Clarifies how he established contact with bandits through an intermediary
Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, a controversial Islamic cleric, who is known for his contact with bandits and herdsmen terrorizing the North-West and North-Central parts of Nigeria, in the second part of his interview with Vanguard’s columnist, Donu Kogbara, and a British journalist, Patrick, speaks on the 2023 polls and the main contenders, Fulani herders/locals crisis and the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPoB) secessionist bid in the South-East among other issues in the polity. Excerpts:
Has negotiation ever worked? I mean, if you look at what Daesh has done in Iraq and Syria, there’s nothing about that group that indicates they would negotiate?
ISWAP and IPoB are the only two groups that want to destroy the nation. How do you deal with them? You deal with them through dialogue. When you dialogue with somebody, you understand the complexity of his agitations and what he is looking for. You can use their factions to fight them back. If you can get Boko Haram online and Ansaru online, they can take care of ISWAP. And the IPoB, south-easterners who are ready to remain in Nigeria are negligible.
What do you think is the standing of groups like ISWAP, Boko Haram and Ansaru among the generality of the people of the North because northerners seem to have suffered more from their attacks than anything else?
Oh yes, definitely. They don’t have any ground in the North. They don’t have — they can only live in the forest. But you don’t hear them in malls preaching or in — nobody accepts them, nobody accepts their ideology, nobody.
Former Emir Sanusi of Kano criticized the ideology of Boko Haram, ISWAP and so on. He said the problem was that a lot of mainstream Islamic teachers are unwilling to condemn these groups because of the pushback from local people. Is that true?
No, I think it is a perception. The local people are far away from accepting this ideology.
Are they afraid of that?
No, if they captured a village or something like that, people just have to succumb to them. But like, for instance, in the Kaduna area, nobody is following them. In Kano and Sokoto, nobody is following them. The general population is not following them. They tax their local people. So, in some sense, those local people have to respect those groups as the authority… But they don’t follow their ideology.
If this goes on, you’re in a bit of a situation where the constitutional authority, state governments and police forces will become irrelevant…
No, they can’t get more control. It is like a burning candle. Yes, they are strong now, but there are mistakes the government is making. We hope if we have a government that listens, it will take proactive methods to pipe it down.
For instance, Ansaru is ready for peace. They are ready to sit down, but they want a genuine partner in this talk. In the end, they may require us to give them a place where they can do their religious practices, whilst they are not armed. I don’t see any problem with that.
We have the Zakzaky movement. When it started, they were saying it was Boko Haram. You take these people out of their ignorance. Killing will not solve the problem.
So, could you explain how these groups came to approach you?
They didn’t contact me. They contacted my media expert. As I was going into the forest, I was talking with herdsmen. You have to differentiate them from herdsmen. The herdsmen insurgency is different from Ansaru who just came in recently.
What is the difference between the two?
Herdsmen are the indigenous people in the forest. They’re fighting back against vigilantes that have been killing them and preventing them from going to the market. Unfortunately, the government took sides. Instead of the government being in the middle, it is supporting the vigilantes. The government was arming vigilantes against the herdsmen. That is why they have become armed and wild.
They control the forest, but Ansaru is a different element that came into the vicinity. They have a symbiotic relationship with herdsmen. We don’t want the herdsmen to adopt their ideology. They contacted my media expert because he portrays facts about the crisis without putting political or religious sentiments.
When did these herdsmen become a problem?
It actually started in 2010. That was when their cattle were rustled. They were displaced from their land and the military came to kill a lot of them in the name of fighting cattle rustling. This is the genesis. And the volunteers started killing them too. They are the victims of cattle rustling and they ended up being killed. That is why they took arms. This is an insurgency.
They are taking arms to fight back. I have been there. I have talked to them. I have sat down with them. I have seen them. If they get a partner who would encourage them to drop their arms, they will do that.
They want a government that will build schools, and hospitals and take their children to schools. I built a school in the forest. And as of now, I’m taking care of about 600 women, children and men.
Why can’t the state do that? So, why did cattle rustling start there? Somebody wants to destabilize the region. They want to deprive the herdsmen. Their cattle were rustled, their land was confiscated and they revolted. This is just a revolt.
Who wanted to destabilize the region?
Many people are pointing fingers, I will not mention names. There are foreign interests. People are interested. You know, there are a lot of solid minerals in this area and some people want to destabilize the area so that they can capitalize on it. Even foreigners are involved.
How many foreigners were caught in the bush? Fulani in Mali have herds of cattle. They would come here to kill. He has his land and his cattle. What is he coming to Nigeria to do?
In fact, it is the opposite. Many Nigerian Fulani has gone to Niger. Some have gone to Cameroon. They are dispersed because of the tension now. They are leaving Nigeria and going to other countries to hide with their cattle.
Do you feel Fulani people in Nigeria are getting a reputation for being blamed for the instability?
There are two types of Fulani. There are Fulani that is herdsmen. Traditionally, they inherited cattle. They will tell you “these cattle we inherited about five generations ago”. They have refused to educate themselves. They only have cattle as their capital. And there are Fulani all over the town. In fact, I don’t think there’s any tribe that has intermarried with other tribes than the Fulani. If you go to the East, you will see a Fulani-speaking Igbo. I have seen a Fulani who speaks Igbo. I have seen a Fulani who was speaking Yoruba.
I have seen a Fulani who was speaking other languages. And in the Hausa area, a lot of these people you see are Fulani. That is why they coined the word Hausa/Fulani. After all, there are Fulani that turned into Hausa. And these herdsmen are fighting anybody, whether you are Fulani or not. Once you are a town dweller, you are part of the government. You are part of the people that are cheating them. They will fight you.