In Defence of the Fulani in Our Midst
By Reuben Abati
State of the nation: In the last two weeks, over 200 persons in Plateau State were reportedly killed by Fulani herdsmen, 45 villages were ransacked and sacked and those villages we are told have been taken over by Fulanis, and the original owners have had to flee from their homes. There has also been some frightening talk about the true ownership of land, and we have seen on social media, that territory where fake news is forever rubbing shoulders with true news, and nobody is sure of anything that – indeed our country is in trouble. The country where human lives no longer mean anything, where mass graves have become common, where one ethnic group kills the other, where the life of a cow is more important than that of a human being; that is Nigeria – a country that currently drifts, simply drifts in the direction of nowhere.
On this account, I am awfully sorry to report that Nigeria, our country is indeed right now in a dangerous place and the injury is self-inflicted. How many more open graves will Nigerians dig? How many more mass burials are we going to conduct before we realize that the rain has perforated our roofs and we can no longer sleep in peace? How many more condolence messages will heal our wounds, even now that we have been officially informed by the Presidency to tolerate more killings because a ‘quota’ left behind by the former President Jonathan has not been met? That is absolutely stupid but we are in today’s Nigeria where human lives have been officially determined to be a pawn in the political game, death has become a campaign issue, our politicians are now stepping on people’s blood to make political points, they don’t care, they don’t give a damn. Good? No. Sad? Yes. Very sad. Pitiable. Regrettable. Absolutely offensive.
When the Buhari government that is now in power came to office, Nigerians were told to expect miracles in three specific areas: security, the economy and the anti-corruption war. Under Jonathan, there was the Boko Haram problem. Every other week, there was a Boko Haram attack in the North Eastern part of the country. It was part of my brief to commiserate with Nigerians and express the President’s regrets. We did this so often that after a while, the public memorised our lines, and even before we issued the statements, the people themselves did so on our behalf. What is happening now is worse than whatever happened under Jonathan. Nobody bothers to commiserate with Nigerians any more and when they do, they pass the buck. They blame other people, including the victims. The Buhari government came to power partly on the basis of the assurance that it will deal with Nigeria’s security challenge but let us be honest with ourselves, it has not been able to do so.
People are being killed, practically on a daily basis, the government can’t even afford to issue statements. When the President’s spokesmen manage to issue statements, the only intelligent excuse they offer is to say that more people were killed under Jonathan and Nigerians should wait till more people are killed under Buhari before they can complain. This is a perfect case of the coffin-maker complaining about the lack of sales. Would he wish that his own family should die so sales can improve? When government officials have nothing intelligent to say, they are better off keeping shut, instead of opening their mouths and making their principal sound like an idiot.
The people who have been killed in Plateau, Benue, Zamfara, Adamawa are Nigerians. Every soul that is lost is important to Nigeria. Every man or woman or child that dies because Nigeria has gone to the worst end of the spectrum could have lived and be an agent of promise for Nigeria. In the last three years, more persons of promise have been killed in this country than at any other time in the history of Nigeria. The civil war happened, yes, but that was a war situation, but right now, Nigeria is at peace, so we think, and yet, people are being killed, and the country simply folds its arms. Opinion leaders and state Governors as well as civil society groups have called for the removal of the Chiefs of the Armed Forces and the Inspector-General of Police – because when these attacks happen, the various security agencies have been proven to be totally incompetent and inefficient – and they have been rightly accused of complicity. We are in trouble, because it has never been this bad.
But I do not agree with those who insist that this is a Fulani problem. The biggest damage that this government has done is to make the Fulani race look very bad in Nigeria, and in effect, this has sharpened ethnic and religious divisions. When President Olusegun Obasanjo came to power in 1999, his brief was to re-unite a divided country and keep it together. His emergence as President pacified the angry people of Yorubaland who were uncomfortable with the criminal abolition of MKO Abiola’s mandate.
Presidents Yar’Adua and Jonathan built on that foundation. The latter continuously insisted that Nigeria will not be divided under his watch, and that he would not preside over any bloodshed. But under President Buhari’s watch, whatever unity was achieved post-1999 has been destroyed. Nigeria today is a divided country. The Fulani who President Buhari represents, have become the biggest losers of the 2015 Presidential election. If they thought their kinsman becoming President will serve their purpose, they have been proven wrong. By his style, methods, and circumstances, President Buhari has not helped his own people. He has further alienated them from Nigeria. And he has not met the expectations of those who voted for him. National unity is the biggest challenge in Nigeria. After the civil war, going on with one Nigeria has been the main assignment of every successive administration. The Buhari government that emerged in 2015 has taken the position that this is not important and that is why Nigeria is in trouble today.
The problem is not the Fulani. Every other Nigerian is blaming the Fulani man and woman. No. The Fulani man is a good man. As Mahmood Mamdani has argued in his book, Good Muslims, Bad Muslims, we need to take a practical look at existing situations, and be careful with moral labels and categorisations, before we jump to conclusions. Other Nigerians may have been suspicious of the ordinary Fulani man since the civil war, but there has been a process of reconciliation and re-integration that has produced a better Nigeria, but which under this government is now being destroyed. Allowing this to happen is the biggest mistake Nigerians have made. Fulanis are now being blamed, as a group and as a category for the fault of a few. Good Fulanis are being demonized for the errors of the bad Fulani that grabbed power. Herdsmen have always been in this country. How come we did not have any issue with them until now? When people say Fulani herdsmen have become a problem and that all Fulanis are bad, this is the question I ask.
The ordinary Fulani person is good. Aliko Dangote is the richest man in Africa and arguably the richest Black man in the world. He is Fulani, and he is from Nigeria. If he didn’t have the kind of opportunities he has had, he will probably be one of those now being referred to as Fulani herdsmen. If you ask him, he probably knows some herdsmen, and he was probably a herdsman himself at some point in his life. But here he is today, a Fulani in Nigeria, doing good for Nigeria. He owns a company that provides jobs for hundreds of thousands of Nigerians and opportunities for millions of Nigerians. He has lived in Lagos for more than 40 years and if he knocks on any door in Yorubaland or Igboland, and asks for a room to sleep overnight, he would be received with prayers.
Dangote runs one of the most diversified companies in Nigeria. When you go to any of his offices, you won’t have the impression that you are in a Fulani man’s company. He runs a Foundation that has also been giving back to society, across geo-political zones. I don’t have information about his marital life, but I won’t be surprised if some of the women on his pension or pay list are from across Nigeria. And that is a Fulani man using his business and life to keep Nigeria together. I also know the current Sultan: The Sultan of Sokoto. The first time I met him, the people around him were Igbos! They were his main men and I was confused. The present Sultan has friends everywhere in Nigeria, and he keeps in touch even with ordinary people like me. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the current Emir of Kano, lived and worked in Lagos. He probably has more Yoruba friends than Fulanis. He was one of the boys here in Lagos. General Aliyu Mohammed Gusau is Nigeria’s chief security overlord, in and out of office. He has more proteges and friends in other parts of Nigeria than among his own Fulani kith and kin. There are many more good Fulani. I can also attest for example that new generation Fulani girls are the best in Nigeria: educated in England and the United states, they are untouched by the politics of ethnicity and religion. They relate with other Nigerians as human beings not as ethnic zombies. This is why inter-ethnic, inter-religious contact with the Fulani has increased in recent times.
But all of that is being destroyed – by the bad Fulani who are in charge of Nigeria, and who by being bad have managed to isolate the entire Fulani clan and have shaken the table of Nigerian unity. I say all of this, not because I want to make anybody unhappy but because I have actually observed a growing anti-Fulani movement in the Southern part of Nigeria. It is borne out of the resentment against Fulani herdsmen. It is so bad that, we, the people of Southern Nigeria, are now being told to stop eating beef. If no Southerner eats beef, then the cattle transportation and marketing business would have been destroyed. If you don’t believe this, well, believe the fact that meetings are being held to this effect.
My view: I don’t think the average Fulani man doing business and trying to earn a living and who is as angry as every other person that Buhari has disappointed should be punished for the criminal conduct of a few. The proposed strategy is also wrong. The people who are saying for example that we should boycott beef, are they also saying we should stop eating pepper and other farm produce that come from the North? Are they telling me that I should no longer buy suya from the Fulani man who runs a University of Suya at the Allen Avenue roundabout in Lagos? I don’t see how that can happen. If we must boycott beef, am I also required to stop buying dambu nama and roasted guinea fowl from my friend, Mohammed at Sunday market? I don’t understand this boycott game. So, I mean, are we expected to cut off our Northern girlfriends? Ha. Ha. Ha. That won’t work. It is better for Buhari to leave power than for that to happen. I can tell you, Fulani beef is ve-ry, ve-ry swe-et, and anybody who tries by any means whatsoever to take it out of the national menu is an enemy of Nigeria.
President Buhari was elected into power to make Nigeria whole. For some reason, he has made the country more vulnerable than he met it. He must deliberately stop giving the bad Fulani the impression that they can do as they wish because their kinsman is in power. He owes us a duty and a responsibility not to make things worse. He must go after the bad Fulani and the other bad Nigerians who do not want his government to work and deal with them. Nigeria must make peace, not war. It is the simplest request we can make.