For years, the hideout of bandits in Nigeria was a mystery. DSS and other top intelligence services seem helpless in handling the rigors of tracing and tracking the criminals. The services failed to give helpful tips and useful information on ways to rid the atrocities of those bloodthirsty monsters. Freely and with reckless abandon, the outlaws committed cruelty raking millions while killing hundreds of innocent souls. Those in authority also watched carelessly as citizens fell prey. Dressed in camouflage while riding on bikes, these heartless fellows sack villages, litter towns with blood, dump bodies on ground and brought tears and sorrows along with drums.

More than the dreaded Boko Haram who now play second fiddle both in attention and media reports; these bandits operate with confidence, attack with dexterity and hold law abiding citizens to ransom. And the essence of their insurrection against Nigeria was as obscure as their identities. Entered Sheikh Abubakar Gumi. Those who have been held captives by the bandits in the North including two of my friends tell of their horrific dens. Because they are kidnappers and murderers, victims are subjected to trauma, one that may last a lifetime. But the triumphant entry of Sheikh Gumi into the bandits’ republic is changing the narrative as the popular preacher now brand those lawless gangs freedom fighters who deserve respect and pecks of liberation.

While Boko Haram had excellent public relations, bandits, presumably a group of illiterates and itinerants, seems to take public romance with levity. Good products sell itself. And truthfully, even as of today, the group has neither a spokesperson nor a known leader. Boko Haram for instance is led by that notorious Abubakar Shekau. He appears in their videos. Reads their statements and threatens the country. For several times, he was reported to have been killed, only to resurface and stings the government again. A cat with nine lives.

Sheikh Gumi’s (mis) adventure into that forest of fear is already shaping story around the scourge. His audacity to compare those devil incarnates with freedom fighters is already causing ripple effect in the polity. How the preacher got himself into that place, sits endearingly well and have a long chat with them continues to beat the imagination of well-meaning Nigerians. But for those who know the web of criminality in the country especially in a deeply conservative North, that visit is nothing short of surprise. Gumi only took a gamble intended to galvanize his popularity, inspire the bandits and wreck Nigeria.

That visit and subsequent statements such as one on the kidnapped Kagara boys by Sheikh Gumi is setting a bad precedence for Nigeria — a deeply divided and tension-soaked country, battling scores of existential threats. At a time the country battles and juggles for unity, peace and stability, that romance is both dangerous and deadly. And only those in authority can wade in and put an end to it.

Muftau Gbadegesin,