If any two people have the greatest desire for a peaceful and prosperous Nigeria, they must be the Igbo and the Fulani. This is simply because these two are found all over the country, one in the settlements, towns and cities doing business; the other in the bushes and forests grazing their animals. They work hard, endure hardship and mostly prosper. No wonder they are targets of attacks anytime there is the slightest reason for elite-inspired communal violence. The Igbo topic will be left for another day. This column is going to discuss the issue of the Fulani who are on the front burner of today’s national discourse.
Of recent there has been a deliberate, well-orchestrated and well-coordinated attempt by a section of the Nigerian media to portray the Fulani as a belligerent, violent and aggressive people who are attacking other people recklessly. There is even a third attempt to compare them to the Tutsi, in a calculated attempt to prepare them for genocide, like what happened to the Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994. The first attempt to compare the Fulani to Tutsi was by the late Chief Bola Ige in the 1990s.
It is very mischievous to compare the Fulani with the Tutsi, except for those who are ignorant of history and geography. This is because the Fulani have a large mass in Nigeria and Africa. The Fulani have presence for centuries in 34 out of the 54 countries in Africa and, at any time, there are at least 10 African presidents who have Fulani blood. Here in Nigeria, at any time, at least 10 to 12 governors out of the 36 in the country have Fulani blood. By comparison, thus, the Tutsi have much smaller population and much less spread.
The Fulani are generally peaceful and peace-loving. Unlike the Kanuri who are 100 per cent Muslim, the Fulani have Christians, traditionalists, even animists, although the majority are Muslim. Those who have settled in towns have become scholars and administrators contributing their quota to communal and national development efforts while those who are still pastoralists tend to their animals. In addition to personal income tax, they pay cattle tax. They do not own land as they move about grazing according to the seasons. As such, they get nothing from government for all their efforts and contributions to national development.
The Fulani are strictly guided by the Pulaaku code of conduct which prescribes for every Fulani to be brave and courageous; not to do any shameful act; to place the interest of community above personal interests; to respect parents, elders and constituted authority; to obey laws of the Almighty, and good human laws; to be just and fair to all; to be caring not only to fellow human beings but even to animals; and to protect the honour and integrity of the community and nation even to the point of death. These are the basic elements of Pulaaku.
Due to the fact that the Fulani do not control any modern media outfit, any time they are attacked, no one hears about it but anytime they retaliate when the government fails to do anything when they get attacked, the whole world gets to know, thus portraying them in very bad image. Here, no one is saying that like any other people there are no bad elements who perpetrate criminal activities among the Fulani but the way the news media is carrying the news is such that it’s as if all herders are Fulani or all Fulani are bad, which is very erroneous and counter-productive to efforts of finding solution to the problem. But the truth is gradually coming out, since it has come out in public that ‘Fulani herdsmen’ is now a franchise for criminals in Nigeria and beyond to attack and kill innocent people in order to achieve their desire of dismembering Nigeria.
However, the majority of Fulani are law-abiding citizens who are desirous of government support like any other citizen. They do not look down upon or despise any other person or group; that is why there is virtually no tribe in Nigeria and indeed in Africa that have not inter-married with the Fulani, apart from other intimate social relationships. Like other nomads across Africa and around the world, pastoral nomadism is a way of life for the Fulani. They have not asked any government to give them any title deed to anybody’s land. All they are asking for is for the government to protect their way of life, to protect them against being attacked, and to allow them graze and water their animals without hindrance as free bona fide citizens.
The Fulani have been for centuries, and, all these years, they have never been associated with killings. Why now? And though they are spread across almost the whole of Africa, they have never been associated with the acts being ascribed to them in all those countries. So why is it only here that they are accused of these condemnable acts? Something is definitely wrong somewhere. Is it that the Kanuris have been set up, and now the Fulani; while the Hausa, Nupe, Jukun, Tiv and the rest could be next? And how come that at the slightest instance some people use these conflicts to keep calling for the “restructuring” of Nigeria? What is restructuring anyway? And how does this so-called “restructuring” relate with the killings of innocent lives? Or is there a grand design by some internal and international actors in this whole episode of low-intensity warfare to weaken and ultimately dismember Nigeria?
Due to the exigencies of bush life and the ongoing cattle rustling and theft that the government seems to lack capacity to confront so far, the Fulani carry weapons, mostly sticks and knives, to protect themselves against wild animals and armed robbers. It is therefore illogical and indeed ridiculous when the police announced that they are going to disarm the Fulani, or is it a prelude to genocide? Protection of life and property is a constitutionally guaranteed right and self-defence is recognized under international law.
In Lagos alone over 5,000 cows are slaughtered daily. Over 90 percent of the proteins consumed in Nigeria are produced by these herders, yet they enjoy nothing from the government. Since 1965 when the grazing reserves and stock routes were gazetted most of these have been taken over by government and /or sold to absentee landlords. Most of these reserves and routes are therefore no more available to the animals. Until these are properly and clearly demarcated again, the perennial clash between farmers and herders will continue. With population increasing and desertification also increasing, these conflicts will only increase unless a solution is immediately found.
For all their immense contributions to environmental sustenance and national development, the Fulani are not asking for street lights, roads, schools, hospitals, houses or markets. They are not even asking for government subventions or subsidy like the crop farmers get for farm inputs. All they are asking for is not to be attacked, to be given protection and freedom to tend their animals within the confines of the law. They have never disrespected even customary laws of any community. This is the least a responsible government can do for its hardworking citizens.
Provocative acts, hysterical reactions, ethnicisation of criminal activities and baseless stereotyping/propaganda such as posting the picture of a South Sudanese herder carrying AK47 on his shoulder in the social media while commenting on Fulani just to falsely portray them as Fulani will not solve the problem. In fact, even wiping out the millions of Fulani in Nigeria will not solve the problem, for they are all over Africa, indeed all over the world. The sooner a solution is found the better for all. History is on the side of the oppressed.