By Comfort Obi
I was not going to pay any attention to Sheikh Abubakar Gumi until he began his missionary journeys to forests. In our unfortunate state of insecurity, he has become the most important person in our lives; the man who gorges, dissects, and relays to us, the thoughts of our tormentors, and why they are justified to torment us.
Gumi is not like one of your run-off-the-mill Clerics. He is not just a Muslim Cleric, he is an Islamic Scholar.
In Nigeria, there are hundreds of thousands of people, men and women who say they are Clerics. They are of both Religions – Christianity and Islamic Religions. They dot everywhere, just as Worship places do. They carry the Holy books – the Bible and the Koran around. They preach. They proclaim God’s name. And do all kinds of things in His name. With their numbers, and the number of Worship places, one just wonders why we are the way we are. Why our country seem so God-forsaken – filled with many bad, cunning, lying, evil-filled, and devil-driven people.
But there are Clerics I pay attention to. Extremely few. When they speak, they speak to my heart and soul.The other multitude? I am so used to theur antics that I just laugh when I read them. Or hear them talk. I dismiss them as court jesters, magicians, businessmen, smart alecs, and more.
Gumi read Medicine. Until I found out, I thought he was one of those Nigerians who prefix their names with Dr., without earning it.
As you know, Nigerians like titles. Give a Nigerian an honorary Doctorate degree, and that’s it. It automatically becomes his/her prized title. It doesn’t matter how illiterate one is.
But not Gumi. He is a medical doctor. Had a stint in the Military, but threw all that away, and decided to be an Islamic scholar. The pull and conviction must have been very strong.
I picked interest in him the first time he offered himself the dangerous job of entering forests occupied by bandits to talk with them.
You know what the bandits do. You know who they are. They are dangerous. They are killers. Murderers. They carry dangerous guns around – AK 47s. They live in the forests. From there, like Boko Haram insurgents, ( What’s the difference between them by the way?), they raid communities. They make the roads dangerous. They have gradually, graduated to kidnapping people here and there. And have since raised the bar. They now raid schools, and abduct students in their hundreds. They make plenty of money from ransoms paid. Tell the marines the story that the Government pays not a Kobo to them to secure the release of our students. If not for money, why do they do it? It is a risky venture.
Unlike Boko Haram, however, they have not told us that Education is “haram.” That education is an abomination, a sin. But, they have done their best to scare away our children from school. From Katsina, Yobe, Kaduna, Sokoto, Taraba, Niger to Zamfara, they reign supreme. In the past three months, they have raised the bar, and abducted students in their hundreds in Katsina, Niger and Zamfara. They have killed dozens of people.
They are a combination of everything evil.
So, you wonder why a medical doctor- turned- soldier-turned Islamic Scholar would sacrifice all, including his safety to roam the forests, looking, for bandits.
The forests are no fun. I have not been to any in all my adult life. But in my early years in life, I entered a couple of them. My father was a Headmaster when teachers were very respected and adored by the Communities where they were posted. In one of those communities where we lived, Okwu, Orodo, in the now Mbaitoli Ikeduru LGA, I used to follow the girls who lived with us, in company with the natives, to my mother’s disapproval, in the night, to look for, and pick snails, local lamps in hand. We lived with three girls then, and between us, we usually came back with over 200 snails. The natives don’t eat the cream-shelled snails. “Mbele”, they call it. For them, it is a taboo. So, all those, they gave to us.
I remember how terrifying those forests were. Once, we saw a python which had swallowed a stray goat, and couldn’t move. Three people ran back to get big boys who killed the python, and took it as their trophy. It marked my last night for snail-hunting.
Now, the Orodo forests are a child’s play compared to the forests Sheikh Gumi goes to “in search” of bandits. It is not a pleasure trip. It is dangerous. Large snakes. Wild animals. Harsh weather. Unfriendly (?) company.
So, why does the Sheikh leave his comfort zone for such discomfort?
Why does he make this sacrifice? And free of charge. No strings attached.
The good Sheikh says he is doing it for the love of country. He says he wants to save lives. He is a peace maker When he goes to the forests, a good Muslim, he carries the Holy Koran as his banner, and badge of honour. With that, he tells the bandits to forgo their wayward lives, and embrace peace. Hmmmm.
The first time Gumi embarked on his peace mission, I admired him no end. This man is refreshing, I said. He is not just talking from the comfort of his home, or Mosque, he is in the war front. Fearless.
He is spreading love and peace. And I invoked a Bible passage upon him.”Blessed are the peace makers for they shall be called the children of God,” – Matthew Chapter 5, verse 9.
But, now, I don’t know. It is not that I am revoking the peace of God I had invoked upon the Sheikh. No, it is just a couple of things about him no longer seem right to me. It does not add up.
I have caught myself, a number of times, asking no one in particular, if the Sheikh is the peace maker he says he is. I have also been wondering what his actual mission is.
The Sheikh has become talkative. And some of the things he has said do not recommend him as a peacemaker.
He says bandits are no criminals. He says we should not call them criminals. He says calling them criminals aggravates them. He blames Journalists for that, and dared call Journalists criminals for not glamorourising those who abduct innocent citizens, including women and children. He called Journalists criminals for not painting abductors, and murderers and rapists in flattering colours; for calling a spade by no other name but a spade. He said we should embrace bandits with love, and plant kisses on them for abducting our children in boarding schools, for making our roads dangerous, for killing us, and for raping women. Everything considered, Gumi says it is better for the bandits to abduct students than raid villages and kill everybody. Perhaps, but as long as the students are safe. In Kagara, they killed a student in the school compound.
Sheikh Gumi calls for a general amnesty for them. He says they should be provided with accommodation, and given monetary gifts, and jobs. He dared equate them with Niger Delta militants, and other “freedom fighters”, whatever that is.
The good Sheikh says bandits have their grievances. That we have hurt them too. That they had been killed as well. That when they come out from the forests they are killed. He wants our security personnel to shake hands with, and pat on the back, AK 47 totting bandits. Just make them happy, he admonishes. Great.
I don’t know about you, but Gumi makes no sense to me here. What I understand is that he is encouraging them. What I understand is that in the name of making peace, he is worsening the situation. The questions to ask are:
Is this Sheikh with us or against us? Is he not knocking the heads of Christians and Muslims together? Is he not exposing our soldiers to danger?
In a leaked video, Gumi was heard telling the bandits that they were being targeted and killed by Christian soldiers. He has, till now, not denied it. He has not dismissed the video as fake. But thinking about it, we missed the real Gumi from the beginning. We were so eager for peace that it never occurred to us to wonder why it is so easy for him to locate the bandits, all the time, when it has been difficult for Federal Troops to locate them. It is simple. Gumi knows them. He has their contacts. And discusses with them from time to time.
With the benefit of hindsight, peacemaking does not sit properly on Sheikh Gumi. There are pointers to that.
In 2004, Gumi infamously said he was after “beer drinkers.” He said they should be killed. For a number of times, around the same time, his preaching in Mosques were very fiery and inciting, and divisive.
A leopard never changes its spots, we are told.
With his recent pronouncements Gumi has not changed. Unfortunately, Nigerians forget easily. Otherwise, how could we have been sold so easily on Gumi’s mission, on his relationship with bandits? How come we took no look at his past utterances?
But that is us all over. That is why, Yahaya Bello, Governor of Kogi State, a man who publicly says there is nothing like COVID-19, who calls it fraudulent, who says it is a conduit pipe for corruption, and discourages his people from taking the vaccine, is seriously considering running for the office of the President in 2023. What will he tell world leaders about COVID-19 at a Round table? That is why Pastors who are divorced from their wives, over scandalous incidents, would look us in the face, and tell us about the sanctity of marriage. That is why Apostle Suleiman, would tell his congregation, many of them, impoverished, that he purchased his THIRD private jet during the pandemic lockdown when people were begging for palliatives.
That is why anybody would look us in the face and, actually, tell us that insecurity was worse years back than now. That is why anybody would say that in 2015, 18 Local Government Areas in Borno State were under Boko Haram, with their flags, hoisted. So, you wonder how the APC won elections in all the LGAs – Presidency, National Assembly, Governorship and State Assembly.
I don’t have anything against the immediate past Service Chiefs. I believe they put in their best. But our attitude is why the Senate would confirm them as Ambassadors, after the same Senate had, on at least two occasions, dismissed them as incompetent, and asked Mr President to fire them as Service Chiefs.
It is why those who supported Boko Haram, encouraged them, and called Military action against them ethnic cleansing, now tell us something else.
But back to Gumi. He really now takes himself, sees himself, as the bridge between the Government and the bandits. He has become an authority on bandits. Government officials listen to him. He negotiates between the Government and the bandits.
But here’s the problem.
The more he negotiates with them, the more people they abduct. They release and abduct.He has reasons for that. “They are not the group I met and discussed with”, he retorts.
How many groups are they?
This charade has become one huge profitable business, a money spinner.
But perhaps, it is because the Sheikh has not been officially appointed as Nigeria’s Ambassador to Bandits in the Forest. Or a Special Adviser on Banditry. He would command more respect, from them, with an official appointment letter in hand.
So, when will Sheikh (Dr) Abubakar Gumi get his appointment letter as Nigeria’s official Negotiator with bandits?
What a country!
Obi is the Editor-in-Chief/CEO of The Source (Magazine)