•Cleric should be invited, say retired capt, lawyer
Bandits terrorising the northern part of Nigeria last Monday proved right the claim made months ago by Kaduna-based Islamic cleric, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, that they were acquiring anti-aircraft missiles to attack the country’s military fighter jets.
About 154 days after Gumi gave the intelligence in an exclusive interview with Sunday PUNCH published on February 14, bandits in Zamfara State, on July 18, gunned down a Nigerian Air Force Alfa Jet flown by Flight Lieutenant Abayomi Dairo.
The military aircraft perished but the pilot luckily escaped and survived the deadly onslaught, according to a July 19 statement by NAF’s Director of Public Relations and Information, Air Commodore, Edward Gabkwet.
Gabkwet said, “On July 18, 2021, around 12.45pm, a Nigerian Air Force Alpha Jet aircraft, returning from a successful air interdiction mission between the boundaries of Zamfara and Kaduna states, came under intense enemy fire, which led to its crash in Zamfara State.
“Luckily, the gallant pilot of the aircraft, Flight Lieutenant Abayomi Dairo, successfully ejected from the aircraft. Using his survival instincts, the pilot, who came under intense ground fire from the bandits, was able to evade them and sought refuge in nearby settlements awaiting sunset.”
Sunday PUNCH had in February interviewed Gumi shortly after his first well-publicised trip into the Zamfara forest to hold a parley with the dreaded bandits.
The cleric, who on return from the forest began a campaign that the bandits be granted amnesty by government, disclosed in the interview that bandits were responsible for the growing wave of kidnappings in the country.
Gumi said, from his interaction with the bandits, he had gathered that they were kidnapping and using ransoms collected to acquire arms, adding that they were in moves to purchase anti-aircraft missiles for the purpose of downing military jets.
He had said, “Most of the kidnappings, they (the bandits) are doing it to acquire weapons. They are now trying to buy missiles, anti-aircraft missiles. This is already developing into a full-blown insurgency and we should stop that. And what we are afraid of is that if they become religiously radicalised, it will give rise to another dimension, and it will be very difficult to control.”
Stressing the point, the cleric added, “Like I said, they are collecting ransoms to buy weapons. Look at the herdsmen in Oyo and southeastern states, they are not buying skyscrapers or riding Mercedes; they are still in the bush. They don’t want money. They want their cows, not money. They are doing that (kidnapping) to raise money just to buy weapons to repel helicopters and aeroplanes and to attack anybody that is going to attack them.”
A 2020 report by SB Morgan Intelligence had stated that, between 2011 and 2020, at least $18.34m was paid as ransom by victims of kidnap across the country.
“Overall, Nigeria is becoming less safe each year. Kidnapping has increased in almost all states, but the sharpest rise has been in Kaduna, Rivers, Katsina, Zamfara and Taraba, while only Bayelsa, in the entire country, saw a fall in the number of incidents compared to the period of 2011 to 2015,” the report had stated.
While the July 18 attack on Nigerian Air Force jet proved Gumi right, it is unclear whether the government or security forces did anything with the information months after Gumi volunteered it.
Bandits’ attacks in northern Nigeria became worse thereafter, with multiple unchallenged mass abductions of students in schools in the region, indicating that the bandits have become rather more emboldened.
One of the worst hit northern states is Kaduna, whose governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, had openly kicked against Gumi’s proposed amnesty for bandits.
In the interview with Sunday PUNCH, Gumi warned that any governor opposed to the amnesty should retract their words to avoid coming under bandits’ attacks.
Asked whether comments like El-Rufai’s had the potential of worsening attacks by bandits, Gumi said, “Such comments are only exposing the people who make them to dangers because many of these bandits became bandits because their children, their family members, were killed as collateral damage.
“So, I think it is very important that such politicians retract their statements for their own safety because these bandits are all over the place. They were profiled and many of the (military) bombardments have killed many innocent people, which is true. So, we have to be careful about what we say, really, because Nigeria is very fragile.”
Commenting on the downing of the NAF plane, Captain Bishop Johnson (retd.), in a phone interview with our correspondent on Saturday, said by now, Gumi ought to have been invited and questioned by security agencies on his role in the Monday attack.
Johnson argued that it was even possible that the bandits got the idea of acquiring anti-aircraft missiles on Gumi’s instigation, hence the need for the cleric to be brought in for questioning.
According to Johnson, banditry had become a commercial venture with beneficiaries at many levels, including some persons in government.
“Gumi should be a person of interest and he should be invited to explain his role. If he said it then and it is happening now, Gumi should be invited,” Johnson said.
Sharing Johnson’s view in a separate interview with Sunday PUNCH, on Saturday, a human rights activist and lawyer, Chief Malcolm Omirhobo, said, “Gumi is supposed to be a guest at the Department of States Services (office) all this while and it is very sad that the DSS has turned a blind eye.
“If you look at the terrorist Act, it covers people like Gumi – people who hold meetings with terrorists, people who negotiate on behalf of terrorists, and people who solicit on behalf of terrorists are also terrorists. And the government has been short of calling the bandits terrorists but what the bandits are doing amounts to acts of terrorism.
“The government has to look at that terrorist Act; it’s not for fun because it is surprising that the government has refused to invite and quiz Gumi – this is somebody who said he knows where the bandits are and he goes there with government officials.”
Omirhobo said the loss of the military aircraft was lamentable, giving the country’s state of economy.
“Thank God the pilot survived, but the government seems not to care about the loss. Do you know how much the aircraft costs? But the government is not concerned. If that thing had happened in the West or the East, the entire Nigerian Army would have gone there. This is discriminatory,” he said.