Popular Islamic cleric, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, has spent several months doing what he believes was the best approach toward addressing security challenges in northern parts of the country, particularly the rise of banditry.
The task he undertook, would later see him venture into dangerous places such as forests, where bandits now call home. His ability to go to such places and return unharmed, baffled Nigerians who felt he must have ties with the group to have been able to so.
What Gumi thought was a morally right thing to do, a duty, and his own contributions toward a peaceful country, earned him enemies and condemnations rather than friends and national honors.
Yet, despite all the negative portrayals of what he felt was a duty as a patriotic Nigerian, he remained resolute until it became clear, his efforts were all but futile.
In a recent interview with Premium Times, the Kaduna based cleric said he’s done with his role as mediator between Bandits and the Nigerian Government, saying he’s no longer interested in exposing himself to danger when almost everyone including the Buhari government has turned against him.
“I will not like to expose myself to danger again and to put a spotlight on myself unnecessarily. I have tried all I could do to admonish the nation on the best way to do it, but it seems my advice has fallen on deaf ears,” he said.
He said going into the forests to engage the bandits was a dangerous undertaking, but people who have no idea how much they risked lives to do so, failed to appreciate.
“It is dangerous, but still we risked our lives to see that we bring peace to this nation. Somebody has to take that risk and we took it and thanked God that we came out safely and knowledgeable, knowing how to come about this issue.”
“Maybe in the future when the political situation changes for the better, we can do it again so that there will be peace, harmony and tranquility in the country,” he added, on the possibility of engaging with the group once again.
Before deciding to call it quits, Gumi had warned against designating bandits as ‘terrorists’, saying doing so would only make matters worse for the country.
“It will cause more mayhem,” he said on calls to designate bandits as terrorists.
“The declaration will not change anything, it will not change the dynamics. Already the military is engaging them. It didn’t stop them from kidnappings and killings. The declaration will not end their aggression against the society.
“The Fulani banditry is a socio-economic problem. We have seen it, we interacted widely with them. We told the federal government the way out. It can only be won through engagement, dialogue and justice,” he added.
He also said Nigerians are confusing bandits with legitimate concerns — the ones he said he, and his group had ‘met and interacted with’, with actual terrorists who believe they are fighting a ‘jihad’.
He warned that lumping both together would only end up complicating the problem since foreign Jihadist movements would capitalize on it, thereby making it difficult to differentiate between bandits with legitimate concerns to actual terrorists.
“The acts the bandits are committing now in NW have gradually over time become tantamount to terrorism because wherever innocent people are fatal victims it’s pure terrorism,” Gumi admits, though said at this stage, it is difficult to tell who the actual terrorists are.
Since disclosing his decision to dissociate himself from bandits, the security situation in the North has escalated, prompting the Buhari government to send a high-level delegation, made up of the heads of the nation’s intelligence and security services, to Sokoto and Katsina States.