Sheikh Ahmed Abubakar Mahmood Gumi has been consistent in his quest for dialogue and amnesty with bandits, killing and kidnapping Nigerians. In this interview with NewTelegraph, the retired military officer disclosed that many of those against dialogue did not really understand what was happening
As a retired military officer, how do you view this continuous attack on Nigeria by terrorists?
Before you make any judgment on anything, you have to understand the theology, mechanism and circumstances. When you don’t have this information at your disposal, you will make a blunder in trying to address the issue.
What we are seeing and calling banditry, yes, we see banditry, but the person doing it is not seeing or doing banditry. Just look at it from both sides. There are fighting a system that has long neglected the people, neglected them and they are fighting back.
You know many of them are illiterates and the only wealth they have is the cow. They are reacting to the society that has been unfair to them.
How do you cure this by increasingly being unfair or by bringing them close, pacifying them, tame them like a lion. I am trying to tame a lion, a wild animal, that is what I am trying to do. Not to excite it to cause more damage.
Another point I want people to understand is, when you have people, one, two, three up to ten, armed robbers or bandits, we understand they are criminals but, these bandits we are talking, they have more than documented 63 leaders. We are talking about 63 groups of not less than 100 and we are still calling these banditry? They are reacting but this is a kind of insurgency. But not against the state! But reacting, just like the IPOB.
Are they not reacting? Their reaction is separation. Sunday Igboho is reacting but his reaction is separation. Boko Haram is reacting but theirs is religious separation. Boko Haram did not take up weapons until they killed their leaders summarily.
They were killed on camera. So, they said no more negotiations. We will revenge. So, how can we trigger a reaction, and then we think the solution is the same way we trigger a reaction is the cure.
How to pursue them? It is not every conflict that has a military solution, especially a conflict that was started by the military or the security agencies. The solution has to be political, social or economic because like Boko Haram, they killed Yusuf.
There was widespread unemployment among the youths. So, there was the resistance to the army. You know any movement among the youths grows like wildfire. You get a rifle and it makes you feel important like the soldiers. Like the kidnapping started with Boko Haram, they have been kidnapping people for long.
So, the children taught they now have a job. You know youthful delinquency? With Boko Haram, they taught we are respected and feared. With Nigerians, we are unemployed.
So, we have to look at that, look at these factors. If we had addressed the issue of poverty seriously, people feel the impact of the economy, constructions, business, they will leave Boko Haram. The same thing with the Fulani herdsmen.
From all that you have said and seen, what do all these mean for the north and Nigeria as a whole?
Yes, that is why I am looking for a permanent solution to this banditry, and that solution is to accommodate them and redirect them. Human beings can bring a lion, tame the lion, and make it a friend of the human being without eaten him. We have the country, the population to tame these people.
But if we say we want to fight them, we don’t have the force to fight them. Why? Because they are widespread.
They are not in one place. Which army can you employ? You will exhaust them and let us not forget, Boko Haram is not yet finished. Only that they had a disarray when they lost their godfather and leader, Shekau and they are not well accepted by ISWAP.
So, they feel disoriented and feel since they is a safe corridor for food and education. Even the army is now talking about the carrot and not the power and this was the same thing I said.
Herdsmen, let us show sympathy for their plight and also educate them. What they are doing is crime not only against humanity but God and that was why I went to them with books.
Books I translated into the Fulani language, to tell them it is wrong to steal, fornicate, deceive and cheat. I talk to them, the way I am talking to you. I also tell them let’s take your complains to the society.
But your efforts have not been looked at in a positive way. Many people have sort of misunderstood what you are doing?
I know and I quiet understand that, I am not surprised and I don’t feel anything against anybody even those who abuse me. I don’t feel anything because I know that they don’t know what I know.
What is your take on the recent attack at NDA and even the abduction of an Emir in the state?
Honestly, when we speak with these people, they said they would give us respite, and stop hostilities, but the hostilities from the government did not stop.
The aerial bombardment did not stop, the pronouncement did not stop, shoot at sight, kill anyone you see with a rifle. But even you, if you spend one day in the bush, you will need a rifle, even if you are not a criminal, because if you do not have a rifle a criminal will attack you.
These things should be gradual. The political atmosphere was very toxic in promoting peace- don’t negotiate, kill them; they are thieves, these and that. Some people want me to be saying criminals but I said no, I am very careful about saying criminality, because I am trying to build confidence. I understand what you are doing but it is wrong.
This is not how to do it. It is the same thing with government. When it is tackling a problem wrongly, you speak. What we are trying to do is get their confidence, so that they can have trust in us. Then, we can show them the way out.
Is that the basis for your call for amnesty against the use of force by the government?
Let me tell you why we are pursuing am- nesty. When I tell them why won’t you stop, drop your weapons and embrace peace, they said if we drop our weapons, they will come and arrest us and execute us. That is why we are talking about amnesty and this amnesty means, they will not be arrested.
Also, the whole package of rehabilitating them and bringing them out to the society. Do you know when they is a budget distribution, the herdsmen have little or nothing at all from it. Myself, if I ply Abuja – Kano road, I am enjoying the road construction.
If I have light now,I am enjoying what government is spending on light. If I go to the hospital, I am enjoying the amenities. My children are in the university. They are enjoying the education. What are the herdsmen enjoying from the Nigerian government?
Nothing! So do some projects for them to feel they are part of the society. You know the Fulani man is a shy man. They have hierarchy and respect like the Yoruba.
This Sunday Igboho, if high ranking Yoruba leaders call him and say stop this, would he not stop? It is the same thing with these people. Look, bring the real actors and tell them stop these things, they will stop it, but when the elders will not.
Would it be right to then say that the quest for power by northern leaders instead of the socio-economic development of the region is a contributory factor to what is happening?
What you are saying is not a question. This is a correct statement and it is true. Actually, what have they been doing?
The most important thing you can give a human being is education and who is concerned about education, educating the masses? So, there is a problem. So, now,
we are harvesting what we sow and attacking them militarily will be worse. It will compound the issue because they can likely join themselves with terrorists groups.
What actions do you think should be taken against the sponsors of bandits and those who benefit from what is happening
? You see, before now, it started as a crime by criminals but in trying to tackle these criminals, it crossed the boundary and they stated attacking innocent herdsmen and they become victims of profiling, victims of everything and they are now fighting for survival.
The best way now is what I am doing-the stick and carrot approach. I know as a government, they have to show their strength. I know and nobody argues about that.
But also we have to go in, bring them out, dialogue with them, pacify them, do whatever it is that will make them feel there is need for them to drop their weapons and we have seen their reactions that they are willing. Just imagine.
I heard the Governor of Zamfara State saying that a high level delegation of Fulani herdsmen came to him to say there should be a ceasefire after this recent incursion and he said no, this is time for war. He does not differentiate between battle and war. You know you can win a battle but you can lose the war, or is he not thinking it is a war?
With what is happening across the country, do you really think President Muhammadu Buhari is really in charge of governance and fulfilling his electoral promises?
I think President Buhari is in charge. What I think is that he is not in charge of the situation but he is in charge of his mode of governance. He is governing the way he likes and nobody can approach him with a contrary opinion.
Just look at the issue of herdsmen. I have been trying to get across to him to sit down with him, so that he can understand directly what is happening. Because myself, I did not understand the situation until I went into the bush to speak with them man to man.
Then, I understood. If you depend only on what is written in the security reports, if security reports are always correct, no coup will happen. Recently, there was coup in Guinea. Security reports are usually embellished, and he is the man who stays and depends on what he reads.
He does not have people outside the system who speak with him, honestly and directly. Whoever gets close to him knows what he wants to hear and tells him what he wants.
With the agitations all across the country, and insecurity, don’t you think Nigeria may collapse after Buhari?
No, Nigeria will not collapse. Nigeria is so stable. All that is happening is just like a tempest in a cup of tea. Look, there was an election in 2019. The Igbo came out in millions to vote; the North, they have representatives, Senators. Yoruba people came out in their millions to vote and they have representatives, the same in the north. Even this Fulani people you are seeing, when it was election time, they stopped fighting and voted.
So, Nigerian democracy is stable. In fact, no military can even think of any coup like they did in Guinea. It will fail. Military coup will fail because the dynamics is changing.
The Orkar coup did not succeed because you cannot use power. No military man can take power in Nigeria, especially with these herdsmen, Boko Haram, IPOB, no one can take power through the military might. It is impossible.
So, we have no option than to practice democracy. The only thing is that we have to educate our people. I go there to educate these people so that we can have prosperity.
Look at the sit at home by IPOB, who is cheating who? They are cheating themselves. They will lose market. They will lose billions and even now, if people want to do business or any foreign investment, they will not go there. If Sunday Igboho had continued with what he was doing, people would run away, like they are running away from the north.
So, the polity is there and is not going to be breaking anywhere but the problem is each region is cheating its own self. The herdsmen are cheating us in the north. The Boko Haram members are cheating people in Maiduguri. IPOB is cheating the Igbo.
Sunday Igboho is cheating the Yoruba because if you are going nowhere and you can do nothing. Nobody can break Nigeria like that.
How would you access the role of state governors in the war against terror? Are they meeting up with their role as chief security officers?
No, they have not been able to meet up, not at all. They have not met up to the expectations of those that voted them into power. But for me, I am more concerned about their affluence in the ocean of abject poverty. I don’t want to see a governor flying a plane.
He should ride in a car. If he knows what he is doing, talkless of going to Dubai, Britain. You will see them and their children. How can you leave other children at home here and you are celebrating that your child has graduated from UK? Which kind of irresponsibility and insensitivity of governance is that?
What impact do you think, the return of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan have on global insurgency? Is Nigeria at risk?
Nigeria is at risk. Just like Boko Haram surrendering, the return of the Taliban will be like, they will be saying maybe, if we stay a little bit longer. I know the mind of the terrorists.
He is so parochial and stupid. But the coming back of the Taliban this time is different from the first time. They have instituted changes. The modern terrorists groups will find that it is not easy to maintain their hard-line stand. You will have to civilise yourself. You will have to accept diversity. You will have to give people their rights.
They are also coming to the centre gradually and I think it is a good omen because it will reduce sharply, this fanatic lines, dogmatism, about religious issues that are not supposed to be, because religion is easy. Allah will not ask you what you cannot do. So, just do what you can do and leave the rest to God.
Why has the military failed to make huge success, in spite of the serious amount of money spent in the fight in the last 11 years?
I heard almost N6 trillion has been spent so far on security, fighting terrorism. There was a businessman who came to me and said if he is given one trillion naira, in the spate of three months, Nigeria will know there is money in Nigeria. Why? Because I am going to institute low cost houses in Nigeria, to provide houses to the looming population.
One trillion is a big money. What more of six trillion? If that money is spent on education, welfare, health and food, all these agitations will disappear. But where is the money? I heard our g o v e r n o r when he was in t h e o p – position, saying categorically that the money spent by the Jonathan administration in fighting Boko Haram ends up in the pocket of generals, who are building choice houses in Abuja. So, what is the difference today?
Sir, it was said that majority of our revenue in Nigeria is being used to service debts. Where do we go from here?
I read an article somewhere that they were surprised that Nigeria is pursuing policies that are not only archaic, but have been tested and failed in other countries. But our country is pursuing those same economic policies and these policies have not changed. So, this is a government that is zero in terms of the economy.
This government first and second term is zero in terms of the economy. In terms of growing and building the economy, they don’t have the knowhow. Nobody in that government knows how to grow the economy and equitable distribution of wealth.
They have been distributing money like the trader money and N-power but to their cronies. The ordinary Nigerians did not get it. All these money you are giving out, the herdsmen are hearing it but there is nothing about them. All these incentives for farmers, nothing for herdsmen.
All the loans, nothing for them and yet you are sending the military after them. They don’t even have clean drinking water. They drink from the same stream where animals drink. So, it is a combined failure of governance that we are seeing. It did not start with this regime. It has been there all along. I cannot exonerate any government.
The only government that tried to look into the issue of herdsmen was the Ibrahim Babangida regime. We have to be fair to him. His time, if you check, there was no any agitation. Not one person will say he was kidnapped by herdsmen. Kidnapping then was done by city dwellers.
With the poverty in the land, which people say is contributing to the insecurity, what can government do differently?
The economy is the most important part of what is happening today. Even Bill Gates was here in Aso Rock and told them that government spending on human and capital development was so low.
Why are our universities complaining? Why are our doctors running away or these human services are not getting enough money?
This is a government that is building expressways, railways. What they called infrastructure is what is good for Nigeria. I went by road from Ilorin to Ilesha. People are suffering. Railway is good but serves very few.
These roads you see interconnecting villages, the are the most important because farmers can easily go to their farm and take the products back to the city. Only few Nigerians use railway. Many of them are on the highways. Maybe, only one per cent of Nigerians use the airport but these feeder roads are the most important but they are in a terrible situation. I went from Zamfara to Zuru. The road is terrible I went to Kontagora when we were going into the bush. The road is terrible.
With all these journeys you are making, are you not afraid of the insecurity?
Normally, we don’t move in the night and we move in convoy but still we are predisposed to the insecurity but what I tell myself is even if you sit at home, you are liable to be attacked at home.
So, I feel I should travel and see if I can salvage something and my going out has taught me a lot. I have a vision now. If I have the power, just one month, this problem will disappear.
These people kidnapping people, I sent them a word; come, I want to talk to you. They all came and they listened with rapt attention and they said ‘this is our grievances and I said okay my only handicap is for the government to listen and do it.’
So, if I have the power, in one month, they will stop. It is that simple. So it is poor governance that is prolonging this issue. Even this IPOB, if you gather all the Igbo leaders and say let us dialogue, it will be solved.