FULANI HERDSMEN, MONARCHS AND LEADERS
As a child growing up in Southern Nigeria, I was told Northerners which is a loose word that connotes Hausa-Fulanis were honest, Islamic people who placed little or no value in life and properties. The last part of this stereotypical narrative meant that they were not materialistic.
Since becoming an adult and I could think for myself, I have realised that many stereotypes have elements of truth that if taken at face value can be very misleading and unfair to the people being referred to. So, I have always been cautious of single stories or narratives about tribes or countries or races. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s viral TED Talk that dwells on single stories is also an eye opener about the myopic and often harmful picture single stories paint about a people.
So, as I grew up and continued to encounter Hausa-Fulanis for myself, I realised that Hausas are an invisible group in Nigeria. I have not personally met anyone who called his or herself Hausa. I spent about a year in Lassa, Borno State and I did not meet anyone who called or introduced themselves as Hausa. I have also spent years in Abuja and the same applies. But I have met and seen many who are unmistakably Fulanis.
The growing confidence and arrogance of the Fulani socio-economic group Miyetti Allah drew my attention and I decided to know for myself who are the Fulanis.
Who Are The Fulanis
According to the encyclopedia Britannica, Fulanis, also called Peul or Fulbe, are primarily Muslim people scattered throughout many parts of West Africa, from Lake Chad, in the east, to the Atlantic coast. They are concentrated principally in Nigeria, Mali, Guinea, Cameroon, Senegal, and Niger. The Fulani language, known as Fula, is classified within the Atlantic branch of the Niger-Congo language family.
The Fulani were originally a pastoral people, and their lives and organization were dominated by the needs of their herds. The pastoral Fulani today enjoy greater prestige than town and sedentary agricultural Fulani as the most truly representative of Fulani culture.
Interaction with other groups has sometimes resulted in a considerable degree of cultural absorption. This is most notably the case in northern Nigeria, where perhaps half of the Fulani have adopted the Hausa language and culture and where, as a result of a series of holy wars (1804–10) purporting to purify Islam, they established an empire, instituting themselves as a ruling aristocracy.
The urban Fulani are the most ardently Muslim. Pastoral Fulani are frequently lax and sometimes even non-practicing. The pastoralists also exhibit a much greater variation of physical traits. They wander in nomadic groups, making temporary camps of portable huts. Some of their dairy products are exchanged at markets for cereal foods. Cattle are rarely killed for meat.
The social structure of the pastoral Fulani is egalitarian. The influence of Islam on kinship patterns is evident in the general preference for cousin and other intra-lineage marriages. Most men are polygynous. The typical household unit comprising the family head, his wives, and his unmarried children.
The Origin of the Fulanis
According to encyclopedia.com, a search for the origin of the Fulani is not only futile, it betrays a position toward ethnic identity that strikes many anthropologists as profoundly wrong. Ethnic groups are political-action groups that exist, among other reasons, to attain benefits for their members. Therefore, by definition, their social organization, as well as cultural content, will change over time.
Rather than searching for the legendary eastern origin of the Fulani, a more productive approach might be to focus on the meaning of Fulani identity within concrete historical situations and analyze the factors that shaped Fulani ethnicity and the manner in which people used it to attain particular goals.
People whom historians identify as Fulani entered present-day Senegal from the north and east. It is certain that they were a mixture of peoples from northern and sub-Saharan Africa. These pastoral people tended to move in an eastern direction and spread over much of West Africa after the tenth century.
Their adoption of Islam increased the Fulanis’ feeling of cultural and religious superiority to surrounding peoples, and that adoption became a major ethnic boundary marker. The Toroobe, a branch of the Fulani, settled in towns and mixed with the ethnic groups there. They quickly became noted as outstanding Islamic clerics, joining the highest ranks of the exponents of Islam, along with Berbers and Arabs. The Town Fulani (Fulbe Sirre) never lost touch with their Cattle Fulani relatives, however, often investing in large herds themselves. Cattle remain a significant symbolic repository of Fulani values.
How They Conquer Host Communities
The Fulani movement in West Africa tended to follow a set pattern. Their first movement into an area tended to be peaceful. Local officials gave them land grants. Their dairy products, including fertilizer, were highly prized. The number of converts to Islam increased over time. With that increase, Fulani resentment at being ruled by pagans, or imperfect Muslims, increased.
That resentment was fueled by the larger migration that occurred during the seventeenth century, in which the Fulani migrants were predominantly Muslim. These groups were not so easily integrated into society as earlier immigrants had been. By the beginning of the eighteenth century, revolts had broken out against local rulers. Although these revolts began as holy wars (jihads), after their success they followed the basic principle of Fulani ethnic dominance.
The situation in Nigeria was somewhat different from that elsewhere in West Africa in that the Fulani entered an area more settled and developed than that in other West African areas. At the time of their arrival, in the early fifteenth century, many Fulani settled as clerics in Hausa city-states such as Kano, Katsina, and Zaria. Others settled among the local peoples during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. By the seventeenth century, the Hausa states had begun to gain their independence from various foreign rulers, with Gobir becoming the predominant Hausa state.
The urban culture of the Hausa was attractive to many Fulani. These Town or Settled Fulani became clerics, teachers, settlers, and judges—and in many other ways filled elite positions within the Hausa states. Soon they adopted the Hausa language, many forgetting their own Fulfulde language. Although Hausa customs exerted an influence on the Town Fulani, they did not lose touch with the Cattle or Bush Fulani.
These ties proved useful when their strict adherence to Islamic learning and practice led them to join the jihads raging across West Africa. They tied their grievances to those of their pastoral relatives. The Cattle Fulani resented what they considered to be an unfair cattle tax, one levied by imperfect Muslims. Under the leadership of the outstanding Fulani Islamic cleric, Shehu Usman dan Fodio, the Fulani launched a jihad in 1804. By 1810, almost all the Hausa states had been defeated.
Although many Hausa—such as Yakubu in Bauchi—joined dan Fodio after victory was achieved, the Fulani in Hausaland turned their religious conquest into an ethnic triumph. Those in Adamawa, for instance, were inspired by dan Fodio’s example to revolt against the kingdom of Mandara. The leader was Modibo Adamu, after whom the area is now named. His capital is the city of Yola. After their victories, the Fulani generally eased their Hausa collaborators from positions of power and forged alliances with fellow Fulani.
Present Day Fulani Men
Today, my worldview of Fulanis are very different from my childhood stereotype. Living in Abuja, I witnessed the positive impact of a Fulani man, Nasir El Rufai. El Rufai’s courage and competence was what remediated the abuse that Nigeria’s federal capital town planning masterplan had experienced in the hands of earlier incompetent and corrupt ministers.
However, El Rufai’s ability to align with saints and sinners and his desire to always hold elective or selective positions in government has exposed him as a man who is ready to dine with the devil if his ambitions remain on track. El Rufai woo whoever is in power. If his advances are rebuffed, you become a sinner. If accepted, you are a saint. This attribute which is also evident in many Fulani leaders in Nigeria, has destroyed in my mind any modicum of truth about the blanket cover of Fulani honesty or incorruptibility.
Another personality that comes to mind is Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the present Emir of Kano. His antecedents as the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria has been attributed to be the saving grace that shielded Nigeria from the global financial crisis of his era. He is articulate and courageous, but like El Rufai, he is also power hungry. His power hunger and behind the scene activities recently placed him in hot waters with his corrupt state governor who has accused him of corruption and misappropriation of funds with evidence.
Emir Sanusi’s saga reminded supporters of former president Goodluck Jonathan, the key role Sanusi Lamido Sanusi played in the demonization of the former president. Many now see his celebrated activism like El Rufai’s brand of activism which is dictated by “what is in it for me” as a farce. His true motives are always subtly masked in a way that only the very discerning can see beyond the façade that he has been presenting intelligently. His conduct as a Fulani leader and monarch has again helped in dismantling my earlier stereotype.
Another Fulani man that seemingly met my earlier stereotype is Nuhu Ribadu, the former EFCC Chairman. Many Nigerians applauded his appointment by the Obasanjo administration because many Nigerians still believed that Fulani men are not materialistic and are the best candidates to fight corruption. It is the same false narrative that brought in Muhammadu Buhari. Because Nuhu Ribadu became a witch-hunting kingpin that the then President Olusegun Obasanjo used to harass and arrest real and perceived enemies.
Then came the Fulani Herdsmen or Miyetti Allah, if you are one of those who believe that the group rampaging Nigeria, killing, kidnaping, raping and collecting ramsons in millions are foreign invaders. Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria sometimes called MACBAN according to wikipedia is a loose partisan advocacy group centered on promoting the welfare of Fulani pastoralists in Nigeria. The organization was founded in the early 1970s with headquarters in Kaduna. It became operational in 1979 and gained wider acceptance as an advocacy group in 1987.
The group’s board of trustees is led by the Sultan of Sokoto and it receives funding from the board and other donors. The national chairman is elected every four years. When MACBAN was founded it received support from Sultan Abubakar III, Aminu, Emir Zazzau, Usman Nagogo, the Emir of Katsina and Ado Bayero, late Emir of Kano. The emirs of these emirates compose a part of the group’s board of trustees. The activities of the organization involve liaising with the government on behalf of pastoralists, land use rights, nomadic education and conflict resolution between pastoralists and farmers. The group also supports protecting and increasing grazing reserves for cattle breeders in the country.
The recent statement by Miyetti Allah to be allowed to establish Fulani vigilante in the South East of Nigeria illuminate the arrogance and grown influence of this group who many are advocating to be declared a terrorist group. Their conduct has also added a darker colour to my perception of Fulanis.
An ex-aide to former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Jonathan Asake, described the new move to create RUGA settlements in some parts of the country as an attempt to Fulanize the country. During an interview on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily. Asake, who was a member of the seventh House of Representatives between 2011 and 2015, said the term ‘Ruga’ was a Fulani word and it was thus hypocritical of anyone to say when it is implemented across the nation, it would not be exclusive to Fulani.
Asake, noted that in 1987, the then government of Kaduna State approved Ruga settlements in the old Kachia Local Government Area which now comprises Zangon Kataf, Chikun, Kajuru, and Kachia Local Government Areas. And that overtime, some of them have been converted to Fulani controlled emirates.
He added, “In fact, the last voter registration exercise there, two registration machines were put there. Today, they have a district head and they are asking for an emirate. It is just a model of what will happen tomorrow in this country when these settlements are established. You will have state constituencies in the state assembly established all over the country strictly for Fulani.”
Asake warned that the Ruga initiative must be rejected because the government’s ultimate plan is to take over ancestral land from indigenous owners and give it to Fulanis. He hailed socio-cultural groups in the South, especially Afenifere and Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo for rejecting the idea.
As I was beginning to resist my growing unfavorable views of Fulanis painted by their leaders, reminding myself of the dangers of stereotypes, Muhammadu Buhari came into the picture. Buhari has succeeded in clearing my doubts. He was sold to Nigerians as the incorruptible messiah that can cure Nigeria of the plague called corruption.
Today, it is only the delusional that still believes Buhari is not corrupt. Some would even still mouth the statement that he is just surrounded by corrupt people. However, without a shred of doubt Muhammadu Buhari has shown in words, silence, action and inaction how corrupt he is. His hypocrisy is unprecedented in the history of Nigerian presidents. A director in the Nigerian civil service not long ago remarked about the gross and unprecedented corruption presently going on in the civil service. The $1 billion fund to fight Boko Haram has been swallowed by a yet to be declared animal.
As I was about to conclude this editorial, I felt it was unfair to only profile dishonest Fulani men. Then I remembered, that the richest African according to Forbes magazine is a Fulani man. However, my journalistic instinct made me to double check. To my surprise, Aliko Dangote is a Hausa man. Not Fulani.
I eventually remembered former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, arguably Nigeria’s most honest president yet. A man who acknowledged the flawed election that made him president and a Fulani man who was also not materialistic.
The Kano State governor has shown us how to dethrone and enthrone an emir. The emirates system is the secret of the Fulani domination. The juiciest government and even private sector job get a favorable outcome with an emir’s seal. The domination that Hausa’s and other ethnic group in Northern Nigeria have experienced for centuries have been perpetuated via the emirs. From Ilorin to Mubi, Fulani Emirs continue to dictate life and livelihood in Northern Nigeria.
This should change. All ethnic nationalities where Fulani Emirs hold fort must work together to change the status quo. Hausas and other ethnic groups that have suffered from Fulani conquest must go back to their pre-colonial history and work together to reconstitute the emirate system in their domain. And rewrite how emirs emerge and revive old monarchies. Which should be rotational among all nationalities regardless of ethnic or religious background. The state houses of assembly can do this as Ganduje has shown. And the emirs or newly revived ancient traditional monarchies must only be answerable to the combine directives of the state executive and legislature and not to the sultanate.
It is crystal clear that the Buhari led government is systematically attempting to Islamize and Fulanize the Nigerian state. This has happened before as earlier stated by encyclopedia.com through Shehu Usman dan Fodio. And Buhari is implementing the same script, which is to gain land from indigenous people with the pretext of pastoral use and eventually strategize to take full control of the land and rulership. Buhari is on the verge of actualising Dan Fodio’s vision of taking over by all means the entire landmass of Nigeria. And he must be resisted and stopped.
It on this note that I call on all well-meaning Nigerians to come together. The Hausas should know that it is now or never, to break free of the Hausa-Fulani union that has placed them in continual servitude. Buhari has created an opportunity for them to join forces with Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the Minorities of the Middle Belt and South South. This is an opportunity that Nigerians must grab with both hands to achieve what the constitutional conferences of yesteryears were unable to achieve and resist Buhari’s attempt to establish Ruga settlements across Nigeria.
Ata Ukuta – editor, Towncryyers