By Alexander Okere
Islamic cleric, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, tells ALEXANDER OKERE why the plan by the Central Bank of Nigeria to curb kidnapping in the country through the redesign of the N200, N500, and N1,000 notes will not be effective
With less than four months to the end of the regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), how will you rate the level of security or insecurity in the country, especially in the North, in the last seven and a half years?
I think the security situation in the country, to be honest, every Nigerian has had a taste of it. But I think now, there is a little improvement from what has been happening in the past. I think we are coming down from the crescendo because mostly it is kidnapping and ransom-taking for many factors. I think one of the factors is that the people concerned are realising the failure of their attempts. So, there is improvement in general security. But has it reached the level we expect it to? I don’t think it has reached that level.
Now, you hear about lesser cases of kidnapping even though it is still rampant, it is lesser than before. We have reached the climax and after reaching the climax, like in a graph, everything comes down. So, I think we are reaching the end of the crisis.
What do you think is responsible for the shift from bombings by terrorists that used to be rife in the North to the current spate of kidnapping in the region and beyond?
In any phenomenon, the zealots burn out like a candle. Maybe in the beginning, they had a lot of zealots and fanatics. But now, they are out; what remains is a younger generation of people who are becoming enlightened that that way of life is not feasible. So, we are seeing the end of the insurgency. Even in the South-East, when their leader was caught, things went down, and even though there were cases of criminality and killings, the tempo is coming down. Probably, people are conscious that a new government is coming, so they want to see whether they will have a government that is sympathetic to them.
Some Nigerians believe the train attacks in Kaduna State in March 2022, and the one in Edo State on January 7 that resulted in the abduction of scores of passengers are a new trend among kidnappers. Do you see it that way?
The one recorded in Kaduna is completely different because it was carried out by a terrorist organisation that felt aggrieved; they (terrorists) said the state was suppressing them. Now, I think there are proactive steps taken to see that there is dialogue and it is working. As we learn more and more, I think we improve. When there is an attack from outside and it is overwhelming. I can’t blame the managers (of the trains) because the attackers came in large numbers and attacked the train from outside. Really, the security in Nigeria needs to improve, and the social grievances and economic hardship should be addressed. But I think that as we approach a new government coming in, the new government should have a grasp of what has happened and try not to make the same mistakes in its approach to all the social agitation.
Why do you think the train attack in Edo State was different?
It is more or less a criminal case of kidnapping rather than a terrorist organisation trying to send a message. That is why I think it is different. The economic situation has produced small groups of criminals; everybody wants to be rich. When there is economic depression and leaders show affluence in whatever they do and engage in things that are not really necessary, like having parties, and the rest of the people are in abject poverty, this produces criminality.
But many wonder why bandits who blame their criminal activities on the deprivation they suffer at the hands of their leaders, attack poor or ordinary citizens like them…
Criminals go for soft targets because theses leaders are guarded by heavily-armed police or military, so they cannot get to them. So, they attack soft targets; that is psychology.
Do you subscribe to the notion that governments at all levels have not been able to address security challenges, like banditry and terrorism, because such crimes are sponsored by some politicians?
None of the politicians I know is involved in violence. Maybe you can say they have political thugs here and there. If some politicians don’t have thugs and they go into a community where they are not popular, they can be lynched. Sometimes, it becomes necessary for them but as we become more civilised, I think thuggery will come to an end.
The major contenders in the 2023 presidential race claim to have the solution to insecurity. Do you think any of them can solve the problem?
The challenge of insecurity needs a leader who listens, tries to see the original cause, and tries to deal with the issue, not just bombard and kill militants. No! A leader should try to see what led to the problem and address it. The Niger Delta militants claimed that they were marginalised and their resources vandalised. So, when the government became serious, it created amnesty, a ministry, and a commission for them, it reduced the agitation. And they (the government) are using them (ex-militants) to police the areas because they know better than the security agencies. When (Government Ekpemupolo, also known as) Tompolo, was given a contract to protect pipelines, you saw the results; exposing the illegal tapping of our oil. Such engagement and discussion with them is the way out.
Do you think the President has not been listening or trying to address the problem?
It’s his style of leadership. When you see a leader fighting his disciples and they are running away from him, then you know there is a problem with the leadership style. A leader should be able to mobilise, redirect and use people to effect a change.
Who were you referring to as his disciples? His service chiefs?
No. Service chiefs are servants of the state. I mean every leader usually has people who are close to him. But when he gets power and you see that he is no longer close to the people who struggled with him, then you know there is a problem with the leadership.
Interestingly, the Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai, on Wednesday alleged that some elements in the Presidential Villa were working against the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Bola Tinubu. Is this part of what you mean?
He said for four years he didn’t see any need to go to Aso Rock because good and effective advice is not accepted. That shows there is something wrong with the style of leadership.
Do you think the security challenge in Nigeria is a dent in Buhari’s legacy?
For eight years, I have been talking about Buhari. I’m tired. I’m looking forward to (a new government in) in 2023.
There are concerns that the elections may not be held in some parts of the country perceived as hotbed of crime. What are your thoughts on that?
This is the time leaders in such areas should make sure that votes count there. Look at how Zamfara (State) is a hotbed of banditry, but all the political leaders have gone there to campaign without incidents. Look at Sokoto. Social (violence) is more or less partly political, economic, or social upheaval. It is not just mere criminality. So, I think leaders in those areas can go into an agreement with all these agitators and tell them to calm down so that leaders that listen can be elected and I think it will work everywhere. Even in the South-East, the traditional and religious leaderships are important because all the people you see armed attend a church or a mosque and have somebody they listen to. So, I think if some areas will be affected by insecurity during the elections, they are few.
The new naira notes have continued to generate controversy as many Nigerians can’t access them in commercial banks and Automated Teller Machines, leading to an apparent shortage of the affected denominations in circulation due to the initial deadline given by the Central Bank of Nigeria to phase the old notes out. Do you think this situation has any security implications?
Yes. I was one of the people that said it (the deadline) was not feasible and I envisaged that it was going to be removed. The government has programmes but in executing the programmes, it is very clumsy; it’s not well thought out. I heard an economist saying that when you have three great events in the same year using the same resources, one has to give way. You cannot over-task your donkey, else, it will collapse.
What do you think would have gone wrong if the CBN did not extend the deadline?
An upheaval would have come. Look at how popular Buhari was in Kano and suddenly, people in Kano were turning against him. It is really sad to see that. In Sudan, a mere increase in the price of bread caused the fall of the government because the people depend on it. There is despair among people; they will turn against you, so you don’t take people for granted.
While the masses are struggling to get the new naira notes, an unverified video surfaced online showing a notorious terrorist displaying wads of the new notes, claiming that he had enough to purchase more weapons. What do you make of that?
These (terrorists) are people who have grievances and also like to improve their image. The CBN governor mentioned that the reason for changing the notes was to deprive terrorists (of money). They (terrorists) hear him and say, “Here is your money with us”. They can catch (kidnap) people and collect new ones (naira notes) and even demand something else like foreign currency. So, citing terrorism as the reason for this draconian rule in a democratic nation is negative; it will not bring any good results. It (the display of new notes by the terrorist) is a show of mockery.
How best can the government address this problem?
First, those in the almajiri system are not involved in criminality, banditry, or Boko Haram because they (pupils) are already under the tutelage of a leader they respect, though they can be engaged in other forms of crime like thuggery. So, no child should be left behind in Nigeria. Every government should make sure education is well-taken care of.
The economy is very important. The person (new President) should improve the economy. Once the economy is improved, a lot of these problems will go down naturally. Another thing is employment. Job creation is a very important programme any government should embrace. Security should be improved too. There is a lot of corruption in our security (agencies) which should be flushed out. They know how to bring out the moles. They just need to be proactive.
Do you think the call on bandits in the North to surrender their weapons and get amnesty was effective?
It was just ‘photoshop’. They (the government) brought journalists and a few bandits and made superficial peace. Where are the roads, hospitals, schools, and amnesty? There is none. They (bandits) need to be engaged and be shown that there is hope.
What about the call for bandits to face justice for killing unarmed civilians?
That is why amnesty is needed. Just recently in Nasarawa, innocent people were killed in the name of fighting terrorism; they are victims too. So, it has to be a general amnesty, and reparation, and the government can pay for the damage done.
As a Nigerian, who do you think is the best person among the presidential candidates to occupy the office of the President?
None of them can handle Nigerians’ problems alone but all of them can handle Nigerians’ problems collectively. So, I will look at the candidate who has the ability to work together with others. He is the man that Nigeria needs.
And who is that man?
I think it is left for Nigerians to go and cast their votes on February 25.