Gumi and the Glamorisation of Banditry, By Wole Olaoye

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This glamorisation of banditry is one of the reasons criminal elements continue to fester. In a nation of laws, how can anyone advocate a situation where hostage takers and bandits are treated as criminals in one section of the country and as freedom fighters in another? Do we have one country governed by the rule of law or are sections of this country operating under the rule of mullahs?

It is impossible to ignore Sheikh Ahmad Gumi’s attempt to divide the Nigerian Armed Forces on religious lines. There are already so many discordant tunes at play on the national stage, but this undisguised ploy to destroy the only institution believed to still have a modicum of national cohesion is frightening.

Gumi, a medical doctor, is a cleric, scholar and former Captain in the Nigerian Army. He is the eldest son to late Sheikh Abubakar Gumi, who was once Grand Khadi of the Northern Region of Nigeria, and head of Sultan Bello Central Mosque in Kaduna. He is credited with paving the way for the founding of the Izala sect in Jos, Plateau State, in 1978. Izala has since grown in influence and number in most parts of northern Nigeria and spread to countries like Niger, Chad and Cameroon, where Boko Haram also operates.

He has, over the years, jealously courted controversies under the pretext of defending the rights of Muslims. When he appointed himself the negotiator-in-chief at the height of the festival of banditry going on in parts of the northern states, the public gave him the benefit of the doubt. It was better, many people reasoned, to have someone talk sense into the heads of the merchants of terror, so that helpless hostages under the clutches of the bandits could regain their freedom.

But it appeared that Gumi had another agenda: Seize the opportunity to sow seeds of discord among Nigeria’s Armed Forces who were committed to taking the battle to the terrorists. Speaking in Hausa, Gumi told the bandits that the Nigerian soldiers killing them are not Muslims, therefore they should know in which direction they would turn their guns.

While addressing some of the bandits, Gumi declared: “What I want you people to understand is, soldiers that are involved in most of the criminalities are not Muslims. You know, soldiers have Muslims and non-Muslims. The non-Muslims are the ones causing confusion just to ignite crisis…”

He added: “If you people, in return, retaliate or seek vengeance, attack residents in the city, you may end up in killing youth, children and old men, which eventually results in tension in society. Why would military men launch attacks on your community and you take your revenge on innocent citizens in the city? That is what is denting your image in the society”.

Gumi has since gone ahead to make the rounds of media platforms spreading his message that the bandits should not be called criminals and that they are some kind of freedom fighters. The fact that they are operating on the fringes of civilised society shows that they are reacting to societal neglect, he said.

That attempt to divide the Nigerian Army along religious lines has since backfired and demystified Gumi as just another extremist ideologue feeding off primitive divisions. The implication for cohesion within our fighting forces is ominous. How do you explain Gumi’s position to a soldier at the war front who happens to be a christian? How do you tell such a soldier to continue putting his life on the line when sentiments such as Gumi’s abound?

Gumi has since gone ahead to make the rounds of media platforms spreading his message that the bandits should not be called criminals and that they are some kind of freedom fighters. The fact that they are operating on the fringes of civilised society shows that they are reacting to societal neglect, he said. During his interview on Arise TV, he even castigated journalists for branding the bandits as criminals, to which his interviewers asked: “So what do we call them?” He said they are fellow Nigerians. He would like to see the Federal Government applying the security vote to appease or resettle the bandits.

He also plays down their savagery: “And you call them killer herdsmen; how many people do they kill? When they kill, it is mostly accidental, may be somebody they took who is sick. But tell me who they have killed? How many? Few!” Gumi said during the interview.

This glamorisation of banditry is one of the reasons criminal elements continue to fester. In a nation of laws, how can anyone advocate a situation where hostage takers and bandits are treated as criminals in one section of the country and as freedom fighters in another? Do we have one country governed by the rule of law or are sections of this country operating under the rule of mullahs?

Seeing the trap, President Buhari has swiftly rejected the call for amnesty for bandits. Speaking through media aide Garba Shehu, he described the latest abduction of hundreds of students of Government Girls Secondary School, Jangebe,  Zamfara State, as inhumane and totally unacceptable. The president warned that his government “will not succumb to blackmail by bandits who target innocent school students in the expectations of huge ransom payments.” 

He also appealed to state governments to review their policy of rewarding bandits with money and vehicles saying, “No criminal group can be too strong to be defeated by the government”, adding that the only thing standing between the security forces and the bandits are “the rules of engagement.”

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The Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) has called for his arrest and prosecution because he has, in their words, “waged a media campaign to defend terrorists”. The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU) and the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), have also lashed out at the Islamic cleric.

“We have the capacity to deploy massive force against the bandits in the villages where they operate, but our limitation is the fear of heavy casualties of innocent villagers and hostages who might be used as human shields by the bandits,” he said, stressing that: “our primary objective is to get the hostages safe, alive and unharmed… Let them not entertain any illusions that they are more powerful than the government. They shouldn’t mistake our restraint for the humanitarian goals of protecting innocent lives as a weakness or a sign of fear or irresolution”.

Equally swift were denunciations from the Northern Governors Forum, The Northern Elders Forum and many other social, political and religious bodies.  The North East Elders for Peace and Development (NEEPD), in a statement signed by Zana Goni, condemned the statements credited to Gumi, noting that they do not represent the position of the region. They warned the cleric to refrain from further levelling dangerous and divisive allegations against patriotic soldiers, lest the outside world conclude that the North endorses banditry and associated crimes against society.

There goes Gumi’s treatise! 

The Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) has called for his arrest and prosecution because he has, in their words, “waged a media campaign to defend terrorists”. The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU) and the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), have also lashed out at the Islamic cleric.

A cursory check on Gumi’s social media presence shows that he didn’t start his divisiveness today. Indeed, in a Boxing Day posting in 2012, he espoused his anti-Christian conspiracy theories and literally danced on the grave of Governor Yakowa: “For instance in Nigeria we have seen how some Christian elements in the Nigerian security apparatus have been killers of innocent Muslims leaders for political reasons. Such elements are deadlier evil than Boko Haram… Kill Muslim leaders and kill the youth at the same time all under camouflage. They are entrenched in the security apparatus. They are retiring good Muslims in the armed forces to enable them perfect their evil plans they started since 1966. They think they are in control because they are blinded by hate, rancour and evil, they cannot see that their evil is exposed and evident. They cannot see that Allah Has taken up the fight against them…” he said.

Gumi’s anger is not against Christians alone. The social media is also full of his spat with other Muslim clerics, notably the 94-year-old Sheik Dahiru Usman Bauchi whose indictment of Gumi’s antics in a video making the rounds is very instructive.

Sun Tzu, the Chinese general, military strategist, writer and philosopher who lived in the Eastern Zhou period of ancient China, warned us that there are other ways of defeating a fighting force: “If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them (emphasis mine). If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected .”

Back to the moment — this praying mantis dancing in the bush, is its drummer in plain sight?

Wole Olaoye can be reached through wole.olaoye@gmail.com.

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