Influential Islamic cleric, Sheik Abubakar Gumi, has disclosed that bandits operating in the northern states forests are planning to acquire anti-aircraft missiles to repeal attacks by the military.
Gumi, who recently went into forests in Zamfara State, to discuss with the bandits who have killed and rendered many people homeless, said his interaction with the bandits showed that they engage in kidnapping and collection of ransom for the purpose of raising money to buy weapons.
Northern states, have for long been under the siege of bandits who carry out relentless attacks on villagers, killing and maiming people, setting houses ablaze, and displacing villagers.
Only on February 6, bandits reportedly killed 18 persons in an evening attack on the Birnin Gwari community of Kaduna State.
Gumi on his return from the forest called on government to grant amnesty to the bandits so they could drop their weapons.
While with the bandits, he said he was made to understand that the bandits took to crime to revenge the killing of their families by cattle rustlers and the military through airstrikes.
The cleric said this in an exclusive interview with Saturday PUNCH.
While explaining that the bandits were victims seeking justice, Gumi warned that it was important for government to meet with them urgently before they become religiously radicalised and uncontrollable like the Boko Haram insurgents.
The cleric said, “These people were the first victims of cattle rustling, who lost all their cattle to rustlers because then, the rustlers were having the guns. Then when they lost their cattle, they joined (the rustlers) and they started to kidnap people.
“In fact, most of the kidnappings, they (the bandits) are doing it to acquire weapons. They are now trying to buy missiles, anti-aircraft missiles. This is already developing into a full-blown insurgency and we should stop that. And what we are afraid of is that if they become religiously radicalised, it will give rise to another dimension, and it will be very difficult to control. You see what Boko Haram has become.”
Gumi ruled out the possibility that the bandits were being sponsored by politicians or have foreign collaborators.
According to him, the bandits’ sophisticated weapons were acquired with proceeds of kidnapping and not given to them by politicians or foreign collaborators.
He said, “Like I said, they are collecting ransoms to buy weapons. Look at the herdsmen in Oyo and south eastern states. They are not buying skyscrapers or riding Mercedes; they are still in the bush. They don’t want money. They want their cows, not money. They are doing that (kidnapping) to raise money just to buy weapons to repel helicopters and airplanes and to attack anybody that is going to attack them. You have to understand the psychology of these people. They are not like our governors that are stealing money. They don’t want money. For them, cow is better than money.”
However, Gumi said he realised that the bandits have collaborators in the armed forces.
He said, “They have collaborators everywhere – in the armed forces, everywhere. One of them said, ‘Even this cattle rustling, we don’t have trailers to transport cattle to where they are slaughtered. We don’t have an abattoir.’ So, there are people who are (collaborating with them). Even the kidnapping of the people, they said, ‘We don’t know these people; it is the people in town that will tell us a certain person has money.’”
The cleric warned that if the government failed to act fast, banditry, which, for now, is largely limited to the North, would also spread to the South.
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Gumi maintained that the best approach to solve the banditry problem was through dialogue and granting amnesty to the bandits rather than using military might.
He said, “These people (bandits) know how to organise themselves and protect themselves and they have started attacking villages all around. Once you touch one of them, the whole of them will come together to attack a village. They mobilise themselves through the bush. So, it is not good to attack them, honestly speaking. The Hausa are suffering and they have therefore stopped attacking the Fulani herdsmen. So, we should not attack them. We should just pacify them and they are a very shy people. If you meet them, they are very shy.”
The cleric called on the government to urgently engage the bandits in a dialogue, grant them amnesty and re-integrate them into society by building schools, hospitals and other amenities for them.
He added, “When you offer them amnesty, they drop their weapons. Then you go in, build schools for them, build hospitals for them, get them censored; get them registered; then you can control (them).
“You can’t have access to them through the gun. Honestly, they know the terrain in the bush more than our military. So, it is better to negotiate with them.”
But Gumi’s call has been widely rejected and criticised across the country.
Among those who rejected the cleric’s amnesty proposal for the bandits were Kaduna State Governor, Malam Nasir El-Rufai, and his Niger State counterpart, Sanni Bello.
El-Rufai, in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation, Hausa service, said the bandits were used to getting big money and would find it difficult to repent.
The Kaduna governor said his administration had no room for negotiations, adding that any bandit arrested in the state would be killed.
El-Rufai said, “My administration is at war with the bandits and so we cannot negotiate. Eliminating them is the only solution to banditry.
“I never believed that a Fulani herdsman who ventured into banditry and is collecting millions of naira as ransom will repent. I spoke to Dr Gumi, who is my friend. I explained that majority of these bandits don’t believe in the religion. That is why they kill mercilessly.
“Anybody who thinks a Fulani herdsman that was used to only getting N100,000 in a year after selling a cow, but now is getting millions through kidnapping for ransom will stop, is only wasting his time.”
On his part, Bello, who spoke through his Commissioner for Information, Sani Idris, in an interview The PUNCH, said, “We don’t believe in what Gumi is doing; it is not the solution to the insecurity problem in this zone. We are in full support of what the Kaduna State Government said and that is also our stand on the issue.”
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