An iconic Islamic cleric, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, said Monday bandits are not Boko Haram insurgents.
He maintained they people forced into criminality by poverty.
According to him, “We (Nigerians) have to be very careful” in handling their case to prevent their being lured by Boko Haram.
He noted that, unlike Boko Haram insurgents who had international connections and resources, ”bandits are victims of circumstances.”
Gumi who has been buffetted on all sides for negotiating freedom for persons kidnapped by bandits, spoke on a live television broadcast monitored in Lagos.
Gumi said: “I can say categorically that they are not Boko Haram, but we have to be very careful because if the pressure is too much (on them), they can be lured by Boko Haram. Boko Haram insurgents are more internationally connected and richer.
“If the pressure is too much, I am afraid they can be influenced by Boko Haram and we have seen the signs that Boko Haram have gone to infiltrate them but so far, they are not Boko Haram. They are ready to lay down their arms.
“When I listened to them, I found out that it is a simple case of criminality that turned into banditry, which turned into ethnic war, and some genocide too behind the scene; people don’t know…There is no excuse for any crime; nothing can justify crime, and they are committing a crime,” he said.
The herdsmen-bandits, according to the cleric were engaged in an ethnic war against other peoples, including sedentary Fulani.
Sheikh Gumi spoke: “I think it is a population that is pushed by circumstances into criminality. And this is what we should look for. Let’s remove the pressure, let’s remove the things that made them criminals because we have lived thousands of years without any problems with nomadic herdsmen. They are peaceful people. But something happened that led them to this.
“It is a complex issue that Nigerians need to understand. The solution is very simple, but it’s not military hardware. The solution is dialogue and teaching.
“These people are acting with natural instincts, not special knowledge. And they don’t have any ambition or anything. They don’t have a vision of the future. They are talking about existence; their livelihood is destroyed; because of the cattle rustling that was going on for a long time, they are the first victims of it.
“So we need to investigate how cattle rustling became a big business in Nigeria and how it affected the socio-cultural behaviour of the nomadic Fulani. They were pushed into criminality," he said.