Prof Usman Yusuf is an outspoken Fulani leader and former Executive Secretary of National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS). Of recent, he has been going with popular Islamic cleric, Sheik Gumi to meet with armed bandits in the forests across some Northern states. In this interview with VINCENT KALU, he said that for the country to have peace, the federal government should give amnesty to the Fulani bandits the same way it was granted to Niger Delta militants.
The professor of Haematology-Oncology carpeted Kaduna State governor, Nasir El-Rufai for not supporting amnesty for the bandits. He scolded both Taraba and Benue governors for proposing citizens to be armed with AK- 47 rifles.
You were in the company of Sheikh Ahmed Gumi when he met with the bandits. The cleric is proposing an amnesty to be granted to them. In what ways has the government offended them that they picked arms against the state?
The relationship between Sheikh Ahmed Gumi and myself goes back 45 years ago, we were in medical school together from 1976 to 1982. Thereafter, he went into the Nigeria Military Medical Corps, and rose to the rank of captain and resigned and went into what he has always called his first calling to be a cleric just like his father and grandfather. He went to Egypt and Saudi Arabia and obtained PhD in Islamic Law and Jurisprudence.
The reason I’m telling you this is that his coming into this is that he is very balanced. He is a doctor, he is a retired military officer and he is a cleric – the son and the grandson of a cleric. He has always held and preached even long before this that clerics need to go to villages and forests and preach the message of Islam to what you call, the bandits, the Fulani bandits because the basic foundation of any religion is peace and to anchor you in what is right and what is wrong. These children are growing up without any religion with the mixture of drugs, with the mixture of poverty and disenfranchisement. Why are we surprised at seeing what we are seeing?
I know him personally and I know how much he loves this country and I know how pained he is about this insecurity and we discussed that severally. We know and we are not denying that these people you call bandits are Fulani like myself; they are not from foreign Fulani as some people are saying. No, they are Fulani here. We are against what they are doing – the crimes of kidnapping, rape and killing, all the pains and suffering they are causing our people; we cannot and must not disown them because it is just like if you have a child, he has gone astray, you need to pull him close to you and try and preach to him in the hope that you reach his heart in order for him to change his way. No military will do this for you. If you allow this to continue, there will not be any control. This case has gone out of control, just like Kanuri case has also gone out of control and joining Boko Haram. We are not going to sit down and say the government must do this and that or the military will do this and that. How can he sit in his comfort zone in Kaduna and be preaching to other clerics to do this if he doesn’t do it. That was why he went; no government or any group of persons asked him or sponsored him to go.
We first of all went to four settlements in areas in Kaduna where he lives; in Kaduna where villages are plagued by banditry – around Geri area, around Chukun, around Biwa and around Riga Chukun; these are very notorious places where you have bandits killing and maiming people, he reached them in the forests. He has to call and find out who are the Fulani leaders here and there. It is very painful and it is something you have to be very patient. He went to all these RUGAs in Kaduna State, met them, listened to them; preached the message of peace to them. Most importantly, wherever he goes, he raised his voice that there is no way in Islam or any scripture that allows the shedding of blood; that allows taking the laws into your hands; that allows arson, that allows rape; that allows all the killings. They are our flesh and blood, but we are ashamed of them and they need to change their ways. This has been the message he is preaching to them in Kaduna, consistently.
Martin Luther King Jnr said, ‘that violence is the language of the unheard’. You need to hear everybody. So, when he goes to these places, he doesn’t start preaching, he let them talk; let them put forth all their grievances and the grievance of this settlement may be different from the other settlements, but there is a common thread. He talks to them and there is going to be a continuous engagement.
He went to Zamfara State, his ancestral home. The state is dear to me because that is where I had my formative secondary school at Government Secondary School, Gusau. So when he invited me to come along, I accepted the invitation without hesitation. We went to Zamfara on Sunday, January 31, and spent one week on the road. When we got there, the first place we visited is a village called Maradun, where the governor of the state is from. We went there because the governor is planning to do huge RUGA in each of the three senatorial districts in the state. The one he is building in Maradun is bigger than Maitama and Wuse 2 combined in landmass. We went round, we saw the veterinary clinic, clinic for human beings, we saw areas where cattle will graze, we saw where he is planting pasture, and we saw the mosque, the police station. It is a huge project.
Why Fulani move is because they are looking for pasture for their cattle; if there were pastures they would not move. That is the whole idea, to congregate them in one place. He also built schools for the children. We were very impressed by what we saw. That was the first day and we went and had dinner with the Emir because all the places we visited, Sheikh Gumi will go to the Emir first, will meet with the local people, meet with the local leaders of the Fulani, meet with the police before he goes into the forests.
All the time, he doesn’t know where he is going. It is the local people that will say we have a major problem here – this band of bandits is attacking us. The whole of Zamfara are Fulani; it is these Fulani in the forests that are causing this problem and it is a small percentage of them. The governor wasn’t in town. We have up to hundred settlements of Fulani there and we gathered their leadership and listened to them; listened to where the main problems are – what is their problem with government, what is their problem with traditional rulers, what is their problem with town’s people and they arranged for us to go to see the RUGA.
The first RUGA we went on Monday, it was unbelievable; I thought we were in a military zone; it took a lot of negotiations to get there. They said, ‘okay, don’t bring policemen, we don’t want any security, we don’t want anybody with gun, we don’t want reporters, we don’ t want this or that.’ They decided where we want to see them, nobody knows where. We drove with Toyota Hilux, Sheikh Gumi’s security details were very worried and said there was no how they would let him go, but he assured them not to be worried that he would go. What we saw was unimaginable before we got to a wide open forest under a tree; I thought we were in military camp; they were in military uniforms with rocket propelled grenades, you see about 10 of them here, another 15 at a short distance, you see some of them on trees and you have a feeling that you are being surrounded by armed people. We sat under the tree, we prayed and Gumi said he was here to listen to their problems with the federal government. All the problems are local and solutions are local. According to them, the problem they have with the government is that they negotiated, the government will renege on the negotiation; when they repent they will hand them over to the police or army and they will kill them. Again, they are not allowed to go into the villages and towns because vigilantes are killing them. They don’t have hospitals, they don’t have water. They have a lot of grievances and lots of them are very simple and duly within the reach of government to solve. He listened to them and also preached to them. The message is that Islam doesn’t allow the shedding of blood for any reason and that what they are doing is wrong.
Gumi is asking for amnesty for them, what happens if it is given to them?
What is amnesty? If you catch me and kill me, then why should I hand over my gun? If they are given amnesty, they will give them their guns. They will be provided with what you and your children have been provided with. Over the years, you have been provided with schools, you have been provided with clinics, and you have been provided security that makes you to go out and to come back and other basic amenities.
They will never hand over their guns if you don’t give them amnesty. That is how they did in Niger Delta. Niger Delta militants would never have handed over their guns if they were never given amnesty. Who gave them amnesty? It was a president from Katsina, while previous presidents were killing them, polluting their environments, but he saw the injustice and gave them amnesty. Tompolo and the other guys were not killed; they handed over their guns. NDDC was created; they were given contracts to protect the pipelines.
What do you want done for these people?
The most important thing that Nigerians must realise is that there is no military solution to this problem. If anybody tells you that there is a military solution, that person doesn’t know what he is talking about or he is being dishonest. In all the places we went, there is no single soldier in the forest. Planes would just drop bombs to kill their cattle you will never win a war like that.
Kaduna State governor, Nasir el-Rufai is opposed to any form of amnesty to the bandits. He said Gumi’s efforts will not yield any result because these bandits have made millions of naira through kidnapping and paying of ransom that they cannot go back to cattle rearing where they cannot make more than N200, 000 a year
Were Niger Delta militants not kidnapping foreigners, oil workers and getting ransom in US dollars; they were not getting ransom in Naira; it was in dollars and hundreds of millions of naira if you convert it, but when the president listened to them, were they not granted amnesty?
El-Rufai, Gumi and I were in the university together; so, we know each other. I state categorically that El-Rufai is wrong. Let him tell me, as his government is not negotiating with them, are families not negotiating with them to free their loved ones after payment. There are people I know from his state that have been kidnapped and are still in the kidnappers’ den. It is not the government that is paying for their freedom; it is families that are negotiating. If El-Rufai’s family member is kidnapped, would he negotiate or not? His position is just political grandstanding. If he is not negotiating, what is he doing, he wants them all to be killed. The only thing the governor can control is negotiation; he has no control over the military. What has the governor done in six years to reduce this? He wants to burn them; it is not in his hands. It is in the hands of the commander in chief, what is in his hands is to sit down and negotiate and bring peace to this land. We have seen the benefits of negotiation in Zamfara State. In 2019, when Matawalle came into government, all the markets in the state were closed; the roads were not passable and he negotiated with them and all the markets are open, the roads are passable.
We didn’t leave the den of the bandits until 10 pm and they escorted us out and the roads are clear. Any governor that is saying we are not negotiating is just political nonsense. They have only two years to go and what makes them think that any military action will bring peace? I absolutely disagree with him, he is our friend. He has a responsibility, which is to the people. There is no cleric in this world, Christian, Muslim, Judaism, and Hinduism that will support bloodshed. Any window for peace that is opened is what everybody should latch unto; ego and grandstanding has no place in this.
You mentioned the amnesty given to the Niger Delta militants, these people picked up arms because of the environmental degradation that they have suffered over the years, what have these bandits suffered that made them to pick up arms?
You know the Fulani, what has any government done for them for the sixty years of this country, anything? Is it hospital, school, electricity, borehole? Nothing. They have never received their fair share in this country. Nobody is giving any excuse for these people. There is no reason for what they do. If you have disenfranchisement, people go into criminality; they are on drugs. All these drugs that come from the South – you remember cannabis intercepted in Edo State worth about N1.2 billion was headed North; the Codeine, the Tramadol are poisoning our kids. So, these Fulani kids are on drugs; they are out of control; about 99.9 percent of Fulani are grazing peacefully. Climate change has dried down the pastures, the cattle are dying and the kids are on drugs.
You said there is no government that has done anything for the Fulani, but sixty years after independence, the North has ruled for about 39 years, who then is to be blamed?
It is not a question of blame game. Who is the person that listened to the issue of Niger Delta, was it Obasanjo, or Zik when they were president? It was Umaru Yar’Adua, the president from Katsina State. Ken Saro-Wiwa was killed because of legitimate aspiration of his people. It was Yar’Adua that sat down and listened to the legitimate concern of the people. He sat down and negotiated with them; why didn’t they kill Tompolo and those people that were carrying machine guns and kidnapping people and bursting pipelines. There is no way out than to sit down and negotiate. Unfortunately, Niger Delta Ministry and NDDC with all the money given to them to help their people have failed. It doesn’t matter where you are from, it is justice; leaders need to sit down and do the right thing. We are doing this, nobody asked us to do it; we are leaders in our communities and that is why we are doing this; we need peace in our land and they are our children.
All Igbo leaders must sit down with IPOB and Nnamdi Kanu to bring peace in the Southeast, and all leaders in the Southwest must sit down and talk to clowns and idiots like Igboho to bring peace in their area. It is the responsibility of community leaders and not government; this government has only two years to go, and they will go and leave us with the trouble. This issue with banditry all across the nation is the most difficult thing to control if we don’t sit down and do it strategically well with human heart. No military throwing bombs here and there can win this war. Amnesty will get them return their arms, it will get them to get employed and make them to get amenities that you and I have been enjoying; getting them to go to school. Religious leaders should be talking to them and efforts should be made to stop bringing drugs from South to poison these boys in the North. We are doing this for ourselves and not to any government or political party. The same people kidnapped Gumi’s brother two years ago and he is a cleric; people come to him everyday in his house or mosque, as they do not have access to the governor.
As the insecurity escalates, Taraba State governor, Ishaku and his Benue counterpart, Ortom, last week, proposed that every Nigerian should be allowed to carry AK-47 riffle like the herdsmen to defend themselves. What is your view on this?
They are irresponsible governors. Before I left for this journey to the forests, I said federal government must empower communities to defend themselves not recklessly. In every community, there are elders, there are churches and there are mosques, every village can have youths, who can be trained to carry licenced arms and supervised by the police to protect their villages. I have said it again and again. From what I saw in the RUGA, I know that military is not an option; communities must be empowered because there is not enough police and there is not enough army. The East is full of arms, IPOB and everyone; Rivers State is also full of arms. During elections, people will be shooting in the East. These governors know that and they want to increase that number; they think as they are going around in siren that their tenure won’t end. You want to give everybody arms. Leadership comes with responsibility and what they are saying is irresponsible.
Why did the federal government find it difficult to declare the bandits terrorists group?
Whether you declare them terrorists group or not, it doesn’t matter. They declared IPOB a terrorist group, did it make any difference? You declared Boko Haram terrorist group, what difference has it made? All we need to do is action, all we need to do is to bring peace and there is no military that can bring peace. If you want, declare them terrorist group and so what? It doesn’t make any sense, to go and bring any Executive Order and declare them terrorists. Nnamdi Kanu is still there; for six years, they have been looking for Shekau, but they haven’t found him. Declaring terrorists whatsoever doesn’t make sense in the lives of people, but find a strategic way to bring peace. The only way to bring peace as far as these bandits are concerned is negotiation. When we went to the RUGA where you have these people fully armed in their military uniforms, it is scary. What we saw was a battalion. You see children about 13 years old carrying all-purpose machine guns, Rocket Propelled Grenades, AK- 47; the average age is 17. A thousand of them surrounding us in the forest, we didn’t know where we were. The leader is young, in his late 20s. How are you going to fight them? They listened when Gumi admonished them against what they are doing. They surrounded us and were smoking marijuana but the moment they started reciting the Quran, I was watching them, they started dropping the marijuana. By the time we were leaving, it was 10 pm and they gave us 30 motorcycles; each of the motorcycles with two passengers armed with AK-47 to show us the way.
We heard two days later that this young man who is their head first of all decreed that there is no more use of illicit drugs and he went and invaded Fulani settlement where the leaders there were defying his orders and killed few of them. When they asked him why he did that, he said, Gumi came and preached against the use of illicit drugs. He told us that they would not have gathered if it was not a cleric coming to meet them because they have no respect for any politician, no respect for any traditional ruler or any security agent. It was Sheikh that they gathered for.
Who arranged the meeting between the Gumi team and the bandits?
I don’t know; there are Fulani all over. Their leaders are from Bauchi, Nasarawa and they will be calling and talking and we would be going; they will be making phone calls, please gather. They are all over but connected in many ways.
In an interview with BBC, Prof Wole Soyinka accused the president of being complicit in all insecurity and herdsmen issues. According to him, the president has never called for the arrest of these herdsmen wielding AK-47 and other assault rifles, what do you say to this?
I want Wole Soyinka and all Southwest leaders to know that this government is as much led by Fulani as Yoruba. The number two man is a Yoruba and the number four in the country is also a Yoruba man. During EndSARS crisis, these number two and number four were in the forefront in brokering peace, but were illegality and criminality not committed at that time; were policemen lynched, were government properties burnt, was the palace of Oba ransacked; were hospitals burnt; were people killed, did I hear the voice of any Southwest leader, did I hear the voice of Prof Wole Soyinka asking for the arrest of these insurrectionists as we see in the United States? I haven’t heard anybody from the Southeast asking for the proscription of IPOB, only Governor Wike. So, tell me how Buhari is complicit. I’m not here to defend the president, I’m not Garba Shehu or Femi Adesina, and you can go and ask them. I’m on record for blaming this government for insecurity. For a Southwest leader or any leader of the calibre of Soyinka to open his mouth and say things like this means we are in big trouble. All we are saying is that every leader in every region should do what we are doing by trying to keep peace in the land.