It must rank as one of the most unusual meetings anywhere in the world.
But renowned Islamic scholar, Sheik Ahmad Abubakar Gumi, appeared unperturbed to make it happen.
It was only his second of such meetings in as many weeks, and he appeared to be mastering the art of softening the hearts, the hard hearts, of some of the meanest bandits around.
Tough as winning over the gunmen might initially appear, securing an appointment with their commanders and accessing their den in the thick forest of Dutsen Magaji were no less herculean: seven hours on a deserted road filled with craters, some big enough to overturn a trailer.
The team drove first to Kontagora on Wednesday where they spent the night.
On Thursday morning, they set out for Kotonkoro, spending about five hours.
Next was the last leg of the journey from Kotonkoro to Dutsen Magaji, which took another two hours.
Placed strategically along the route were fully armed militias ready to unleash their fury should anything go wrong.
But there was no need for any firing of shots.
Gumi had accepted the invitation of Governor Abubakar Sani Bello of Niger State to talk to the bandits who on Wednesday had invaded Government Science Secondary School, Kagara, abducting 27 students, staff and some other people.
That was 48 hours after gunmen also stopped a Niger State Transit Authority (NSTA) bus in Yakila district of Rafi Local Government Area and abducted at least 21 of the passengers.
The gunmen demanded a ransom of N500 millionto free their captives.
Accompanying Gumi on the mission were Prof. Usman Yusuf, DESERT HERALD Publisher; Mallam Tukur Mamu, Chief Imam of Sultan Bello Mosque; Sheikh Muhammad Suleiman Adam, one of the leaders of Meyetti Allah, Shehu Buba and the Secretary to the Niger State Government, Alhaji Ahmed Matane.
Gumi pleaded with the gunmen to embrace peace and exhibit the virtues of a good Muslim.
The ‘commanders’ took turns to bare their minds on why they took to banditry.
They said they only accepted the invitation because of Sheikh Gumi.
Their general leader, Dogo Gide, blasted Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State for his opposition to dialogue with them.
But Gumi quickly interrupted him and assured him that all the governors of the Northwest are now in agreement that the Fulani herdsmen have been forgotten by governments for many years and that they will henceforth work towards giving the herdsmen special attention.
The SSG of Niger State had also delivered the message of Governor Bello to them and assured them about his government’s sincerity and commitment to address their concerns and grievances. He took note of their demands and grievances and promised to convey same to Governor Bello.
For Gumi, he will monitor the implementation of the agreement between the militants and government.
Gumi urged them to imbibe the spirit of forgiveness, peace and dialogue as preached by Islam. He told them that in Islam, there is no justification at all for reprisal attacks, killings, kidnappings and rape.
He warned them to steer clear of alcohol and hard drug while also avoiding taking the law into their hands.
He pleaded with them to immediately release all those they abducted, particularly the recent kidnappings that made newspaper headlines across the country.
He pledged to do all within his power to convince the President and the National Assembly to create a commission for herdsmen that will work towards addressing the imbalances and injustice done to them.
He encouraged them to always seek Islamic knowledge and to be consistent in their five daily prayers. Gumi then distributed Islamic books to them and hundreds of wrappers for their wives. The items were contributed by the foundation under him.
Apparently satisfied with the sincerity of Sheikh Gumi, Dogo Gide said they (gunmen) would do everything possible to embrace peace.
The gunmen accused local vigilantes popularly called Yan Sa Kai of excessive harassment and even killing of Fulani.
They said there would be end to banditry if the authorities continued to make life difficult for them.
They showed Sheikh Gumi a settlement of about 1,500 people which they said was destroyed by the military during raids.
According to them, victims of the attacks were dumped in three wells.
*This report is based on a story by The DESERTHERALD, which was the only media organisation permitted to cover the meeting.