The Islamic cleric Sheik Abubakar Gumi recently offered a solution to banditry and kidnapping that have assailed the country, especially the northern parts. He held the view that force of arms cannot deter the bandits or drive them away from that criminal activity. The matter of banditry in the North is a matter of the chicken coming home to roost. The hundreds of thousands of almajiri children, whose education was truncated by a system that thrived on trampling on the downtrodden, have found their voices in AK-47s. They have grown up to see that they have no skills and education, and watch those who put them in such pathetic conditions still luxuriating in the appurtenances of power. They would rather no one went to school than have a new set of educated people who would become new lords of the manor.
Several analytical examinations of the kidnapping of schoolchildren have come to conclusions that the new trend is another arm of Boko Haram in their show of disdain for education. The trend, which Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State has described as business, has taken place in many states in the northern parts. Many governors have been forced to close schools to avoid more kidnaps.
But Gumi, a medical doctor who has dropped the stethoscope for the Koran, says the state should sit at the roundtable with the bandits. Nigeria is weighed down by unprecedented security challenges, farmers and herders crisis, Boko Haram, agitations for separation, kidnappings and so on. Gumi’s solution of forgiving the bandits and granting them amnesty must be his way of getting the state to apologize via action to a people whose future had been ruined by a system that did not give them sound education.
El-Rufai has not bought into the Gumi solution for good reason. It was bewildering that Gumi had not even reached his Kaduna home from Zamfara where he had gone to mediate before another set of students were whisked away from their school; 317 students from Government Girls’ Secondary School, Jangebe, in Talata Mafara Local Government Area of the state, were kidnapped. They have been set free after negotiations, though government says they did not pay any money to obtain their release. Of course, it will be politically suicidal for government to admit that it paid any ransom to bandits. El-Rufai is correct when he says you can hardly dissuade those making huge sums through their newfound business.
The abduction in Zamfara occurred about two weeks after dozens of students and staff members were abducted by bandits from a school in Kagara, Niger State. The students in Niger were released on Saturday morning.
Students of both schools have regained their freedom and reunited with their parents.
President Muhammadu Buhari has declared Zamfara a no-fly zone, as part of measures to stop the menace, given that intelligence reports say people fly into the state to drop arms and collect solid minerals in exchange. Gumi did know this when he advocated dialogue.
Gumi has not embarked of a solitary journey. He may have remembered when former President Goodluck Jonathan, as Vice-President, went into the Creeks to speak with Niger Delta militants. It was sequel to the amnesty granted to them by President Umaru Yar’Adua. The discussions and amnesty led to surrender of arms and substantial peace in the area. The Nigerian State continued to take oil from the zone. Scores of youths from the zone have ended up in the best of schools abroad and acquired very good skills.
If Gumi was motivated by the Niger Delta case, then he is walking down a blind alley. The circumstances are on parallel lines. The Niger Delta people had their environment degraded, and their farmlands destroyed on account of oil exploration and, to make matters worse, the oil firms dug the oil from their land but owed allegiance to the powers that be in Abuja who were not from the land that bore the petrodollars. The youths went into the bush to stop the exploration, a situation that hampered oil production. Former President Olusagun Obasanjo used the force of arms but his successor got peace through amnesty.
There is no known ideology these bandits hold behind the AK-47. Their criminality cannot be equated to people whose fight is driven by an ideology. For Gumi to advocate pardon and rehabilitation is to accept that the bandits have overwhelmed the Nigerian government. It is a clear indication that government can no longer protect life and property.
Gumi advocates that infrastructure and schools be built for bandits, as though any state government had ever been prevented from providing amenities for its people. El-Rufai is right. The state should not negotiate with criminals. It would only encourage any group in need of government attention that can lay hands on AK-47 rifles.