Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, a renowned Islamic cleric and scholar, has said Fulani herdsmen do not enjoy the benefits stipulated for Nigerians in their own country.
Speaking in an interview on Monday, Gumi lamented that herdsmen are constantly profiled and stereotyped as criminals in various parts of the country, despite that some of them go about their business legitimately.
He stated that herders and their families have now become victims of the herders-farmers clashes, as well as being the targets of security forces.
“They are killed by the military, lynched in town. Do you know that there are situations where any man with this Fulani physique – slim, light-complexioned, even dark ones – on a motorbike is automatically arrested and incarcerated? They are being profiled,” Gumi said on Channels Television’s Politics Today.
“The Fulani herdsmen is seeing evil all around him. You can imagine when he sees his children, women, everything killed, his animals slaughtered.
“You see what happened in Oyo, his hut burnt down. Who is burning down his hut? It is somebody coming from a building, somebody coming from a car. He doesn’t own a car, he doesn’t own a building, he doesn’t enjoy anything of the Nigerian cake.
“Then you are coming, again, the little thing he has, to kill his animals. So he is seeing the evil from the other side. So each side is seeing the other’s side as evil.
“So it is the clergy that now has to come in the middle, Muslims and Christians. We have to listen to them. Demonising anybody is not appropriate. And evil is there in everybody.”
The cleric also insisted that bandits are peaceful people, saying they were forced into criminality by “circumstance”.
Admitting that while “there is no excuse for any crime; nothing can justify crime, and they are committing crime”, Gumi said the complexity of the society on various issues pushed the bandits and criminal herdsmen into negative ventures.
“I think it is a population that is pushed by circumstances into criminality, and this is what we should look. Let’s remove the pressure, let’s remove the things that made them into criminals because we have lived thousands of years without any problems with the nomadic herdsmen. They are peaceful people. But something happened that led them to this,” he said.
Gumi recommended that the solution to solving banditry requires dialogue rather than frequent military operations.
He said: “It is a complex issue that Nigerians need to understand. The solution is very simple, but it’s not military hardware. The solution is dialogue and teaching.
“These people are acting with natural instincts, not special knowledge. And they don’t have any ambition or anything. They don’t have a vision of the future. They are talking about existence; their livelihood is destroyed; because the cattle rustling that was going on for a long time, they are the first victims of it.
“So we need to investigate how cattle rustling became a big business in Nigeria and how it affected the socio-cultural behaviour of the nomadic Fulani. They were pushed into criminality.”
Bandit attacks have heightened across Nigeria in the past year.
Last December, over 300 pupils were kidnapped from a boy’s secondary boarding school in Kankara, Katsina State.
Earlier this month, bandits stormed a science secondary school in Kagara, Niger State and kidnapped 41 pupils and staff. They are yet to regain their freedom.