By Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja and John Shiklam in Kaduna
The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU) and the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), yesterday lashed out at an Islamic cleric, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, over inciting comments on the fight against banditry, depicting Christian soldiers as the ones killing bandits.
“In the military, there are Christians and Muslims; the Christians in the military are the ones killing you (bandits) to cause problems,” Gumi was heard saying in a video of his address to bandits in one of the camps he visited.
He had also, on a live TV programme, said bandits were not interested in killing people and that the “few” they killed were “accidental.”
“And you call them killer herdsmen; how many people do they kill?
“When they kill, it is mostly accidental, may be somebody they took who is sick. But tell me who they have killed? How many? Few,” Gumi said during the interview.
In their separate reactions, ACF, SOKAPU and CAN described Gumi’s utterances as divisive and inciting.
Spokesman of the ACF, Mr. Emmanuel Yawe, called on the cleric to watch his utterances else he may gain the confidence of the bandits and lose the confidence of the people.
Yawe said: “I don’t think he is right by saying the bandits killed few people and accidentally.
“Where did he take the count to know that bandits kill only a few people? Gumi started a wonderful and laudable programme of dialogue with the bandits.
“If he does not watch his words, he may gain the confidence of the bandits but lose that of the general public that has been unjustifiably terrorised by the bandits.
“For Gumi to succeed in his self-appointed task, he needs the confidence of the two – bandits and society.”
Also commenting on the utterances of the Islamic cleric in the video, the ACF spokesman said the easiest way to destroy a country was to take a fight from civilians into the military.
He stated that a fight between Christians and Muslims in the army would destroy the army and the country.
“Even if Christian and Muslims civilians are killing each other, we should not introduce the fight to men who are legally armed to fight,” he said.
He called on the people who could influence Gumi to advise him to desist from making inciting comments so as not to set the country ablaze.
CAN also described the statement by Gumi that bandits were being attacked by Christian soldiers as a bad omen.
The association labelled the comment as reprehensible and capable of causing disunity in the country.
Special Assistant to CAN President, Pastor Adebayo Oladeji, wondered if such comments by Gumi will not polarise the military along religious divides.
“If anyone said it was the Christian soldiers who are attacking bandits, that is a bad omen. We still want to believe that Sheik Gumi was quoted out of context.
“But if it is true, then, the unity and peace of the country are being threatened. Such a grave allegation is ungodly, divisive, unpatriotic, ill-wind and reprehensible,” he said.
CAN said bandits were being pampered with money being made available to them because highly respected politicians and religious leaders are speaking for them.
He added: “Is Sheik Gumi trying to polarise the military along the religious divides? Is he inciting the bandits against Christians? Is Gumi saying that the Muslim soldiers are on vacation in the ongoing war against terrorists, murderous herdsmen and bandits?
“If what Gumi reportedly said was attributed to a Christian leader, the security operatives would have invited him or declared him wanted. Do we truly have sacred cows in the polity now? Was that the reason why the lopsided appointments of the security chiefs were in favour of one religion at the expense of Christianity?”
Also, the Kaduna State Chairman of CAN, Rev. Joseph Hayab, said the divisive utterances of Gumi had raised doubt about the sincerity of his preaching and mediation.
Hayab noted that the statement of Gumi that Christian soldiers are the ones killing bandits is inciting and divisive.
Hayap stated that the military should not be presented as a Christian-versus-Muslim institution.
He called on patriotic Nigerians to condemn this and not allow anyone to promote such division in the military.
“The video in circulation came to us as a shock because when some of us were celebrating Gumi’s intervention with the bandits then this video came out.
“Though the sheikh has tried to explain or prove that the message was as a result of a report he got from an army personnel who came to report to him what was happening some years back, but a careful listening to the words Sheikh Gumi used in that the video has further increased our fears and suspicion,” he said.
Hayab added that the man who complained to Gumi might have given him a one- sided report, saying that “since he said he will report to a higher authority, Gumi needs to tell Nigerians if his statement to the bandits was a confirmation he has gotten from the military authorities that Christian military men are killing Fulani and Muslim.
“Another issue of concern is the haste at which he is calling for amnesty for the bandits and comparing them with other militants.
“My fear is that we will not have a situation where a bandit who kidnapped and raped our wives and sisters will tell his father to play the role of a good Samaritan by bringing her back to us acting like someone who truly cares.”
The spokesman of the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU), Mr. Luka Binniyat, said Gumi’s utterances should be of concern to Nigerians.
“Gumi is on a strange and bizarre project; he is saying what is absolutely a contradiction to reality,” he stated.
According to him, in Kaduna State, especially in Southern Kaduna and Birnin Gwari Local Government Area, there are mass graves doting the landscape as a result of banditry.
“Their propensity for violence and bloodletting is daily documented and made public through a press statement by Kaduna State Commissioner of Internal Security, Mr. Samuel Aruwan,” he said.
He added that in two months, no fewer than 50 persons had been killed by armed herdsmen.
He said the bandits had sacked over 100 communities in Southern Kaduna and are occupying most of them.
“To us in SOKAPU, the actions of Gumi should be of great concern to this country because he lives in Kaduna State and is very aware of the murderous nature of the people he has chosen to suddenly become their spokesman and negotiator-in-chief,” he said.
He added that from the video, which has stirred anger and resentment among SOKAPU members, what Gumi was doing was to brainwash the armed criminals to select only Christians as their targets.
“He is pitching the Muslim military against their Christian counterparts,” he said.