By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
Three odd weeks or so ago, the media went wild with all shades of wickedly frivolous reactions to the inanely profound submission by the highly cerebral, knowledgeable, immensely nationalistic, and revered Sheikh, His Holiness Mallam Ahmad Gumi, negotiator-par-excellence on banditry. Sheikh Gumi, as we know, is an Islamic scholar with an international reach whose word amounts to a decree to his followers, in the manner of fatwa or something equally horrendous in 21st century Nigeria, a country which combines the ancient, anachronistic with modern forms of governance and social relations in a most confusing manner- like parading cows along the streets of a modern city like Abuja at peak hour.
The bearded look of the Sheikh is enough testimony to the profundity of his faith, you know, the hood and the monk which you can only separate at your own peril, never mind the fact that there is the politics of religion and the religion of politics like the political sharia declared by Zamfara Governor (the man who loves under-aged girls as wife) in the days of President Obasanjo which the latter wisely dismissed with a wave of his left hand to avoid the bait of a religious war! It was therefore rather befuddling to me that when he made saints out of bandits, some ignorant patriots started calling for him to be crucified. One group indeed called on the DSS to arrest this great man who has Lilliputian respect for the federal and legal systems which we operate! And by the way, with the introduction of Sharia in Zamfara State over a decade ago, it is clear even to the blind that crime rate has dropped drastically and that most of the scoundrels who raid homes and kidnap people are strangers from outside the state. Else, Sheikh Gumi would have prescribed amputation as punishment. But the wise and knowledgeable one decided to canonize the bandits as holy. This is indeed the background to the title of this essay- Sheikh Gumi and the holy Bandits of Zamfara!
Zamfara State has been under attack by bandits, men and may be women, who raid communities and plunder the wealth of others. The discovery and exploitation of gold in that State has raised questions about how united we are as a country, with one policy uniformly or otherwise being applicable to the entire federation. This is not the focus of my essay today. I am not going to quote my professor colleague who always argues that there are two Nigerias, Nigeria for the power elite and Nigeria for the poor and oppressed peoples of Nigeria! Nigeria which says that control over natural resources are vested in the federal government and the Nigeria which says the gold resource in Zamfara belongs to the government of Zamfara, the result of insulting impunity, which we know, cannot and will not continue ad infinitum! As earlier indicated, I am mainly concerned with the great man Sheikh Gumi and his deliberate wise and patriotic understanding of ‘his’ Nigeria!
While trying to make peace with the bandits of Zamfara, his Holiness Sheikh Gumi declared that ‘bandits are not criminals’. He had been to see and negotiate with the bandits, had given them huge sums of money as evidenced in some videos in circulation. The objective is to buy peace, after admonishing them not to attack innocent men and women. He also wisely told them that it was soldiers of Christian extraction that were fighting them. The Nigeria Army was wrong to point out to the learned Sheikh that it does not prosecute wars on religious lines. I am sure Gumi saw with his spiritual eyes that it is only Christian soldiers that fight in Zamfara and Borno States! Of course, Sheikh Gumi is a very prudent and wise negotiator who would not like to set Christians against Muslims. However, all is fair in war, we should know that!
My dictionary says that a bandit is ‘an outlaw who lives by plunder, especially a member of a band of marauders; a robber’. Well, this dictionary must be wrong, dead wrong by the standards of Zamfara. Perhaps His Holiness consulted another dictionary, unknown to us mere mortals unschooled in the ways of sheikhs, those who can turn unholiness to holiness, like conjuring the devil with incantations or with purifying a man who has raped a girl child by declaring it a religious obligation to convert an infidel? Or is it a case of one man’s terrorist being another man’s freedom fighter?
I am sure the learned Sheikh was not amused when Chief of Staff Professor Ibrahim Gambari held a meeting with northern governors and delivered President Buhari’s bombshell order to the effect that criminals should not be glorified with any Robin Hood nonsense, and that any herdsman seen with AK-47 should be shot in the military tradition of fighting a war, no trials, no niceties of law! Lord have mercy! Mr. President simply challenged the authority of the Learned Mallam! You know, some religious leaders tend to pontificate on all issues. The matter will be laid to rest when Nigerians see the real action. By the way, the OPC guys who caught notorious kidnapper Wakili were arrested by the Nigeria Police. Is this an extension of the Gumi philosophy? Will Gumi still be sent for negotiations? In my view, he should handle all negotiations on behalf of Nigeria. He is such an excellent negotiator, especially with bandits.
As for those who contend that Gumi is right because the work of EFCC shows that bandits govern the country, I have nothing to say to them. But they must show respect to holy bandits, that is, bandits who steal to help the poor. They are not criminals because Sheikh Gumi has taught us that there is a distinction between banditry and criminality. This is how religious bias influences the use of language and helps the cause of justice in the land. If those holy bandits were brought before a court headed by an acolyte of the Sheikh, do you think he would be punished? Isn’t that the real challenge we have in the country- definition of criminality based on the calibre of the persons involved.
Professor Eghagha can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org