The mission of Fulani herdsmen
he falsehood on which the rambling editorial of October 30, 2016 was anchored was in the claim that herdsmen arrived Agu Obodo community of Enugu State in “five trucks fully loaded with the herders, their families and cows...” Since when did herdsmen in Africa begin to transport their herds from one grazing area to the other using trucks?
Clearly, the rarefied atmosphere of the Guardian editorial room can’t moderate in-built prejudice and base instinct. Having fixed the probable date of “the first recorded Fulani presence in Nigeria (1461),” they still had to be identified as “invaders from North Africa and the Middle East.” Many ethnic groups in the country claim Middle Eastern origin; why isn’t their arrival in present-day Nigeria termed an invasion?
The Fulani are indigenous to the West African region, as much as the Wollof, the Mandinka and Songhai, the Mossi, the Ashanti, the Ewe and the Dagomba, the Akan and Baoule, the Kabye and Gourma and hundreds others, as well as the more than three hundred ethnic groups in Nigeria.
They are a substantial part of the population in every country in the region and didn’t get there by invasion but by migration, a practice rooted in the history of mankind. In these countries the Fulani are not viewed with the suspicion that is now their lot in their own country, Nigeria.
The country now recognised as Nigeria was built around numerous ethnic groups - among whom are the Fulani - inhabiting distinct territories; no ethnic group can claim pre-eminence on the basis of a supposed earlier “arrival.”
The Fulani were part of the population landscape of Hausaland from time immemorial, as subjects of the rulers of the various kingdoms - indistinguishable in that respect from the rest of the populace.
The jihad led by Shehu Usman Dan Fodio was an indigenous revolution supported by the peasantry. And no, he didn’t plant his children as rulers in place of the overthrown Hausa kings.
Rather, the jihad was led by members of the local ulema who solicited and received the Shehu’s blessing and succeeded to the rulership after victory. Nor did the Fulani bring Islam to Hausaland; the religion reached Hausa kingdoms five centuries before Dan Fodio’s jihad, via the Borno Empire in the east and through Arab merchants from North Africa.
Cattle herding wasn’t a military strategy for the Fulani then or now, but a means of livelihood which they practice much like the Maasai of Kenya and other pastoralists across Africa.
The Guardian’s antipathy towards the Fulani and their religion is evident in the clumsy attempt to establish a nexus between cattle herding, a socio-economic activity and the spread of Islam in Nigeria.
There is nowhere in the country where Fulani herdsmen “overran unsuspecting natives” and “dispossessed them of their plots of land.”
What has unfortunately been witnessed are violent clashes between herdsmen and farmers, with much loss of life and property. So what is this about land grab leading to “recolonisation” except tugging at the emotions of the gullible masses.
Their religious leanings apart, Fulani herdsmen are not renowned proselytisers: it is sheer neuroticism to see them as the vanguard of a campaign to Islamise Southern Nigeria.
It is indeed a wonder the Guardian has not yet reported conversions at the point of the sword - or is it the AK47? The Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) is an advocacy group like innumerable others - including the militant groups whose irredentism has become infectious- pushing their members’ agendas.
Has the value of keeping a data base of herders been established? Bluster and braggadocio cannot be a substitute for meaningful public policy, nor the theatre that arresting herds of cattle truly is.
Nigeria’s multi-ethnic and multi-religions nature is a given: that’s why the federal structure is the founding principle of the country.
Those who profess to see the desire for domination in other ethnic or religious groups are engaged in “protective reaction”, in effect landing the first blow in the blame game.
The recourse to the Abuja Declaration 1989 to shore up an anti-Islam narrative is gratuitous because nowhere in the (original) communiqué was a plan for the “Islamisation” of Nigeria mentioned.
A version of the communiqué put out in 1990, and considered a forgery by experts, is what the Guardian has latched on to give a measure of credibility to the conspiracy theory it is weaving. Some herdsmen may well be carrying guns, but so do the Boko Haram terrorists and the Niger Delta militants.
Nigerians vehemently condemn the former even in the face of an indulgent attitude towards the armed militants. The question what do the Fulani want is a rhetorical sleight of hand.
The answer is the opposite of all that has been attributed to them in the editorial under reference: to be recognised as equal stakeholders in the Nigerian project who “have something to offer for national good.” The solution is a change of heart not a colloquium.
M.T. Usman wrote this piece from Kaduna.