Fearless and one of the few outspoken Islamic scholars in the country, who is from the North, Sheikh Ahmed Gumi, is not happy on the situation Nigerians have found themselves lately.
He said that the 2023 election should produce a crop of smart and intelligent Nigerians who can inject fresh blood in the electoral system, as well as for INEC to be allowed to deploy technology in full. Excerpts:
How do you think Nigeria has fared since return to democratic in 1999?
Unfortunately, since 1999, I have not actually settled in Nigeria. I came back in 2011. So, to rate the government within that period will not be proper for me. However, I can speak on what I have seen from 2011 to 2019. Generally in the world, there is development. I’m just paying my electricity bill through my computer. So, things are moving generally in the world. So, we expect governance to be more efficient and show more competence, but unfortunately, when it comes to governance there is retrogression. Things are supposed to improve because science and technology have brought development close to the people. Government is retrogressing simply because we don’t have the right people in the right place and at right time. Nigeria’s situation now is worse. People are poorer, sick and every week we bury somebody. What is the problem, typhoid, malaria. Somebody’s daughter, a six-year-old died. She was sick vomiting and we took her to the hospital. But she was discharged from the hospital because there was no bed. This is the kind of death we are having. People cannot pay school fees for their children. Feeding is difficult. So, all the indices of good governance are terrible.
Prior to the 2015 election, one of the agitations of Nigerians was issue of security. How far now, are we making progress as we should?
Yes, there is improvement in Boko Haram fight, but not defeat. The poor governance is making Boko Haram liable to come back in full force and that will be terrible. This is because Boko Haram is not alone. There are forces behind them. They have the determination. The Boko Haram soldiers believe in their Commander because he sees himself as Commander at that end. But Nigerian soldiers are not happy. Their Generals are flying jets all over. The soldiers on ground should feel that they are fighting for their country that things are going to be better; he has his equipment, he has his allowances paid, his children are fine then, he will fight. But, he’s demoralised. On the other side, the commander that is pushing the fight is not struggling with his soldiers. Their morale is higher. Their motivation is higher coupled with religious flavour added to it. So, if we want to fight them, we should also add religious flavour by getting Muslims and Kanuri that speak the same language.
Issue of kidnapping is no longer news. Here in the Northwest, Kaduna to be specific, people are being picked up in their homes for ransom…
(Cuts in) We have heard about it. They are picking people at home. They knock at your door and pick you. We have been paying ransom because people come because they are poor, they start begging. I’m just surprised somebody who controls nothing can help whereas you cannot access the man who is sitting on the budget. This is what I’ve been telling people that look, we don’t need old politicians in Nigeria. We need new faces; new page. Then Nigerians can contribute. But when you bring old wine into a new bottle, it is the same thing. They come with problems and psychological trauma because all politicians are traumatised somehow. They come with anger. They come with revenge. They come with hatred. They come with all these kind of things and spew it. Old politicians should help us by stepping down so we can have new people across board. Let me give you example with Zamfara. By accident, a new governor came. Who has not been in the stream because people don’t know him. So, the nomadic Fulani (not all Fulani) and the settlers that were killing one another over a long time even before the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan. Now, Zamfara has a neutral figure who can call for a truce. We need that neutral figure. Since 2011 when we have election characterised by blood shed I said, Buhari and Jonathan should have moral obligation not to contest because people died. Let us put fresh faces so that we can all contribute. People don’t listen because they are blind. So, it is very unfortunate this is the situation we are in.
Talking about new faces, 2019 election has come and gone. We are now looking forward to 2023 with all political zones through their heavyweight already agitating for interest ahead of 2023, what is your position in all of these?
I don’t think regional politics is more important now than stability because the bride is seriously sick. The bride is in comatose in the hospital and you are talking about the wedding. Let the bride survive first. Nigeria is not about who leads from which region. They are all clique. It doesn’t matter who is there whether northerners or southerners. Once they are there, they enjoy themselves. Some people are making money in this poverty and hardship. So, it is not about North, South or East. It is about people who can galvanise and put people together. The North has learnt its lessons. Now, North is worse hit with Buhari. Jonathan was building 150 Almajiri schools, nine universities in the North. He was doing things. This Kaduna-Abuja rail, although the late President Umar Yar’Adua stated it. So, let’s have somebody who can do it.
So, what are some of the qualities of that person?
That person must be alert, intelligent and with a large heart. He should not take revenge. He should be able to forgive. He should be able to rehabilitate and not killing or imprisoning. His mind should not be about catching people, but forgiveness and correctness. Above all, he must be intelligent.
Religion is playing a role in our politics, how best can it help to shape our politics so we can have a better Nigeria?
Religion has always played a role. In fact, religion is politics and politics is religion. These are two concepts. You manipulate religion to get political power. You can manipulate political power to entrench religion. But, most politicians who manipulate religion are neither Christians nor Muslims. That is their secondary concern. They want to get power. Get foreign medical treatment for themselves and their families. A good politician is the one that uses religion as stabilising factor because religion calls for brotherhood, neighbourhood, mercy, integrity, etc. These are what religion calls for. Some use politics to put religious morality in people. During the First Republic, there was such in the North; Sardauna was doing that. INEC has never been in worse position than now as I know. Now, you can make bank transaction through transfer in millions. I can tell you that, 90 per cent of Nigerians, their N10,000 is valuable than the vote they carry. I meant to say that, money is very valuable. Now, technology has reached a stage where you can transfer millions with your phone and that is safeguarded. So, why can’t I vote with my phone? In essence, the government deliberately neglected INEC to be in a bad shape without giving it the legal framework for development. They are not doing anything to see that election is free, fair and unfortunately, even this way we conduct elections, people are being killed. So, if you are in government and people died during election, you are responsible. How can people be dying while voting? Imagine an officer who is in service in Kano came to me with deep injury. I asked him what happened and he said he was sent to monitor a polling booth. Quoting him he said, “Some soldiers came. I identified myself with my identity card because I was not in uniform, but they told me they don’t care, they hit me and I lost consciousness.” This happened during the last election in Kano. What I’m saying is that, for four years, what have they been able to do to make INEC more modern? If we can trust electronic media for our monies in millions, we should be able to trust it with our vote. India has about 800 million voters and nobody will raise a finger that there is corruption when they vote. This is because the system is organised. But here, they deliberately allow it to have loophole for manipulation. We have the money, we have the know-how, we have all we need to correct it. In 2015, I brought somebody from America. We held a conference at Gamji Hall where we brought political parties together. We told INEC that, here is a Nigerian who had developed a software that can guarantee 100 per cent free and fair election. But, they didn’t allow that. There is too much politics in Nigeria and that is why we need new faces. One thing they don’t know is that, if you don’t develop people, if you don’t educate people, but only your children, these people you have neglected will jump into your house no matter how tall your fences are, maim, kill or kidnap you and that is what is happening today. Somebody drew my attention to the idea of killing anybody on the stead of hate speech. Who defines hate speech? That should be left for the judges to determine. But, look at the judges. Look at what Supreme Court is. So, you want to squeeze Nigerians to keep quiet. A task force following people to close borders. But no task force following kidnappers to catch them. There is mismanagement. There is misplacement of priority. In this kind of situation, people will start joining Boko Haram because they have seen the real face of the government. This is what happened in Afghanistan that pushed people to call on Taliban to protect them from government. They didn’t fight. They were called to protect them against the government. People are demonstrating and you are opening fire on them. So, how can Boko Haram be stopped? People should feel comfortable and safe with the government. But when insurgents have human face than the government, then there is problem. This is what happened in Iraq until when the super power came to destroy the ISIS. Otherwise, the people living within them are safe from kidnapping. They are safe from this and that; do you understand it? We want our government to be sane and do what is right. They should consider the people. They should lower educational costs. Food should be cheap and sufficiently cheap, and quality medicines to treat the people because the people are dying. Collectively, we are suffering. We are suffering more than Iranians and all that. People are dying, but because it is everyone to his predicament, people don’t know that they are dying.
Do you think Mr President is getting the real feelers from the people or working with what people around him tell him?
Buhari as a president has a pre-determined mind on how he wants to run his government: squeeze corrupt officials, close borders. This is what he has in mind and this is what he’s pursuing to the letter. If you want to get close to him, tell him this man is in jail and he will tell you that’s good. You cannot catch all the thieves in Nigeria. You can only catch those ones you don’t like. But, God is God of justice. You either catch all or pardon all and then you draw a line. If you draw a line, whoever commits the same mistake can be tried by law and not your personal decision. He knows what is happening and he likes it. This is his style. This is the style I don’t like myself and that was why I voiced out my opposition. If I have not spoken, people will say look at these people they have kept quiet and now we are suffering. Nobody can point a finger at me and I thank God for that. So, we need to rethink. We need to come back together to save this country because it is a beautiful country.
What do you think about Nigerians?
Nigerians don’t learn lessons. They are very sentimental. They can be naive in their judgment. There is criminality all over the place, including churches and mosques. I’ve just been told about a 70-year-old man that impregnated a small girl in the mosque in this town and in the church, you don’t need to be told. We need to come back, sit down and repent. We can then bring people who are neutral, compassionate, intelligent, hardworking. Let’s put our hands together to salvage this country. The crop of politicians we have now cannot help us. Their heads are hot. We need cool headed people who will look at things holistically and move the country forward. A wounded lion cannot take this country out of the woods.
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