Renowned northern Islamic scholar, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, said if government could pardon coup plotters that committed treasonable felony, there was nothing wrong extending the same gesture to bandits.
The Islamic cleric, while responding to the Christian Association of Nigeria in Kaduna on Thursday, said there was need to forgive bandits for the country to have peace.
Gumi added, “Even those that instigated civil war, the civil war that millions of people died, were pardoned. I see no reason why we cannot accept their (bandits) repentance and give them amnesty.”
Gumi added that he never betrayed soldiers of Christian faith before the bandits when he visited them.
He noted that he was misunderstood by CAN because the video that went viral about his discussion with the bandits was distorted and the actual message was manipulated.
Gumi said, “You ask why do we give them amnesty but they told us specifically that they are ready to drop their arms and they don’t want to be pursued with legal actions after they repented.
“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.
“These people in the bush, who have taken arms; they are criminals. I wonder who is not a criminal. Since Nigeria forgave coup plotters, forgave those that killed. Even those that instigated civil war; civil war that millions of people died, I see no reason why we cannot accept their repentance.
Since that is the bottleneck and it is only the Federal Government that can give them that leverage. Strangely, we found out that they are victims too. They were victims of profiling. So many of them were arrested and punished just for looking like herdsmen.”
Angry reactions have trailed the arrest of a media aide to Kano State Governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, by operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS).
Salihu Tanko Yakasai, popularly known as Dawisu, was reportedly arrested by the state security agents after taking to social media to critise the President Muhammadu Buhari-led All Progressives Congress (APC) government over recent abductions of schoolchildren in the country.
Dawisu had said that the APC government “at all levels” had failed Nigerians in their primary duties of protecting lives and property.
He mentioned Friday’s abduction of over 300 schoolgirls in Jangebe, Zamfara, and over 300 schoolboys in Kankara, Katsina, last December, as proofs that the APC government had failed.
Dawisu, who is a member of the APC, had asked President Buhari and governors of troubled states in the country to “deal with terrorists decisively or resign”.
Kano State residents were said to have complained about Dawisu’s whereabouts after his series of tweets criticising the government for failing to protect the citizens.
Following his reported arrest, #FreeDawisu trended at number one on Saturday on Twitter as Nigerians criticised President Buhari and the state security service for constantly attempting to muzzle free speech in a democratic setting.
Co-convener of the Bring Back Our Girls movement, Aisha Yesufu, said the DSS was now “competing with kidnappers to abduct citizens”.
She added that, “It is more relieving to be with DSS not because they have not infringed on your right or kill you as kidnappers would but because you will not pay RANSOM! Dawisu is a citizen with the right to speak his mind #FreeDawisu”
EiE Nigeria, an advocacy group for good governance, described Dawisu’s arrest as, “a dangerous sign of a government that fears it is losing its mandate and is falling into panic.”
It said, “Critics are being arrested on ludicrous charges… while bandits roam free, tells us very clearly where Nigeria is headed. #FreeDawisu”
Below are some of the twitter reactions to Dawisu’s arrest
Shame! DSS competing with kidnappers to abduct citizens. It is more relieving to be with DSS not because they have not infringed on your right or kill you as kidnappers would but because you will not pay RANSOM! Dawisu is a citizen with the right to speak his mind#FreeDawisuhttps://t.co/8H6pVJL1nm
#FreeDawisu Lawless DSS has arrested @dawisu for freely expressing his views regarding the failure of the @MBuhari’s govt. The DSS lazy leadership can’t help Nigerians facing insecurity but only ready and happy to pounce on Nigerians critical of the failing regime #BuhariMustGo
Just to be clear, criminals are getting interviews and being received like diplomats, whilst a citizen got arrested for this? Even if you ate directly off @MBuhari’s table this morning, you should be worried. You aren’t free in this “democracy” as it is today #FreeDawisupic.twitter.com/ssXKzQ2qrQ
The resources that ought to be disbursed for tackling burning national issues like banditry has unfortunately been wasted in abducting @dawisu in Kano and transporting him to Abuja. For what, I ask? What’s this madness for God’s sake? To intimidate government critics? #FreeDawisu
The law moved extremely fast against @dawisu for asking better of government than it has moved against the so called bandits. As it is, the bandits are getting paid for their killings and abductions whilst this citizen was arrested for being a citizen. Be worried #FreeDawisupic.twitter.com/cvqFSLSFW4
Why should we give bandits amnesty? Is it because they are Fulani or Muslim? What injustice are they fighting against? I read the Quran in Arabic. There is nothing in the Quran that supports your plea. General Buhari has been killing your fellow Muslim Shiite. Why have you not called for amnesty for Shiites who don’t kill, yet you want amnesty for bandits who kill?
Speak the truth, for you will one day die and face God, who is neither a Christian or a Muslim, or a Northerner or Southerner, or a Fulani or Ogoni.
You recently visited Zamfara and openly took a photo with hordes of bandits. These are killer terrorists. They have broken the Hudud of both God and man as outlined in Quran chapter 5.
They have committed the sin of Ḥirābah by waging war on society.
What exactly has the ESN done that makes them terrorists or criminals that the Nigerian military has turned Orlu into a war zone? Is it because they withstood killer herdsmen? Did Buhari’s defence minister not ask Nigerians to stop being cowards and face bandits and herdsmen? Is that not what ESN is doing?
Has Buhari sent helicopter gunships and artillery to the forests of Zamfara, Katsina or Niger to flush out your beloved bandits? So, what other amnesty do you want?
How is Kano’s Hisbah better than ESN? Have you ever heard that an ESN operative was caught in a hotel with a married woman, like the Kano Hisbah commander?
As long as some of our Northern brothers continue to be sentimental, there is the danger that Nigeria will divide, because it is hard to keep a country united with this level of hypocrisy and distrust that exists in Nigeria of today.
■ Asks government to go after bandits terrorising the country first
Following his alleged attempted arrest by Men of the Department of State Security(DSS), on Friday, the Yoruba acclaimed freedom fighter, Chief Sunday Igboho, has said that he was not afraid of arrest or running from anybody, but could only be arrested after the government must have arrested the bandits terrorising the country.
He spoke in reaction to the alleged attack on him, while on his way for a scheduled meeting at an undisclosed place.
Igboho, who was allegedly attacked at Guru Maraj’s area in Ibadan, said: “I am not running from anybody. Nobody can intimidate me. I have returned to my house in Ibadan.”
“I can only subject myself to arrest after the government must have arrested the bandits terrorising the country. The government should go after those bandits first.”
He lamented that he was disappointed that he was attacked without committing any offence by men of DSS who on the instruction of unknown authorities, attempted to prevent him to move around in Ibadan and beyond.
He said, despite their effrontery to stop him, he had managed to have his way to point of his scheduled meeting. (Vanguard)
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.”
The 42 persons kidnapped by bandits from the Government Science College Kagara, Niger State, have been released, Premium Times reports.
A total of 27 students, three staff members and 12 members of their family were abducted after the attack on the school in the early hours of Wednesday.
The Chief Press Secretary to the Niger governor, Mary Noel-Berje, confirmed their release to our reporter on Sunday evening.
She added that the kidnapped victims are on their way to Minna, where they will be formally received by the governor.
But the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor of Niger State, Mary Noel, later described as ‘rumour’, the purported release of abducted students and members of staff of Government Science College, Kagara.
Earlier report announcing their release quoted a statement credited to the CPS by some credible online platforms that they were released and on their to Minna from Birnin Gwari area of Kaduna State.
However, when contacted, Mrs Mary said the students were not yet released though the negotiations and discussions with bandits are on their final stage.
“The students have not been released but we are hopeful they will be released soon, we just received the kidnapped NSTA passengers and that is to show the Government commitment to making sure all the kidnapped residents of the state are free and reunited with their loved ones,” she said.
Yinka Odumakin, National Publicity Secretary of pan-Yoruba group, Afenifere, on Thursday, February 18, slammed the Federal Government and some governors stating they are complicit in the increased attacks by terrorists across the country.
Odumakin made this assertion during a media interview, revealing that some government officials are supporting banditry in Nigeria; because they are beneficiaries of the criminal activities of the marauders.
The Afenifere spokesman issued this statement in response to the abductions of some students and staff of Government Science College, Kagara, in Niger State.
The victims were kidnapped when bandits stormed the school on Wednesday morning. A student was also reportedly killed by the bandits during the attack.
Reacting, Odumakin said those in government owe Nigerians a lot of explanations.
He said, “It was the late Sani Abacha who said that if the kind of things we are going through continues in the country for more than 48 hours, the executives in the land have questions to answer. At this point, we should be asking our executives in Nigeria; ‘What is going on?’
“They cannot pretend they don’t know what is going on. The way the spokesmen of this regime defend these bandits; the way some governors openly defend them shows clearly that there are people in authority who are aware of the pains; that the country is going through at the moment; and who for one reason or the other are encouraging it as their benefactors and beneficiaries.
“They are encouraging them for selfish reasons which are not in the interests of the country because for one reason or the other; they are benefitting from what they are doing.
“Don’t forget that in 2016, (Nasir) El-Rufai, the governor of Kaduna State told the nation that he went out of this country; to go and pay money to foreign Fulani who are coming to kill his people.
“The governor of Bauchi has been defending the right to gunmen carrying AK-47; saying they are using it to defend themselves. When you put all these together, we can no longer pretend that people in government know what is going on.”
When asked whether he nursed any fears that the South-West was the next for the kidnapping of mass magnitude; the Afenifere chieftain said, “Already, the bandits are all over the country.”
■Abducted Passengers, Kagara School Children Will Be Release Soon- Gumi
■Bandits Took Gumi To Where a Whole Community Was Razed by Military Bombardments, Corpses Dumped In Wells
■Bandits leader Berates Gov El-Rufai
By Tukur Mamu (Desert Herald)
In continuation of his efforts to take the message of Islam to armed Fulani bandits and to explore dialogue as the only means of addressing the uprising associated with killings and kidnappings, Sheikh Dr. Ahmad Abubakar Mahmud Gumi has accepted the invitation of Governor Abubakar Sani Bello of Niger State.
The invitation coincidentally came at a time when double tragedy has befallen the state; first with the abduction of over 30 passengers in a bus belonging to the state transport service and the latest kidnapping of school children and their teachers in Kagara. Niger State has suffered most worst bandits attacks in the last three years.
On arrival at the state capital, Sheikh Gumi had gone into a close-door meeting with his host, Governor Bello. During the brief meeting on Wednesday, Sheikh Gumi had emphasized to the Governor the importance of dialogue especially in a society where government did not have the capacity to fully protect lives and properties from incessant attacks. He advised Governor Bello to use part of the money his government is spending on security to address some of the major concerns and grievances of the Fulani herdsmen. Governor Bello had thank Sheikh Gumi for the visit and for his endless sacrifices across the country. He said having tried the military option alone without commensurate success, he is now convinced more than ever before that dialogue and teaching the armed Fulanis about their religion and integrating them into the society as the Sheikh always admonishes government is the only way to address rampant cases of insecurity particularly in his state. Governor Bello told Gumi that his administration is ready for constructive engagement and dialogue with the armed Fulanis and acknowledged that over the years Fulani herdsmen were forgotten by governments at all levels and that there has never been any provision in previous budgets for their welfare in the past. Both Gumi and Governor Governor Bello are in total agreement that given out ransom to the rampaging herdsmen is not the option and that government will resist it and that instead provision of basic amenities like schools, water for human and animal consumption, clinics and job creation will be prioritised for them.
The National Security Adviser (NSA), Maj-Gen. Babagana Monguno, IGP Mohammed Adamu, Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola and that of Information, Lai Mohammed also joined the meeting with Sheikh Gumi at the Government House Minna on Wednesday. The federal cabinet members were at Minna to coordinate efforts in rescuing the kidnapped victims on the orders of President Muhammadu Buhari. Also in the entourage of Sheikh Gumi that attended the meeting includes Prof. Usman Yusuf, Desert Herald Publisher, Mallam Tukur Mamu, Chief Imam of Sultan Bello Mosque, Sheikh Muhammad Suleiman Adam and one of the leaders of Meyetti Allah, Shehu Buba.
Gumi’s team had on Wednesday proceeded to Kontagora where they spent the night and proceeded to Kotonkoro on Thursday morning. Because of the bad road, the journey to Kotonkoro took Sheikh Gumi about 5 hours. The purpose of the difficult journey to Kotonkoro is to visit the dreaded Dutsen Magaji forest where the Sheikh has work tirelessly to secure a scheduled appointment with top commanders of the Fulani bandits that are terrorising Niger State and some parts of Kaduna precisely the notorious Birnin Gwari area. Before his departure to Kontagora, Governor Abubakar Sani Bello has instructed his Secretary to the State Government, SSG, whose office is also in-charge of security in the state to follow Sheikh Gumi wherever he will go. The Governor who has demonstrated determination to end kidnappings and armed banditry in his state assured Sheikh Gumi that whatever recommendation that comes out of his engagement with the bandits as long as it is for their welfare and full integration back to the society his government will support and mobilize resources towards actualising it.
The journey from Kotonkoro to Dutsen Magaji forest is about 50 kilometers and without any provision for road network. It took Sheikh Gumi, the SSG and members of the entourage another two hours before reaching the deadly forest. The highly armed bandits under the leadership of Dogo Gide have strategically positioned themselves at the forest in case of any eventuality. Their faces and appearance demonstrate no mercy and easily sends fear.
Gumi’s peace and preaching mission at Dutsen Magaji forest is so far the most successful considering how volatile the area is and consistency of attacks. During the preaching session, each of the bandits commanders were given the chance by Gumi to address the crowd. They separately narrated their ordeal, their frustrations and why they resorted to banditry. They said they only accepted the invitation because they were told it was Sheikh Gumi. Their overall leader, Dogo Gide and other top commanders (Kachallas) were captured by Desert Herald through video and audio during separate briefings at the forest. Desert Herald is the only news medium that covers the difficult and risky journey to Dutsen Magaji forest. The coverage was done undercover as the top commanders have warned against taking pictures or video.
The top bandits commander, Dogo Gide during his speech had lambasted Governor Nasir El-Rufai for his stand against dialogue and threatened the people of Kaduna state but Sheikh Gumi was quick to interrupt and assured him that all the governors of the North West are now in agreement that the Fulani herdsmen have been forgotten by governments for many years and that they will henceforth work towards giving the herdsmen special attention.
The SSG of Niger State had also delivered the message of Governor Bello to them and assured them about his government’s sincerity and commitment to address their concerns and grievances. He took note of their demands and grievances and promised to convey same to Governor Bello as soon as he arrives Minna for immediate consideration while Sheikh Gumi on his part will monitor progress of implementation before the federal government steps in.
On his part, Sheikh Gumi took time to preach to them about forgiveness, peace and dialogue in Islam. He told them that in Islam there is no justification at all for reprisal attacks, killings, kidnappings and rape. He admonished them about alcohol and drug consumption or taking the laws into their own hands. He assured them that he will not deceive them and urged them not to disappoint him. Sheikh Gumi specifically pleaded with the armed Fulani bandits to immediately release all those they abducted particularly the recent kidnappings that made newspaper headlines across the country. He assured them he will do whatever it takes to convince the president and the National Assembly to create a Commission for the herdsmen that will work towards addressing imbalances and injustice done to the Fulanis. He encourages them to always seek for Islamic knowledge and to be consistent in their 5 daily prayers. Gumi had distributed Islamic books them and hundreds of wrappers for their wives. The items were contributed by the foundation under him.
Apparently satisfied with the sincerity of Sheikh Gumi, leader of the bandits, Dogo Gide has assured him that he will not be disappointed and that on their part they will do everything possible to maintain the peace and give reasonable time pending when they are convinced about what government will do. They complained of what they called excesses of local vigilantes popularly called Yan Sa Kai and how according to them they have been killing innocent Fulanis and warned that if Fulanis are not allowed to move freely without threat and molestation there won’t be end to banditry and kidnappings in the entire north. They took Sheikh Gumi to a settlement of about 1500 people and lamented how military bombardments destroyed the entire community, razed all the houses, killed and dumped bodies of the inhabitants in about three wells. The exclusive pictures and images of the those that were killed and dumped in the wells were taken by Desert Herald. They said the military are just targeting women, children and their animals during bombardments and that as a result of that many innocent lives were lost.
The bandits can be seen much more relaxed and very willing for engagement before the end of the preaching session. From interactions with them, it is understood that most of them are tired living in a jungle life, a life of exclusivity and lack of freedom. What most of them said they are missing much is the freedom to freely move around towns, market and to attend to their traditional and social events. One of them said on the condition of anonymity that he has spent three years in the bush without seeing his mother and that he is willing to go back to his family but is afraid due to uncertainty and how some of them were slaughtered by Yan Sa Kai and soldiers.
The most interesting and fulfilling part of Sheikh Gumi’s engagement and preaching session with the bandits is when the top commander, Dogo Gide promised Gumi that all those that were kidnapped either directly by his people or those he has influenced to talk to will soon be released. It is expected that the Kagara school boys, their teachers and other passengers that were abducted in the state owned passenger bus will be release any moment from now.
Exclusive pictures and videos of Thursday’s visit has been attached to this report. Sheikh Gumi and his entourage had arrived Minna from Dutsen Magaji forest, a journey of more than 7 hours around 3am on Friday.
The Governor of Bauchi State, Sen. Bala Mohammed, has said that his support for Fulani Herdsmen to carry AK-47 rifles is to enable them to defend themselves against bandits, kidnappers and assassins as security agencies cannot protect them.
He also explained that contrary to allegations that he urged Herdsmen to invade and occupy farmlands illegally, he only tried putting in perspective that Herdsmen are pastoralists whose presence anywhere is often temporal.
A statement by Mukhtar Gidado, Senior Special Assistant (Media ) to the Governor said that he, “is very familiar with the Land Use Act, including the criteria for land acquisition and cannot therefore seek to undermine the statute which, as Governor, he has sworn to uphold.”
Bala whose recent remarks at the closing ceremony of the Press Week of the Correspondent’s Chapel of the NUJ in Bauchi State triggered nationwide condemnation with many urging security agencies to investigate his role in the insecurity ravaging parts of the country; however said that he intervened “to avert the dangerous prospect of nation-wide backlash as tempers were flaring up and given that the phenomenon of inter-ethnic migration, is a national pastime involving all ethnic groups in Nigeria.”
The statement further reads “first, at no time did the Governor set out to justify criminality by anyone, no matter the person’s ethnic nationality. Rather, he admonished us, in the interest of national unity, to avoid wholesale branding of any ethnic group as it is inconceivable that any one group can be made up of only criminals.”
It added that “by extension, the Governor made it abundantly clear that it will be inappropriate to label any one tribe based on the crimes of a few members of the ethnic group.”
Also, the presser stated that “to the extent that not every herdsman is a criminal, the Governor’s reference to AK47 was simply to put in perspective, the predicament and desperation of those law-abiding Fulani herdsmen who, while carrying out their legitimate cow-rearing business, have become serial victims of cattle rustling, banditry, kidnapping and assassination.
These are the people who, in the absence of any protection from the security agencies, are forced to resort to self-help, to defend both their means of livelihood and their lives.”
On his claim that forests are no man’s land, in apparent reference to the eviction of herders from Forest Reserves in Ondo State, the former PDP National Chairman denied asking Fulanis to forcefully takeover lands belonging to others.
Following a tip-off in July 2016, the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) arrested an obscure fruit seller under a bridge in Zaria, Kaduna State. Investigations revealed the man to be a high-ranking Boko Haram operative who coordinated the finance cell of the group with others in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE) to disburse funds to various terror camps in North East Nigeria as well as Diffa, Nigér Republic. From what I gather, the Zaria arrest proved to be a major breakthrough that eventually revealed a pattern of financial flows and transactions not only to Boko Haram field operatives but to other criminal cartels, particularly those engaged in kidnappings for ransom.
The ONSA investigations further revealed that between 2015 and 2016, the sum of $782,000 was transferred from Dubai to Nigeria through Bureau De Change (BDC) operators to aid Boko Haram. As reported in the media, this was what led to the conviction in April 2019 of six Nigerians, including a man identified as a government official. Later that same year (December 2019), an Abu Dhabi Federal Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment of the lower court and upheld the imprisonment sentence imposed on the six Nigerian citizens. Aside laundering money for the terror group, these men were also found guilty of running a Boko Haram cell in the UAE to raise funds and material assistance for the insurgents in Nigeria. Although the convicts claim innocence, follow-up investigations have helped the security agencies to better understand the movement of money by criminal cartels in Nigeria. The investigations also led to the arrest of accomplices in Kaduna, Kano and Zamfara States
Meanwhile, the Dubai security breakthrough helped to expose how some of the criminal networks operating in Nigeria had perfected a seamless method of laundering money through BDC operators. Once the money has been given to a BDC operator in Dubai, he contacts an associate in Nigeria who gives the same amount in cash to the coordinator. On the instruction of the Boko Haram leadership, the coordinator goes ahead to distribute the funds to members who incidentally have no direct contact with one another, in an elaborate scheme to cover their tracks. The same pattern was discovered for disbursement of ransom monies from kidnappings, especially those traced to illegal mining in Zamfara State.
What the foregoing suggests quite clearly is that we are dealing with a serious national security threat that is not only well organized but well-funded. For instance, the thriving Nigerian gold market in the UAE has been traced to activities of illegal miners in Zamfara with Aminu Kano International Airport as a gateway. “It is the most notorious airport in the country”, a security source told me last week. But the real challenge is in Zamfara where the proliferation of arms and hundreds of muscle men working as miners, (licensed as well as illegal) engage in kidnappings. A combination of porous borders, weak signal and technical intelligence, lack of proper data of licensed miners and the influx of illicit drugs such as Tramadol have combined to make banditry the most lucrative enterprise in the state
According to security sources, there is a nexus between kidnappings for ransom and terrorism as well as between gold prospecting in Zamfara State and the general wave of criminality by herdsmen that has spread to the southern part of the country with dire implications for national peace and security. For instance, a clear pattern has emerged between ISWAP and kidnappings with many of the herders implicated as foot soldiers. “Most of the herdsmen you see all over the place, whether in the north or south, kidnapping, raping and maiming people are employees of a larger terror network. They kidnap but the ransom does not go to them”, a senior security officer told me.
Most of the people identified with illegal mining in Zamfara State are herders who realize that more money can be made from kidnappings. They are not only ‘diversifying’ their business, many of them are also moving southward. “A lot of these Fulani marauders are from Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso” said a security source. Sadly, rather than tackle the problem, the presidency indulges in making excuses that lead to accusations of complicity and most often in a manner that threatens the unity of the country as an inclusive polity founded on diversity. And with that, kidnappings for ransom has become the most lucrative enterprise in the country.
In October 2019, a former Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Abubakar disclosed that over N3 billion was collected by bandits as ransom from relatives of victims in Zamfara alone within a period of eight years. Abubakar who chaired a committee set up by the current governor, Bello Matawalle to find solutions to banditry in the state, said the report covered the period from June 2011 to May, 2019. The money, according to Abubakar, was collected from 3,672 victims whose relatives paid to secure their freedom. Abubakar said that a total of 4,983 women were widowed, 25,050 children orphaned and 190,340 persons displaced by banditry over the period in the state.
While that level of threat should worry the authorities, there is also an international dimension to the criminality that is just as intriguing to security agencies. I understand that there are more than a thousand Chinese and Indians in the mining business in Zamfara State. “Yet, not a single one of their nationals has been kidnapped.” Meanwhile, some of the people who serve as security personnel to these miners have been discovered to be engaged in kidnappings for ransom, raising questions about who they work for.
The threat coming from this criminal enterprise is now political given what the senate yesterday described as “issuance and counter issuance of eviction notice by some ethnic entrepreneurs and groups posing as ethnic nationalists and champions”, while kidnappers continue to operate mostly on the roads, outskirts of towns and farms where they ambush innocent rural people. That these kidnappers kill, maim and rape is bad enough. That they are identified as belonging to a certain ethnic colouration is the problem. They particularly enjoy brutalizing their victims which perhaps explains why in most instances, they force their captives to walk long distances on thorns and sharp stones in the bush.
Quoting the global risk consultancy, ‘Control Risks’, the Financial Times of London, recently reported that Nigeria has the highest rate of kidnaps for ransom of both locals and foreigners in all of Africa. “For most businesses, the greatest risk to their employees is while they are travelling,” Tom Griffin, senior partner for Africa and the Middle East at Control Risks was quoted to have said. “Almost half of all kidnaps in Nigeria recorded by Control Risks occur during road travel, with kidnappers often selecting targets based on perceived wealth during roadside ambushes, roadblocks or attacks in traffic congestion.”
We must admit that we have a crisis on our hands that is not restricted to any section of the country. It is national. In the clip of the interview he granted a television station that has gone viral, Alhaji Bashir Kurfi, National Chairman, Network for Justice narrated an incident that happened in Kurfi, Katsina State where he hails from. “One lady came to share her story. She went to see her daughter who gave birth and then the bandits came—they asked her to hold the baby and they raped the daughter. And then after, they asked the daughter to hold the baby and they raped the mother. This is what is going on everyday…it is the reality on the ground and it is a shame on us.”
It should worry President Muhammadu Buhari that whether on land or in water, the Nigeria territorial space is now one of the least safe spaces in the world. The latest report by the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reveals that over 95 per cent of the 135 shipping crew members kidnapped last year were recorded in the Gulf of Guinea and mostly on Nigerian waters. “Incidents in the Gulf of Guinea are particularly dangerous, as over 80 per cent of attackers were armed with guns,” according to the IMB.
That there is no coherent strategy to deal with the challenge can be glimpsed from the interview granted the BBC Hausa Service by the Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir elRufai. While he advocates that you do not appease criminals, his Zamfara State counterpart believes in offering ‘amnesty’ and money to bandits and kidnappers to make them change their ways. El-Rufai has therefore cited lack of unity and cooperation among the governors of the North West as one of the reasons the security challenges persist. The governors, according to El-Rufai, have different approaches to ending banditry and kidnapping.
This is where the moral authority of the president can help. He should be able to impress upon the governor of Zamfara State that you do not make deals with criminals. Bandits and kidnappers being offered government largesse will never keep to deals as we see with the experience of Katsina State. And while there is a place for the personal efforts such as the one being undertaken by Sheikh Gumi, the state must muster the capacity to restore law and order without bowing to criminals.
At a time we are facing apprehension over impending national crisis, it is the responsibility of leadership to identify solutions to difficult problems, ensure stability of the polity, and guide the society to prosperity. The fear of a national crisis, this time, is fueled by criminal activities traced to herdsmen who now roam the country with impunity. The rising profile and complexities of conflict disorders in the country therefore requires a hands-on approach from the president. Sadly, that is precisely where the problem lies.
That sundry criminal cartels have overpowered the capacity of the state to restore law and order is no longer in doubt. But more worrisome is the fact that our national security challenge is being framed around identity politics which can only exacerbate the situation. The tone of debate yesterday in the Senate reflected this unfortunate national divide. According to a senator from Adamawa State, Binos Yaroe, whenever kidnappers are arrested anywhere within the country, the majority of them always turn out to be Fulani. That is the kind of rhetoric you also get from the street. “Right now, we are an endangered species. People are going into homes to abduct, to rape, herdsmen are everywhere. We have spoken several times and nothing has been done. Posterity beckons”, said Senator Biodun Olujimi from Ekiti State in a note of resignation
The connecting thread for the variants of violence that we witness across the country today, as I have argued several times on this page, is that the Nigerian state has lost what Max Weber described as the monopoly of “the legitimate use of physical force” to criminal cartels. Until we muster the capacity to effectively confront them, we will continue to be at their mercy. But whichever way one looks at the current challenge of insecurity across Nigeria, it all leads to the doorstep of President Buhari. It is therefore my hope that he will address that challenge most decisively. Before the amber light turns red!