Prof. Usman Yusuf is a former Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS). In this interview monitored on Arise Television, he speaks on the role played by President Olusegun Obasanjo and Sheikh Ahmed Gumi in the recent release of students of the Federal College of Forestry Mechanization kidnapped by bandits and rising insecurity across the country, among other issues. ANAYO EZUGWU reports
You were involved in the release of the students of College of Forestry Mechanization along with Sheikh Ahmed Gumi and former President Olusegun Obasanjo; how did that go?
Let me say that I have known Sheikh Gumi for 45 years now. We went to medical school together in 1976 at ABU Zaria and he joined the military after that and later became a cleric like his father and grandfather. He has come into this struggle for peace with very clear eyes not clouded with ego.
All of the years he has been in the Mosque, preaching in the main Mosque in Kaduna even before this insecurity began, he used to admonish his fellow clerics that we need to be going into the villages and into the settlements of our fellow Fulani brothers and sisters to preach the word of God. Religion anchors you into what is right or wrong and once you lose that, we have a problem.
I was with Sheikh Gumi in all the five states we visited. We visited Kaduna, Zamfara, Kebbi, Sokoto and Niger states. Zamfara, for me, is near and dear because that is where I spent my formative secondary school years. And for Sheikh Gumi, that is his ancestral home. In Kaduna, which he initially started visiting, it was to see regular Fulani brothers in their settlements and when we visited Zamfara, it was an entirely different thing. When we went to Zamfara, what he did was to meet with community leaders, Emirs, leaders of Fulanis before we go into the forests.
In Zamfara, it was a sight to behold. When we went to two major settlements of these people in Zamfara, we met combatants, whereas in Kaduna we met regular Fulanis. In one of the settlements, 17 years is the average age of the combatants and the leader is in his late 20s.
We went into the deep forest and we came into an area surrounded by heavily armed teenagers. We saw 13, 14, 15 years old combatants and their leader is in his late 20s. They are a battalion-size and over a thousand because a battalion is over a thousand. Let me be clear with you. Sheikh Gumi is not controversial; he says it the way it is. I know him very well and I know how deeply he cares for this country and how we all are troubled about insecurity in our land. We cannot do anything about insecurity if we don’t get involved locally.
That is why we got involved. He would listen to them and all their grievances and he would stand up and begin by preaching to them that we are Fulanis and that they are our flesh and blood. Let me make it clear, they did not drop from the sky, they are our Fulani brothers. The only thing foreign about them are their guns and arms.
He will tell them that ‘we are not proud of you. We are ashamed of you because there is nowhere in our scripture or any scripture that will support what you are doing. You have to change. Yes, your grievances are facts but they are no reason for doing what you are doing. We will hear your grievances and go to our elected representatives, the governors and community leaders and talk to them. That is our purpose here.’
Sheikh Gumi did not negotiate with anybody. He went to listen. Dr. Kings said ‘Violence is the language of the unheard.’ He went to listen because they have never been listened to. We will go back into the city, go to the governors, emirs, Fulani leaders throughout the night meeting repentant bandits, regular people and hear their side. The whole idea is to bring peace and bring people together.
What role did former President Olusegun Obasanjo play in the release of the students?
We went to meet Chief Obasanjo on Easter Sunday; there is no leader like him in this country because of his age and what he has done for this country. In his youth, he fought for the unity of this country just like the current president. He is a leader. Sheikh Gumi went to brief him on what we are doing and solicit his support and bring him onboard. President Obasanjo on his own went to dialogue with Boko Haram and he dialogued in Southern Sudan. Long before that he dialogued during apartheid in our university years. As we speak, he is involved in dialoguing in Ethiopia between Ethiopians and Tigray.
He has a solid history as a national and global leader, so we needed to go and tap from his knowledge and explain to him what we are doing, and he listened. We brought him to Abuja and he listened to everybody. We arranged meetings for him with academics who have done work on banditry in northern Nigeria seven to eight years ago. We also brought to him professional people, who are on the ground to tell him the current state of security in each of the states as well as victims and representatives of victims of these bandits. The bandits are causing and they have caused a lot of damages to our people. And of course, we brought to him leaders of Fulani people.
That was the first time I met him but he is a leader that wants to hear all sides, He heard the sides of victims of bandits, he heard the side of Fulani people, he heard the side of intellectuals and he heard the side of those who are on ground. He was also there to listen, learn and understand just like we are doing. And he was very instrumental in the rescue of the 27 students. So, the Gumi/Obasanjo initiative is complementary to whatever the government is doing. Nobody is against anybody because this is for us and we are all in it together.
Security is the responsibility of everybody and we are very honoured and happy that Chief Obasanjo is in this struggle for peace and he will go anywhere for peace. He has a lot more at stake in Nigeria because he is one of those who saved this country. And for the years he has left in the world, we will continue to use him to achieve peace for our people.
You said that Sheikh Gumi is not controversial but some people are calling for him to be arrested. Can you address that?
Also, Gumi has gone from listening to the bandits to advocating that the Central Bank of Nigeria should pay the N100 million demanded by bandits in order to release students of Greenfield University. What do you make of this? He is not controversial because we do sit down and argue all night. He is a doctor and we argue a lot at the bedside.
He is a cleric and an intellectual and he does not agree with people on all grounds. We must agree to disagree politely. So, there is nothing controversial about that. He listens and he has listened to both sides. He is never an advocate of one side. People may misunderstand him that way but I know him very well because I know him more than I know my brothers. He means well for this country and our people. People may see him as controversial but he is not. When we met with Chief Obasanjo, he said Sheikh I want to ask you two things you are quoted or misquoted of saying; that Christian soldiers are the ones killing the bandits and that bandits are not criminals?’ When we came out, Sheikh Gumi looked at me and said Chief Obasanjo is a very fair person because he confronted me with what was going on. And of course, he answered.
The point is the messaging is not going to cloud the message and people twist it in so many ways. I know Sheikh Gumi’s heart. He loves this country and that was what made him put on the uniform for the country. He loves this country more than anybody can think of. And that is why he went into this struggle. That is why we risk our lives in all of these. We went to where no politician has ever been, we went to where no general has ever been, we went to where no reporter has ever been at the risk of our lives for peace. So for anybody to say that Sheikh Gumi’s patriotism is in question, you don’t know him.
He is a very patriotic human being. And for the CBN, Sheikh Gumi is a cleric and what he means by the CBN is that the Governor of Kaduna State said we are not going to do anything, we are not going to negotiate and we are not going to pay, it is the responsibility of government, federal or state to secure the lives of our people. It is because the government has failed that is why those children across North have been abducted. So, it is the responsibility of the government to get them out safely. One of the Afaka mothers paid N20 million to get her child out, where did she get the N20 million from.
It is the responsibility of the government to do that. Sheikh Gumi and Obasanjo’s initiative got these children out without a shot of fire, without ransom paid. That is why everybody needs to get involved. The CBN analogy was meant that the government must pay but no money exchanged hands and no blood was shed.
Maybe you are contradicting yourself; you said no money was paid and a woman from Afaka paid N20 million and there are talks of a woman who said Gumi told her to pay N800,000 but you are saying no money was paid. You are also saying that the CBN analogy is that government must pay…
Look at me, I’m nobody’s spokesperson, I speak for myself and I have never been shy of saying it as it is. Number one, the negotiations we got involved in to get these 27 students out, no money changed hands. That was the first negotiation Sheikh Gumi and Chief Obasanjo got involved in and no money changed hands. Let me be clear, no money changed hand, no shot fired and no life was lost. What we are seeing now in those universities, Afaka and Greenfield; is parents paying money. But guess what, this is what our rural people have been going through for years.
Negotiating to get their loved ones out, selling whatever they have no thanks to the inefficiency of the government. Everyone, if his loved one is taken, they will do whatever it takes to get them out and I have said it severally that this is what our people are going through. Now, it is on the news because it is coming closer to the cities.
As we speak, there are hundreds of our villagers in bushes all across the country and their loved ones are selling all they have to get them out. It is the responsibility of the government not to have allowed that to happen, but if it happens, get our people out safely. It is your responsibility and duty how you do that. But the first and only negotiation Sheikh Gumi and Obasanjo got involved in, no money changed hands. Chief Obasanjo was emphatic on that from the onset that no ransom would be paid and we succeeded in doing that. We succeeded where the government failed and we need everybody to be on board. Sheikh Gumi is not making a case for anybody, the only thing he is advocating for is peace and if anybody doesn’t get that, he needs to listen again. I’m not Sheikh Gumi’s spokesperson; that N800,000 claim is nonsense and does not require my time.
You talked about battalion of bandits that you saw; does that mean that the military will not be able to tackle them or that military solution will not work?
I have talked severally about the role of the military in this conflict because without the military the North-East would have been overrun by Boko Haram. Without the military, North-West and North- Central would have overrun by these bandits. Without the military, Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) would have overrun the South-East. Without the military, cultists would have overrun the South-South. Without the military, you would have warlords all over the South-West. So, there is a role for the military but if anybody tells you that there is a military solution to this conflict, it is either he is dishonest or he doesn’t know what he is talking about. There is a role for the military but there is no military solution to this problem because banditry is a social problem and not a military problem. We are increasingly militarizing what is essentially a social problem. We are dropping a million-dollar bomb to people we should be providing water for.
You recently wrote an article in which you attacked Governor Nasir el-Rufai by describing him as deaf and dumb; was that not too harsh?
I will talk about the solutions because my wife asked me not to talk about Nasir el-Rufai but briefly I wrote that paper ‘Summun Bukmun Umyun.’ It is Arabic and from the Qur’an. It means deaf, dumb and blind. I have said that el-Rufai is deaf, dumb and blind to the sufferings of his people when it comes to insecurity. These children were in custody for 56 days and he said he wasn’t going to talk to anybody. Five were lost and this was the first fatality in this country of all the seven school abductions. Governor el-Rufai is not showing leadership when it comes to insecurity in his state. Kaduna State has now become the epicentre of insecurity because of his unguided utterances. I have said this and this is not secret, and I stand by what I said. He was elected to protect people not to endanger their lives. His continued unguided utterances are endangering the lives of people in Kaduna State.
How do we solve this huge problem that Nigeria is facing?
This is the honest reality and we need to accept that there is no military solution. Every part of the country and the elders need to come in to help solve our security problems. It may be in the short, medium or long term. In the short term, this is exactly what we have started. First of all, we need to open a trusted channel of communication and that is what Sheikh Gumi has done. Secondly, we need to build confidence. There is so much mistrust across, so there is the need to build confidence, and that is why they trust Sheikh Gumi. The next thing is the cessation of hostility and ceasefire. We have to have ceasefire by all. Their grievances are local not with the federal government. We need to open a channel of communication, which we are doing; build confidence, which we are doing; ensure the cessation of hostility and have ceasefire, and that is what we are working on. In the medium term, we need to have reconciliation and forgiveness across the country. Fulani people have lived in peace with all communities in this country, but now they are fighting everybody where they live. Why is it so? Without reconciliation, nothing will work. The reconciliation is local; it does not come from Abuja. The next step is reparation. People have lost lives, property and businesses. We need to forgive each other and find a way to pay reparations locally to all communities. We also need rehabilitation. Communities need to be rehabilitated. I’m from Katsina and a third of my state is under siege. People are not going to farm; markets have been burnt, so we need to rehabilitate communities as well as rehabilitate these bandits. Many of them are high on drugs. Someone is high on drugs, he has no religion and he has gun in his hands. We are here talking to ourselves in the cities; we do not know them; we do not know the enemy we are fighting. The bandits will not disarm unilaterally; we need to disarm them bi-laterally. We need to take the arms from them and find a way to give life to these Fulanis because what they are doing is very lucrative. That was what we found out in all the five states we visited. In Niger State, they gathered in force because it was a meeting of war commanders from six states in the forest. Nobody has drawn that kind of crowd but they listened to the Sheikh because they are tired and want genuine peace. The way to go there is through clerics because they listen to all clerics of all faith and that is why we are involving Christian clerics into this. And they are coming in because it is a big work and we are very glad that Chief Obasanjo is involved. So, we call on every well-meaning Nigerian to get into the conflict in their zone. Sunday Igboho and his group are doing something in the South-West, where are the South-West leaders? Nnamdi Kanu is calling the shots in the South-East, where are the South-East leaders? North-East leaders need to get involved in the fight against Boko Haram. We cannot say government has failed because God Almighty will ask you what you did. That is why we are in it. We put our lives at risk for peace because we know that is the right way to go. There is a role for the military but there is no military solution to this conflict. Everybody needs to get involved because Nigeria is at crossroads. There may not be 2023, so let us get involve in peace wherever we are.
The Northern Elders Forum has called for the impeachment of President Buhari, do you agree with that call?
To be honest with you I have shot my ears to this government because it doesn’t listen. How many times have we written to the government that does not listen to its people? Those in the Villa are seeing everybody as an enemy. We are not enemies. We voted you into power twice and you have failed us as far as security is concerned. We have said severally that ‘you don’t speak to us Mr. President. Our people are bleeding and you never send any emissaries to condole with us. You don’t talk about our sufferings what do you want us to do?’ We are just praying that he will take us to 2023 in peace, so that Nigerians can vote for the right person, who will fix this country. But I’m not into impeachment, resignation or change of service chiefs because that is a distraction. I’m focused on finding peace in our land.