By Abdullahi Yelwa
The efforts of the Kaduna Islamic cleric, Sheik Gummi have continued to elicit reactions from all across the country.
As usual, opinions are divided. On one side are those who believe that the cleric is God-sent in opening channels of communication with the bandits that would eventually lead to peace.
Other Nigerians however, see the cleric as meddlesome busybody who is engaged in a dangerous tango with the devil.
It’s yet to be seen which side would eventually triumph. Be that as it may, the peace offensive of the cleric appear to enjoy official support.
That is why therefore that the efforts of Sheik Gummi must be contextualized to clearly define the boundaries of his intervention.
Non- state actors like Gummi need the protection of the law and they must operate within the ambit of the law.
They must cooperate with constituted authorities and other state actors to achieve consensus on how to move forward.
Peace offensive, no matter how well intentioned, cannot end banditry as widespread as we have in Nigeria. Neither would, Islamic evangelism.
The central argument of the bandits is that they took up arms because of the injustices being perpetuated against them. They also complained against the tactics of the Nigerian military of bombarding their camps and killing innocent lives.
The logic of their position is that since they have been wronged and neglected by Government, they must terrorise innocent Nigerians as payback.
What is unsettling about the position of the bandits during Gummi’s missions, however, is their incessant attacks on our military, who have been battling them to keep us safe.
The Sheik Gummi peace mission and the utterances of some civilian government officials, seem to echo this position. They blame Nigerian soldiers for indiscriminate killing of their people as reprisal for their (herdsmen’s) equally indiscriminate kidnapping of innocent people and killing them in the process.
It’s true that the military option cannot by itself end banditry in Nigeria. But it is however an option we should never take off the table. Given their rage and determination, the bandits didn’t overrun Nigeria for lack of trying, but simply because our often unappreciated military men and women have made it impossible for them to do so.
The bandits must therefore accept that their decision to carry arms against innocent Nigerians is unlawful and wrong.
It’s also not enough for bandits to denounce banditry and surrender arms, which they can replace anytime they desire. The bandits must obey all the laws of the land, especially those governing possession of firearms and resort to the rule of law.
The terms of engagement with the bandits must also be clearly defined. The major actors too must be known and parameters of engagements clearly marked.
Compliance to agreed terms must be verifiable and sanctions for violations enforced.
The elephant in the room, for Sheik Gummi and the government, however is the issue of compensation for the victims of the bandits. Hundreds of villages have either been sacked or burnt down.
Many lives have been killed, with millions of villagers rendered IDPs in their own country. Women are still being raped. Small scale entrepreneurship and agriculture, once the lifeline of our rural communities, have perished.
Who will compensate these victims?
Their fate must also be kept in view, even as we rush to compensate the bandits for their losses. An unsettled victim of banditry today is a future bandit in the making.
Abdullahi Yelwa, a renowned journalist and educationist, sent the piece from Abuja.