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The Sheikh Gumi terrorism paradox

The Sheikh Gumi terrorism paradox

By Adekunle Ade-Adeleye

Both Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore spokesman, Saleh Hassan, and popular Islamic scholar, Ahmad Gumi, are on the same page in their interpretation of the breakdown of law and order in the North. They suggest that dispossessed and alienated Fulani nomads are only responding violently, through banditry, to the pressures put on them by other ethnic groups standing in the way of their livestock business, either by robbing them directly and rustling their cattle, or restricting, constricting or even erasing grazing routes. In summary, they argue, the Fulani herdsmen are engaged in brutal and unrelenting existential fight for survival.

It is not surprising that the banditry crisis in the Northwest has become intractable. Sheikh Gumi and Miyetti Allah see banditry interchangeably with Fulani nationalism. That this presents a moral and political quandary to the rest of the country hardly bothers sympathizers of the bandits. A few weeks ago, Zamfara State governor Bello Muhammad, the Matawallen Maradun, explained that the bloodletting in his state and the Northwest as a whole was a manifestation of the bitter struggle between Hausa vigilantes and aggrieved Fulani herdsmen. For a long time, key northern leaders, including traditional rulers, had taken umbrage at what they complained was the stigmatization of the Fulani, insisting that crime was crime, a vice that knows no ethnic or religious colouration. Eventually, however, bandits have colonized kidnapping, and vigilantes have done their best to resist them, leading to a bloody stalemate.

But more and more, and despite his protestation, Sheikh Gumi is being accused of sympathising with the bandits. He has tried to reason with them in their redoubts, for in his opinion, reasoning with the bandits, sympathizing with their grievances, assuring them of their safety and security, and rehabilitating them would bring a cessation to banditry. The Kaduna State governor, in whose state banditry has become pronounced in the past few weeks, does not think so. They should be crushed and exterminated, said Governor Nasir el-Rufai defiantly; and negotiators and ransom payers would be prosecuted, he added.

Hear Sheikh Gumi: “They [bandits] are Nigerians. I hate to call them bandits. They are militants fighting for ethnic survival. They want to defend themselves. If there is peace, you will not see such things as banditry, kidnapping, among others. If you are talking about victims, they have more victims on their side than others. To them, they are fighting a war of existence. If you have seen them (herdsmen), you will discover they have nothing like civilization other than the guns they are carrying. We are trying to talk to them to drop their guns. There are peace processes ongoing, and they are ready to put down their arms. They are not killing people; they are just engaged in ethnic revenge. The Fulani herdsmen are victims of military excesses. The armed herdsmen are kidnapping to make money.”

The cleric’s tone can hardly be considered less sympathetic to the bandits’ cause, and he goes on to list a number of concessions that would enthrone peace in the disputed region. But is his tone defensible? The bandits ask for guarantees that are difficult to procure and dispense. How the Sheikh does not appreciate this difficulty is hard to explain. He puts the concessions wanted by the bandits succinctly: “I’ve spoken with them face-to-face and they’re ready to lay down their arms if their conditions are fulfilled, and I find all conditions they gave as justifiable. They don’t want to be lynched when they come into our markets, or be profiled just for riding a new motorcycle. These are complaints so basic. They want amenities, schools, hospitals. I hope Nigerians will come together so that we have everlasting peace.” Ignore the hyperbole about everlasting peace; however, it should jar the nerves of the Sheikh that a group could levy war against the state simply to win such ‘basic’ concessions. Nevertheless, it is true that a terrible and bloody dichotomy has been established between Fulani and Hausa, and between bandits and vigilantes.

Sheikh Gumi ends his thesis by arguing that the Fulani are so integrated with their host communities that they can no longer be displaced. Perhaps. But does that justify the attacks on, and sacking and renaming, of scores of host communities? According to the Sheikh, “What I see is that Nigeria can never displace the Fulani. I was in a meeting yesterday and one Fulani man was speaking Yoruba fluently even more than the Yoruba; there is also a Fulani man speaking Igbo. What I mean is that the Fulani are everywhere. Igbo are everywhere also, even in Kaduna … Nigeria is destined to be together; we must accommodate each other. We must realize that all these ethnic tags cannot work in Nigeria anymore, not even religious tags. In Niger Delta, there are Muslims, there are Muslims who are Igbo too, and there are Christian Fulani and Christian Hausa. It’s either we as Nigerians sit down together and iron things out or we go astray and come back to do what should have been done in the first place.”

Clearly, the inability of the government to mediate the conflicts between its people has led to a lot of excesses, to the point that divisions have become hardened, and ethnicity transmogrified in an ecosystem of bloodshed, hegemonic struggles, land expropriation, and political and cultural insularity. In proffering solutions to the unending banditry and terrorism ravaging the country, Sheikh Gumi could hardly disguise his preferences and prejudices. The problem is squarely that of state failure, the kind of failure that incapacitates institutions, undermines rule of law, promotes weak leaders, and endangers the polity. The Sheikh’s negotiation skills are overrated, and it is important that the country sidestep him and the paralysis that stultifies the government of many Northwest zone governors, particularly, Kaduna governor el-Rufai, in order to find the right mix of panaceas to restore Nigeria.

Two major policy responses by Nigerian government officials during the past fortnight put the lie to administration aides’ insistence that the president is in control. The responses were subtle, seemed even innocuous in intention, but they showed the effrontery of officials in taking decisions without recourse to the cabinet, the president or senior administration officials. In his angry reaction to Edo State governor Godwin Obaseki’s warning that printing N60bn to support the government’s runaway expenditure was ill-advised, Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria Godwin Emefiele shot back that he would be calling in the budget support facility of $2.1bn lent to the states in 2018. He could not have got clearance from either the president or the cabinet to issue that threat, for that decision was capable of heating the polity in ways not easily quantifiable.

Then there was Communications minister Ali Pantami’s sudden volte-face over SIM card registration which he had initially placed embargo on without calculating the impact on the economy. His abrupt response was sequel to the flak he was receiving over his alleged religious fanaticism and controversial past believed to have coloured or even tainted his job as a public officer. Almost instantaneously, he also lifted the embargo on SIM card registration, after of course accusing the telecoms sector of using his controversial past to blackmail him. If the administration was privy to the initial ban, it is unlikely that it was also privy to the lifting of the embargo, given the manner and swiftness of the reversal. These examples are undoubtedly nuanced, but they demonstrate that no one is in charge of the country, and powerful and well-connected public officers do as they please.


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