In this interview with John Shiklam, renowned Islamic cleric and scholar, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, spoke on a wide range of national issues, declaring that President Muhammadu Buhari is using the fight against corruption as a mere slogan to attract votes from ordinary masses in the north. Excerpts:
What have you to say to politicians as 2019 campaigns begin?
My advice to the political parties and the contestants is that they should confine themselves to the issues that really concern Nigerians and avoid negative campaigns, blackmail and anything that will divide and polarise the nation. They should stick to their agenda. What do they have to offer? They should avoid negative campaigns, because Nigeria is inflammable; Nigeria is sick and does not need negative campaigns.
We have seen in the past that negative campaigns do not change people from making up their minds on what they want. It has very little effect, because a human being has that tendency to swallow the negativity of somebody he likes and amplify the negativity of somebody he doesn’t like.
What are the issues the politicians should focus on?
In Nigeria, the main issue now, is the economy. Even these religious and ethnic problems are caused by economic issues. Nigerians are fighting over money, nothing else! In fact if there is a place, where people are sharing money, you can’t differentiate between a northerner, a southerner, a Muslim and a Christian.
There was a time they asked me about this issue of corruption and I said we are making too much noise about corruption. I am against corruption, but you may be surprised that this corruption is uniting Nigeria. So, whoever can boost the economy, create jobs and improve on the living standard of Nigerians can succeed.
That is why there is clamour for power to shift from there to there. It is all for economic reasons. We should analyze the two parties and see their programmes and get economists to discuss how to improve the Nigerian economy.
President Muhammadu Buhari once advised religious leaders like you not to be involved in politics. Do you agree with him?
No, the President was saying please, don’t criticise me and don’t be with the opposition, but you can come and praise me and be with APC. This is what he was saying. It doesn’t mean anything other than that. A man who has a pastor as his vice president, what can he tell religious leaders?
So, religious leaders can play politics?
Every religious leader, whether Christian or Muslim, plays politics. So, let’s not deceive ourselves. Religious leaders are human beings. They have needs. They are part of the society; they want good leaders, who can make the society a better place for the practice of religion. Of course, there are religious leaders, who play their politics for selfish gains and there those, who play politics with national interest at heart.
Some religious leaders are conscious of whatever will destroy the nation. Some of them want to get close to those in power to get some personal aggrandizement, but in the long run, everything boils down to economic interest – whether you are pursuing a personal or a national interest. That is why I am always surprised when they say some religious leaders are bought with money, when they are seen with the opposition (parties), when actually the key to the Central Bank Safe, is in the hands of the government.
If a religious leader wants money, he will support the government. How much can the opposition give him? So, usually religious leaders, who align with government, are those who are pursuing personal interest, especially when the government is performing badly. Nobody hates success. No matter how you hate a leader, when you are getting results, you will forgive him. No matter how you love a leader, if you are not getting results, you have to complain. So, it depends if there are results or no results.
Are you getting results from the present administration?
This is a question that should not be asked. Is there result or not, should not be asked?
I want to hear from you, are there results?
It should not be asked! I heard that now if WAEC wants to give you certificate, they will only record the subjects you passed. When you failed (all the subjects), do you have a result? So, we don’t have a result now. What results do you have? There is none!
You have been very critical of the Buhari administration, why?
Not only this administration, even the ones before him – Jonathan, even before Jonathan, Obasanjo. Things have not been right, up till now we didn’t get it right.
But you have been more critical of this government and there are insinuations that your criticisms are probably, because of the disagreement between your late father (Sheikh Mahmud Gumi) and Buhari as a military head of state in 1984?
No, no, no, not at all! At a point, I had been pro-Buhari since 2003 to 2007. I worked so much to have him, because I thought Nigeria needed somebody like him. But when I got close, I understood the complexity of Nigeria. It is not as simple as I saw it. It is a complex society and it needs a very smart person, somebody who is very persuasive. Nigeria is a school where you don’t need somebody with whip; you need to persuade and explain and pacify people to bring them together. This is what Nigeria needs.
You think our leaders are using force?
When we had Obasanjo, a former military man, he was ruling Nigeria halfway military, halfway democracy and there were a lot of things that needed to be corrected. The best person I could have really supported was (the late Umaru) Yar’adua. He was quiet, not corrupt and in fact, he fought corruption the right way, without making noise or making it a slogan or capitalising on sentiments. There were a lot of politicians during Yar’adua’s administration, who on their own, found that Nigeria was not good for them and they ran away.
I don’t want to mention names. But Yar’adua was not corrupt and he was doing the job. Unfortunately, God took his life.
Are you saying that the current fight against corruption by the government is not impressive?
It is not impressive at all. It is just a slogan to get the support of the talakawa (the masses). This Buharism you see is nothing but the talaka want somebody to come and squeeze the rich people. They thought if he comes, he will emasculate and squeeze the rich people and they will have enough money, this is what they thought. This is why they are still hoping. Even with the stark failure, what they are saying now is that the rich people will not allow him.
Why not dialogue with the rich men since squeezing them is not feasible? But if you want to squeeze them, just as we spent four years in a stalemate, the next four years would be more difficult. Look at what we are facing now! Shi’ites is getting more militant. I have seen video of Shi’ites throwing stones, attacking a police man.
This is a very serious development. Now, they are not afraid of security agents, they want to revenge. In trying to revenge, they may start looking for weapons that would be effective. So, you have another insurrection, once he (Buhari) insists he must continue and the resistance continues. By the time he finishes four years, we will have a full blown armed resistance. We are dealing with Boko Haram and now Shi’ites is coming up.
How about the herdsmen?
The herdsmen, I am meant to understand that it is criminality. I sent some scholars, who preach, to go to Gumi and Bukkuyum areas in Zamfara State to speak with the Fulani leaders there. The Fulani leaders admitted that it is their children that are responsible for what is happening there, but they cannot control them, just as in Kaduna or Lagos, where we have area boys, whose parents cannot control them.
These boys lack education; no Islamic education. They are just left like that. So, if you want to cure the Fulani herdsmen problem, you need a lot of money to educate them. Get them off the bushes. No government can tackle the problem of Nigeria if the economy is not buoyant. We must address the economy.
How do you think this problem between the Shi’ites and government could be addressed?
I have been suggesting that their leader should be released. Look at the leader of IPOP, Nnamdi Kanu, when he was released, the South-east has calmed. If he were still in incarceration, the situation there would have been serious. They should release him. Moreover, they are covered by the court and the court ordered for his release.
He is beginning to realise and recognise the authority of the nation, because if he was granted bail and he accepted bail conditions, it means he recognised the authority. But when you continue to incarcerate them, they will develop resistance. This is exactly how Boko Haram started. So, the problem is being manhandled.
Unfortunately, some Sunnis Muslims, especially local Ulamas, because of sectarian differences, think this is kudos to the government and we should support what is happening. I am not a member of Shi’ites; I am just looking at the nation. I don’t support some of the things the Shiite do, but as Nigerians, we have to support them humanely.
Exactly a year before they were attacked, I wrote an open letter to the Shiite leaders, advising them to stop blocking roads. I told them if they continue blocking roads, something bad will happen one day. I have been advising the Shi’ites and the government to do the right thing.
Let them release him and let him fulfill the bail conditions.
The Shi’ites must live like Nigerians. There is no problem taking a Stadium or a Square to do their religious programmes like others do. But they should not block the roads. Don’t abuse people’s sensibilities; you can’t abuse companions of the prophets.
You were recently accused of double standards in certain quarters on the issue of corruption. This was because when Senator Ahmad Sani Yarima was governor of Zamfara State, you defended allegations of corruption against him, but you have condemned allegations of corruption against the current Governor of Kano State, Abdullahi Ganduje. Is that correct?
Yarima came to Saudi Arabia one time when I was there. He was telling me what they were doing in Zamfara. I used to hear stories (of what was happening there). I asked him if what he was doing what people needed. I asked him why he was not building roads etc for them. He told me that he studied economics and there is something called human development.
He said some people live in very remote villages and that it is not the good roads that they need, they only need donkeys to bring their farm produce home. When I came back to Nigeria, a lot of delegations from everywhere were visiting me. I realised that people that were well dressed and well fed at that time, were coming from Zamfara.
Food should be the responsibility of government. No man should sleep without food. Subsidise food, subsidise important drugs like that of malaria and typhoid, subsidise education. These are the basic things that we need. Don’t try to impress people with dual carriage way, railway lines.
There was a governor in Kaduna, who showed me a plan of how he wanted to develop a Millennium City. When he showed me the plan, I told him that I had been to Rigassa (a suburb of Kaduna) and I saw the “millennium city” with millions of people there. I told him, they (Rigassa people) need roads and basic infrastructure and I asked him to develop area. His mind was focused on modern city – for who? For ghosts? This is the problem with our leaders.
So, even this government has blundered, because they have four years, they want people to quickly see the things they are doing and they forget the basic ABCD of responsibility of government. So, coming to Yarima, he is the poorest of all the (former) governors, but when he was in power, Zamfara people were the richest among Nigerians. For me, that is not corruption.
But when you say you will not give me a job until I give you bribe, it is corruption. This bribe, by our own religion, you are eating fire. When I said this government should not fight corruption openly, I know they have the tendency to use it as a slogan, because the Talaka want to hear that somebody is emasculated in prison. I was detained in Saudi Arabia; I don’t want anybody to be detained unjustly.
If there is evidence that somebody has stolen money, it is better to ask him to return it than put him in jail. If the selling point (of President Buhari) is fighting corruption, when I know he cannot fight it, it is going to fail and people will suffer. Buhari’s supporters are more in Kano. That is where he is almost being worshipped, because (the late) Aminu Kano implanted the struggle of the Talakawa against the ruling class.
So, Buhari rode on that. The Talaka, no matter how poor, he doesn’t mind seeing the ruling class humiliated. This kind of attitude should be changed. It is not Islamic, it is not religious. I have said in several interviews that the coming of the APC is creating another class struggle, not just religious, but regional class. People just want others to be jailed!
I was ready to forgive Buhari, but when I realised that he mishandled Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd), I felt that we have to stand on our feet, if not, we would be producing another Mugabe or Paul Biya. Why I am concerned about Dasuki is that a security adviser is a servant of the President.
He cannot go to the Central Bank and collect money. Somebody has to authorise that, which is the President. He cannot distribute the money without the approval of the president. Being a messenger, how can he be a victim of the vicious war, if the principal cannot be touched? There is no way. To me, it is pure injustice. There allegations of corruption against the governor of Kano State, but all we hear is politicking. They are not ready to investigate him, he is not ready to resign and they are all claiming to be Muslims. Before then, this same governor, in an extravagant wedding ceremony, spent so much money. The President was there. They are notoriously known for extravagance of money and now everybody knows where that money comes from. The president knows that. That is hypocrisy!