By Chuks Oyema-Aziken
Northern elders have reacted to a recent statement credited to an Islamic cleric, Sheikh Abubakar Gumi, where he accused non-Muslim soldiers of carrying out orchestrated killings in some communities and precipitating anger.
Gumi said in the statement that the killings triggered the raging banditry in parts of the North.
According to him “What I want you people to understand is, soldiers that are involved in most of the criminalities are not Muslims. You know, soldiers have Muslims and none Muslims. The non-Muslims are the ones causing confusion just to ignite a crisis”.
Similarly, on a national television programme, the elders said he made a wild claim that the military had allegedly carried out the said campaign between 2010 and 2015.
In their reaction, the Northern elders dissociated from Gumi’s allegations, saying they were not a representation of the position of the region, but the personal sentiments of the cleric.
While urging the general public to discountenance the allegations, the patriots operating under the aegis of North East Elders for Peace and Development, vouched for the professionalism and non-partisan nature of the Armed Forces of Nigeria (AFN).
In a statement by their National Coordinator, Engr. Zana Goni, the elders vowed to resist attempts by any individual or group to profile the military, which they maintained, remained the most visible symbol of national unity and cohesion.
They said that Gumi may be justifying armed banditry and all that are associated with the crime, a development, they feared, could embolden the perpetrators.
The elders expressed worries that Gumi’s action may expose the lives and safety of non-Muslim soldiers to serious danger, both in the military and their operational theatres in the North.
“As Northern elders committed to a united and indivisible nation, we hasten to condemn in very strong terms the allegations made against the Nigerian military by one of our leading Islamic scholars, Sheikh Abubakar Gumi”, the elders said in the statement.
It was their humble submission that those that have chosen to be peace ambassadors, must be circumspect in their approaches, adding that doing otherwise will defeat the intent and purpose of the mission.
The statement reads in full: “We rise in one voice to dissociate ourselves from the dangerous and divisive allegations levelled against our patriotic soldiers by Sheikh Gumi, in one of his missions to meet with bandits in a forest around Niger State.
“Ordinarily, we would have commended the Sheikh for daring to do what authorities failed, but for the profiling comments attributed to him, which we consider abhorrent and unhelpful to national development and peace.
“We insist that our military is one of the finest in the world, with zero-tolerance for partisanship, ethnic consideration and other unprofessional dispositions.
“We warn that comments such as this have the potential of pitting the exposed soldiers against general areas in the North, where they have continued to put down their lives to protect the territorial integrity of the nation from those that seek to violate it.
“Our concern is further hinged on the possibility of the world concluding that the North may be offering tacit endorsement to banditry and associated crimes against society.
“To douse this tension, therefore, we call on relevant authorities, including prominent individuals and groups from the North, to condemn Gumi’s position in a manner that will absolve the region of conspiracy and vicarious liability, in the long run.
“In whatever position we find ourselves, we must, at all material times, endeavour to put the collective interest of Nigeria over and above all other considerations, bearing in mind the fact that when the country collapses, it will do so on all of us, regardless of religion, ethnicity, or belief.
“Lastly, we urge Gumi to stop approbating and reprobating at the same time, and to immediately call-off his mission, if he has developed lethargy in the course of undertaking visits to deep forests.”