By Abimbola Adelakun
The first sign that the Islamic cleric, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, had been the dupe of the murderous brigands terrorising the country was when he attempted to moderate the language we use to describe them. He asked us to refer to them as “insurgents” rather than “bandits.” He could no longer see them for what they were, and he wanted to circumscribe our thoughts by urging us to rename the monster. Whatever he chooses to call them only addresses the superficial at the expense of the fundamental; faeces called by any other name will still smell.
As media reports stated, the cleric visited forests in Zamfara State where some of the bandits terrorising the country lodged themselves to preach peace to them. The Gumi that went into the forests probably had good intentions, but the one that emerged from the jungle left a part of his good judgment behind in the bush. Those men had worked on his psyche so much that he lost perspective.
None of the accounts detailing Gumi’s sojourn provided a context to his mediatory role. Did the bandits invite him to their domain, or, was he on a self-sponsored trip? What was the motivation behind that undertaking? Was he on a government-sponsored errand? Speaking on the visit, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, said it was not unusual that the government would use a respected cleric like Gumi as a “backchannel” to reach bandits. According to Muhammed, bandits are more likely to defer to Gumi’s moral authority than they would be willing to engage government bureaucrats. For the moment, let us set aside the irksome question of why the government would be trying to reach bandits through backchannels when they should concentrate efforts on apprehending them. Does that mean there is an official endorsement of Gumi’s trip to them? If truly the government sent Gumi, what exactly were they trying to achieve?
The report of Gumi’s visit to the bandit focused on mostly one thing: Fulani victimisation. I find that curious. By the time I had read three separate accounts all saying the same thing, it was obvious the whole affair was a desperate effort to rebrand the image of the Fulani that had been battered by the ever-growing reports of their criminality. In one of the sites he visited, we were told that the bandit leaders said, “that Yan Sakai’s executions and the combined airstrikes of the military had affected almost every Fulani family in the forest and these must stop if peaceful coexistence is to be achieved.” In another report, a bandit commander identified as Bello said, said, “Let the killings of our loved ones by security agents without due process of the law stop, as well as cattle rustling that denied most of us legitimate means of livelihood.” In yet another account, those bandits’ leaders reportedly vowed that there would be no peace until the authorities stopped hunting the Fulani, and that, “the Fulani are tired of living in the forest but they are worried on (sic) how everybody is turning against them.”
We must ask Gumi how all the topics he managed to discuss with these bandits somehow narrowly focused on their supposed victimisation as the Fulani? Did Gumi interject their solipsism to remind them of their victims? Did he? Did he ask them how they intend to restitute all the blood they had shed in the past? On Saturday alone, bandits killed 19 people in Kaduna. Last month, they killed 12 people and kidnapped 30 people in Katsina state. Did he bring that up, or all he managed to learn was their sob stories? Did he remind them about the thousands of people effectively displaced from their homelands because of their brigandage? Was there ever any time he challenged them on their crimes of rape, the plunder of farmlands, and the massacres of poor villagers? Why did he skip all those inconvenient parts and pivot straight to their supposed victimisation? Was he afraid that speaking the truth of who they are to their faces would cost him his life or what?
Gumi was quick to describe them as “stark illiterates,” as if their lack of formal education ameliorates the gravity of their alleged crimes. Can anyone imagine the nerve of these imbeciles moaning that “everybody is turning against them”! What do they expect for their atrocities? A red-carpet event?
The real trouble with Gumi, and his so-called peace efforts, is that he went into that bush already hung up on the same disease of an entitlement mentality that afflicts many northerners of his ilk. He thought he had a noble mission to bring peace, but unfortunately, he lacked a concept of what peace means and how it could be achieved. He conflates peace with placating evil, and that is why he reportedly told the bandits that “Let there be peace. You all have legitimate concerns 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 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.”
By the time Gumi started speaking in that nonsense, it was more than obvious where his advocacy for peace was heading for all along. It was never about achieving “peace,” a vague term that he threw out there to make his efforts seem morally worthwhile. If he had any idea of what peace is, he would have prefaced his pursuit with justice, but no. His whole “peace mission” was simply to equalise the crimes of the bandits with the historical injustice by Nigeria against the Niger Delta and which resulted in the amnesty programme. Gumi wants the government to set up another “peace industry” that he and his theocentric northerners can superintend. That is the sleight of hand behind making Fulani bandits seem like the persecuted victims rather than the culprits of violent crimes.
From the Kaduna State governor, Nasir el-Rufai, that publicly admitted to paying off bandits, to Senate President Ahmad Lawan who proposed sending Boko Haram members to school abroad, to Senator Ibrahim Gaidam of Yobe State who said he could not wait to see Boko Haram terrorists enter “politics, religion, and society,” it has always been the same story of handing out undeserved reprieve to murderous criminals. They are madly obsessed with shielding criminals from deserved punishment. It is a tasteless joke to say bandits have “legitimate concerns and grievances.” If Gumi were not a well-educated man, one would rightly argue that he needs a dictionary or thesaurus to decipher the meaning of “legitimate.”
But Gumi is no fool, and those that chose him for that errand were not idiots either. From start to finish, the whole goal was to ethicise the mindless violence, set up a bureaucracy that will address those “legitimate” concerns and grievances, and devote massive funds to the project. People like Gumi would then be appointed with quasi-official roles of “peace brokers.” Once their livelihoods get tied to that fleshpot, you can be sure there will never be an end to all the brigandage. They keep toeing this simple-minded path of amnesty for criminals because of what is in it for them, forgetting that evil cannot be placated. You can put each one of those bandits in charge of the Central Bank without any oversight whatsoever, and that will still not be enough for them.
If Gumi really wants to be useful to Nigeria, he can expend his efforts in more meaningful ways. Why go into the bush to meet barbarians when thousands of them have already overrun the city, and they are breaking beer bottles in Kano? Why not talk to the religious fundamentalists who are quick to petition the police IG over what a woman wears on Instagram or what an atheist posts online? That effort might not get a federal allocation, but it is far more crucial to Nigeria’s survival.