By Emma Emeozor, Chukwudi Nweje and Sunday Ani
Outspoken Islamic cleric, Sheikh Ahmad Abubakar Gumi, has come under fire for urging northern voters to shun candidates contesting the 2023 polls that would hunt down and kill bandits and kidnappers.
The cleric has over the years negotiated on behalf of the bandits in a manner that he had been accused of showing undue sympathy for them.
The cleric in a trending video yesterday described bandits as warriors who inhabit the forests for the people and should not be killed.
He said “Don’t vote for those who will fight bandits. The fighters are our warriors in the forest…Our people in the forest. So, vote for those who after attaining power will call and negotiate with our people (bandits) so as to give them what they want for peace to reign”.
A retired military officer, Gumi said he was able to gain the bandits’ confidence because he treated them as human beings and respects them.
He has repeatedly asked the Federal Government to grant amnesty to bandits as it gave to Niger Delta militants.
To him, military action against criminal herdsmen and bandits would not solve the security challenges in the country, but “will only worsen the situation.”
However, his latest call for voters to reject candidates poised to fight and kill bandits, rather than negotiate, has, been severely criticised by Nigerians.
President of the Middle Belt Forum, Dr. Pogu Bitrus, said Gumi’s statement gave him out as a bandit. He wondered why anybody would say bandits killing people without provocation should not be killed but negotiated with. “Some of the bandits are not even Nigerians, so why should I spare anybody who is against my country and my people?”
Bitrus noted that for Gumi to have made such a statement, it meant he was operating a different constitution from that of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which says that the primary purpose of any government is the provision of security and welfare to the people.
“How do you allow bandits to be killing and you don’t kill them if you want to follow the country’s constitution? So, it is unfortunate and I believe that from what he has said, he is also a bandit. The law says that anybody who kills should be killed and it is the law rather than individual’s views that we should follow. So, let him go and run his own country, not Nigeria. In Nigeria, if you kill, you are liable to be killed,” he submitted.
Reacting, National Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Alex Ogbonnia, said Gumi should be arrested and interrogated because he has been a security threat to Nigeria.
“For a long time, we have called for the arrest of that man because he has been a security threat to this nation, but unfortunately, the President and Commander-in-Chief, Muhammadu Buhari, has not done anything about that hence such an issue continues to rear its ugly head.
“When there is an indication of a security threat anywhere, you nip it in the bud. So, we have been calling for his arrest and interrogation. I am not saying that he should be prosecuted but he should come out from where he is because he is not helping the country in any way,” he said.
He described Gumi’s latest statement as unfortunate coming from somebody of his status.
“The statement is not in tandem with democratic culture which allows people to vote according to their conscience. You don’t use religion and all these unnecessary sentiments to divide the people. If Nigeria is rated low in anything including economy, investment destination and all that; it is bandits and kidnappers that are responsible. So, anybody that is patriotic should rise against it. For Gumi to be talking this way is a serious problem. So, he should be arrested and interrogated to serve as deterrent to some other people that may harbour such feelings,” he said.
National Publicity Secretary of the pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, Jare Ajayi noted that Gumi is supposed to be a leader but who unfortunately misguide his followers by trying to justifybanditry and terrorism.
“It is on record for instance, that when pressures were being mounted on President Muhammadu Buhari to dub bandits wreaking havoc in the country as terrorist, Gumi, on October 25, 2021, called on the President not to do so as bandits should be rehabilitated rather than be condemned or tried.”
Ajayi said Gumi has continued to defend bandits because he has not been questioned over his previous utterances and actions such as negotiating with terrorists etc.
“Had this been done, Gumi would not have the effrontery to be telling Nigerians now not to vote for a president who is likely to bring terrorists to justice.”
He advised the north to be wary of Gumi for describing bandits as ‘our people’ who must be protected.
“For it is on record that the highest number of victims of banditry and terrorism in the past years are Northerners. If those bandits consider the people as their own, why would they be killing them, sending them away from their ancestral homes and preventing them from practicing their vocations including farming etc? It is ironical indeed that Dr Ahmed Gumi could be describing those killing innocent people as ‘our people.
“Were justice made to be the order of the day in Nigeria, Gumi would not have the temerity to advise potential voters not to vote for a candidate who is likely to bring bandits and terrorists to justice,” Ajayi concluded.
Also reacting, rights activist and lawyer, Onyekachi Ubani alleged that Gumi knows how much he was making from terrorism through negotiation.
“They know what they are doing. They are making a hell of money out of terrorism. Gumi is one of the richest guys in Nigeria today. He knows what he is saying. If it is any southerner that is saying what Gumi has been saying, the person would have been arrested. He has breached all protocols.
“He has given every hint to show that he is backing terrorists and terrorism; he has done all that. So, this terrorism is pure business and some people are benefiting from it and wouldn’t want it to end. So, the negotiation he is talking about is those who will come and negotiate how to pay them millions of dollars and all that.”