Sheikh Gumi: The untouchable terrorist negotiator and careless talker

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“The bandits also have empathy as we have; they have families, children. The first step is to use psychology on them. They aired their grievances and are ready to change. They should be respected and should be given all the human rights everybody has. Some are suggesting killing them. All because they are killing. For three years you have spent $1 billion, and now you need another $1 billion. But, I said one-third of that will enlighten them, and they will stop killing. Have you tried it? Nobody tried it.”

The above is one of the statements made by the former Nigerian army captain and self-appointed mediator between terrorists and the Nigerian government, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, earlier in 2021. He is the eldest son of Abubakar Mahmud Gumi, an outspoken chief judge of the Sharia Court of Appeal. He studied medicine before joining the Nigeria Defence Academy and served as a medical officer in the Nigerian Army Medical Corps. The 61-year-old attained the rank of captain before retiring from military service and moving to Saudi Arabia to study in Mecca, where he obtained a Doctor of Philosophy in Usul ul Fiqh (principles of Islamic jurisprudence)

That was not the only controversial statement made by Ahmad Gumi that has caused public panic in 2021. In February, a viral online video showed Gumi making remarks alleging that non-Muslim Nigerian soldiers were responsible for insecurity. Such a statement that has the tendency to break a fragile country like Nigeria, was only debunked through a swift press release from the army. But the video is still right there on the internet.

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Gumi is not only critical of President Muhammadu Buhari, he is also critical of his former profession, the Nigerian Army, and advocating talks and a blanket amnesty for the criminal groups responsible for the recent wave of kidnapping and killing in northern Nigeria. “If the country could pardon coup plotters who committed treasonable offences in the era of military administration, the bandits can as well enjoy similar forgiveness even better under democratic rule,” Gumi said in one of his careless talks.

On another occasion, he said: “Kidnapping children from school is a lesser evil because, in the end, you can negotiate and now bandits are very careful about human lives. Before, the mission of bandits was to go into a town, ransack it and kill people.” This is an endangered statement that should have attracted immediate police or the DSS action but Gumi is still there making more grievous comments, causing ethnic and religious division among Nigerians.

His most recent comment is a daring one that depicts guts, threat and a lack of emotion. I have taken time to read the paraphrase from news media, and I have also read the original statement directly on Gumi’s Facebook page. What I see is a man who talks arrogantly because he feels or thinks or knows he can not be touched by security agencies. I remember in June when many reports claim that Gumi was arrested following a TV interview where he made remarks against the army, Gumi boldly came out to say he was never invited, arrested, or quizzed by the DSS.

The headline of his Facebook post on October 24, reads: “Declaring Bandits as Terrorists: will come with a prize!” This state does not show one that is uncertain or one that is guessing, it shows one that is certain, and strongly sends a warning. The use of the word ‘will’ instead of ‘may’, is a declaration that a decision has been taken, the conclusion has been made, mercenaries have been put in place, and only a press of the button will set Nigeria on fire if bandits are declared a terrorist group. Mr Gumi’s headline sounded so sure like he was not just a messenger for the bandits, but also part of the decision-makers, sponsors and benefactors of their iniquitous acts. Reading the headline alone, turned me off, like what impudence?

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In his first paragraph, Gumi admits that “the acts the Bandits are committing now in NW (north-west) have gradually over time become tantamount to terrorism because wherever innocent people are fatal victims it’s pure terrorism” but he was quick to water down that line by saying “yet, innocence these days is relative”. Gumi, in the paragraph, was defending herdsmen whose open grazing activities have been banned in the south and faulting farmers in those communities for defending themselves, their family and farm business. He went further to say that killer herdsmen “are pushed to believe it is an existential war and in war, ethics are thrown to the winds”.

Gumi’s sentiment was loudest in the second paragraph where he said “the moment they are termed Terrorist – Islamic for that matter, the direct foreign Jihadist movements will set in in force. And many teaming unemployed youths may find it palatable and attractive”. He also used the word ‘will’ here, indicating he knows more than we think. This statement is enough to arrest Gumi and make him face trial for publicly inciting war in a country battling insurgency for more than one decade, amidst ethnic and religious division. This is not a time for such pessimism especially coming from an Islamic scholar, retired army captain and a medical practitioner.

I like the response by Suleiman Mohammed in one of the comments on the Facebook post, he said “I have never found a repulsive write-up from a Cleric as this. How could declaring bandits as terrorists transform their actions as Jihad? Do you want to join them and give it that colouration because you are a cleric sympathetic to them and your image will turn it so? Did the banditry we are faced with come with a religious guise as the Boko Haram or do you want to push the idea to them? With due respect, Mallam for the knowledge that you are in the custody of, kindly tell the bandits to withdraw their penchants for terrorist acts because it will become too late for them. They are but miscreants fomenting trouble at the behests of some evil forces”. This is a commendable reply coming from a northerner who operates business in the north.

I am one of those who criticised the government for believing that Boko Haram members and bandits can truly repent. When I saw pictures of soldiers giving clothes and foodstuff to so-called repentant terrorists, I shook my head in disgust and disappointment. We have read of how repentant terrorists returned to the forest well armed with information to continue from where they stopped. In November 2019, governor Bello Masari of Katsina State granted amnesty to repentant bandits, but in June 2020, he withdrew the amnesty and said his government was betrayed on two occasions by bandits after they were granted a pardon. Personally, I see their repentance as fake and deceptive. This is why government must not negotiate with terrorists. It is either you do not join them, or you join and get killed.

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The other day, Nollywood actor, Chiwetalu Agu, was arrested in Onitsha, Anambra state and taken to Abuja where he spent days in DSS custody. His crime was to wear a dress in solidarity with Biafra. He was picked up by the army where he was seen distributing bread to his fans, harassed and starved in his five days spell in Abuja. Agu did nothing wrong, he did not make an inciting statement, he did not ask the government to negotiate with those gunmen killing people in the south-east, he did not say the burning of government properties in the region is a lesser evil, but he was arrested and detained for five days in the DSS custody, while a Gumi is walking majestically untouched.

Gumi also said that “regrettably, people just sit down in the comfort of their rooms or parlors and make useless passing comments that only add fuel to the inferno of ethnic jingoism and bigotry”. How come he is pointing one finger to others without taking cognisance of the three fingers facing his direction? Someone should tell Gumi that his Facebook post on October 24 is the useless passing comments that only add fuel to the inferno of ethnic jingoism and bigotry.

Despite Gumi’s supposed intervention, bandits are still killing and abducting Nigerians. The latest was the one that happened on Monday, October 25 in Niger State where 17 people were killed and another 18 kidnapped in Maza-Kula village in Mashegu local government area. Their fate is unknown and their safety is on the line. So what result has Gumi’s mediation yielded?

I have less worry about Gumi, my major concern is the government and security agencies who have not been able to discern and interpret the depth of that statement, and the danger therein lies. We cannot continue to have such comments that pose a great threat to our national unity and peaceful co-existence as a people.

That statement is one that is alerting foreign jihadist organisations to get ready for a new business branch in Nigeria where they can invest and fully establish. It is one that is telling the Nigerian military that they are incapable to withstand the jihadists when they are finally here. The statement is equally encouraging bandits to keep up their deeds as he is doing everything possible to discourage the government from countering them.

Gumi should not be overlooked, he should be taken seriously, the fact that he is a former captain of the Nigerian Army does not make him untouchable. It is one thing to mediate on behalf of bandits, but it is completely out of place to say if bandits are declared terrorists, the Nigerian state will collapse. Such provoking statement is not acceptable.

Israel Ojoko is a Nigerian journalist and can be reached via israelojoko14@gmail.com

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