SheikH Ahmad Abubakar Mahmoud Gumi is a Kaduna-based Islamic scholar. In this interview with our correspondent, NOAH EBIJE, in Kaduna, the fiery religious leader answered questions on national issues without fear or favour. He came down hard on President Buhari over the high rate of insecurity and poverty in the country, alleging that it is the worst government in the nation’s 20 years of democracy. Sheikh Gumi said he regretted criticizing Obasanjo’s government in 2004, saying that he never knew that a worse government was ahead in 2019.
How would you assess the security situation in the country today?
I don’t believe so much in conspiracy theory, these things started long time before the advent of this administration. The Fulani herdsmen menace and its repercussion, I have seen it growing slowly before this government came to power. It became saturated because of the economic factor, suddenly the economy came into stagnation, and the people became desperate. So the economy blew out, and the security apparatus lacks adequate manpower and instruments to control the situation. It was a gradual thing and the economy bears the main point. You could see children under the age of 15 planning to kidnap, to get what? Money, because poverty is too widespread. So when you don’t get the economy right, you are going to destroy everything.
Some Nigerians allege some people are benefiting from this state of insecurity. Do you share their view?
No, no, it is too naïve to think that way because nobody is safe, nobody is safe, they could kidnap anybody anytime. It is not about ethnic or religious and political affiliation, it is purely economic war, and there is no religious colouration. In fact, when the herdsmen were attacking people in Benue and Plateau states, they said it was Islamization. When they attacked more Muslims in Zamfara, everybody kept quiet. The people in Zamfara State suffered this more than anybody.
Herdsmen, bandits and kidnappers have been largely blamed for the insecurity, do you believe there’s more to it than the common man can see?
The insecurity situation in the country today, absolutely, every single Nigerian is feeling the brunt. It is very treacherous, anything can happen anytime, anywhere. It is widespread, if it is concentrated on a localised place, it would have been curtailed. But generally, lack of institutional infrastructures and poverty in the land are responsible for insecurity in the country.
What’s the role of religious leaders in this whole situation?
Religious leaders are [of] two [types]; there are those who dance with government and there are those who try to tell the government what it is supposed to do. Those who dance with government can never tell government what it is supposed to do. And those that don’t dance with the government, when they speak, they say your position is against them, so government doesn’t listen to them. So by this, religious leaders are virtually neutralized. They have no role to play because if you speak the truth, they will say you are in opposition. When they finish speaking, they just want to hear sweet music of approval, even in a serious situation like we have now. Nobody wants to hear the truth. We have reached a point of diminishing returns, because indices are not responding to stimuli. You have really seen that things are going out of tunes.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has equally raised the alarm about increasing security challenges in the country. Do you share his thoughts in his recent letter to President Buhari?
When Olusegun Obasanjo was in power, I was among those who criticised him. And when Jonathan came to power, and Obasanjo wrote a letter to him, I told a congregation in the mosque that whatever I have said about Obasanjo or whatever I think Obasanjo did wrong to me particularly or the people, I have forgiven him. This was during the first letter he wrote to Jonathan.
So I have forgiven Obasanjo because I realised that the manner he is doing it is for the interest of Nigerians. When he saw Jonathan whom he brought to power was going off the track, he corrected him in a letter, saying this and that. So now, this same Obasanjo, when he sees President Buhari doing the same thing, wrecking the nation, he drew people’s attention to the drift. He has been consistent, if he sees that you are deviating from the mainstream or doing something that is so detrimental to the nation as a whole, he speaks. So why should I not take his words serious? A former Head of State, a security man, a man who fought the civil war and everything, he is supposed to know at least what is happening to everybody. What Nigeria needs now is stability, peace and tranquility. There are forces that are pragmatic, practical, not idealistic and full of propaganda. So this nation is made up of many tribes, and hundreds of different persuasions, even within the same division you have divisions and different ideas. With the same Bible, they fight each other or with the same Koran, the people will be fighting each other. So there is only one thing that can unite us; the desire for peaceful coexistence, that is what everybody needs. When we sit down on the same table and find the way out, whatever it is, we can resolve it. So if leaders will come together and negotiate our ways out, the problem will be less. When you win election, it doesn’t mean the nation is yours and you [can] do what you like, like if I am President now, Nigeria is my own, [and] I do what I like. It is not like that. You have to listen to the constituencies, you have to listen to Nigerians, and if you win an election, you have to tolerate all Nigerians. As the president, you got over 12 million votes (or let’s give him 20 million votes), for example, out of 80 million registered Nigerian voters. Out of eighty million, only 20 million voted for you and you are raising your shoulder––you are nobody, you are nobody in the question of Nigeria. You can’t do what you want; you have to be consultative, you have to bring all segments together. Why majority of voters did not vote is another reaction, you have to listen to them and find solution to what will unite Nigerians.
This is the kind of government we need. You can’t impose yourself, no way, you can’t use force. We need a government that brings everybody together, listens to people and obeys the rule of law, then we can have unity in this country. But force cannot do it. Let me tell you, when Nzeogwu did coup in 1966, they thought they have Nigeria, after six months, everything turned upside down. Force cannot do it. Major Orkar in 1990 thought he could change Nigeria by force. Force cannot do it. Only persuasion can do it. We have to sit down on the table for Nigeria to be readjusted. But we need a government that people can call and say, yes, they will do it for us.
How did Obasanjo offend you before forgiving him?
You know, every government has its own shortcomings. So when I came in 2004, I saw that the nation was in such situation that I did not know that we were going to reach a point in 2019 where I will begin to see that Nigeria can be so bad. Obasanjo was trying his best at that time, but I cannot see it because I did not see the worst. There was poverty. They brought me a woman in 2004 with nine children; it was during the fasting period. She broke her fast with water, she had no food. I was really touched. But then it was a woman that was brought to me, now they can bring me a whole community.
So, I was thinking then, why was the nation’s wealth not distributed well? Why were people not getting well, not so many people were getting rich, but generally, the economy was better. Constructions were going on. So these things I saw under Obasanjo made me to criticize his government.
When Jonathan came to power, and we saw the Boko Haram menace, it blew up the problems, the problems were increasing. Then Obasanjo came out to tell him that things were not going on well, and I said this man (Obasanjo) has the nation at heart. You may disagree with him here and there, but, generally, I will give him a pass mark. He is not doing the things for personal interest, but for the nation.
Are faith leaders like you genuinely worried and concerned and if so, do you compare notes?
We have not been comparing notes really. There are institutions that bring inter-faith leaders together, and when you hear such institutions, their leaders are already dancing to the tune of government. Whenever government calls, they are there. Yes, they may try to say a word or two, but their criticism of government is somehow limited.
Do you think the economy has something to do with the state of insecurity?
Yes, this is what I told you in the first question. It is the economy that really worsens the situation and it is worsening by the day. In fact, they said Nigeria has become the poverty capital of the world. Things are really becoming terrible. It is normal to be sick. But if you are sick today, you are almost digging your own grave.
Are you worried about the Ruga policy?
I have not seen and read what government intended to do with Ruga policy. What I want to tell government to do is, negotiation; if government can develop ranching for private sector, it is the responsibility of government to encourage private sector to do ranching because these cows are owned privately and not by the government. So the government cannot secure a place for them because it is private business.
For instance, if you said you are allocating a large land for nomadic Fulani, I too sitting down here, need land, I need land to rear cows, so why giving this one and not giving that one? It is not the business of government to give land. What government should do is to facilitate ranches, demarcate areas for ranching, that people come and buy the land, give you taxes, then also facilitate the industries in the country. Do it for everybody, you don’t need to be Fulani. So politicizing the issue is wrong.
Many argue that the recent suspension following public outcry is diversionary. Do you believe government will still go ahead with it and what will outspoken leaders like you do in case it is reintroduced?
Like I said, Ruga is a private issue. They should just encourage people to make ranches, and then make law to stop rearing of cattle across borders. If they make law, the people will adjust. Like the Almajiri issue, they make things worse for Almajiri teachers because you have to build schools first, then make law that we don’t want to see any Almajiri roaming about. If you see him roaming about, the teacher or the parents are in trouble. Then you will see them disappearing. When you make ranches, across all the states, encourage the people to buy the ranches, then you see cattle disappearing from the roads.
VP Osinbajo is a Pastor of the Pentecostal faith. Do you see him as a likely successor to President Buhari in 2023 or the power remaining in the north as being canvassed already?
Nigeria as a nation should overcome this rotational thing. Maybe, we should be at the tail end of this rotation because in the last eight years the nation was fragmented, so divided that applying the idea in our political situation may not be pragmatic, may not be possible; otherwise we should have developed to the extent that the population decides.
Let Nigerians decide what they want in an election. What we need is political competence, people who are not bigots or under the influence of religion or any Nigerian who recognizes equality and unity of Nigeria. More importantly, we need leaders that are not against faith and religion. We want leaders that respect faith.
North has the numerical strength, do you think it will ever allow political power to slip off its hands again?
We no longer have homogenous north, there is no one North again. The one north is no more. How was Abiola accepted in the North against Tofa? Let me tell you, Abiola came to this house (Gumi’s House) and he said it was from this house he was told to contest for the presidency. But I have never seen Tofa in this house. What I am trying to tell you is that there is population in the north, but it is of different people, tribes, persuasions. There is no one thing that unite the north. We have good people who are nice; honestly, Abiola did not have tribal sentiment. He was not tribalistic. We just want competent people. So the most important thing is that you must not be tribalistic, or a religious bigot. No compulsion of faith. You cannot force your religion on another person. You can only convince somebody to follow you, not to force him.
Do you think the long detention of El-zakzaky and Dasuki is justified?
How can it be justified when the court of law said they should be released? This is what we are seeing in this government. Government should not use force to break the law of the land. In fact, they should be released when the law says they should be released. This is part of the thing we are saying that it is very negative about the constitution. Disobeying court order in day light. This is a nightmare that will haunt them one day, they will see the effect, how people will be talking about them. What legacy, what history does any leader want to keep? El-zakzaky has his own followers, Dasuki has his own followers.
Many Nigerians are worried that the Shiite leader’s travails can incubate another Boko Haram crisis. Do you share their fears?
Two wrongs do not make a right, the moment government has mismanaged this thing, it has already turned them into some form of militancy which we hope, they are restricted, as soon as possible before they become full-blown insurrection.
These people are no more afraid of authority because we have seen video clips where they are threatening police officers, and that is a sign that something should be done, otherwise they form their own authority.
So now, it is left for Nigerians to say, look, this Nigeria is not for two of you, we have our children, we have our future, the government cannot mess us up, create another insurgency when we have one already, simply for not obeying court order. So government should equally address them too, Nigeria is not for you alone, you cannot impose your religion or creed on the country. Nigeria has to wake up because if we leave these two, they are all northerners, I know how our psychology is, and nobody wants to show he is defeated. But it is not a question of defeat, it is a question of law. Let them obey court order.
What do you see as the solution to the myriad of problems facing the country today?
Let the government strengthen the economy and provide employment for unemployed Nigerians.
If you’re to meet Buhari today, what will you tell him?
I will tell him to revive Nigeria.