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Sheikh Gumi’s misplaced sympathy

The Nation logo The Nation 14/02/2021 Alao Abiodun

By Paul Ade-Adeleye

When celebrated Nigerian writer, satirist and literatus, Femi Osofisan, wrote and published his play, ‘Once upon Four Robbers’, he was effectively branded the devil’s advocate. Far from being criticised, he was, in fact, praised for offering a psychoanalytical insight into what was one of the more important but remote causes of armed robbery, a contemporary social scourge of Nigeria in the 70s, — social injustice. Although he was not a pioneer of criminology, he helped to popularise it through literature, a more accessible academic leisure than law. Analysts and scholars have since tried to imitate similar prudence in understanding the facts of crime and its occurrences in Nigeria before arriving at conclusions. The danger of such an approach is that the prospective analyst may become unwittingly endeared to the plight of the outlaws, the so-called Stockholm Syndrome. So what is to be made of Sheikh Abubakar Mahmoud Gumi’s recent visit to bandits, and his self-professed friend, Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna’s merciless stance on the bandits?

Sheikh Gumi, after an extensive chat with the bandits, deduced that poverty and insecurity pushed the bandits into crime. In a word, he seemed to say, they are poor and shy men, victims of circumstance and fellows who would thrive under agreeable living standards. His bandit apology in part: “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… 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. They are not buying skyscrapers or riding Mercedes; they are still in the bush… You have to understand the psychology of these people. They are not like our governors that are stealing money… For them, cow is better than money. 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.”

But Governor el-Rufai and indeed most Nigerians with the exception of, perhaps, Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, are in strong disagreement. They believe that having tasted blood and the ill-gotten proceeds from crime, there is no turning back. It is difficult to fault that position, despite its unlikely champion, a governor who is often under the radar of human rights activists for suspected transgressions against their rulebook. No one supports impoverishment as a valid reason for turning to crime. The bandits have tasted blood; it is doubtful whether they will now stop. They are not gentlemen of the highway; they are outlaws and scoundrels of the forests – uncouth, bloodthirsty and merciless. Even if they were offered amnesty and decided to surrender their assault rifles, they would soon heed the call of the wild, an overpowering and importunate call. Governor el-Rufai, despite his poor records on security in Kaduna State, was right to observe that these men were godless and knew no religion. It is difficult to even fault the argument that the bandits lack one of the most basic components of modern social coexistence — conscience. Contrary to Gumi’s claims, no one would want a decline in fortune or income, regardless of whether that fortune was channelled into living luxuriously or procuring weapons. The bandits and kidnappers have been making outrageous sums of money, numbering millions per victim. If the bandits really wanted to live better lives, the N200m they had coerced from the Local Governments of Zamfara alone and other such blood wealth would have been used to improve their infrastructure.

Only the aggrieved can fully tell what damage the bandits have wrought on their lives. Advocating compensation for bandits was a stretch too much from the cleric, whose intentions are assumed to be pure and in the interest of peace. The desire for peace, however, must neither erode nor subvert moral and legal justice. Justice may not always manifest itself in the form of vengeance, but it must always prevail. After all, in matters of truth and justice, there is no difference between large and small problems, for issues concerning the treatment of people are all the same. Those who have suffered should not be forced to behold in horror as their oppressors are compensated while they end up with nothing; not even the short end of the stick. It would be as sorry and unforgiveable a day as it was when one bright mind in the presidency decided that the only thing to do with captured Boko Haram insurgents was to rehabilitate them, garb them in white clothes to signify purity, and reintroduce them into the society of those they had hitherto oppressed.

The cleric seems to find wisdom in Nigeria cowering to the bandits, but cowards die many times before their deaths. Why should the Nigerian army be scared of the herdsmen simply because they have procured anti-aircraft missiles? Has the cleric been invited to appraise the extent of the Nigerian army’s arsenal? If the army is currently underperforming, then fingers should be pointed at the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, who should have made it his life’s mission, as mandated by Sections 217(2) and 218 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic, to provide everything necessary for successful defence of territorial integrity and suppression of insurrections.  But, as Shakespeare would have itched to note, Sheikh Gumi’s bandit apology and the Minister for Information’s excited agreement with the amnesty bid are blameworthy “in this – tis too much proved – that with devotion’s visage and pious action, they have sugared o’er the devil himself.”

Osinbajo on justice, community police and unity

After revalidating, alongside many others, his membership with the All Progressives Congress (APC), as controversially mandated by party leaders, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo made the tough call of airing his opinion on certain national matters. For years, Nigerians have speculated that he was firmly pinioned and silenced by powerful, shadowy forces operating within the presidency. Many other bewildered Nigerians, ignorant of current affairs and the constitutional limitations of the office of the Vice President, have described him as plain evil. It was therefore a show of courage for him to publicly admit that it was justice for those arrested for banditry and kidnapping to be prosecuted where the federal government’s current idea of justice is amnesty by rehabilitating and reintegrating terrorists.

He spiced that up by adding the need to strengthen, retrain and speed up community policing structure, which should complement the Nigeria Police Force. Although he is fundamentally right, he may want to consider the push for state policing. The federal police have outlived their time and are regarded by Nigerians as an ailing dotard in need of a total overhaul.

His call for unity was, however, timely. Nigeria will function better as a single, united entity, but not with the current unfair political structure. Minority tribes, for instance, bemoan unequal distribution of national wealth. The clamour for restructuring by Nigerians is not misplaced, and until that call is respected and heeded, ethnic, economic and social tensions will continue to upturn the country’s applecart of peace, stability, growth and development.

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