Being a member of the clergy puts one in that space between [insert preferred deity here] and followers of said deity. However, a cleric is certainly not on the fence between the two parties, rather (s)he is primarily on the side of the deity, and serves as an interface, bridge or signpost for the followers. This is important to note because the will of a deity is significantly different from the desires of man, making it impossible to serve both equally. Thus, one must choose a side and the side of the cleric, by definition, is to be as close to the will of the deity as humanly possible. Anyone who is on the side of man is, well, a regular guy.
For this reason, when a cleric proclaims a curse or fatwa or whatever on a person or people, it is being understood as coming from the side of the deity and being as close to the deity’s will as is possible for a man to fathom. It is also why some religions allow their clerics to declare forgiveness of sins, etc.
Logical so far?
Ok. Now, we have agreed that the cleric is (ideally) on the side of the deity. But, more than that, I think most clerics (I wish I could say all) would be quick to point out that they are not, in fact, equal with their deity but rather are only servants/messengers. This fact would then lead us to understand that they are servants of a Master and any power they may wield actually belongs to the Master, it has only been gifted to them to use for the will of the Master. In the same vein, when followers have offended the deity and seek forgiveness or even just wish to make requests of the deity, they tend to go through the clerics because they (clerics) have greater access to the deity. After all, while you may enter your boss’ office almost at will, a petitioner would find it easier to see said boss if they came through you first, rather than attempting to see him/her without an appointment.
This is why I am thoroughly disappointed in Sheikh Ahmed Gumi and the position he has chosen for himself between terrorists and the authorities.
I have read some statements credited to Sheikh Gumi and they strike me as being extremely one-sided. In his defence, I suppose it’s to be expected since, as we determined above, the job of a cleric is not to be impartial but to pick a Master and represent that Master’s will to the other side. Sheikh Gumi does not, in this instance, appear to be serving the victims (the poor, innocent men, women and children who have been killed, maimed, robbed, raped, kidnapped and terrorised). Who then does Sheikh Gumi support, serve or represent? I suppose only he can say for sure.
Another aspect to Sheikh Gumi’s intervention is that he apparently first trained as a medical doctor then a soldier, achieving the rank of Captain in the Nigerian Army, before pursuing Islamic studies. The former soldier is reported to have said about the terrorists:
“These people were the first victims of cattle rustling, who lost all their cattle to rustlers because then, the rustlers were having the guns. Then when they lost their cattle, they joined (the rustlers) and they started to kidnap people. In fact, most of the kidnappings, they are doing it to acquire weapons. They are now trying to buy missiles, anti-aircraft missiles…These people know how to organise themselves and protect themselves and they have started attacking villages all around. Once you touch one of them, the whole of them will come together to attack a village. They mobilise themselves through the bush. So, it is not good to attack them, honestly speaking.”
I won’t go into the call for amnesty here because that’s a long discussion, but let me just say that I am against it for the practical reason that I do not think the Nigerian government has the presence, personnel or political will to enforce the conditions that ought to be part of any such agreement. But back to the matter. I can hardly describe my shock that a former captain of the Nigerian Army becomes aware that terrorists are seeking to purchase anti-aircraft missiles, ostensibly to kill his former colleagues, and then advises the Nigerian government that they are better off not facing the threat. He continues:
“The Hausa are suffering and they have therefore stopped attacking the Fulani herdsmen. So, we should not attack them. We should just pacify them and they are a very shy people.”
The implication here is that the terrorists are too strong for the country to handle and we must therefore pay tribute to them, lest we suffer the same fate as “the Hausa” who “are suffering.” As a former army officer, that is an incredible stance to take. But even if you drop the retired captain bit, it still baffles because one would expect a cleric (standing more on the side of their deity than of fallible man) to call for a ceasefire from both belligerents, not just one. Indeed, a man whose first training is said to have come as a medical doctor would also be first and foremost concerned with the preservation of life and health, which still requires a complete ceasefire. Publicly advising one party that they are too weak to fight the other only encourages the second party to push harder, as even the most cursory student of human conflict can tell you.
And while you may be tempted to treat the previous statements as a considered opinion that one could take at face value as a warning, other statements credited to Sheikh Gumi are at odds with this view, and honestly cause me no end of confusion. He said in Minna:
“The Federal government should give them blanket amnesty, then if somebody continues, then we will deal with them.”
Like I mentioned earlier, going into the question of amnesty requires another article on its own, but it’s important to note here that entering into any agreement requires either trust that the other party will keep their word or, preferably, some tangible means to keep them honest. We cannot rely on the terrorists to keep to their word on any agreement.
But don’t take my word for it – the Niger state governor is on record as saying that he will not negotiate with the terrorists because they “have never kept to terms of the agreement.” The Kaduna state governor is also on record as having traced some murdering parties to another country and paid them to desist, yet the killings have continued. The Katsina state governor attempted to grant others amnesty and was widely ridiculed when the gunmen reneged on the deal twice, eventually vowing to never offer it again. Thus, if we cannot take their words as gentlemen (hahaha), our only recourse if they fail to keep their word is, as Sheikh Gumi says, to “deal with them.”
The threat to “deal with them”, I’m afraid, isn’t worth the energy it takes to speak those words. I am a Nigerian, I’ve had people threaten to deal with me my whole life and it has rarely amounted to much. But that solution begs the question, who exactly does he mean by “we”? Can it be the very same federal forces that, in the previously quoted statement, he appears to be warning that they are incapable of defeating the terrorists? If so, how can we then “deal with them” when he clearly says we cannot do that? But if by “we” he does not mean the authorities who will “suffer like the Hausa” if they try, pray tell, then, who is the respected cleric and former army captain referring to?
There are now reports circulating that the Buhari regime has paid the better part of a billion naira to the terrorists to secure the release of their innocent victims. Whether that’s a good idea or not is a lengthy discussion we can have at another time. However, for Sheikh Gumi, this brings up some questions. First of which is: did he go there to negotiate or to chastise? This question is important because it gives us more clues as to who Sheikh Gumi is serving as his Master in this case. If he went there primarily to negotiate a fee, then we can presume that his presence there was meant as a man, and not a cleric, because it is your religious leader’s duty to chastise in such circumstances. Not doing so may imply permissibility of your actions or even, if the same cleric secures you a nice fat fee, acceptability of said actions.
As an aside, this is a good opportunity to sound a warning to Nigerians. In virtually every dispute, we are quick to bring in a cleric (or clerics) to help settle matters. This is not always desirable, particularly in matters where one party or the other has significant grievances. In such instances, I firmly believe that impartial and experienced arbitrators should be brought in and each party may find their own cleric to advise them on forgiveness et al, because there are times when justice must first be done, else we risk allowing a grievance to fester, which tends not to end very well in the long term.
The second question: did he go there on his own initiative, at the instance of the Nigerian government, or on invitation by the terrorists? This is also an important question because it concerns covering his expenses, however trivial that may sound at first. The reason is that the cleric (or, indeed, anyone involved in discussions between two belligerents), depending on his motives, ought to take steps to ensure he is not seen to be benefitting from terrorist activity, nor should he be seen as the FG’s conduit to pay ransoms with some level of deniability. Arguably, his reputation has already benefitted greatly from the current goings-on, whether by accident or design. This could put the cleric in a difficult position, regardless how noble his intentions may be because one would expect a cleric to, as much as possible, work in the background. If your profile as a cleric and arbitrator, in the eyes of other terrorists, is of one who can fetch them mouth-watering sums of money for a few days’ work, I suspect that your value to victims is reduced in a proportional capacity.
Finally, a word to the groups and organisations calling on Nigerians to pray for their country – maybe it’s time to stop praying for peace in Nigeria, and instead pray for justice. If that is served on even half of the heinous crimes we are witnessing in these dark days, you won’t have to tell people to live in peace with one another – self-preservation will almost invariably take care of that.
Until next time.