Renowned Northern Islamic Cleric, Sheikh Ahmed Gumi in this interview with SAXONE AKHAINE spoke on diverse national issues, including agitation for restructuring Nigeria, electoral reforms and Almajari syndrome in the North. Gumi who also interrogated our democritisation process said that the affliction on the nation’s economy under the present administration is worse than the anti-corruption crusade being pursued by the government.
Despite persistent calls for restructuring, there is no sign that this administration is ready for it. What do you think is responsible for the government’s reluctance on this issue?
There are not only calls by individuals for restructuring; there is an imminent need for the country to restructure because this is the only solution to the myriad of problems facing this country. It is a structural problem. And it has to be adjusted. It is just like when you have an earthquake, you have to readjust. Nigeria needs to readjust, otherwise, there would be a serious earthquake. This will be beyond anybody’s solution when it happens. And also, there are unseen hands in the affairs of the country, nobody is in control. Somebody just came from Zamfara State. Today, there is relative peace in Zamfara, but up till now, the rural areas are no-go area. The Government is only concerned about the town, nobody is talking about the rural areas. Boko Haram areas, the same thing is happening there. Government is in Maiduguri town, there is little focus on the rural areas and up till now it is no-go area. The same thing all over. If it is in thesouth too, it is the same. All these things are structural problems which require drastic structural solutions.
Your charge recently that the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) should leave Sharia alone and concentrate on restructuring has generated diverse interpretations especially among the Muslim faithful. In what way can the CJN’s intervention be of help to restructuring?
The CJN is a very vital and important office in Nigeria.In fact, in times of emergency, it is an important office for intervention. But, what I am saying is not directly to the CJN per se, it is directed to Nigerian leaders, be it the Presidency or the Judiciary. Nigeria is already in a situation of sickness. The country is very sick. So, we don’t want to stir sentimental issues in this situation, what we want is to restructure the country in all fronts. You see, restructuring will solve a lot of problems. Do you know what people say about us? Nigeria is a country being looked up to by other smaller countries in Africa. Let me give you an example of this Boko Haram issue. Boko Haram fighters are mainly Kanuris. Boko Haram cannot fight in Sokoto, it cannot thrive in Kano; the populace there cannot adopt it and they cannot accept it. Can agitation by Kanu thrive in Ibadan for instance? You see, for such agitation to thrive in such places it needs a fertile ground. They need foot soldiers, and it still depends on the population that understands their language. Kanu cannot go to Ibadan and starts preaching to the people to start fighting. Such thing will not last a week. He cannot go to Kano and starts doing that. Well, he can do that among his people. What I am trying to tell you is that the population has a lot of influence on such issue. So, when you give the population small autonomy they wouldn’t like havoc being unleashed on their own economy and society. So, they will just, automatically reject anything that will bring problem to them. It will disappear, even Boko Haram will just disappear because they would not have foot soldiers.
As a renowned Islamic cleric in the North, what solution would you prescribe in tackling the Almajiri problem bedeviling the region?
Almajiri issue should be looked into by the Government through material assistance. This is because it is a material issue. It is an educational system of the past. Just like they used to ride donkeys and camels, but today people ride on cars, even with air condition. So, now if you are riding a car and you see somebody in the village riding a donkey, you get agitated. You can only stop him from riding that donkey if you provide him with a motorcycle. Definitely, he will abandon that donkey. If you provide the Almajiri with schools, books, teachers with salaries he will abandon that plate he uses to beg with and go to school. You see, most northerners are farmers. Farming is their profession, they are not doctors or lawyers or traders. Most of them are made of farming population. A child that is small cannot go to farm. So, he is sent to the Mallam to go and learn the Qur’an and itis not every village or hamlet that has Mallam. The neighbouring village has so, I sent my child there. And this mallam is like afather to all the children. But, he cannot feed them.
So, who feeds them? It is the society that feeds them. So, when you see Almajiri, you give him the left-over food. So, he maintains himself begging for foodand he goes for studies with this mallam, and when he graduates and becomes big he goes and joins his father in the farm. And when he starts having children, the circle continues. That time, it brought cohesion and unity in the society, but now they don’t ride donkeys; people ride Lexus cars. I am not saying Lexus should be brought for them, but you can bring motorcycle or bicycle, they will ride it. Build the most elementary schools, they will go. But, to start making noise in the town shouting Almajiri, Almajiri without doing anything is not helping matters. There is poverty and ignorance prevailing, that is the only thing. Up till now, the village man cannot keep his children in the farm. If you built schools they learn even more and better. Even the Islamic content becomes more, because they don’t waste precious time going from house to house begging. So, the state government should build schools in the rural areas. I was in Malaysia, in the very rural area, their villages are really good. I was asking them how about the children here. They told me that there is no child in Malaysia that has no seat in a classroom. If we do that you will not see Almajiri.
Is it difficult to do? In fact, it is compulsory for Government to do whether it is the local governments that would do it, give them the funds. Or if it is seen as an emergency issue, the federal government can take the bull by the horn and do it and hand it over to the local governments. Because, when you give them money to do it, then you will hear that the tickets to Hajj has risen and it is another issue.
It appears that you do not like the present administration under the leadership of President Buhari going by your critique of their policies?
Honestly speaking, it is not about liking him or not. Since when I came, during Obasanjo’s regime, I was very critical about many things. During Jonathan’s government, I was critical about many things. And Buhari came too and I was critical about many things. Up till now, I have not seen the government doing the right thing at the right time and in the right place. When you criticised and you are telling them that they should do this and they are not doing. Look, Governments, they are our servants. They are there to serve us. It is just like I am sitting at the owner’s corner of a car. Nigerians are to sit at the owner’s corner, and Buhari is the driver. He has to understand that. They are serving us and they should do it right. You have to put that in the heads of the leaders. The second caliph of the Islamic caliphate, I think he asked his companions what they think about them.
They said you are our leaders, but he said we are your servants. So, they are servants. We should tell them what they should do. It is just that they take advantage that the followers are ignorant. Is that the reason why they perpetrate their ignorance so that they can rule them the way they like? So, any government that comes, not only Buhari, if the government is not doing the right thing, it is mandatory for those who know their rights to correct them. I know that it is now a norm for the government to silence people if you do this or that. But, they cannot silence everybody. They cannot. We must show the direction for the government to follow. And you see, you benefit from your critics more than your sycophants. So, listen to your critics more than the sycophants as the latter would only come to tell you lies.
You have always taken different positions contrary to the positions canvassed by the Northern elders on national issues, such as 2023 general elections among other issues. Why have your views always been different and not protecting northern interests?
I am protecting everybody’s interests, especially Nigeria’s interest, because when you protect the interest of Nigerians, you are protecting the north. So, what is good for Nigerian interest is good for the north. You see, the northern elders are divided. So, if I have a position, you will find out that my position tallies with one of the groups and if I have a B position, it also tallies with one of the groups. So, there is no hegemony in northern interest. No one voice, no one direction. It is shattered. And that is very dangerous. You see, a stable north will be very good for Nigeria. We have an arable land and the population, when you put it on the track, it is of an advantage.
Despite that the north has produced more of the nation’s leaders in the past and even now, signs of backwardness are apparent, what do you think is responsible for this?
Of course, there is cultural issue to it. Because colonisation came from the south, the sea and not from the desert and it came with a religion too. But when it came up north, there was already a religion and a culture from the Sahara. They came with missionaries and converting people into Christianity. So, the whole population was inoculated or had an apathy to western education. And to compound it you find out, if par chance you join the army or do this and that, and when you learn English it changes your psyche. Then that is why today Boko Haram is saying Book is Haram, that is western education is forbidden. But, that is not Islam that is doing that. It is simply the low level of Islamic understanding, otherwise, Islam or Islamic religion brought science. They brought mathematicians, geographers and so on. Islamic literature is so full of science. But, the Nigerian population has not reached that stage of understanding such that it I will be so versatile with the knowledge.
What these leaders that we had in the past did was to embrace Islamic colours and show the people a direction. If you see Tafawa Balewa, he speaks very good English and he puts his Turban. The Sardauna also speaks English. We have to show that example. It doesn’t mean of I learnt English or becomes a doctor that I would be rascal. No, it doesn’t mean that. And it doesn’t mean that if you can speak English it can change your religion. So, the real population was very slow in accepting that, but now things have changed. No where now, no matter how remote if you build a school there, you have to control the influx of students. Everybody wants to put his child there. The only problem we have with our leaders now is why can’t they build schools, why don’t they lay emphasis on schooling. This is what we need. Our budget on education should be huge. Educate the populace. The best professionals should be teachers. Education will change our perception and culture. Let us promote it.
Some people still believe that the second coming of President Buhari is the best thing that has happened to Nigeria. Do you agree with such school of thought?
Not even the second coming, even the first coming was a disaster to the nation. Even the first coming was a disaster not to talk of the second coming. Nigeria was under the second republic, then they came and overthrowed the government. There is a picture being circulated on the internet showing Shagari. You can keep on fighting corruption to destabilise democracy. Democracy would have matured in the country.
What you need to do is to develop the electoral system and make sure it is perfect. If you do that you have brought development. If the electoral system is perfect no politician will bring out his money to influence voters. So, money politics will disappear. Secondly, the people will have the right to change you if you are not performing because the system is working. Just change the electoral system and make sure it is working, build it, give it the structure it requires and crediblility. Look, we are human beings, there is no way things cannot go well under a perfect system. But, they have neglected to build a credible electoral system, so, it has been a disaster. You can see, they destroyed the first and second republic. Himself and hiscolleagues did that and went into a vicious cycle of coups and counter coups, and see the retrogression we are in today. Dictatorship does not bring development and civilisation. And things are getting worse. Instead of making the economy better, it is becoming worse and worse.
And this worsening economy is bringing social upheavals in Nigeria such that almost everything is almost completely destroyed. The damage on the economy is worse than the corruption they are fighting. This is because, in fact, those corrupt people, there is a paradox such that when they were looting most of the loot even if 50 per cent comes back to us, we are still getting some rain. But, now you destroy the whole economy, the grass is dry. You are perpetrating corruption, you are destroying culture, morals of people because you don’t know how to manage economy. If you don’t know how to manage economy then don’t talk about corruption. Because, under that corruption a significant population of the people are getting their lifeline. A hungry man, just like a tree doesn’t mind where the water comes from whether from the well or stream. The tree wants water. The economy and citizens wants money to survive on and you are not creating it for them. And now if you say you are fighting corruption at the expense of destroying the economy, you are doing more damage to the country and the people.
Can the economy still be salvaged?
Unless if the right principles are applied ahead. But, this is contrary to his own style of government. One, when the economy of America almost went down Obama came in to salvage the system. Before then, people were sending money from the Gulf states into America. But, when the 9/11 incident occurred, there were stringent laws. The laws dried up the economy. And as such the U.S. economy went down. And this is one of the reasons why Obama came. He came by the intelligence community of America. They brought somebody palatable so that the Muslims would feel safe. So, his first mission was in Cairo, where he gathered Muslim scholars and told them that America was not their enemy, and that America wanted people to start bringing back their money into America. So, restriction on capital destroys economy because money does not care where it is coming from. The economy needs money to thrive.
With the outcome of the governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states recently, what will you advise should be done to make our electoral process credible in preparation for 2023 general elections?
We need a structure for the conduct of the election. For now, there is now structure for the conduct of a credible election. INEC does not have it. You could see what happened in the last elections, INEC is denying that it does not have a server. So, in that case you want INEC to conduct free and fair elections in 2023? And this Government is supporting that? The Judiciary is supporting that? Big lie, big lie. So, when you accredited voters, the thumb print is where? It is in a server, of course. It is not in the reader. It is not in the card reader. Card reader is in the sim card which takes information into the server and says yes this is a voter. How can you say you don’t have a server. This same server is where you can transmit results. With this kind of scenario how can INEC conduct free and far elections in 2023 for God’s sake?
Coming back to the issues here in Kaduna State. There is the policy of urban renewal, abandoning rural roads and expansion of roads in the city by the Government leading to the destruction of several structures. What is your advice to the Government?
I will not advice them. If they wanted my advice they would have told me this is what we are doing. I know the Governor. He never mentioned anything to me. So, what advise will I give him?
What is your take on the governor’s style of leadership?
What I think and from what I read, he wants to attract foreign investment. But, you don’t do that without infrastructure. Even when you bring people into the state, there is no good and standard hotels that would accommodate them. And the whole environment is like a village. So, if you want to attract investments, you have to put amenities to show that there is a purposeful government in the state.This is what I think he is thinking and he is doing. But, is it right? That is another issue. If I am the one, it is not the way I will approach issues. Because the ultimate goal of improving the economy is not to say, yes I am a rich man. No! It is to look at the welfare of your people. I can live in a hut with my people, put education on ground for my people, and spend money on schools. Yes, it is slow, but it is a steady investment. I will bring the Oyinbo man and tell him, yes, we have nothing, but look at the state and level of our education. But there are no chairs in the schools, classrooms are inadequate as pupils are over-crowded. He did not ask for my advice. Let him continue.