By Chinelo Obogo
Islamic cleric, Sheik Abubakar Gumi, has alleged that some officers of the Nigerian military and other security agencies are colluding with bandits in the northern part of the country.
In a television interview monitored in Lagos, yesterday, Gumi said he was aware that bandits engaged in kidnapping and killing of victims in the North worked in collaboration with some security officers to facilitate the movement of arms across the borders into the country.
However, Army has dismissed allegation that its personnel were colluding with bandits. Director, Army Public Relations, Brig.-Gen. Onyema Nwachukwu, in a statement said the Army remained a symbol of national unity that had discharged its constitutional responsibilities in the most professional manner in line with global best practices.
He said army personnel had always adhered to the rules of engagement and protection of the fundamental human rights of the citizenry.
According to him, the sweeping allegation peddled by the scholar is not only sad and unfortunate but a calculated attempt to denigrate the Nigerian military and undermine the sacrifices of our patriotic troops, who are working tirelessly to restore peace and stability across the country.
“It is essential to remind ourselves that these same military, being accused of connivance, are the ones who recently put their lives on the line to rescue abductees of the Government Secondary School, Birnin Yauri from kidnappers.
“While the NA will not attempt to excuse the possibility of black sheep amongst its fold, it must be stated unambiguously that it will not condone any form of sabotage or aiding and assisting the enemy by any personnel.
“The provisions for dealing decisively with such acts are crystallised in Section 45 (1) of the Armed Forces Act CAP A 20 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.
“It must also be pointed out, that while the military is very much receptive to constructive criticism, it should not be perceived as a gateway for derogatory comments that have the potential to embolden criminals.”
He also cautioned that patriotism be taken to a trajectory where subversive conversations on the state were brought to the barest minimum.
But Gumi insisted there was no way the caliber of weapons used by the bandits would have entered the country without the active collaboration of local security officers.
“I know that these bandits are cooperating with a lot of bad elements in our security system. This is a business, and you would be surprised that so many people are involved. How can these big weapons cross our borders and get into the hands of bandits without the cooperation of some bad elements within our security system? It is not possible! If I give you the same amount of weapons, can you take it into the UK? It won’t be possible because their security is alert.
“So you see that part of overcoming banditry is to overhaul our security system.”
Gumi said since bandits are currently holding a lot of Nigerians hostage in the forests, government should negotiate with and employ them as forest guards rather than attack them. He accused the Federal Government of taking sides against bandits and warned that without dialogue or negotiation, there would be no end to the spate of kidnappings and other violent crimes in the country.
He, however, said it was wrong to compare members of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) to herdsmen.
“IPOB is attacking the police, the army, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and other government institutions; killing our men in service. And the herdsmen are kidnapping children not to kill them, but to get money.
“So how can you compare somebody who is killing our gallant men directly to somebody who is kidnapping children to make money and not to kill them. Look, we need some fairness in what we are doing.”
He, however, said bandits were killing people, raping, kidnapping and committing all sorts of atrocities. He advised the Federal Government to listen to both groups to know the reason for their actions. “If I were the government, I will negotiate with IPOB as well,” he said.
Gumi also disclosed that there were thousands of Nigerians being held captive in the hands of herdsmen in the forest.
“In fact, I learnt last week that two nurses were kidnapped in April in Southern Kaduna and up till now, we are trying to locate the kidnappers to see if we can plead with them. See the suffering Nigerians are going through simply because we are not dialoguing with these people.
“The herdsmen have told me that they are ready to sit down with the government and negotiate. If the herdsmen come together and say no more kidnapping, the war is finished, I don’t see any other Fulani man breaking that agreement and continuing with the crime.
“The civilian Joint Task Force can bring in the herdsmen to be part of their team to fight the bad ones. Why can’t we get them? I think the government and even the media is taking sides in this war and unfortunately the herdsmen have no one to tell their own side of the story and I think that this is what is prolonging the issue.”
Gumi said Nigeria is fighting a tribal war and that government is supposed to be neutral and not take sides.
“The moment government take sides, it becomes part of the conflict. I advise that the government should listen to the grievances of the bandits and understand their agitations. Do you know that an ordinary herdsman is being lynched in many states in Nigeria but people don’t look at that aspect? I don’t speak for the bandits and I don’t speak for those committing atrocities against the bandits; I prefer to be neutral and to look at things objectively and scientifically.”
He said when militants were vandalising pipelines in the Niger Delta, the nation negotiated with them and they were given pipelines to guard.
“When militants were vandalising pipelines, the nation negotiated with them and they were given the pipelines to guard for a period of time. The herdsmen too are now controlling a large portion of land and are preventing farmers from farming and when we leave a big chunk of the population hungry without farmers going to farm, it will be bad. Instead of attacking them, the government can employ the herdsmen as forest guards….If I were the government, I will negotiate with IPOB as well. The herdsmen have told us that they are ready to sit down and negotiate with the government. Some of them are becoming radicalised and that is why we need to go and get them on time.
“There are many herdsmen in the forest and if some of them are kidnapping, you can’t generalise and say all herdsmen are bad. In fact, the herdsmen are the first victims of the criminals among them and they are ready to cooperate with the government,” Gumi said.