Criminals are criminals and should be dealt with accordingly.”

During a joint security meeting of Northern State Governors’ Forum and traditional rulers last week, Buhari, represented by Ibrahim Gambari, his chief of staff, said:  “The government shall continue to deal with insurgents, bandits, kidnappers and other criminals who constitute a threat to innocent citizens across the country.”

Tough and timely talk, but the administration needs to take decisive action to tackle the various manifestations of insecurity. It is a failure of governance that encourages the activities of bandits and the utterances of their apologists.

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