Entering peace pact with bandits is unreasonable, argues Abdullahi Usman

The Kaduna based Islamic cleric, Sheikh Ahmad Gummi, a trained medical doctor and retired military officer, has been in the news of late, on account of his ongoing efforts to reach out to the various bandit groups holed up in their numerous independent camps located in the deep recesses of some of the most dreaded forests of the North West, with a view to negotiating a possible truce that will hopefully bring a welcome end to the continuing carnage that is being visited on the society by these armed groups.

Sheikh Gummi’s independent and unilateral voluntary effort in this regard is commendable, no doubt, and any move by any individual or group of persons designed to contribute towards arresting the current imminent slide into anarchy should and must be welcome by everyone. But it is still early in the day, I must admit, and any meaningful definitive and concrete take on this laudable move on the part of the learned Sheikh would have to wait for now, until the full details and specific terms of the proposed peace pact he is promoting are made public.

CNN’s Michael Smerconish was right, after all, when he famously stated recently that, “only an arsonist lets a fire burn”. But in trying to quench the raging fire, utmost care must be exercised to avoid a situation where we may consciously add fuel to it. This, unfortunately, is what we often end up doing, albeit inadvertently, in the sense that many of the peace pacts we have historically had in the country thus far, from the very first one with the Niger Delta militants to that executed with some of the supposedly repentant bandits in Zamfara and other affected areas last time out, and many others in between, all seem to be geared towards assuaging the feelings of the armed militants/bandits alone, with a view to having them drop their arms.

These range from the sanctioned payment of huge sums by the federal or state government, as the case may be, to entice them to surrender their arms in a form of buy-back arrangement aimed at mopping up the large cache of illegal and dangerous weapons in their possession, to the payment of monthly stipends to their gang members for a predetermined mutually agreed period of time, amongst others. But in all those previous attempts at assuaging the feeling of anger and, possibly, even guilt on the part of the criminals, no one as yet appears to be even remotely concerned about the arguably far more important need to assuage the resulting justifiable feeling of grief and anger of their innocent victims, as far as I know.

Indeed, a significant quantum of public resources has been expended on the promotion and execution of our preferred one-sided truce over the course of the last several years to date, with varying degrees of success, and several of these hardened criminals have been smiling their way to the bank, as a result. We, in fact, even have a few veritable examples of billionaires that have proudly emerged from such generous application of public resources by way of appeasement in their favour in the past.

Meanwhile, many lives have needlessly been lost to the raging militancy of the past, and are still being lost to the ongoing banditry and to the numerous kidnapping franchises of today, with many bread winners of countless households sent to their early graves unjustly, sometime with no bodies to be buried by grieving family members. These are people struggling to make an honest living on a daily basis in order to provide for their families, but whose precious lives have needlessly been terminated by those bloodthirsty criminals for no fault of theirs, leaving their hapless families in complete disarray. Just a couple of days ago, someone drew my attention to a reportedly old chilling audio clip in which some armed bandits were allegedly gloating over the fact that they had just abducted a group of 20 female victims whom they had taken to their camps and forcefully made their wives, and also boasting that in the event that they happened to see any other woman or group of women they liked again, they would still go ahead to abduct them in similar fashion. By so doing, these people are gradually taking us right back to the medieval period where might was right!

I find it very hard to fathom why and how on earth a state like Zamfara that has been at the forefront of promoting the dialogue option to address the raging problem of banditry and kidnapping incidents in its area of jurisdiction has not said a word about compensating the victims of the protracted twin issues facing them just yet. We cannot continue to commit public funds towards making huge pay outs to a group of known criminals, while saying precious little or absolutely nothing at all about their innocent victims, much less attempting to compensate them for their own sufferings.

If the bandits have a justification for being angry enough to take up arms against the society for the series of injustices that might have done to them in the past, as the Zamfara State governor was alluding to in a recent interview, their victims who often get kidnapped and made to walk barefoot for hours on end of thorny forests, along with the families of those who often get fatally shot and die of their wounds in a bid to kidnap them, and all those who fail to make it out of the terrible and unforgiving conditions of the numerous scattered forest detention camps alive are equally entitled to be angry, equity demands that they also get compensated in any truce arrangement that anyone may be contemplating or promoting, going forward.

To ignore these sets of largely verifiable victims in any conversation around the need to have dialogue with criminal elements with a view to achieving an enduring peace would be most unfair. A state that prides itself with the promotion of religious values should know that for a fact, perhaps more than anyone else! But it would appear that we are only interested in appeasing the criminals to the exclusion, and at the expense of, their teeming innocent victims who have suffered and are still hurting from the fallouts of their terrible actions. Our past and current peace efforts are usually all centered around the need to forgive and reward the evil perpetrators without any form of accountability on their part, while the victims and their long-suffering family members are completely forgotten and left out of the equation in all cases.

And when one takes into account the aggregate amounts reportedly running into billions of Naira that had reportedly been paid to these criminal gangs by hapless family members over the course of the last several years as ransom to secure the freedom of their loved ones, a number of whom often get killed even after the ransom placed on their heads has been settled and juxtapose it with the large pay outs they usually receive as part of any peace deal reached with the government, life couldn’t be better for the criminal-minded amongst us, as they tend to benefit both ways, in the sense that heads they win, tails we lose. In other words, it has always been a win-win situation for them either way!

Again, we appear to have this weird tendency to erroneously believe that by simply appeasing, forgiving, and pretending to forget all the series of evil actions perpetrated by the criminals amongst us, the victims too, whom we always tend to forget and ignore, will somehow find a way to equally forget and deal with the great injustice done to them by both the criminals in our midst and the larger society itself that fails to provide them some redress. But we often ignore the fact that, by so doing, we are inadvertently encouraging some of the victims and other criminally-minded individuals in the mould of the perpetrators to take up arms and repeat the process all over again at some point in time in the future.

That is precisely how other would-be criminals with a copycat mindset often become emboldened and sufficiently encouraged to take up arms and start their own set of troubles and agitations against the society, seeing how their predecessors have been generously rewarded and given a new slate to reintegrate into the society and resume their normal lives without being called to account for their numerous dastardly acts.

Where on earth is the equity there and where, in fact, is the justice even? Where and how on earth is that done if people are really interested in promoting and sustaining an enduring environment of lasting peace in the land?

Usman (