Sheikh Ahmad Abubakar Gumi comes from a long line of Islamic scholars. His father was the first Grand Khadi of the old Northern Region.
The senior Gumi was involved in the long and fruitful attempt by Sir Ahmadu Bello in Islamic revival and evangelism, especially in the Middle-Belt and other traditionally non-Islamic parts of the North. He was also the founder of the Izalla Movement which tried to dominate the mosques in the North in the 1970s and 1980s. He had quite a following among members of the Muslim Students Society, MSS, especially in the Ahmadu Bello University, ABU, of those days.
The young Gumi also grew up in an era of fervent Islamic recrudescence. He must have been heavily influenced by his father whose piety and strict adherence to Islamic principle was well known. The younger Gumi is just 61, but he has the wisdom and experience of an old man. He is a serious scholar and imam and has a large following. Suspected criminals have learnt to trust him.
When trouble visited Niger State in February, Governor Bello summoned Gumi. Brigands have invaded the somnolent village of Kagara and abducted scores of students. They had come in the night, dressed in military uniform and ordered the boys to move. Some of them thought they were wise. Some of the teachers too believed they have the right and duty to protect their wards. The terrorists answered with gun fire. Two deaths later, the others followed instructions and marched to the bush. Then the forest swallowed the captives. Our Republic appeared helpless. It is not clear now when the police and the military were contacted. What has been in the public realm was that Sheik Gumi too was contacted.
Sheik Gumi is a highly educated man who could never be accused of being sympathetic to Boko Haram who are hostile to Western ideas and education. He had studied medicine at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, before joining the Nigerian Army where he rose to the rank of captain. He later resigned his commission to start another career as an Islamic priest. He travelled to Saudi Arabia where he attended the Umm-Al-Qura University in Mecca. He obtained a doctorate degree in Islamic jurisprudence. He is a lover of democracy and has always maintained that “during election, voting is more necessary than to pray.”
It is not clear whether his involvement is not helping the kidnappers to prey on us. His vocation as a peacemaker and trouble-shooter has also exposed our government as being helpless in the wake of the most brutal assault and provocation against the spirit and letter of the Constitution. It is reported that within one year of active activities in Niger State, more than 300 people were killed in 73 reported cases of banditry. In the past, Niger State, the largest state in Nigeria, use to be one of the most peaceful. Now peace is far away and everyone is pondering what to do. I am not surprised that Governor Bello reached out to Gumi. The governor has to save life first before theorizing on the propriety or otherwise of his move, especially when he could not receive appropriate and timely help from Abuja.
Let us ponder awhile if these kind of brazen affront had happened when Ahmadu Bello was the Premier of the defunct Northern Region. Bello would have drafted hundreds of regional policemen to comb the forest. Legions of secret police from Lagos would have descended on Kagara to help the effort of the local police. The military, lean but efficient in those days, would have been called in to help. Even local chiefs, with their colourful guards, would have participated on horsebacks. District heads and local chieftains would have been dragged into the fray. Ahmadu Bello was a lover of children and he would have been roused to furious action if this kind of affront had happened under his watch. Few years ago, I was in an office in Sokoto. On the wall was a picture of Bello lovingly helping a schoolgirl with her work. Such a man would not tolerate this kind of brutal assault.
Criminals would always be with us. Even in Belgium, reputed to have the best prison system in the world, with prisoners having access to the best food, internet, music, films, books and recreational facilities, the prisons still have candidates. In Thailand, reputed to have a brutal prison system, the prisons are still filled up. In the most advanced societies, criminals still find a way to challenge the norms. Two weeks ago, two Nigerians were sentenced to death in Ghana. They had robbed and kidnapped some Ghanaians (they pretended to be Fulani herdsmen!) and when they would not pay the ransom they demanded, killed their victims. Some Nigerians too have been convicted in Dubai for robbery and other crimes. Many Nigerians are serving various jail terms in Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, the United Kingdom and other countries. They have tried to challenge the norms in those countries and they have faced the wrath of the law.
What is disturbing in Nigeria now is that the state appears incapable, in many cases, of making criminals to face the wrath of the law. That is what is giving Sheik Gumi his current occupation (not employment) in negotiating with criminals. One shudders what would have been the fate of our children if Gumi had not been available and those children had been made to face the Chibok treatment. The Gumi alternative, though it has worked in fits and starts, is actually a dreadful alternative to be employed by the state. It is also basically unsustainable.
It is good that President Muhammadu Buhari has said state governments should not be paying ransom. Good advice. We expect him to now take proper action to rid our country of kidnappers and other criminals. We do not expect the President to sermonize. He should leave that to Gumi and other people in the priestly vocation of our different religions. The President should take action as expected of his office as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.
Our country has to take action to make violent crimes unattractive for the criminals. Some daring Nigerians boys have tried to engage in robbery in Dubai but they regretted it. Some are dead. Others are in jail. They were all caught.
In Nigeria, no one is sure whether they would be caught and if they are caught whether they would ever be served the cold dish of justice. We need to ensure that justice is served, especially to the big men and women who are the suspected sponsors of these criminals.
People have pointed out that most of the kidnapping have been perpetrated by rogue Fulani herdsmen. It is clear now that every section of Nigeria and every ethnic group now has its own Fulani herdsmen. Many graduated armed robbers have upped their game to become kidnappers. Armed robberies carry the death sentence. With the advent of the POS and ATM cards, robbery has become less lucrative and more hazardous. The punishment is death, no matter your proceeds. Not to be compared to kidnapping where if you lead a few scores of school children into the bush, shivering parents would locate you with Ghana-Must-Go bags filled with naira notes.
What a country!