ISLAMIC cleric Sheikh Ahmad Gumi who has recently been involved in negotiations with armed bandits across northwest Nigeria has warned journalists to stop referring to them as criminals saying they are not different from the Niger Delta militants.
Over recent years, heavily-armed bandits have been terrorising the northwest geo-political zone, controlling large swathes of territory, particularly in Zamfara and Katsina states. Powerless to stop them, state governors have been forced to enter into dialogue with these bandits and even offer them money to lay down their arms.
So far, however, every agreement entered into has broken down, leaving several states at the mercy of bandits who attack villages and towns with impunity. Earlier this month, in a bid to resolve what appears to be an endless crisis, Sheikh Gumi, travelled from his base in Kaduna to Zamfara State to meet with the bandits.
Sheikh Gumi, who met with bandit leaders Kachalla Turji and Kachalla Muhammadu Bello in Makkai Forest, said that what is currently happening in Zamfara is insurgency and not banditry. Briefing Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara State at Government House about his trip, he said the bandits have completely turned into insurgents following the bad treatment from the people of the state.
Speaking on national television about his trip, Sheikh Gumi called on states and the federal governments to grant amnesty to the bandits, insisting that they are not different from the Niger Delta militants. He accused the media of fuelling insecurity in northern Nigeria by calling the bandits criminals, saying they should learn to address them with nice words.
According to the cleric, using such words to describe the bandits will harden their hearts from surrendering their weapons and repenting of their sins. He called on the government to adopt a more lenient approach in handling bandits, arguing that attacking them brings out the monster in them.
Sheikh Gumi said: “You’re emphasising on criminality, even the press are criminals too because they are putting oil into fire. These people are listening to you, so you should not address them as criminals if you want them to succumb.
“Youths are ready to put down their weapons, now you are calling them criminals. How do you want them to cooperate?
“So you have to show them they are Nigerians, that they should not hurt children, be law-abiding. This is the language we want to hear, the press should assist us in getting the boys.
“You see when we talk with them with nice words, they are ready to listen to us, put down their weapons but when the language is about criminality, killing them, then this is what we will keep having. Let me show you something, I don’t wish you harm but if you are stopped by armed robbers on the road, you will not use the word criminal on them.
“Tell them good things so that you will save yourself. We are trying to save the nation from these youths that have a false sense of authority, so the language we use is very important.
“We have a problem now, proliferation of arms and there are drugs and semi-illiterate population. How do you deal with it? By castigating them and abusing them in the media?”
He also explained that while bandits are citizens who recognize the government, unlike Boko Haram terrorists who are internationally connected. Sheikh Gumi added that most of the bandits he interacted with during his visit had indicated their readiness to surrender their weapons and embrace peace if Yansakai, the government’s militia stopped attacking and killing them.