Islamic cleric Sheikh Abubakar Gumi said bandits are mounting attacks and kidnappings in some parts of the country.
Gumi stated in an interview with Punch that the bandits are making attempts to raise money to acquire anti-aircraft missiles and attack the military.
The Islamic cleric, who recently visited the forests in Zamfara state to discuss with the bandits, said his interaction with the bandits showed that they are engaged in kidnapping and collecting ransom to raise money to buy weapons.
Gumi, upon his return from the forest, called on the government to grant amnesty to the bandits so they can drop their weapons.
While stating that the bandits are victims seeking justice, Gumi warned that it is important for the government to urgently meet with them before they become religiously radicalized and uncontrollable like the Boko Haram insurgents.
The cleric said, “These people were the first victims of cattle rustling, who lost all their cattle to rustlers because then, the rustlers had the guns. When they lost their cattle, they joined (the rustlers) and started to kidnap people.
“In fact, most of the kidnappings, they (the bandits) are doing it to acquire weapons. They are now trying to buy missiles, anti-aircraft missiles. This is already developing into a full-blown insurgency, and we should stop that. And what we are afraid of is that if they become religiously radicalised, it will be tough to control. You see what Boko Haram has become.
“As I said, they are collecting ransoms to buy weapons. Look at the herdsmen in Oyo and southeastern states. They are not buying skyscrapers or riding Mercedes; they are still in the bush. They don’t want money. They want their cows, not money.
They are doing that (kidnapping) to raise money to buy weapons to repel helicopters and aeroplanes and attack anybody that will attack them. You have to understand the psychology of these people. They are not like our governors that are stealing money. They don’t want money. For them, a cow is better than money.”
However, Gumi said he realised that the bandits had collaborators in the armed forces.
He said, “They have collaborators everywhere – in the armed forces, everywhere. One of them said, ‘Even this cattle rustling, we don’t have trailers to transport cattle to where they are slaughtered. We don’t have an abattoir.’
So, there are people who are (collaborating with them). Even the kidnapping of the people, they said, ‘We don’t know these people; it is the people in town that will tell us a certain person has money.”
But Gumi’s call for amnesty for bandits has been widely rejected and criticised across the country.
Among those who rejected the cleric’s amnesty proposal for the bandits were Kaduna State Governor, Malam Nasir El-Rufai, and his Niger State counterpart, Sanni Bello.