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Gumi and the case for bandits ~ by Olusegun Adeniyi

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As I have often argued on this page, the connecting thread for the variants of violence we are witnessing across Nigeria is the loss of what Max Weber described as “the legitimate use of physical force” to criminal cartels.

And until we muster the capacity to effectively confront those who trouble the peace of our country, we will continue to be at their mercy. My main concern for today, however, is the policy of appeasement of criminals which otherwise respected stakeholders recommend as a solution to our national security challenge.

Rather than confront criminals, the federal government is being advised to seek ‘dialogue’ – after which we then ‘settle’ them with public money. It started with Boko Haram which was conflated with the ethno-religious politics of the time.

The author, Olusegun Adeniyi
The author, Olusegun Adeniyi

We of course can see where that has brought our country. Now the same mistake is being made regarding bandits who target schools for easy prey.

The chief promoter of this idea is no other than respected Islamic cleric, Sheik Abubakar Gumi, who has made himself the emissary for Nigerian bandits he romanticizes almost as if they are members of the International Red Cross.

I am of course aware that there are those who cite the example of the Niger Delta amnesty deal to rationalize why insurgents, bandits and other criminal cartels holding the country by the jugular should be “taken care of”. Such thinking is not only misplaced, it is also dangerous and very soon, I am going to explain why. But back to Gumi.

In his interview with PUNCH newspaper last weekend, the cleric said the bandits in whose custody the kidnapped pupils of Tegina Islamic School in Niger State have been for several weeks, are insisting on collecting N150 million before releasing their victims.

“But we are trying to talk sense to them that these are just innocent schoolchildren. We are just saying these are young children trying to study and they did nothing, so why are you trying to take dirty money from their families?” said Gumi.

He added: “This (kidnap of Islamic pupils) actually proves to the nation that the bandits are not really indoctrinated, they are just looking for money and I think that this is a good prognosis.

“They are not targeting a religion; they are not ideologues, which are difficult to deal with. We should not forget that they are not educated, formally or informally. They are just going about with cattle, and suddenly they found a lucrative way of finding money.”

A combination of porous borders, weak signal and technical intelligence, lack of proper data regarding who exactly is a Nigerian and the influx of illicit drugs such as Tramadol have given rise to opportunistic criminals.

But the suggestion that anybody can appeal to the conscience of criminals is ludicrous. More offensive is Gumi’s insistence that these killers are harmless.

“With good engagement, education and enticements like jobs and other things, they will leave this work. But we need a partner and we need the government to understand. Individuals like me alone cannot do it”, Gumi rhapsodized.

He added: “All those we met (have stopped kidnapping), except for one of them who is kidnapping again, and he told us his reason, that he was neglected and he thought we had the mandate to negotiate.

“But when he realised that we did not have the mandate from anybody, he said he was going back to his business. So, the earlier we go into engaging them, the better. The ones who have agreed to lay down arms, you can engineer them to take care of the rest.”

If every unemployed person decides to take up arms to kidnap, kill, maim or rape innocent citizens, then our country would be in a far worse situation than Somalia. Yet, Gumi sounds ominous in his reading of the situation vis-à-vis the capacity of the Nigerian state.

“To secure schools, why not engage the bandits? Engage them; they are not many. You can count them with your fingers. How can you guard schools? It is not possible,” said Gumi who seems to know so much about these bandits, including that they are not more than 100,000—as if that is not big enough.

“That is talking about those with weapons; because not all of them have weapons. Ninety per cent of those who have weapons use them to protect themselves against cattle rustlers.

“They are victims too. Aerial bombardments will only worsen the situation because when you start killing their children, you remember they also have our children,” he stressed.

Before I conclude, let me refresh Gumi’s memory. In September 2019, Governor Aminu Bello Masari, along with other top government officials, security operatives, traditional rulers and Miyetti Allah, held sessions with representatives of the bandits terrorising Katsina State.

He told the head of the criminals, who openly brandished an AK47 assault rifle: “We were advised by the President to talk to you.”

A permanent secretary in the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Dr Amina Shamaki would later put official imprimatur to this approach of resolving security problem.

“The application of the carrot-and-stick approach is an effective strategy that enables criminals willing to embrace peace to do so while repentant ones are identified and isolated for appropriate actions by security agencies,” she said.

In case Gumi does not know, all the efforts failed, despite the the resources committed to the idea.

Governor Masari’s lamentation last June, which I recommend to Gumi and the federal government, reveals why a peace deal with bandits can never work.

“We entered into various phases of dialogue with the bandits on the prompting of the security agencies. By the time we completed, we reached an agreement on so many solutions.

“Even if we were not able to meet their demands 100 per cent, we were able to meet up with between 70 and 80 per cent”, the governor confessed.

The implication is that these bandits have already been given a lot of money without any attempt to mend their ways.

“In the forest, a lion or a tiger kills only when it is hungry and it doesn’t kill all the animals, it only kills the one it can eat at a time. But what we see here is that the bandits come to town, spray bullets, kill indiscriminately for no purpose and no reasons.

“How can a human being behave the way that an animal cannot even behave? That is why I say that they are worse than the animals in the forest. For me, there are no longer innocent persons in the forests,” said Masari.

These are the people the federal government is being encouraged to ‘engage’, simply because the Nigerian State has become too weak to enforce law and order.

The bandits on whose behalf Gumi is negotiating are violent men who have turned women to widows, children to orphans and displaced hundreds of thousands of our people from their communities.

Yet, with this idea that they be appeased, we are unwittingly adopting a criminal code in which individuals can terrorize without consequence and be rewarded for visiting their violence on innocent citizens.

All factors considered, asking authorities to negotiate with bandits on grounds that they are jobless, as Gumi is campaigning, can only lead the nation to the abyss of a Hobbesian jungle. Sadly, there are those who will argue that we are already there!

• You can follow me on my Twitter handle, @Olusegunverdict and on www.olusegunadeniyi.com

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