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Prejudice, ignorance, profiling and the Fulbe nomad

By Is’haq Modibbo Kawu
THE last time I wrote about the FulBe nomad was on December 16, 2004. The piece was titled “A RESOLVE FOR THE PASTORALIST”; and I had done it for my old column in DAILY TRUST, to coincide with the meeting of the West African body, Pastoralist Resolve (PARE), which held in Kaduna.

I had noted that my pastoralist cousins (FulBeNa’i) are, arguably, the most misunderstood and disadvantaged sections of Nigerian life. They are also regularly prejudicially reported and profiled by the media.

I tried to locate the misunderstanding and deep prejudice against the FulBe nomad in the difficult relationship between pastoral peoples and sedentary farming communities on the one hand. And those familiar with history understand that these difficulties are as old as the invention of agriculture itself.

On the other hand, there is a political history between FulBe peoples and some communities, especially in Yorubaland and North Central Nigeria, in pre-colonial state building processes, which resulted in the creation of the most extensive political empire in pre-colonial Nigeria, the Sokoto Caliphate, led by FulBe Jihadist scholars.

The nomad operates in a world dominated by sedentary farming peoples today, and those elites that hold power or influence power relations in our society come from farming backgrounds. Naturally enough, they have very little sympathy for nomadic groups whose animals enter farmlands and in the process trigger conflicts with farmers, often leading to deaths and injuries.

More often than not, those responsible for agricultural policies protect the interests of cultivators and nomads are completely out of the loop or are a pitiable after-thought in the scheme of things. In recent years, the conflict element in the relationship between nomads and farming communities has heightened and the clashes are more reported in the media. Most of the media elite is of farming roots and they demonise and profile nomads negatively.

The late Chief Bola Ige, who used to write a column for TRIBUNE in Ibadan, in fact described us (all FulBe people) as “the Tutsis of Nigeria”; this was soon after the genocide against Tutsis in Rwanda. It sounded suspiciously like a call for genocide (Dr. SaddiqueAbubakarof ABU’s Political Science Department did a study of Bola Ige’s anti-FulBe tirades in a well-known monograph).

Fulbe nomads and the Media
In recent years, the increasing profiling of FulBe nomads has coincided with the almost intractable conflicts with communities in the North Central Nigeria.

Reports from Plateau, Nasarawa or Benue, in many of the Lagos newspapers,regularly give the impression the conflicts have been exclusively triggered by FulBenomads; the farming communities are often presented as helpless victims of aggressive nomads. Even day-to-day crimes involving nomadic FulBe are reported with a mindset that criminalises FulBe collectively.

In the past week, I have extensive studied problems facing the nomadic FulBe and I honestly think that our society needs my FulBe nomadic people as much as they also need the farming communities they have interacted with for millennia.

In the same vein, it is imperative for elite groups, especially people in the media, to rise above their prejudices to appreciate the humanity of FulBe nomads; the difficulties associated with their lives and the very significant contribution they make to our economic life. Afterall, most of the animal protein consumption of the Nigerian people comes from FulBe pastoralists!

From the 1950s fundamental changes emerged in the management of nomadic patterns of existence; grazing reserves and cattle routes were carved out for use of nomadic groups around West Africa.

The introduction of veterinary drugs had led to the increase in the sizes of cattle herds just as the improvement in health facilities were assisting the growth of populations amongst farming communities around our country.

For most of the early years of independence, the grazing reserves and cattle routes functioned effectively enough to ensure that there were few clashes between nomads and farmers. But as populations increased ever more land was alienated for farming and these often included old nomadic migration routes. As patterns of global climate began to change, and trees were felled to provide energy in expanding urban areas, the relentless expansion of the Sahara desert saw the disappearance of fodder for cattle.

The recurrent patterns of drought in West Africa from the 1970s decimated cattle populations and nomadic groups began to move further into Central and Southern Nigeria; areas of different cultures, religions and land use patterns. The alienation of old grazing grounds and migration routes often brings nomads into conflicts with farming communities.

Innovative ways to assist groups

In the past, the clashes were fought out with traditional weapons. However, with proliferation of small arms as a result of the wars fought in West Africa and the general breakdown of law and order in the country, nomadic groups have also introduced small arms into the conflicts they have in various communities. As I noted earlier, policy makers are often from farming backgrounds while the media elite share similar backgrounds and the same prejudices against FulBe nomads.

In the Plateau, the past decade of crisis started as urban conflict over political power, but these were then taken into rural areas, where farming communities have attacked FulBe nomads and rustled their cattle; Miyetti Allah, the organisation of nomads recently said over N3billion worth of cows were lost to these recurrent fights. This is the broad background to the problems associated with FulBe nomadic groups in Nigeria and the clashes over grazing grounds, water and routes of migration.

This broad analysis does not justify whatever excesses our people might have committed, anymore than the alienation of grazing reserves and cattle routes by farming communities can be justified.

We must find more innovative means to assist the balance between the needs of nomadic groups and those of sedentary farming communities, because the two play vital roles in the economic, social and cultural life of our country. I also hope elite groups like the media will give themselves the pause to understand the nomadic FulBe.

We can do better than the undignified and philistine patterns of prejudice and ignorance which feed the regular profiling of the FulBe, especially, but not only the nomadic FulBe. As we say in Fulfulde: “Allah yiiduFulBe”!

The demystification of Tony Anenih

JUST by the huge margin of victory alone, and the fact that even the dinosaur could not hold his community, Adams Oshiomhole’s victory in last weekend’s Edo governorship election, has sounded the political death knell for Chief Tony Anenih. The dinosaur had arrogantly declared that Adams “does not have the capacity to remain as governor of the state”.

The Edo people showed the controversial chief, who has NEVER won an election in his life that he did not speak for them. Adams’ record as governor spoke for him and his style appealed to the people and the dynamics of his politics created a positive appeal with the people.

In him, they saw an activist governor who spoke their language and represented their aspiration. They therefore demystified Tony Anenih and voted for progress. Politics can be that simple and effective, if it is in the best interest of the Nigerian people. Adams Oshimhole has shown what is possible.

On an incremental basis, we must try to win more spaces of development in the interest of the Nigerian people just as we hope that the Nigerian political opposition can work with a greater sense of patriotic purpose to provide the platform of change and political liberation. The challenges facing Nigeria today are located centrally in the failure of politics and governance.

The people have become increasingly alienated from a political process that seems incapable of offering the possibility of change and a new way of doing things for the better. That is why Adams Oshiomhole’s victory at the weekend is very important for Nigeria’s political process. If the PDP had been allowed to steal the election, as it was wont to doing, the effect would have cast a dangerously pessimistic pall on the country’s political process.

It is the rapacity of the PDP in the main that has given democratic politics such a bad name in the country, since 1999. The hope invested by the Nigerian people in the struggle against military dictatorship and for a democratic order, was wastefully expended by the PDP, and to a lesser extent, by the other parties that inherited post-military power.

Non-state acts of violence; the loss of monopoly of violence; the erosion of the legitimacy of the political process and the ruling elite are all consequent upon the elaborate regime of theft, fraud and insensitivity to the people’s yearning, which has reigned in the land since 1999. I also think we should give respect to the revered Oba of Benin. He spoke unambiguously on the side of his people’s best interest.

I really hope our traditional rulers in the North can learn a lesson from the Oba of Benin: stand by the people not with a corrupt ruling elite!

Femi Falana: Honour long due

LAST week, Femi Falana was finally announced as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). It was long in coming! Falana is our comrade; this outstanding fighter has spent his entire life fighting against imperialism and the exploitation of man by man.

He was a student union leader at the old University of Ife and was a leading member of the Alliance of Progressive Students (ALPS); the Patriotic Youth Movement of Nigeria (PYMN) and the Marxist-Leninist Movement of Nigeria (MLMN). Femi was a leading fighter against military dictatorship and was incarcerated in detention centres around the country.

He has consistently used law as an instrument for social change; regularly taking briefs where he can defend the interests of the working people and the poor. Falana is a committed Nigerian patriot, at a time when a lot of people have re-treated into ethno-religious laagers! Congratulations, Comrade Femi Falana, on the well-deserved elevation as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.


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