■Says ‘They are peaceful people’
By Jude Johnson
The controversial Islamic Cleric, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, has reiterated that Fulani herdsmen involved in banditry are victims of circumstance.
Sheikh Gumi restated his position during an interview on Channels Television’s Politics Today on Monday, while explaining how the once peaceful Fulani herdsmen were allegedly forced into banditry and ethnic war against Nigerians.
The cleric has previously advocated for the bandits to be granted amnesty after meeting them in the bush.
“When I listened to them, I found out that it is a simple case of criminality which turned into banditry, which turned into ethnic war, and some genocide too behind the scene; people don’t know,” Sheikh Gumi said.
The cleric said that while “there is no excuse for any crime; nothing can justify crime, and they are committing crime,” the bandits were forced into criminality.
“I think it is a population that is pushed by circumstances into criminality,” he said. “And this is what we should look, let’s remove the pressure, let’s remove the things that made them into criminals because we have lived thousands of years without any problems with the nomadic herdsmen. They are peaceful people. But something happened that led them to this.”
An Ethnic War
According to Gumi, the herdsmen-bandits are engaged in an ethnic war against other peoples, including sedentary Fulanis.
The solution, he added, was dialogue.
“It is a complex issue that Nigerians need to understand,” Sheikh Gumi said. “The solution is very simple, but it’s not military hardware. The solution is dialogue and teaching.
“These people are acting with natural instincts, not special knowledge. And they don’t have any ambition or anything. They don’t have a vision of the future. They are talking about existence; their livelihood is destroyed; because the cattle rustling that was going on for a long time, they are the first victims of it.
“So we need to investigate how cattle rustling became a big business in Nigeria and how it affected the socio-cultural behaviour of the nomadic Fulani. They were pushed into criminality.”
‘Evil resides in Everyone’
Bandit attacks have heightened across Nigeria in the past year.
Last December, over 300 pupils were kidnapped from a boy’s secondary boarding school in Kankara, Katsina State.
Earlier this month, bandits stormed a science secondary school in Kagara, Niger State and kidnapped 41 pupils and staff. They are yet to regain their freedom.
Numerous killings have also been recorded during these bandit attacks.
But for every victim of kidnapping, these herdsmen-bandits have ten victims, Gumi said on the Monday program.
“They are killed by the military, lynched in town,” he added. “Do you know that there are situations where any man with this Fulani physique – slim, light-complexioned, even dark ones – on a motorbike is automatically arrested and incarcerated? They are being profiled.
“The Fulani herdsmen is seeing evil all around him. You can imagine when he sees his children, women, everything killed, his animals slaughtered.
“You see what happened in Oyo, his hut burnt down. Who is burning down his hut? It is somebody coming from a building, somebody coming from a car. He doesn’t own a car, he doesn’t own a building, he doesn’t enjoy anything of the Nigerian cake.
“Then you are coming, again, the little thing he has, to kill his animals. So he is seeing the evil from the other side. So each side is seeing the other’s side as evil.
“So it is the clergy that now has to come in the middle, Muslims and Christians. We have to listen to them. Demonising anybody is not appropriate. And evil is there in everybody.”
Sheikh Gumi restated his call for amnesty for victims of banditry and the herdsmen-bandits.
“Amnesty comes with a package – all victims should be looked at and the government should compensate because actually, it’s the responsibility of the government to protect people, their lives and livelihood; and they were not able to do,” he said. “So since it’s a negligence from the government, then the government should come from both sides.”