by Ibraheem Musa,
In the run up to the 2015 presidential election, Sheikh (Dr.) Ahmad Gumi wrote a letter to President Goodluck Jonathan and retired General Muhammadu Buhari, the then presidential candidate of All Progressives Congress (APC), advising them to sacrifice their ambitions in order to avoid a possible crisis. In spite of Gumi’s advice, the duo ran for the presidency and the rest, as they say, is history. In this interview with IBRAHEEM MUSA, the Kaduna-based Islamic cleric gives an interim assessment of Buhari’s one year in office and also speaks on the Preaching Regulatory Bill which is before the Kaduna State House of Assembly.
Last Wednesday, the Federal Government announced an increase in the pump price of fuel. What do you think the hike portends for the people?
The price increase of fuel is a natural domino effect of the economic policies of the present administration. The economic style of the government right from its inception, truly speaking, has been on the wrong footing. We know that there were a lot of financial wrongdoings in the previous government.
Yet, you cannot totally condemn their policies. Nothing is 100 per cent bad, and nothing is 100 percent good. As a medical doctor, I can tell you that even the best drug has side effects. And sometimes, poison can be used for treatment.
Bee sting can be used in curing rheumatism. So, in trying to paint a terrible picture of the previous administration, this government is trying to undo every policy of the former government, instead of just correcting what was wrong.
The prophet warned Muslims to be careful of liking or loving something too much because one day it will be your enemy. And if you have an enemy, don’t hate him so vehemently because one day he may be your best friend. What I mean is that the policies that you criticise, you may one day end up doing the same thing.
President Muhammadu Buhari criticised the removal of subsidy when he was in the opposition; now he has just done that. We have been telling them to be careful right from the word go, otherwise, the government will be engulfed in crises and contradictions. Increasing fuel prices is inevitable but what I want the government to look at are the factors that lead to the pressure to increase the prices.
First, the government imports fuel for domestic use. Second, the foreign exchange to finance this importation is dwindling. Even though the refineries are working, the supply of crude oil is being disrupted because the militants are blowing up pipelines. Why are they doing so? Because they feel alienated, that they are not part of the government. So, you can see the domino effect that I have earlier mentioned.
Are you in any way advocating that the Federal Government should negotiate with the militants?
The government should have formed a Government of National Unity right from the beginning. For example, tell the South-East to bring whoever they trust to represent them in the government. The South-West brought Prof. Yemi Osinbajo as running mate; he was not the choice of Buhari.
The same way that you did with South-West do with the South- South and South-East. This is what I mean by Government of National Unity because if the militants believe that they are represented well in the government, they will allow the oil to flow.
If the crude oil flows, our refineries will work. The President needs to listen; he can’t afford to be adamant anymore. He should listen to knowledgeable individuals and not sycophants who supported him. Nigeria is for everybody. It is not for any single political party or the President.
If I understand your analysis, are you opposed to the orders given by the President to the military to deal with the militants who blow up pipelines?
How can they deal with the militants in the first place, when they are holding the nation’s umbilical cord? You are fighting Boko Haram in the North, and you want to fight the militants in the creeks. You don’t fight on two fronts at the same time. That was one of the reasons why Adolf Hitler failed in the Second World War. The government should sit down with them and ask them the reasons for their agitation.
Don’t forget; they were embittered that their man Goodluck Jonathan was defeated. Their argument now is, ‘if you hate our man, then leave our oil.’ No section of the country has the solution of Nigeria’s problem.
So, everybody should be brought on board. Even if the South-South brings Government Tompolo as their man, we should accept him, so long as they trust him; so that we will have stability.
A military solution is not the best option in this circumstance. Former President Umaru Yar’adua could swallow his pride as president and negotiate with the militants. Jonathan also did it. But a military man cannot do it because it will hurt his ego. But if he doesn’t do it, he will kill the nation.
The Fulani herdsman has been associated with so many evils in recent times, ranging from cattle rustling, kidnapping, and armed robberies. As a Fulani man, what will you say is responsible for the recent transformation of the herdsman?
It is really unfortunate. I remember, during the Jonathan administration, a soldier came to me. He said that there was an ongoing military operation which was wiping out Fulani communities around Birnin Gwari in Kaduna State. He said that more than 10 communities had been wiped out by the soldiers. I was so agitated that I called a Fulani lieutenant. I also confronted very influential people in government, telling them of the plot to wipe out Fulanis.
The Fulani lieutenant told me that all the kidnappings and the cattle rustling that were being carried out in that community were done by Fulanis. But the Qur’an tells us that when ‘’Fitna’’ (trouble) comes, it will not affect only those who commit the sin or atrocity.
It is unacceptable for the Fulani communities in the bush, to allow their brothers to go out and commit all these crimes and keep quite. Even those that do not engage in them will one day become victims of the reactions of these atrocities. I am calling on the Fulani associations like Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association to sensitise their members on an almost one-on-one basis.
The association should tell them to stop killing and kidnapping people and rustling the cattle of fellow Fulanis. There is no need denying it.
Fulanis are involved in armed robbery and all these crimes that I have mentioned. But the question is, why did the Fulanis start engaging in these crimes? But what do you expect of a population that has been left in the bush without education or social amenities and without government’s assistance of any kind? The so-called Nomadic Education is just on paper. Even religious organisations do not go to preach to them. So, what do you expect from this kind of population?
It has been a time bomb all the while. The government and Miyetti Allah should intervene so that the crisis will not escalate like Boko Haram.
An FM Radio station should be dedicated specifically to addressing the Fulanis because they listen to radio. They should also be given incentives. That is the only way to avert the disaster. But to deny that these atrocities are not being committed by Fulanis is the wrong way to approach the issue. My brother was kidnapped some few months back. When we secured his release, he told us that the kidnappers were asking him to beg Allah for them so that they will be reformed.
Now, they have discovered that kidnapping is a gold mine. Before they used to rustle cattle, and it was so difficult to sell the cows. So, they resorted to the easier crime of kidnapping. Truly, the Fulanis are involved, and it is very unfortunate.
The All Progressives Congress-led Federal Government will be one year in office in about two weeks from now. What is your assessment of President Muhammadu Buhari in office, a man whom you had earlier opposed?
Actually, I was not opposing a particular person. What I feared was a scary scenario. I wasn’t opposing Buhari or Jonathan. I never hated them at all. If anything, I pity them because much as they wanted to correct things, they couldn’t.
What the Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, is doing is evil but he believed in what he is doing, and he has given his life to it. Out of all these leaders, nobody is ready to give his life like him but what he is doing is wrong, and he is evil.
So, it is not enough to sacrifice, but you have to do the right thing. So, there must be pragmatism in governance. Interests and alliances should be based on pragmatism. So, I’m not opposed to any politician at all, but I’m concerned about how Nigeria can get out of this problem. I’m very passionate about that. I have children, and I don’t want them to be messed up by someone’s vision of how to run Nigeria, which I know will not work.
It will just bring more hardship to them. To be honest, I want to progress and peace for everybody, and I’m truly concerned about it. I believe that the only way to cure Nigeria is to open a new page completely if not we will continue to be having problems.
We are divided along North/ South lines and along Muslim/Christian lines. There is also the class division between the rich and the poor. We also have tribal differences. It is until when every segment is substantially carried along, that you can have peace and harmony in the country. So long as a big segment of Nigeria feels that it is marginalised, Nigeria will never see peace.
So, in the run-up to the last election, I wrote a letter to President Jonathan not to contest because the North will reject him. I asked him to allow anybody to be the PDP flag bearer but not him because the north will reject him because somehow, he was linked with Boko Haram. I also wrote another letter to Buhari, advising him to rest his ambition because if he runs, Nigeria will be polarised. What Nigeria needed at that time were people who will mend fences.
Buhari’s coming into politics has accentuated the class struggle in Nigeria. The antagonism between the rich and poor can sometimes be more dangerous that religious differences. I saw this class struggle coming because the masses will always rush to Buhari because they believe that he will bring justice and food on the table for them. They want him to emasculate the rich for them; he either does it, or they will categorise him as a failure.
So, once you put a leader in that kind of situation, then you are already introducing a class struggle into the already compounded problem. In addition to our tribal problems, our religious differences, and the North/South divide, there is now a class problem because the talakawa just want to see the rich imprisoned. And if they are tasking the president to do that, and if he does not do it he is a failure, then he will definitely fail because he cannot do it.
So, the kind of leader that we needed at that time was one who will pacify the rich and still have the confidence of the poor. By so doing, the rich will help in building the economy by setting up companies that will generate employment.
That is why the Prophet (SAW) said that you can get with leniency what you can never get by force. He said that when leniency enters anything, it decorates it. And strictness, violence blemishes and destroys the beauty of whatever they enter.
So, what you get with diplomacy, you cannot get with violence. If you want to deal with corruption in Nigeria, you have to deal with it in a diplomatic way. No one should be afraid of returning the money that they have looted. But when the poor is always rating your administration by the number of people you have caught, then you are in trouble because you cannot catch the big ones.
Because if you do so, you will destroy your government and if you don’t catch them, the poor will say that you have changed. The president is even fighting the war on corruption the wrong way. When you fight corruption, it will naturally fight back. Corruption has become an international institution. You will hear foreign leaders condemning corruption, but they are engaging in it because their countries benefit from it.
So, the President needs to tread carefully in fighting corruption with the way things are now because it will frighten the upper class of the society. It will put them on pause, and this is not healthy for a developing economy like our own.
You need the rich to infuse money into the system and fund projects. For example, I went to a fundraiser for an Islamic school. Big men came, but not a single one donated a Kobo, not even a pledge because they may be asked where they got the money from.
So, there is fright, and this is hurtful to the economy. The war on corruption should purely be a law and order issue. Right now, if EFCC invites someone, the next day it is in the newspapers. The damage this kind of thing causes to people’s reputation is very severe, especially if they are found to be innocent.
In an interview with a news magazine recently, you described the Preaching Regulation Bill, which is before the Kaduna State House of Assembly as unconstitutional. Why did you say that?
The law was enacted during the military regime. What the present government of Kaduna State wants to do is to modify it, especially the sanctions aspects of the bill which are unconstitutional are the ones that will trample on freedom of expression, freedom of thoughts and religion and freedom of gathering for such purposes. If a law says that you cannot preach until you are given a license, then this is unconstitutional.
But you spent over a decade in Saudi Arabia. Can anyone just wake up and start preaching there?
This is where we need to expatiate on this issue. It is one of two things; you either control religion, or you don’t control it. But if you should control it, then you have to impose the particular interpretation of the religion that you are controlling.
In Saudi Arabia, they impose the interpretation of the religion which is the Sunni-Hanbali Mazab. In Iran, they control the preaching of the Shii-Imamiyya. You cannot go to Iran and start preaching Sunnah. Likewise, you cannot go to Saudi Arabia and start preaching Schism.
So, these are examples of states controlling religion. In the United States, you can preach anything so long as you don’t attack anybody. So, it is an open market for everybody to preach. It is good for the state to control religion if those that are in control are truly religious. That means that they know the religion and they truly practise it. This is the best, but we can’t get it in Nigeria.
So, since you don’t have a government that knows the religion, and it is practising the religion, if you attempt to control it, you are more likely to suppress the truth than to curb the extremism that you are trying to fight.
I say this because extremists, wherever they are, they don’t need your license because they don’t even recognise you as a government. Without government license and with all the restrictions to air their views on radio, they propagate their creed one-on-one in the villages. They reach out to the vulnerable in the society.
This was how Boko Haram started. Boko Haram didn’t have any programme on any radio station, but they are not only strong but are fighting the state. The Shiites in Nigeria are like that too. They are almost forming a state within a state.
So, when the government says that it is going to curtail preaching, it is only going to curtail the moderate preachers. Instead of wasting so much time and resources on laws that will regulate preaching, the government should do the right thing by supporting the moderates in every religion. Because if you leave vulnerable people without allowing moderates to tell them what their religion is, others will indoctrinate them.
For example, if you leave Muslims and say that government will not spend its money on propagating the religion, another extreme sect will come and preach to them using the same Qur’an and Hadith. Since they come behind the Qur’an and Hadith, people will accept their interpretation of the religion.
So, what stops the government from using the Qur’an and Hadith, for example, to preach the truth about their religion? Also, use the Bible to preach to Christians about their religion.
That way, there will be peaceful coexistence. So, the government cannot eat its cake and have it by saying that Nigeria is a secular state when it comes to supporting religion, but when it comes to fighting extremism, it will now try to regulate religion. There is a contradiction. So, the government should allow freedom of religion and freedom of thought.
Let everybody says what he wants to say, so long as it does not infringe on the right of others. Whenever someone says something that infringes on others rights, there are existing laws that can deal with the issue. So, nobody should be given the authority to give preaching license.
Are you saying that the proposed preaching law is not feasible because Nigeria is not a theocracy? Saudi Arabia and Iran can regulate preaching because they run Islamic governments?
My point of disagreement is government’s desire to give people license to preach. Before you are given a medical license to practise in Nigeria, it is the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria that will certify you fit to become a practising doctor. It is not the Federal Government that issues the license; the Medical and Dental Council does so because it consists of professionals. Now, if you say Jamatu Nasir Islam should give license to Muslim preachers, Jamaatu is headed by emirs, some of who don’t even know Islam.
So, they are more likely to give license to preachers who support their understanding of traditional Islam.
That of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) is even better because it is an organisation of clergymen. Most of them are Reverend fathers, pastors and what have you. Christians opposed the bill because they have denominational and sectarian differences.
So, they cannot trust an umbrella organisation to give the license. What I am saying is that given the circumstances that we are, the problems confronting us and the nature of our government, the best way is to allow everyone to say what he wants to say.
So long as it doesn’t infringe on anybody’s rights and if it does, the laws of the land should apply. The question of the state government giving license is unconstitutional, and it will promote the extremism that it seeks to curb.