Many Nigerians must have been stunned when they heard prominent Islamic cleric, Sheik Gumi, request blanket amnesty for bandits if Nigeria wants peace to return to the Northwest. Gumi made the comment while addressing journalists last Friday after meeting with Abubakar Bello, Niger State governor. The cleric, who had claimed that bandits learnt kidnapping from Niger Delta militants, advised the government to extend amnesty to bandits, as it was done to militants:
“The outcome of the meeting was very positive because you have a warring faction saying that they have complaints and grievances which are very simple. There is hope that we can resolve this.
“I appeal to the government and recommend that government should do to them exactly what they did to the Niger Delta militants and give them a blanket amnesty. Then if anybody will continue, we will deal with him.”
Amnesty is when a sovereign power chooses to forget a crime committed by a person or group, and in most cases, it comes with conditions. They must submit their instrument of coercion and declare sincerely that they will commit the crime no more. For those who read the Bible, it is captured in Jesus Christ’s message to that woman who was brought to him on account of her immorality. Jesus said to her “your sins are forgiven, go and sin no more”. There was a subtle condition in that statement: Your sins are forgiven, if only you would sin no more.
As pressures begin to mount on the government to grant amnesty to bandits in order to quell the surge of banditry in the affected regions, the question is: will the bandits drop their weapons and sin no more?
It is important to note that three things are taken into perspective when amnesty is to be granted. The first takes into consideration certain “push” factors. That is, was there any justifiable reason for indulging in the crime in the first place? Authorities who grant amnesty on this note always ask how “justifiable” enough are these reasons. While there appear no justifications for crime, it would be a case of blind subjectivity to rescind the fact that some people indulge in crime on certain “reasonable” grounds.
The second is to forestall more direct and collateral damages if those crimes persist. People are products of the vices of these criminal elements. As long as the government continues to wage war against bandits, ordinary citizens, especially those tagged “soft targets” will get caught in the crossfire. Hence, it is a cheaper and better bargain compared to continuous war, provided that there is the willingness on the part of the criminals to totally put down their arms.
Thirdly to grant amnesty to a sect, the government takes into consideration the feasibility of the results. For these bandits, they deserve amnesty on all factors, but this one is the snag.
Undoubtedly, some of the bandits were led into the world of crime owing to certain “push” factors. For instance, several peace missions the prominent cleric, Alhaji Gumi, has embarked on revealed that most of the bandits were victims of cattle rustlers and bad governance. In Zamfara, the Islamic cleric noted that most of the bandits he came across were only carrying weapons and attacking people because of persistent attacks and harassment from the vigilante group known as the Yankasai.
Gumi equally cited illiteracy as a strong factor. Most of them have been brainwashed and so have no idea of the extent of their crime. This is probably why the Zamfara State Governor made the popular statement that rattled many Nigerians that some bandits are not criminals. In the real sense of the word, not all “criminals are criminals in mind”. Some are drawn into the world of crime on tenable grounds.
As earlier mentioned, bandits may merit amnesty on most grounds, but the feasibility of such grant achieving the purpose is what poses a problem.
It is vital to dissect the views of those who have called for amnesty for bandits as they make references to the Niger-Delta militants. Some have said if amnesty can be granted to a dreaded sect like the Niger-Delta Avengers, why can’t the same hand of peace be extended to the bandits?
The militants were granted amnesty during Yaradua’s administration. This is in spite of the numerous sins they committed. The government at the time saw a reason to grant them amnesty on some of the grounds we have highlighted: one of which is the “push” factor. The militants took up arms to fight for the environmental sanity of the oil-producing regions, and the injustice meted out to the region. Despite being the epicenter of wealth for the entire country, inhabitants of the Niger-Delta region became victims of untold hardship, owing to poor social amenities, underdevelopment, and corruption. This is further captured in the words of Secretary General for Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Prof Ishaq Oloyode:
“To me, what I believe they were doing with the people of the South-South who felt that they have a right that was being trampled upon-that petrol is coming from them and they were not getting enough- is to create something to remedy whatever infractions the nation might have committed against them; it is sort of reparation. But for somebody to stand up, kill people, rape people and then say we can negotiate and give them money not to do those things, to me, it doesn’t make sense; it encourages banditry.”
Besides, the Niger Delta militants operated as identifiable groups or sects. Granting amnesty to such groups is much easy because they exist as single entities, most times pursuing outlined ideologies. It is in fact easier to organise amnesty for Boko Haram than to do the same for these faceless bandits. This is because Boko Haram operates as a sect or two. They do not work in isolation. All Boko Haram members in each of the two groups everywhere are fighting the same course. So when a peace talk is made with the leader and amnesty is granted to them, their single leader makes the call for a ceasefire and he can achieve at least 90 percent obedience.
So the question is: are all these bandits fighting any known course? Is the same ideology guiding all the different gangs of bandits in about 4 or 5 states? What about bandits in the South, will they be covered? The One Milion Boys in Akute, Ogun State, and some parts of Ikorodu, Lagos, that come in groups of hundreds from the creek, armed to rob openly are nothing but bandits.
Amnesty is purposeful and achieves results when it is granted intelligently and to an organized group. These bandits however operate as separate entities, with different “ideologies” for different formations. The fact that they operate in isolation makes it difficult to gauge the result it will bring. It is like saying you want to grant all the rapists, robbers, and kidnappers in Nigeria amnesty. Will it end those crimes?
So if Alhaji Gumi is asking for blanket amnesty to end insecurity, it is not clear if the government will be doing so for all the bandits in the country or just a particular gang. Will the amnesty also cover bandits who come from neighbouring countries to wreak havoc in Nigeria?
Gumi had earlier in the month met with bandits across forests in Zamfara State, appealing to them to drop their arms. In January, over 500 bandits reportedly agreed to lay down their weapons in Kaduna after he struck a peace deal with them. But the question is- has banditry not continued? Zamfara State governor, Bello Matawalle, and his Kastina State counterpart, Aminu Bello Masari noted that the rise in banditry was because peace talks have not been negotiated with bandits across the regions, but how many gangs of bandits can all the states reach out to?
Gumi has also stated that some bandits are tired and want negotiation. According to him, “even the bandits are tired and want to live a normal life. They are the ones who called for this negotiation.” But does this statement imply that all the numerous gangs of bandits spread all over the country are tired and ready for negotiation?
Besides, there are over a million victims of bad governance across the country. Now if everyone decides to take to crime so that government will come and negotiate with them, how long can any reasonable government continue to do that? We can only hope that this does not end up strengthening the resolve of everyone who is hurt to see this as the viable way of seeking redress. We equally cannot fail to emphasize that it is only when the Nigerian State has shown that it is capable of securing the lives and property of its citizens that this costly comedy will end. Nothing deters like the demonstration of capacity to maintain law and order no matter the cost.