North East Elders for Peace and Development, have cautioned popular Islamic cleric, sheikh Abubakar Gumi, against justifying armed Banditry and criminality in the North.
The Group dissociated themselves from recent comments allegedly made by the Kaduna based Muslim cleric, accusing the military of triggering the raging banditry in parts of the North.
The elders also expressed fear that recent comments and attitude of the cleric could embolden the bandits.
Gumi, who has been meeting with bandits in forests across Kaduna, Zamfara, Katsina and Niger states, alleged in one of such outings stated that non-Muslim soldiers had carried out orchestrated killings in some communities, precipitating anger.
The cleric had made a similar claim on a national television programme on Tuesday morning, maintaining the military had allegedly carried out the said campaign between 2010 and 2015.
In a statement by the National Coordinator of the group, 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 also urged the public to discountenance the allegations, and vouched for the professionalism and non-partisan nature of the Armed Forces of Nigeria.
The elders stated that it has become imperative for prominent groups and organisations in the North to condemn Gumi’s dangerous claims “in order not to give the impression that he was speaking for the region”.
They argued further by his statement, Gumi may be justifying armed banditry and all that are associated with the crime, a development, they feared, could embolden the perpetrators.
The elders wondered why an Islamic cleric and scholar, who had taken the initiative to discuss with bandits, will end up taking sides, as his statements suggested.
They said: “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”.
They added: “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”.