War of words: The town-crier versus a cleric


Femi Adesina, left, and Gumi


By Richard Elesho


The Nigerian insecurity pandemic has created wars on many fronts. The armed forces, police and other safety agencies have been neck-deep in efforts to contain criminal dispensers of pain across the country.

Just like the proverbial child who says his mother will not sleep, must also suffer insomnia, criminal elements are being denied peace. Boko Haram insurgents, bandits, kidnappers, secessionists and militants of different hues have of late, been at the receiving end of their own merchandise.

The military engagements are no longer new, as we regularly hear of insurgents surrendering in thousands and bandits being killed in droves. What is new, however, is that the development has also brewed an offensive between the presidency and a medical Doctor turned Muslim cleric.

Femi Adesina, Special Adviser on Media and Public Affairs, to President Muhammadu Buhari and fiery Islamic advocate, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi are figuratively arms drawn over the military engagements in the north. While Adesina, also a part-time Pastor, hailed the kinetic approach, Gumi berates it. The verbal war has degenerated to name-calling on both sides.

To be sure, Gumi has never hidden his sympathy for the inhabitants of the vast jungles of the northwest and central who regularly come out to torment innocent citizens. They steal, abduct, rape, set dwellings ablaze and kill without blinking an eyelid. President Buhari’s home state of Katsina, Kaduna, Sokoto, Zamfara, Niger and Benue are the worst affected states.

The gunmen randomly invade educational institutions, highways, homes and markets to lead hapless prey into the jungle, where heavy ransoms are paid for their freedom. They also rustle cattle. Traumatised locals and an overwhelmed Nigeria Police Force tag them as bandits, a euphemism for everything evil.

The search for peace produced a Gumi, who strolls at will to commune with the denizen of the jungles. Gumi seems to know the hideouts the way a Chief Priest is familiar with his shrine. He argued that no country can use force to win guerilla warfare, warning that Nigeria may become another Afghanistan.

In a recent Facebook post, titled, ‘Zamfara: The flaring crisis’, Gumi said, “Let us face the reality, these herdsmen are going nowhere, and they are already in battle gear, and we know our Military very well, so before things get messy, we need cold brains to handle this delicate situation.” He objects to the criminal branding of the group’s activities, noting that they are not bandits, but militants, who should be appeased. That is the point of departure.

Adesina, whose boss has vowed to deal with criminal groups in a language they understand, hailed the Mosaic path: an eye, for an eye.

In an article on Thursday titled, “I like this pampering. Don’t you?” the Presidential aide described Gumi as a “bandit-lover.” Although he did not mention Gumi, he quoted him copiously and condemned criminal groups to hellfire.

According to him, “Before they got to this sorry pass, they had the chance to turn a new leaf. Zamfara, Katsina, and many other states offered dialogue. The governments tried to negotiate with them. But they were contumacious.

“Like dogs fated for destruction, they refused to hear the hunters’ whistle. They filled the land with sorrow, tears, and blood, ‘dem regular trademark’ (as Fela Anikulapo-Kuti would say). Now, the shoe is on the other foot…

“Shocking and disconcerting, however, that in the middle of all these, you still hear words meant to discourage our gallant soldiers. A bandit-lover is on record as saying a military offensive would not work, and that the bandits “are going nowhere.” True? False. They are going somewhere. And that is: hell,” Adesina wrote.

Being not one to suffer a fool gladly, Gumi will not leave a blow unanswered. As he said, “silence for me in this ocean of oblivion is not an option.” In a statement on Friday titled: “War has never been a solution anywhere anytime,” Gumi lashed out at the presidential aide, calling him a bootlicker, fool and cynic.

The cleric advertised his qualifications in medical sciences, military, clergy, scholarship and said he is not a bandit lover but his country and humanity lover. He faulted the peace efforts of the government as not sincere and that it was sabotaged.

“Some disingenuous people say: peace and negotiations with herdsmen bandits have failed, and your mission has failed!

“I said my mission has not failed but it was sabotaged or discouraged by the same influential people that benefit from the chaos or like us to destroy ourselves and leave the herdsmen in perpetual ignorance.

“Some said we have tried amnesty but it didn’t work. You didn’t try amnesty but tried amnesia. Amnesty without rehabilitation, reconciliation, and reparation is no amnesty. Ask the former Niger Delta Militants who killed security men in the past what an amnesty is. What stops us from having a Federal Ministry of Nomadic Affairs where their grievances and complaints will be addressed?

He insists that the approach of the military will not work. “By the way, what you may not hear, is that the bandits over the years have developed escape routes from aerial bombardments. They told us: you can only kill our women and children with your attacks!…

“As for those cynics that have no value to add in the dilemma except vituperation, and abuses, we know that is the substance they are made up of. No qualms whatsoever! you don’t expect fragrance from faeces.

So, what is the solution?

He provides the answer. “Good Intelligence! Good proficient policing, engagement of the local herdsmen in policing, rehabilitation, reconciliation, and reparation of all victims of banditry. A good honest judiciary protects people’s rights. Money and time well spent on these will surely kill the disease and heal the nation of this delinquency, crimes, and bad governance.

As the exchange of words and ideas continue in the public space, many take it as a welcome comic relief from the challenges of living in Nigeria, today.


*Elesho, a journalist writes from Lokoja, Kogi State