Of Gumi and Nyako

By Emeka Omeihe

Fiery Islamic cleric, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi was treading on a familiar turf when he told bandits that Christian soldiers are responsible for attacks mounted on them by the military. Even when he later claimed his statement was misunderstood, the reasons adduced ended up reinforcing his narrative to the bandits.

A video clip had shown Gumi at a meeting with bandits telling them that soldiers involved in most attacks against them were non-Muslims and that they should be aware that soldiers are divided into Muslims and Christians. Despite the incendiary content of the widely circulated message, it inexplicably took the Nigerian Army about two weeks to come up with a position on it.

In the statement, Director of Army Public Relations, Brigadier General Mohammed Yerima said the deployment of soldiers was not on religious or ethnic lines and warned “Gumi and other opinion merchants not to drag the image and reputation of one of the most reliable national institutions to disrepute”.

But, Gumi told the BBC in response that he was misunderstood. Hear him: “When I speak about religious issues in the army, I am not referring to today’s army. The issue is from 2010-2015 when some people were in charge. It is during that time that there were bombings everywhere. It happened in Jaji and we lost a popular Muslim General”.

Yet, he was addressing bandits on their current grievances and what could be done for them to stop the orgy of abductions, kidnapping and killings that had put the country on edge. The attacks being mounted against the bandits are an on-going concern. So also are their grievances. They have nothing to do with events of 10 years ago. Gumi’s attempt to bring in that period is just an afterthought that exposes the duplicity of his action.

At any rate, what has the bombings at the budding stages of the Boko Haram insurgency or the alleged killing of a popular Muslim General in Jaji got to do with extant banditry in Zamfara forests and elsewhere which the nation is struggling desperately to contain? On the contrary, those who suffered most in the bombings that characterized that period were Christians and their worship places. The records are there. The so-called bandits whom Gumi set out to interface with had not become a serious security threat then if at all they existed.

So, it is inconceivable how he could have been referring to that era when the bandits are just tabling their current grievances to him.  It is clear Gumi has no defense for deliberately attempting to place Christian soldiers in harms’ way by injecting religious and ethnic poison into military matters.

If he can invent such dubious allegations when Muslim northerners are virtually in charge of the commanding heights of the military and paramilitary institutions, it shows the extent some leaders can push ethnic and religious cards for parochial and clannish ends. If there are biases in the deployment of soldiers, the military leadership that is almost exclusively composed of northern Muslims should take that blame. Curiously also, Gumi had the full backing of the federal government in that suspicious interface with dangerous criminals.

Those familiar with events in this country, should not be surprised at Gumi’s Inflammatory and divisive claims. They fit into a familiar pattern of allegations from highly placed citizens from that part of the country each time we are assailed by serious security challenges.

It is no coincidence that the years Gumi claimed to be referring to, coincides with the period the Jonathan regime held sway. It was also during the same period that a former governor of Adamawa State, Muritala Nyako came up with similar divisive, clannish and unpatriotic allegations against that regime. Nyako’s allegations came at the peak of the Boko Haram attacks and the abduction of more than 300 students from Chibok Girls’ College, Borno State.

Nyako had in a memo to northern governors in 2014 titled: “On-Going Full-Fledged Genocide in Northern Nigeria” alleged that the Jonathan government was using “mass murderers/cut-throats embedded in our legitimate and traditional Defence and Security organizations” to carry out the genocide and that the regime was determined to create strife between Muslims and Christians. He also claimed that the regime organizes the killing of citizens but quickly “attributes the killings to so-called Boko Haram”.

Citing the kidnapping of Chibok girls then, Nyako claimed “these organized kidnappers must have the backing of the federal government for them to move about freely with abducted children”. The former service chief further averred that virtually all soldiers of northern Nigerian origin recruited to fight Boko Haram are poorly trained, ill-equipped, given only uniforms and killed by their trainers in Nigerian Army training centres being used by the “so-called Boko Haram insurgents. Virtually all the Nigerian army soldiers killed/murdered in these operations so far are of Northern Nigerian origin”.

These are by no means exhaustive of the weighty and combustible allegations raised by Nyako. The aim in highlighting these is in part, to demonstrate unambiguously that Gumi’s claims when he interfaced with the bandits could not have come as a surprise. Nyako had made more dangerous and more potentially explosive allegations bordering on the nation’s fault-lines and gotten away with them. So his, bore the imprimatur of the devious path Nyako treaded when we were assailed by the Boko Haram insurgency.

Nyako’s allegations during the period Gumi claimed he was referring to, are handy for the purposes of comparison and contrast. Today, what do we make of his claims of genocide against the north, serial cynical references to ‘so-called Boko Haram insurgents’ and ascription of culpability to the federal leadership then on account of the ease with which bandits abducted the Chibok girls?  How do we now situate these in the face of the continuing serial and very embarrassing experiences of Kankara to Kagara mass abduction of school children? What do we make of Jangebe mass abduction of about 300 students; the burning of villages, kidnappings and rape that forced the like of Gumi into questionable negotiations with the bandits?

In the face of serious attacks mounted by the Boko Haram insurgents five years after President Buhari claimed to have won the war, was it not naivety in its extreme form for Nyako through his cynical remarks to have been giving the impression that Boko Haram was a subterfuge? Today, he should know better if devious agenda of parochial hue was not behind his posturing.

Today, it clear that Boko Haram is real and has undergone mutations posing more lethal threat to our corporate existence. We know that the war against Boko Haram has nothing to do with alleged ploy to depopulate the north. Rather, Boko Haram insurgency and banditry are creations of years of mindless misrule by northern leadership for which they should take responsibility.

It also bears stating that it was during the same period that a former Chief of Army Staff, Azubuike Ihejirika was harassed and blackmailed by moles in the army and elsewhere opposed to the reforms he initiated. They bandied questionable statistics from a single army recruitment exercise to allege a plot to ‘Igbonize’ the army.

Ironically, when Abdulraman Dambazzau was the Chief of Army Staff, Insider Weekly magazine had in its June 2009 edition, reported that soldiers were grumbling over ‘parochial unbalanced deployments’ in the army, wondering whether “he is building a Nigerian Army, a Kano army or a northern army’. The magazine alleged out of 32 key appointments, Dambazzau gave the north 27, Southeast three, Southwest two and none to the South-south. How these could have been suddenly upturned by a single recruitment to the point of Igbo domination remains a moot issue.

Why ethnic and religious cards are always handy in periods of national stress are issues to ponder. But in that poser, can be located the crux of our inability to make substantial progress despite huge human and natural endowments.


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