Governor Aminu Bello Masari of Nigeria’s northwest Katsina State has lampooned the renowned Islamic Scholar Sheikh Abubakar Ahmad Gumi over his call on the federal government to grant amnesty to bandits terrorising communities in the northwest, saying the cleric should preach the implications of killing people to the outlaws and not amnesty.
The governor, who spoke to THISDAY on Friday in Katsina, was visibly disturbed by the nefarious activities of the brigands in his state, explaining that majority of herders living in adjoining forests in Katsina and other neighbouring states in the region were bandits and that government should treat them as criminals.
Masari, in the interview with THISDAY, also said Gumi should focus on educating the marauding bandits on the importance and value of their own religion rather than trying to persuade government to grant amnesty to the thieves, whom he said had killed many innocent Nigerians and destroyed properties across the region.
Sheikh Gumi, who in recent time met with different groups of bandits in their enclaves in Niger, Zamfara and Kaduna States, had called on the federal government to grant amnesty to the bandits who have for long created tension and climate of fear in the North.
According to the Islamic cleric, dialogue and compensation of the bandits remained the only option that could end the spate of banditry, insurgency and other heinous crimes orchestrated by Fulani militias and insurgents in the country.
But Masari, during the interview said: “Amnesty for who? Look Gumi is doing it in 2021, we did it in 2016. At least there is something to learn from us. When we started the dialogue in 2016, 95 per cent of the herders living in the forest were not criminals but what is the situation today? Majority of the herders living in the forest today are bandits.
“Gumi should have been preaching to them on the fear of God; to understand the implications of killing somebody but certainly not amnesty because even animals are not allowed to be killed unjustly let alone human beings. He should also let the bandits know the value of their own religion.”
Masari lamented that some bandits who accepted amnesty betrayed his government and became enemies of the state, and that were among those fuelling insecurity in Katsina and other states within the North-west zone.
Consequently, he vowed not to grant amnesty to bandits again, adding that his government was betrayed on two occasions after they were granted pardon in 2016 and 2019.
He added: “For me, I am not surprised because I did it before, twice, so what they (bandits) are telling Gumi is not new to me. They said it and they will continue to say it but concretely they are not promoting any ideology.
“Are we all happy in Nigeria? Does it mean those who are unhappy would take arms against other people? They (bandits) kept on saying they are being marginalised, how many people are marginalised and neglected in Nigeria today? Look my friend, a thief is a thief and a criminal is a criminal. They are criminally- minded and can’t justify killing innocent souls.”
Masari also debunked insinuations that residents had deserted over 20 villages and communities in Faskari and Sabuwa local government areas following persistent attacks, saying only those living in the fringes of the forests relocated to safer towns.
He noted that few villages in the two local governments were facing frequent invasions by the bandits but their nasty act would not deter his government from restoring peace and normalcy in the affected areas.
He said: “It is not true. Yes, some villages are affected but not 20. Faskari in particular and to some extent Sabuwa local governments have been under persistent attacks by bandits but I don’t think the number of villages or communities affected are up to 20.
“We are working daily to restore normalcy in villages and communities affected by the activities of bandits. The residents of those communities were just forced out of their places; their farms and natural abodes are there so they cannot have meaningful life living outside those areas.”
Masari added: “Any village that is attacked, we normally send our officials to make assessment and offer immediate relief. We have distributed relief materials to victims in Faskari, Safana, Danmusa and we also provide financial supports for the displaced families.”
The governor said his government would adopt workable security measures for immediate reopening of all boarding schools across the state, stressing that government would not be defeated by bandits.
This, he said, was borne out of his administration’s resolve to ensure the safety of children everywhere, especially within the school environment, from incessant attacks by bandits and kidnappers.
Masari said: “We are working on the physical security of the school hostels across the state and we have not completed that. We are fully securing the dormitories with all what you can think of. It is after the completion of securing the dormitories that we can say we have taken what is humanly possible to provide the security and return the students to boarding schools.
“We cannot allow ourselves to be defeated and our children must go back to school as soon as possible. In fact, all the security arrangements will be completed in two weeks.”