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Sheikh Gumi, banditry and governance failure

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Sheikh Ahmad Gumi

If anyone seeks a compelling indication of a failure of governance in this polity, it is the recent personal intervention of Sheikh Ahmad Gumi in pursuit of peace between bandits and herdsmen in the Tubali and Makkai forests of Zamfara State.

The curious gesture has exposed the laxity of Nigeria’s elected, and duly constituted federal and state governments. It is a sad and shameful metaphor of governance failure.

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To the extent that Sheikh Gumi went into and returned safely from the forests enclave of bandits and herdsmen who terrorise Zamfara State and neighbouring territories, his “risky adventure” may be termed a “success”. At another level, he held what is, in popular political expression, “fruitful discussions” that reveal first, why the bandits kill and maim, rob and rape, loot and burn; and second what the Nigerian State must do to deliver itself from these heinous acts of criminality.

But by his perception and suggestions, Gumi could not have done a better image laundering job for the lawless group. The bandits, according to Gumi, are aggrieved Fulani who has lost all their possessions as a result of cattle rustling and extortion by some security agents. So, in Gumi’s considered opinion, the murdering, burning, raping, and kidnapping bunch have “legitimate concern and grievances” for which he wants them to be respected as, ‘insurgents’, not be denigrated as ‘bandits’. And what is to be done? The Federal Government should “immediately” accord them the treatment of the Niger Delta militants who “were integrated by the Federal Government and are even in the business of pipeline protection”. The forest-dwelling bandits, opined by the Islamic cleric, should be provided with “reasonable means of livelihood including jobs, working capital, entrepreneurship training …clinics and school”. The Sheikh suggests that the fund to integrate the bandits can be drawn from state security budgets, and used judiciously to address the demands of the armed Fulani. He promised to convey these concerns, and assumedly his proposal, to President Muhammadu Buhari.

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It would be uncharitable not to acknowledge the efforts of a well-meaning citizen to bring peace to his crisis-prone country and at personal risk to boot. Gumi carried out a patriotic duty, to intervene in a worsening security problem. However, his visit to a band of people who stand obviously accused of a long list of destructive activities with the intention to reconcile them with constituted authority and integrate them into society throws up some worrisome issues.

Bandits, by whatever names called, are criminals with no noble motivating cause but to rob, kill, and destroy for purely material benefits. They are outlaws who live by plunder. Insurgents, obnoxious as their strategy of terror and violence may be, are driven by some fundamental, well thought-through and clearly articulated convictions to revolt against civil authority. But by their motives and modus operandi, the people Gumi met with are bandits, who, in a civilized state under the rule of law, do not deserve to be “settled” but rather to be punished.

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The comparison between the Niger Delta situation and the forest bandits is as flawed as it can get. There is no basis to think that what is sauce for the goose is in this case, sauce for the gander. It is never justifiable in any polity that aggrieved persons or groups should resort to self-help, where structures of government exist and are functional to enable an orderly and fair resolution of grievances and conflicts.

If Sheikh Gumi’s suggestion makes sense that governments reach some form of settlement with the bandits including an amnesty and integration into civilised society in return for registration and airtight undertaking of good behaviour; then the victims of their atrocities must necessarily be compensated too –for crops and farms destroyed, sources of living, and above all, lives lost. They can be found in just about every state, north and south of the country.

However, Gumi’s proposition is a product of misjudgment of the bandits. There is more evidence in this country to buttress the futility of negotiating with criminals, be they bandits or insurgents, as The Guardian has repeatedly maintained. Such an idea has been stridently rejected by governors in the affected northern states. Indeed, Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai who once admitted paying off Fulani herdsmen with millions of naira in envisaged return for peace is strongly opposed to the idea because they did not honour the agreement. Till the present, Kaduna State remains under attack and citizens are murdered daily. The bandits, as el-Rufai pointed out, are used to big money that cannot be earned by legitimate means. Katsina State’s Aminu Masari has a similar experience of betrayal of trust by ravaging bandits.

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His Dialogue/Amnesty Programme to settle with the criminals that terrorise the state at a pay-off cost of millions of naira has come to naught. Katsina State regularly suffers death and destruction by Fulani bandits even when President Buhari is visiting. Niger State Governor, Sanni Bello agrees with the other governors saying unequivocally that, “we don’t believe in what Gumi is doing”. Furthermore, Gumi’s suggestion is even preposterous. It is a wrong prescription for willfully perpetrated acts of evil. Anyone with a grouse may engage in kidnapping, rape, and murder with the expectation to be eventually settled. That must not happen.

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However laudable the intentions of Gumi and others like him may be, the still well known, constitutionally-established responsibility for the security and welfare of the citizen’s repose in the government of the federal republic. To abdicate this to a multiplicity of separate, and in some cases, disparate, individual efforts are unhealthy because of the risk of a lack of coordination and unified action. Sadly, amidst all these, the central authority has responded so feebly. It is difficult to decipher what it is saying. Yet, under the country’s political structure, only the Federal Government can marshal the resources to confront this manifest evil.

President Buhari should not hesitate to activate the government’s security machinery to firmly address criminality across the land, and thus discourage individual initiatives that are bound to conflict. There is everything wrong to suggest that bandits will rather listen to specific persons than to the government. That is dangerous and fuels the failure of governance in this land.

The governments that Nigerians put in charge of their country’s affairs should take charge. And they should be seen to do so as firmly and unequivocally. 

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