BY BODE GBADEBO, Chibuzo Ukaibe and JOY YESUFU, Abuja
Kaduna-based Islamic scholar, Sheikh Ahmad Abubakar Gumi, has denied ever negotiating with armed bandits terrorising parts of the country, saying he only initiated a peace advocacy through which he preaches to them with a view to discouraging the criminals from their bad ways.
He, however, insisted that a “blanket amnesty” for the criminal Fulani herders was necessary in order to achieve peace instead of a vicious circle of reprisal attacks.
Gumi added that the amnesty, which he described as a “carrot option”, was achievable since the federal government had once extended the same olive branch to the Niger Delta militants to discourage them from attacking the economic interest of the nation.
The bandits, according to Buni, deserve amnesty since they too are willing to lay down their arms to embrace peace.
The Islamic cleric disclosed these to LEADERSHIP in an exclusive interview at the weekend in Abuja on his way back to Kaduna after his trip to and from bandits’ den in Dutsen Magaji Forest of Niger State.
“What I saw is that they are ready (for peace). Just to know that the person you have dreaded so much is ready to put down his arms and release his captives shows there is hope if the right steps are taken. Things will come back to normal and in a very short time,” Gumi said.
The Islamic cleric noted that his visit to the forest in Niger State to meet a dreaded bandit leader, Dogo Gide, was a pre-planned event, which only coincided with the recent abductions in state.
On the allegation that he was negotiating and supporting the bandits, Gumi said, “That is a misconception. That is why we record all that transpire between us and them whenever we visit them. One can hear that we do admonish them religiously that kidnapping is forbidden, rape is forbidden and stealing people’s money is forbidden and we recite the Qur’an for them and whoever that listens to our sermon to them will know that we are discouraging them from their bad ways.
“We are not threatening them; we are not saying they are thieves or what they are doing is bad and we can see the response from them that they are accepting it. So, there is no way anybody can link us to what they are doing when we are admonishing them that they should not do that”.
Gumi pointed out that the government and the bandits were to blame for the escalation of the crisis because of their wrong approaches.
“The place of the government is the same with the place of the bandits. We are trying to draw their (bandits) attention to what is right and at the same time draw the attention of the government to doing what is right,” he explained.
He also accused politicians and the press for further exacerbating the insecurity in the country with their utterances and skewed reportage respectively.
He stated: “We want to bring peace and we are in the process of doing it, which gun cannot do, force will not do it, intimidation will not do it, and bad words coming out from politicians, the press or individuals can disrupt the process.
“As we were sitting down there (bandits’ camp), I was shocked when the leader, the warlord, was telling me that they heard that one politician said he is not for peace”.
The cleric said his decision to initiate the peace advocacy for the armed bandits was based on the fact that he had ceased to be an armchair critic of the government.
He noted that rather, he has chosen to get involved in activities geared towards fostering peace and development.
On how he got to know the bandits’ locations in the forests, Gumi said as a religious institution, he has a wider outreach and was capable of knowing anything, adding that it was also possible because he earned the trust of the bandits as a religious leader who would not deceive them.
“I am not an individual; I am an institution because once you bring yourself out to teach people, all manner of people come to you. When you see a clergy in his church or scholar in his Mosque, he is not an individual. So many people come to him.
“So, with the contact we have with the people, it’s easy for us to meet someone who knows them (bandits) and can get to them,” he added.
Insurgents, Terrorists Now Emboldened – PDP
Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said yesterday that insurgents and terrorists have become emboldened because the government has failed to take on them head on.
The PDP charged President Muhammadu Buhari to live up to his designation as commander-in-chief by leading from the front against bandits and terrorists ravaging the nation.
The national publicity secretary of the major opposition party in the country, Kola Ologbondiyan, who stated PDP’s position, claimed that the recent declaration by the immediate past Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen Tukur Buratai, that under the current approach, it would take the nation 20 years to vanquish terrorists, is a direct hit on the president’s failure as a commander-in-chief.
In a statement he issued yesterday, Ologbondiyan alleged that the nation has descended to a level where government officials and other prominent Nigerians have resorted to begging and negotiating with terrorists, adding that such ugly reality of a failed state confirms that the Buhari administration has surrendered the sovereignty of the nation to bandits, insurgents and terrorists.
He said, “Moreover, the recent statement by the Minister of Defence, Gen. Bashir Magashi, that unarmed Nigerians should protect themselves in the face of armed aggression by bandits and terrorists, further exposes Buhari as a failed Commander-in-Chief, who cannot stand up to the demands of the designation of his office.
“It should interest Mr. President that a member of his cabinet has declared him ineffective as well as one who is incapable of commanding his parade and guaranteeing the safety of lives and property of our citizens.
“Even more depressing is the disposition of the Buhari Presidency to blame victims of terrorists’ attacks, as was in the case of the beheading of 43 compatriots in Borno state, instead of going after and apprehending the assailants.
“Such tendencies against Nigerians exposes the lack of determination by the Buhari administration to fight insurgents which, in turn, emboldens the outlaws who had earlier been pushed to the fringes under the PDP administration, to resurge to unleash terror on our compatriots.
“Nigerians have not forgotten the embarrassing situation where it took Chadian President Idris Derby to personally lead his troops into our territories to rout out insurgents and free Nigerian communities as well as our soldiers held captive by terrorists, while our President recedes into the comfort and safety of the inner recesses of the Aso Presidential villa”.
Stop Amnesty For Terrorists And Abductors – CSOs
Meanwhile Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have called on President Muhammadu Buhari to stop any plan of giving amnesty to terrorists and abductors.
The said since security is technology driven the government must acquire the necessary equipment to deal with the menace of terrorism, banditry and abduction.
The CSOs made their position during a press briefing in Abuja; they include Global Rights, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Centre for Democratic Research and Training (CRDDERT), Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD), Socio-Economic Right and Accountability Project (SERAP), Zero-Corruption Coalition (ZCC), Partners on Electoral Reform, African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL).
They implored President Buhari, state governors and security agencies to stop paying ransom to bandits.
They said, “Nigeria is in dire straits. All over the country, Nigerian citizens, including children, are killed daily by terrorists and criminals as well as in extra-judicial killings by state actors with the government doing little or nothing about it. The government, through the Minister of Defence, has instead callously abdicated its responsibility and called Nigerian citizens ‘cowards’ and urged Nigerians to ‘defend themselves’.
“Kidnapping for ransom has assumed an industrial and deadly scale never witnessed on the African continent. Our children are no longer safe in schools and Nigerian citizens and communities are now pauperised by terrorists, who extort huge ransoms while murdering their hostages. We condemn, in the strongest possible terms, what has now become the government’s standard state policy of using taxpayers’ money to pay terrorists, thereby funding and encouraging terrorism and criminality”.
They further alleged there are gross injustices by government against the Nigerian people such that peaceful protesters are threatened and attacked by the government’s security agents, while terrorists carrying out mass murder, rape, maiming and kidnapping of Nigerians, including women and children, are feted, molly coddled, granted ‘amnesty’ and paid by the government.
The CSOs urged the President to take immediate steps to provide political and moral leadership for the security crisis and ensure governmental actions are humane in tandem with Section 17 (2) (C) of the Constitution.