ISLAMIC cleric Sheikh Abubakar Gumi has revealed that during his recent interaction with bandits operating across northwest Nigeria he discovered that they were in the process of acquiring anti-aircraft missiles to enable them fight off the military.
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. 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 in Makkai Forest.
Sheikh Gumi, who met with bandit leaders Kachalla Turji and Kachalla Muhammadu Bello, as well as notorious gun runner and assassin Auwalun Daudawa, said that what is currently happening in Zamfara State is insurgency and not banditry. After meeting with the bandit leaders, the cleric met with Governor Bello Matawalle to brief him on the situation.
Calling on the government to grant amnesty to the bandits so they could drop their weapons, Sheikh Gumi warned that it was important for government to meet with them urgently before they become religiously radicalised and uncontrollable like the Boko Haram insurgents. He added that while he was with the bandits, he was made to understand that they took to crime to revenge the killing of their families by cattle rustlers and the military through airstrikes.
Sheikh Gumi said: “These people were the first victims of cattle rustling who lost all their cattle to rustlers because then, the rustlers were having the guns. Then when they lost their cattle, they joined the rustlers and they started to kidnap people.
“In fact, most of the kidnappings, the bandits are doing it to acquire weapons and they are now trying to buy missiles, anti-aircraft missiles. This is already developing into a full-blown insurgency and we should stop that, as what we are afraid of is that if they become religiously radicalised, it will give rise to another dimension and it will be very difficult to control.”
He ruled out the possibility that the bandits were being sponsored by politicians or have foreign collaborators. According to Sheikh Gumi, the bandits’ sophisticated weapons were acquired with proceeds of kidnapping and not given to them by politicians or foreign collaborators.
“They are collecting ransoms to buy weapons. Look at the herdsmen in Oyo and the south eastern states, they are not buying skyscrapers or riding Mercedes, they are still in the bush, as they don’t want money.
“They want their cows, not money. They are kidnapping to raise money just to buy weapons to repel helicopters and airplanes and to attack anybody that is going to attack them. You have to understand the psychology of these people. They are not like our governors that are stealing money. They don’t want money. For them, cow is better than money,” Sheikh Gumi added.
However, he said he realised that the bandits have collaborators in the armed forces. Sheikh Gumi warned that if the government failed to act fast, banditry, which, for now, is largely limited to the north, would also spread to the south.
Sheikh Gumi maintained that the best approach to solve the banditry problem was through dialogue and granting amnesty to the bandits rather than using military might. However, among those who have rejected the cleric’s amnesty proposal for the bandits were Kaduna State’s Governor Nasir El-Rufai, and his Niger State counterpart Governor Sanni Bello.