Sheikh Abubakar Gumi, Nigeria’s foremost Islamic cleric is no stranger to controversy. But the present one is unusual and out of character. Very often in the past, Sheikh Gumi had ruffled not a few feathers within the northern establishment. He is generally seen as a symbol of truth, justice and morality in the north. This is not particularly surprising given his position as a renowned cleric in Islam.
But his recent romance with bandits who are terrorizing a greater part of the North west, and now north central, even extending to the south west; and his suggested solution to curb the hydra-headed monster, seems to many people to be in bad faith and as undesirable as the evil itself. Not one to be accused of illogic and flippancy, his solution to the problem of banditry is both dangerous and legally and sociologically absurd.
Gumi advocated recently that the bandits are victims of injustice and poverty, and peace loving with a grudge and should be pitied and helped by the government, as was done to the militants of the Niger Delta, after several televised visit to the bandits’ enclaves, where he had discussion with them on their reasons for taking up arms against the state.
He tried to add religious dimension to it by blaming Christians from the south, and also the military for the escalation of the conflict by their bombing of bandits’ camps. This is not only sad and unfortunate but an invitation to anarchy and brigandage, as it stands rule of law, reason and truth on its head.
In our considered opinion, the attempt to compare the bandits and militants is mischievous, inappropriate and selective, designed to achieve a predetermined purpose. The militants are protesting against injustice by the Nigerian state which exploits their resources without commensurate compensation, and destroys their environment; unlike the bandits whose contribution to the economy and the nation is uncertain and their goal a personal criminal enrichment and vendetta.
We, as a newspaper, are at a loss as to how the nation has unjustly treated them. Of course, we understand that some of them were victims of cattle rustling, who may have lost their means of livelihood; but how is that injustice by the state? Nigerians from different parts of the country are daily being robbed and killed by robbers of different kinds, but none has taken up arms against the country for lack of protection.
Neither is the claim of poverty an excuse to perpetrate the type of heinous crimes of mass kidnapping and killing of people. Otherwise, no Nigerian would be able to walk around as the country has become the poverty capital of the world.
More over poverty is not the exclusive preserve of any particular group or part of the country. Poverty has become a Nigerian problem, although exacerbated and reinforced in the north by socio-cultural orientation and practices, for which there is nobody to blame but themselves.
The question is: who have treated them unfairly to warrant their armed struggle and protest? Sheik Gumi did not say anything about it? The north has controlled power since independence, and expropriated the Niger Delta wealth and resources for their benefits. Sheik Gumi should call out the northern leaders at both the federal and state levels for neglecting their responsibility to the northern poor, which has come to bite them.
They want to make the bandits a nation problem and liability requiring national intervention like the North East Development commission, which will be unacceptable and totally unjust not only to the many victims of their activities, but the rest of the law abiding people in this country, who are daily striving for legitimate means of survival in the face of daunting odds. It will unwittingly open the flood gate of violence, as such amnesty would justify the mantra that might is right.
We agree with Governor Nasir El Rufai who opposed such amnesty for the bandits, whom he claimed have collected hundreds of million naira ransom money from families of victims and government over the years. Such policy, according to him, would be tantamount to legitimizing and empowering criminals, who would use their money and new found freedom to their personal advantage and against society.
We can even extend the logic to those agitating for self determination based on official marginalization and injustice. On what moral authority would government stand to prohibit one group as terrorists and another as armed protesters? It is discriminatory and unjust.
Banditry, which originally began in Zamfara state, gave sufficient warning to the governments in the north, especially the contiguous states to address the issue; but they did nothing, believing as usual that the problem would go away. And here we are faced with such dangerous situation and it is again being politicized.
Sheik Gumi should call a spade what it is – a spade. The north should realize that it is their decision and disposition to hold the country down that is responsible for these violent crimes as opportunities and resources continue to dwindle. The control of government has failed to develop the country economically hence poverty has continued to spike.
Faced with a fast changing world and future without hope and opportunities, banditry became a resort for survival. It is evident that the bandits have group grievances for their actions, but such should be appropriately directed to the real culprits – their leaders – who prefer to keep them poor and unskilled in this age of technology leap. This is what former emir Lamido Sanusi had warned would happen and paid with his throne.
In the opinion of this newspaper, Sheik Gumi, a trained medical doctor and retired army officer cannot be frivolous with such weighty matter of national survival, and therefore, knows what is at stake. We insist that acts of criminality should not be dressed in any garb other than what it is – a crime.
No society would ever be safe when crimes are justified for any reason. Once any society gets to that threshold where it can no longer punish crimes, then it is a return to the state of nature where life is nasty, brutish and short.
We advise northern leaders to come together and develop a Marshall plan on how to develop and empower its people through education and skill acquisition to compete in the new world rather than focus on control of power at the centre, which has actually done the country more harm than good.