In Nigeria, the Fulanis are also known as “Fula” or “Fulbe”. They are group of people with a population estimated between 20-30 million people with an indeterminate and seemly inseparable links with other Fulani population in other countries almost all over Africa. They are bound together by their language “Fulfude” and by their code the “Pulaaku”.
In Nigeria the Fulani can be found in the Northern part of the country particularly in states such as Katsina, Sokoto, Kebbi, Bauchi, Yobe, Gombe, and a few in Benue and Kwara. The Sokoto Caliphate was by far the largest and most successful legacy of Fulani power in Western Africa. It was the largest, as well as the well-organized, of the Fulani Jihad states. Sokoto was one of the largest and most powerful empires in West Africa until 1903, when the colonial forces defeated it. The Sokoto Caliphate included several emirates like Adamawa, Kano, Gombe, Gwandu, Bauchi, Katsina, Zazzau, Hadejia and Muri among the prominent ones.
The Fulani people are traditionally Nomadic, pastoral trading people herding their cattle, goat and sheep across a vast hinterland of their domain. The Fulani code of conduct ”pulaaku” ordinarily consists of qualities such as patience, self-control, discipline, prudence, modesty, respect for others (including foes), wisdom, fore thought, personal responsibility, hospitality, courage, and hard work. Perhaps all these was true some far decades ago when population was far less to the available vegetation as the reality in contemporary to the most recent time in most part of Africa and Nigeria in particular has painted a different characterization of the Fulbes.
As nomads the Fulanis practice transhumance, the seasonal movement in search of water for the object of their trade and livelihood and this strongly influences their settlement patterns and way of lives. Often, the basic Fulani settlement are essentially ephemeral consisting only of a man and his dependents given that many such settlements have no women and serve simply as shelters for the nomads who tend the cattle.
As the modern nation-state restricts the range of nomadism, the Fulani have adapted ever increasingly complex ways to move herds among their related families: these families may reside in stable communities, but the herds move according to the availability of water even as majority of the Fulani have however become sedentary over the last few centuries. In any case, the Fulanis remain essentially the bulk producer of approximately 70% of the Nigeria national beef requirement.
Unfortunately, due to expansion in population and the planlessness of leaderships across Africa and nay Nigeria, Fulani herdsmen and farmers fisticuffs across the country in the last one decade has assumed a frightening dimension that there has been a loud sensational cry that the federal government of Nigeria should declare the Fulani herdsmen as a terrorist group to criminalize their trade, which has largely become a pest to the peace of the nation. From the Agatus massacre in Benue State to neighbouring Nassarawa State, the Southern Kaduna massacre down to the South-Eastern Enugu massacre and crossing to the western states of Oyo, Ekiti and Ondo, the peace loving and hitherto lovely Fulanis are cutting a new intolerable niche that may yet lead to annihilation if not helped decisively now by the current leadership or perhaps it might be the final straw that will break the Nigeria troubled camel’s back eventually. In recent times, particularly with the Federal Government’s decimation of BokoHaram in the North East, Fulani herdsman has become the Nigerians greatest terror perpetrating acts of criminality with sophisticated weapons most surprisingly and raping women and young girls in the feat of wars. In Ondo state, they even added a new feather as abductors. They did not only ransack the farm of Chief Olu Falae (a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation and former minister of Finance under the military who later became a frontline politician and a National leader) but they abducted him for weeks and he was not released until ransom was paid. This is to say the least very distasteful to the “non-negotiable” unity of Nigeria if a tribe as major as the Fulanis will promote criminality to a way of life in this modern age.
Juxtaposed with the daily afflictions of the Fulanis also in the ordinary course of doing their business which ranges from cattle rustling to kidnapping of herders, killing of their cattle not to talk of contacting and be opting conductors of many dangerous diseases in the wild forests with zero access to medical facilities and their undisputed record of highest infant mortality and lowest life expectancy; the unmistakable conclusion is that of failure of leaderships and failure of the state to plan for the good living of its citizens. It paints a picture of irresponsible and criminal leadership particularly all through the locust years of the military to the present.
THE WAY FORWARD: The first most pertinent question to ask is: “are the Fulanis going to remain nomadic for life?” This is not possible. In fact civilization has overtaken taking pride in nomadism. It is wicked and callous of those who sent their own children to schools abroad while posturing at home as Fulani herders’ patron. The issue of development of grazing reserves ought to have graduated to the next level of sophistication in the northern part of Nigeria after a hundred years of existence as a country to the extent that other parts of the country should be taking lessons from them. It is their major trade which they should proudly develop as responsible states. The entire northern Nigeria is by far larger than most countries with famed reputation in beef and dairy products. Without prompting, grazing reserves in the north will encourage ranching in the southern states by people who loves the trade since it is not cultural to them. The current National Grazing Reserves Bill in the National Assembly is therefore a waste of time in solving the problem. It cannot work and it will never work because it is so prone to suspicion of furthering the Fulani jihadists’ agenda. What is a way of life in the north cannot be forced on the people of the south against their convenience as that will amount to colonization in their own country.
The Federal Government of Nigeria should wake up the Northern states governors to stop acting blind and flittering away their own natural gold mine for crying loud. Countries like Holland, Denmark, Isreal and Germany are making a whole lot of fortune on beef and dairy products with world acclaim and the cattle economy is even regenerative unlike the black gold.
Yet, of all Nigerians, the Fulani are the most vulnerable to diseases and natural hazards. Their mobility exposes them to common colds and allergies associated with dust, weeds, and animals. Their unprotected bodies are exposed to bites or stings from bees, snakes, scorpions, mosquitoes, house flies, and tsetse flies. They drink water that is polluted with dirt and decomposing matter; exposed to heat, rains, dust, winds, mist and dampness. While moving in the bush, the Fulani injuries knows no end with no hope of medical intervention and more seriously, always fighting with competitors.
The Fulanis should be helped to promote their trade and way of life to fancy in a modern world. They should be helped to a sedentary lifestyle while still generating better income and contributing better to national development. His children must have access to western education like the children of others and access to health facilities should not be his taboo in this age and time. Cattle rustling will become impossible in a developed grazing zone with adequate security.
The productivity of the grazing zone is not dependent on the acreage but rather the technology, grassing and provision of infrastructure. The idea of looking for 20 million acres for 30 million cattle population is lazy, pedestrian and quite disingenuous. This is part of the negative consequences of the unitary system we falsely called a federal system. Rewind back to the Sardauna Ahmadu Bello days, the Northern Nigeria will have been competing with Holland and Denmark in dairies as well as with Turkey and Italy in leather.
Afolabi Ige is the Chair at the Concern for Democracy & Good Governance in Nigeria.
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