Sheikh Gumi and Negotiating with Bandits

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Sheikh Gumi is not perfect. No one is, but he comes to me as a shrewd negotiator because he appears to be the first person to build rapport with the outlaw Fulani herdsmen, aka bandits. These guys are willing to meet him face to face, they listen to him and they trust him.

Unlike many of us not schooled in negotiation techniques, Sheikh Gumi understands that to successfully resolve a conflict, the ‘conflicting’ parties must talk. They could fight for however long, but to ultimately bring the conflict to an end, there must be talks (negotiations).

What we call banditry today in Nigeria, is actually a conflict, whether we like it or not. We may hate the ‘bandits’, we may call them criminals, we may prefer to neutralize them by force, but the truth is that they have constituted themselves into a party in conflict with the rest of us.

There is the need, therefore, to talk (negotiate) with them.

How do we negotiate with them? We first must know what we want to achieve by negotiating with them. Secondly, we must understand them – understand their problem and what in negotiation is called their BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement), that is, the course most suitable to them to take if we failed to reach an agreement.

What do the two parties want? We (as the other party) want the ‘banditry,’ kidnappings and killings to stop. Sheikh Gumi has been trying to tell us what the ‘bandits’ want, but a cross section of us has been shouting him down. Do we then actually know what we want? It has been war, war, war all these years. The more we bombed them, the meaner they got. We must, therefore, opt for the ultimate conflict resolution means: talks!

We may not have to sit face to face with them initially, but since Sheikh Gumi is selling the idea of talks to them, they should trust our government, which is the other party in the negotiations acting on the behalf of the rest of us, as they trust him being the go-between. In this process, it should be expected that Sheikh Gumi should not make public remarks about them that they may regard as derogatory. In the same vein, the government, through its public utterances, must not denounce Sheikh Gumi, so that the ‘bandits’ would continue to have confidence in him. It is tactful, therefore, that the Sheikh insists on referring to them as anything but bandits and criminals.

We chose to use force all these years, but the ‘bandits’ have not relented. It is time we tried another option since the force option has not worked. We have wasted resources – both private and public, wasted lives and livelihood, created refugees, orphans and widows and a dislocated society. Would it be asking for too much to try talking with the ‘bandits?

I am not unaware that some of us who benefit from the status quo will not want the conflict to end, but the rest of us must listen to Sheikh Gumi and prevail on the government to try the second option he is advocating. We may not like it, but if it brings peace, why not?

The Chinese say, “It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice.”

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