Tuesday Column By VICTORIA NGOZI IKEANO
Today, I conclude my three part piece on above topic with Sheikh Abubakar Gumi. As his prefix denotes, Gumi is an Islamic scholar, a popular cleric whose name rings a bell not just in Kaduna his base but in the northwest zone, indeed in the Muslim dominated northern Nigeria. Kaduna his base is headquarters of both the northwestern zone and the northern region in general. The north has more than a fair share of the insecurity problems plaguing our country today; the northeast, particularly Borno and Yobe states being the epicenter of the dreaded Boko haram insurgency that has lingered for some ten years now and the northwest the worst hit by new wave of banditry, kidnapping, especially Zamfara, Katsina and Kaduna states.
Surrounded by such high level of insecurity with its concomitant suffering for the people, the cleric whose mission I want to believe (like those of all true clerics) is to lead human beings unto the path that engenders peace and happiness here on earth and ultimately eternal peace in paradise/heaven, can surely not be unconcerned or stand aloof to the tumult around him. More so when those wrecking this havoc profess to be Muslims, members of his own faith, Islam, a religion of peace. I believe that it was against this background that the Sheik as a popular and respected religious leader sought to be a peacemaker by seeking out the bandits in their den, deep in the forest to preach to them and thereby persuade them to turn a new leaf, a new life of peaceful coexistence, of building up rather than destroying their communities, of being assets rather than liabilities to their societies. This I believe was his intention.
In this regard there is surely, nothing wrong with Sheikh Gumi going to meet and dialogue with these bandits as he apparently did it in good faith, to broker peace between them and the state governments. In the course of this his missionary endeavour, he had to hear them out and they did unburden their fears and concerns to him, the reasons why they are committing atrocities linked to them, as a Sheik they could trust. From their stories/ interactions Gumi formed his own opinion of them; after which he reportedly asked for ‘amnesty’ for them. However, listening to Gumi on television what he asked for was a skills acquisition programme for them, to enable them stand on their feet.
Now, many people are raising hairs, querying why he should sit together with them in the first place; to them, they are brigands that should be finished off (killed) without a second thought. Sheik Gumi is not the first to interact with the bandits. Both Governors Aminu Masari and Bello Matawalle of Katsina and Zamfara states respectively, once had face to face meetings with them, during which they negotiated ceasefires and reportedly released some arrested bandits to them as part of the deal. Nor is Gumi the first to advocate for what may be termed ‘relief package’ for the bandits to sway them off their wrong path. Recall that the federal government had initiated “Operation Safe Corridor’ aimed at reintegrating “repentant” boko haram insurgents back into the society.
Borno state governor Babagana Zulum regretted that the programme is not yielding fruit as envisaged. “Quite often, those who have passed through this initiative usually go back and rejoin the terror group after mastering the various security arrangements in their host communities during the reintegration process”, he said. Also ceasefires negotiated by some of the state governments failed as there was soon resurgence of banditry in those states. Governor Matawalle blamed this on saboteurs while Masari pinned it on insincerity on the part of bandits. A reason why ‘operation safe corridor’ and the agreements reached between some bandits and state governments was unsustainable is lack of spiritual input. This is where we have to give Sheikh Gumi the benefit of doubt in his new dealings with them.
Gumi described the bandits thus, “I find them to be religious; religion is the only thing that teaches you that blood has sanctity. So this is the religious angle. Am trying to gather them and teach them that there is sanctity to life; they cannot kill, rape and so on. This is the addition I hope will work; so we approach them as clergy, from the spiritual angle. You know every human being has that spiritual influence and that is why we are adopting that”. It does not mean that all the bandits, kidnappers, insurgents will immediately fall in line nor does it follow that all their sins will automatically be forgiven them. This lie in the workings of the Laws of GOD in which is embedded His incorruptible Justice and Love.
Human beings on earth differ in their levels of maturity/immaturity. There are the good, bad and ugly. Hence this spiritual angle should be only for those in whom can still be awakened the spark of good volition within them. As human spirits we all have this spark planted in us as the link to our spiritual home in paradise. For most of us this spark is to all intents and purposes ‘dead’ but not altogether buried because we have strayed far away from the Will of GOD in thoughts, words and deeds. It can be awakened through experiencing or other encounters. Recall the Biblical story of Saul who once persecuted the early Christians but became an advocate of the Message of Jesus Christ after an experience during one of his journeys, changing his name to Paul. Therefore, only those of the bandits that show an earnest longing to obey/ live in accordance with the commandments of GOD, the Creator may be helped. The others may be left to their self-chosen path to perdition. ‘Reformation alone is the living road to the forgiveness of sins’. The federal and state governments should consider both the carrot and stick approaches in tackling security challenges.