My Encounter With Sheikh Gumi In Kaduna – By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, let me confess that what I did on Wednesday, March 2, 2022, was nothing short of a commando operation. In planning and execution, it was daring, bold and brave. I had to keep my visit to Kaduna to meet with the irrepressible Sheikh Gumi close to my chest. Even my closest aides did not know what I was up to. My wife was kept totally in the dark because I knew she would be scared for a variety of reasons, chief of all, being my welfare and security.
Only a couple of my closest confidants knew what I was up to, and they fully agreed in the need to shroud my movement in absolute secrecy. Uncharacteristically, I did not utilise my aides in sorting out the logistic demanded by such a high-profile trip. I was not going to be dissuaded or discouraged from doing something which I believe needs to be done by any leader worth his salt, which is dialoguing with those that can majorly affect the unity and security architecture and fabric of our dear country.
So, it was like taking a kamikaze plunge as I headed to Kaduna, almost incognito, to keep an appointment with the one and only Sheikh Gumi. Depending on which side of the divide you belong, the name of Sheikh Gumi instantly conjures up different images of a pious and devout Muslim, almost Angelic in appearance or that of an oversized monstrosity who seems to have access to the most dreaded bandits who have been terrorizing many parts of Nigeria, and worse still seems to enjoy their confidence. He has been described as their spokesman and treasurer. However, his defenders see him as a simple patriotic man who is ready to risk his life to find a lasting solution to the grave problem of insecurity in our country and is thus prepared to dine with the bandits for this purpose.
My view is that, say what you will, Sheikh Gumi is a man who deserves to be engaged by our government and security forces. His knowledge of those that are causing the grave security meltdown that we are currently experiencing in the country and their unqualified acceptance of him makes him a veritable treasure in the fight against the toxic insecurity and the divisiveness that is eating into our diverse nations and its peoples. His uncommon confidence and courage have both attracted him to me, even before we met for the first time.
I was not just curious to know what propels him, but also interested in knowing how he has been able to achieve what this Government has strived to achieve in almost seven years with limited or no success depending on your viewpoint. How did he manage to win the confidence and friendship of those tormentors of Nigerians, strong men who are able to trek thousands of kilometres to wreak havoc and vanish into thin air within a twinkle of an eye? I had many questions begging for answers. I was determined to get some answers to some of my questions because I am of the firm belief that no matter where I find myself, those answers may well help in shaping the course of our country and I can be one of the catalysts for bringing it about.
I have been deeply concerned about the widespread fear and dread of wanton killings, rape, kidnappings and unending destruction of lives and property in Nigeria. No part of our nation has been spared the pillaging, maiming, murder and denudation that has accompanied or trailed the bandits and herdsmen. Indeed, one of the main reasons some of us supported the return of Major General Muhammadu Buhari to power in 2015, was the assumption that he would be able to tackle the catastrophic problems of insecurity head-on because of his military antecedents and past role as a much feared and respected military dictator. Seven years on, he has not yet succeeded. For a man well trained in the art and science of military tactic, manoeuvrings and war, his failure should worry us all. His failure is a failure of all of us because we clearly made a wrong choice and having done so have failed to support him or push him in the right direction to take the proper decisions and make the necessary sacrifices.
As we crawl towards the next general elections in 2023, I felt we need to seize the bull by the horns and search for the root cause of this dangerous situation, that we are now confronted with in our country. How can any government succeed when it is unwilling to engage anyone in dialogue? Despite the trillions of Naira thrown into fighting this war of attrition, not much has changed. War is never a tea party. Dialogue is to be preferred to war at any time because it saves lives and property. Nobody has ever been able to predict the outcome of any skirmish, let alone a battle or war.
Even those with superior weaponry, science and technology now understand that war is an imprecise science that follows not the dictates or plans of man. Ask the Russians in the unfolding tableau that the world is being forced to partake of. Even if battles are won, the war is never over. Guerrilla warfare becomes the order of the day. Vigilantes and freedom fighters appear as far as those on the defensive are concerned and the more you push them underground, the more lethal they become as we have now found to our huge chagrin. I have decided to assign myself this task of information gathering and peace-seeking by reaching out to the dramatis personae in this orgiastic theatre of the absurd.
Apart from banditry, we have those ethnic groups seeking to break away from Nigeria due to a serious feeling of rejection, marginalisation and exploitation by one overhyped group, especially in the South East and the South West. For a country that survived a civil war about 50 years ago, it is sad and distressing that we want to risk a second civil war which experts have warned against. No country can survive two internal conflagrations that pits brother against brother as we all are in Nigeria. I am of the firm opinion that we remain better off as one indivisible entity. Our problems stem not from our grundnorm, constitution or institutions, but from the players in our polity who have ascribed to themselves the status of deities when they are fallible, weak and actually pitiable. It is us as a people that give them whatever strength we perceive them to have because they are a tiny minority, a miniscule element that have us at the jugular merely because we succumb to their crass bullying.
On my part, I feel the need to proceed in search of peace and hopefully meet and speak to those who can help me give meaning to our variant of madness without methods. I believe I have been given the opportunity to do this because I have no alignments and I am a liberal minded person who does not judge without listening to the other side. I believe in fairness and equity. The lawyers always talk about a right of fair hearing, and I am a devout advocate of this. As a responsible journalist, I must ensure the people hear and see both sides and then make up their minds. In something as volatile as the security and well-being of our nation, it is imperative that we must find ways of making peace and the first way is by listening to the other side.
Some of my meetings would have to be clandestine. I knew that I would have to cross borders into certain territories and do what needs to be done and return to compile my findings in readiness for what God might do for us soon. While most politicians are only concerned with preparing their war chess for the next rounds of elections, a few of us should be thinking of the next generation. It is for them we aspire to lead because the future is theirs and not ours. Our present crop of politicians are yet to grasp this fundamental principle. I have succeeded to some extent in reaching out to some very influential people, some of my findings cannot be made public yet due to certain circumstances. But I’m greatly enriched by the knowledge I acquire on my travels. Doing this has been an enriching and ennobling personal experience as well.
My meeting with Sheikh Gumi had to be made public because of the volatility, controversy and sensitivity that his name attracts. I’m glad he raised no objection whatsoever to this happening. I had called him late last week and left a message for him. He called back and apologised for not getting him on the phone when I had called earlier. I told him my mission, that I would love to meet him last Wednesday. He said Tuesday would have been better for him as he wanted to go somewhere but agreed to stay back for me.
My next move was how to get a flight to Kaduna. I was shocked to discover that only two airlines fly to Kaduna daily from Lagos, Air Peace and Azman, both in the morning, with their returns also before 12 noon. I had to arrange heavy security based on what I had read and heard. According to reports, Kaduna, one of my favourite cities in Northern Nigeria has fallen on bad times despite the efforts of its energetic Governor, Nasir El Rufai. As soon as we landed, I could feel the tension in the air. Our drive into town wasn’t the usual bubbly affair. Fuel scarcity was palpably causing its own mayhem. We eventually meandered our way to Sheikh Gumi’s house. Only one young man at his main gate who swung the gate wide open and led us to the rear building. A fire incident had occurred only last week in the front wing. I empathised and offered my sympathies.
Sheikh Gumi was all dressed waiting for me. He looked very handsome, certainly better than in the previous pictures of him I had seen. He is obviously highly charismatic and cosmopolitan. We hugged, backslapped like old buddies although we were meeting for the first time. This immediately calmed any tension and nerves there might have been between us. My sense of unease disappeared. I was made to feel at home, and I felt at home. Wow, it was such a delight to meet him. He disarmed me with his warmth and simplicity and his frankness. We got on so well. He spoke with so much candour in impeccable English. He did not mince words. For him, the Buhari government did not trust, or want, anyone to assist in finding solutions.
There was definitely an agenda. Some people were also milking the security budgets, which according to him is mainly in cash and unaudited. He is of the opinion that career politicians can never change Nigeria. He gave me fresh insight into the mindset of the herdsmen and why they are so cantankerous. He likened them to the aggression of Russia against Ukraine.
He said while the world sees what Russia is doing as illegal, Russia feels otherwise by seeing it as self-defence and self-preservation. We touched on the leadership crisis in Nigeria, corruption, nepotism and so on. He concluded that Nigeria deserves fresh leaders who would not be bogged down and encumbered by the ghosts of their past misdeeds. Those fighting for emancipation in the various parts of Nigeria simply do not trust the current crop of politicians because they have been betrayed time and again. Nothing that they have done so far engenders in them any faith or trust that they are capable of changing, hence the conundrum and quagmire that the nation is presently presented with.
Sheikh Gumi was such a good host, and we could have talked well into the night and the next day. However, I needed to rush back to the airport, and he saw me off to my car and he said goodbye. I was happy to establish that first contact in an atmosphere of camaraderie. I look forward to further tapping into his wealth of experience in the near future. In the fullness of time, I will publicise fuller details of our discussions. This is not the most appropriate forum anyway. Suffice to say, I met a man determined to work for the security and unity of this nation when he sees the same interest, seriousness and desire displayed by those who lead us.
I firmly believe that this kind of approach and rapprochement that I am pursuing is the way forward for a secure and united Nigeria. We must continue to believe in our country and our fellow countrymen no matter where they may come from and their antecedents. With the right attitude to discussions and peace we will achieve the elusive trust, peace and unity that we so earnestly yearn for.
The search for a peaceful Nigeria continues…