The International Centre for Investigative Reporting (The ICIR) spoke exclusively with Islamic cleric, Ahmad Gumi in Kaduna, where he spoke about the recent spate of insecurity in Nigeria, ranging from Boko haram terrorists, Abuja-Kaduna train abduction, attack on Kuje prison, recent threat video by terrorists and how he thinks the government can stem the tide of terror attacks in the country.
What is your comment on the now-viral video of the Kaduna-Abuja train attack terrorists torturing the kidnap victims?
There was a lady who was pregnant and they let her go to deliver and they kept her husband trying to show that they are civilised and trying to show that they are not fighting society but fighting the government. Then they negotiated for the release of their children. We are surprised that no matter how criminal a person would be what he is concerned about is underage children. That shows that there’s something underneath their agitations. Their children were released for a number of victims.
Then they requested a list of other prisoners who are still under detention. There was a stalemate, and they attacked the prison because they have intelligence. They budgeted huge amount of money for every victim.
For the first set group of victims, we were able to pay their money and they were released. There was a lady from Lagos, she was able to pay her money and she was released. Then another group, they were ready to pay for their relatives but they were prevented by the security. That prevention is what provoked them to attack the male victims.
In the light of a threat issued against the president and the governor of Kaduna state, what do you make of it?
Gumi: I have been there meeting with bandits, trying to show them, educate them because they are not educated. Where do you want them to get their morals? Where do you want them to get their education and direction? Who is there to tell them what to do? Nobody! They are all uneducated and the offence society has done is to leave such a number of people uneducated without education, without budgetary concern for their education, their health, what they are doing, and what they are thinking. Nobody is concerned about them. This is negligence.
So, we talked about it, and I spoke with them. We didn’t get a listening ear from the press, the government or the population. They think we are cajoling and appeasing criminals. They are more than criminals; they are fighting you.
If you are to justify the payment of ransom to bandits and then looking at those victims who may not be able to afford it. What do you think should be the way forward?
The government has left the issue now for the family to raise money and pay ransom for their individuals. But I think what the government needs to do is to put the round figure for everybody to be released. Then sit down with them and tackle the issue.
Justifying the payment of ransom?
Nobody is justifying the payment of ransom but do we have options? You can’t give your enemy your money, but is there any way out?
If there’s no way out, would you say the government and the security architecture and even the security agencies have failed?
Let me give you an example, if you go to Oxford University now, they will be conducting a PhD examination on any subject like mass communication. Okay now in Oxford, a mass communication exam is going on. Me that I’m in Nigeria, can you tell me that I failed the exam? Am I a student? How can you say I failed the exam?
What I’m trying to say is no security outfit is designed to tackle this issue. The army is very strong. The army can destroy this town in 15 minutes. The air force can devastate Kaduna if, given the go-ahead. They have that power. The tactics, they have it. But if I give you a hammer to kill a fly in this room, you may end up destroying my furniture and your camera, and you would not get the fly because a hammer is not meant for killing flies. But if I give you a rubber flexible swat which is cheaper than a hammer, you can easily get the fly. So, the question is not the army, is not DSS. These people are isolated in an island or in a forest.
Who or what is the problem?
We don’t have the outfit to deal with them. One is a socioeconomic, political issue, you deal with it largely. The army is to give you the power and backing to do it.
When I went there, they thought the government was with me. All of them came, they tried to negotiate, but when I came, and they realised that the government was not with me, they continued their ways.
Would you say your hanging up the negotiation is worsening the situation?
Before, they have an iota of doubt whether there’s a genuine face that can dialogue with them but when they saw a clergyman like me who doesn’t have any interest in politics trying to convince them that this is a bad way of having hope that the government will listen to me but when the government didn’t listen to me, everybody finds his own way.
Since you say it is not the victims (Abuja-Kaduna train attack) that they (terrorists) are after why not go after the people they are after?
I don’t speak for them. But the government took their children, is that so ? After then, they feel too that they will take the citizens of the nation that the government needs to protect to show that the government has failed.
Terrorists usually target soft targets because they cannot get to the officials, that’s why. It’s an unfortunate situation and we are not applying the correct medication and remedy for it.
What of those who cannot meet up with the ransom demand, who would you appeal to in such a situation?
We will appeal to the bandits. We need to go there and educate them. They are Nigerians! People don’t know. When I went there, you see, the people that are doing this are called Ansaru. An offshoot of Boko Haram. They are not even Fulanis. But they are using herdsmen as foot soldiers.
I heard they are paying them N50,000 every day. Even if we assumed that they are Boko Haram that was putting bombs during Jonathan’s time, but they don’t have foot soldiers to carry out big operations. They just put bombs, but if you can see now, they go and break prison and release people and they go with their people, they have foot soldiers.
Where are these foot soldiers coming from? It’s these bandits. Since I have been warning Nigerians, these are not even Fulanis but they are only using them as foot soldiers. Don’t let allow us make them our enemies. I have said this in ABU Zaria. Don’t make your neighbour your enemy. Try to pull him to your own side. We left them. We fight them. The language is “kill them”, “bomb them”.
When the language has been what we did, okay come, what do you want? We will build for you schools, we will build for you hospitals, hear your grievances. We would have leaned them to our side.
There was a time I was told reliably by the deputy governor of Zamfara state that initially when Boko haram entered their territory, they apprehended them and took them to the government. Our struggle is we are not fighting the government, they said it. But now, with this lucrative attention, these bandits that you are calling criminals, now it has gotten a flag of religion. He’s the one seeing you as an infidel. What they said in that film may be some of you don’t hear Hausa. They said we wanted you to release these people— this “Bola” and this “trash”. All these people you see to them they are trash. They are Muslims. But what kinds of Muslims? Trash. They see us as trash.
Now somebody who was seeing himself as a criminal, now he is seeing himself as spiritually and morally superior, what will stop him?
We have been saying this but they are not listening to us. The press is so antagonistic. They are pushing the fuel of fire. They think what they are doing is service. What they thought is there is a force there to fight them. That force is not to fight them. The army is to fight army. Police are to police people who are civil, but these people are barbarians in the bush.
The army is to fight army. Police are to police people who are civil, but these people are barbarians in the bush.
On the attack on Kuje correctional centre, what came to mind when this happened? Was there prior knowledge that this was going to happen?
I think they are saying that if the government doesn’t release their people, they will be released and this is not the first prison they have attacked. I have seen the list. They have attacked many prisons before Kuje. They have attacked [prison in] Jos.
Kuje prison is the one that when you look at the architecture, going into that place requires…
Kuje is in Abuja. How can they amass such a huge number of people as footsoldiers to go and do that? It means There’s symbiosis, there’s coordination between herdsmen and terrorists. Some politicians are saying declare herdsmen terrorists. I was against it.
So, you want two terrorists — you are a terrorist, I’m a terrorist— to combine and be working together? With herdsmen working with them, it’s going to be terrible for Nigeria. I don’t see an end to it.
Just ordinary Bokoharam is 12 years now. After 12 years, they are exhausted. They are coming out in masses surrendering. Do you need another 12 years before the herdsmen realise that it’s a futile adventure?.
In another 12 years, how many people will have died? how many people would be affected?
Do you think Nigerians see you in a bad light?
No matter what you do even if you are a Northerner, Southerners will say you are bad; if you are a Muslim, Christians will say you are bad, if you are a Christian, Muslims will say you are bad. Nigerians are polarised over this period of time. So, whatever you do, there’s a suspicion that there’s a motive behind it. To them, there’s no good Nigerian. Nobody is doing anything good. Everybody is suspicious.
Buhari’s government that they have been saying he’s behind all these kidnappings, now these people [terrorists] are looking for Buhari. If there’s anybody that has injured, bombarded and killed them, nobody did it like Buhari. I’m telling. But a southerner would say Buhari is colluding with them.
People say if the video of the terrorist flogging victims was from the southeast in relation to IPOB, there would have been immediate highhanded actions.
In the Southeast, they don’t have anywhere to hide. IPOB don’t have anywhere to hide. But these people have vast land of forest to hide and they are inhabitants of the forest. It’s their abode. If soldiers come, he’s the stranger, and they can easily finish him. If IPOB have the same facility that protects them, they will be doing exactly or worse. But Southeast is urbanised, they have nowhere to hide, that’s why.
I would like to link this situation (train abduction) to a case when US citizens were held captive by terrorists and soldiers came from the US, They rescued their citizens and left. When that news came out, Nigerians saw it as an embarrassment that another country would come into Nigeria, take their citizens and leave. Now we have this situation. I’m trying to get, is it that the security agencies cannot trace…
You cannot compare the capacity of the American army with the Nigerian army. You know the American economy and the Nigerian economy, you cannot compare that capacity and now the same terrorist if they catch another American, it would not be as easy as the first one.
You know there’s no American here for them to deal with. There are so many Nigerians to be dealing with. They (US rescue team) were able to use elements of surprise, and elements of good intelligence to get them. But remember too that the enemies too are now becoming wiser. Look at what they are doing now, they are getting herdsmen to follow them, and this is what I’m afraid of. They are getting them to follow them because they are giving them money. I wanted to put a stop to that and make them come back to the state.
The money the government is using to purchase helicopters is going to billions of dollars…
It’s useless. That money could have been used to build roads, hospitals, and amenities for them just the way we did for Niger Delta people, the way we pacified Niger people; that is how we need to pacify these people. They [militants], too, have places they can hide so that the army won’t get them. The best way is amnesty. This one, too, is amnesty and pacification.
Sheikh Gumi, you are not a politician but I would like to digress. Nigerians are going to elect a new set of leaders in 2023. What do you think is the way forward? And who do you think will do well?
What I feel is that anybody who wins will do better. Any of them. Anybody will do better. If Tinubu comes, he will do better. If Atiku comes, he will do better. If Peter Obi comes, he will do better. If Kwankwaso comes, he will do better.
Why do you think they will do better than President Buhari?
The problem Buhari has is that he doesn’t listen. If Buhari takes you as an enemy, you are an enemy. He’s not a politician. But these people are politicians. As we sit down with you here, we can sit with them and negotiate and show them light and what to do. Once a leader doesn’t listen, he can never do good. Once a leader feels he knows it all, he can never do good.
I think Nigerians are going to heal because I know that all of them are good leaders, good administrators, and intelligent enough to understand the complexity of Nigeria and Nigerians have suffered enough. I think it’s a good tiding for them.
What I will just advise Nigerians is to vote for whoever they like. Because when you vote, you remove that anger. Even if your candidate doesn’t win, you remove the anger that I have tried, and it’s good. So, whoever wins out of these four people who are the four front politicians, should all cooperate together and heal Nigeria.
Luckily by God’s design, I believe in Allah. I believe God has revealed to mankind. I’m a vast believer in this. By design, we have four leading politicians and these politicians are from Southwest, Southeast, Northeast and Northwest. These are the four major corners of Nigeria. Whoever amongst them wins should join them in taking care of that region.
Also, we need devolution of power and restructuring. Because if restructuring is done, even if Tinubu is not the president, the southwest will accept it if he’s involved in the restructuring. If restructuring is done even if Peter Obi is not the president and it is done with him, Igbo will accept it if restructuring and devolution of power are done with Atiku, who is from Northeast— Adamawa, those people will say they accept it. If any restructuring is done with Kwankwaso, Northwest will accept it.
Nigeria is going to heal. I don’t want press men to bring confusion into it. Let Nigerians vote. The only advice that I have is that INEC should be strict. Any violation of the electoral discord should nullify that voting booth. All unaccredited votes should be unaccepted. The transmission should be electronic and instantaneous. In fact, people should hear the results of their polling booths announced before they leave. Instantaneously, we can. Nigerians inshaa Allah by God’s will is going to heal. So, don’t feel bad.
Do you think Nigeria’s problem is more about religion or politics?
It’s more political than religious because religiously, there’s no animosity between Nigeria. It’s only that politicians are hiding behind religion to gather more. For example, a Yoruba person, all Yorubas will vote him generally, but if he wants to get other votes, he needs religion to cover. If it’s the North, religion is important to them, and he will need a religious man.
If it’s the southerner that you want, you need a Christian because Christians are more in the South. Religion is used as a magnet to attract, but it’s not the main issue; it’s not the main problem. We have schooled with Christians; we are in the armies with the Christians, and there is no animosity at all.
Nigeria Federal Capital Territory (FCT) is presently under attack. Soldiers were killed recently. Schools have been asked to close. It appears nowhere is safe. The Federal Capital is not safe; even the president seems not to be safe. Where should help come from?
Help should come from the president if the president, for one minute, listens to those who he should listen to. For instance, they said release our men, then release them, so what? So, they released them. You see, if water is boiling, pour in cold water. Don’t add more fire. As we say, this matter is not military. These people are not beyond negotiations. What do they want? They want you to address their grievances.
On Boko haram, over the years, repentant insurgents have been undertaking rehabilitation programmes. Do you think this makes any sense?
Gumi: It is making. They are coming out now. They are getting confidence in Maiduguri. They are coming out in troops from their families. It’s genuine. You just have to be genuine. You know our security has been infiltrated with bad elements.
Final words to Nigerians, to president Buhari and other governors.
We pray that 2023 should come and pass with peace and tranquility so that we have a new set of leaders that will stir this ship that is about to sink. We will keep on praying. God will see us through. Inshaa Allah.
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