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The myth of Fulani hegemony

By Obi Nwakanma
There is a dangerous wave of anti-Fulani feelings across Nigeria, fanned by a scurrilous form of political populism now riding on the back of the fiction of a Fulani hegemony in Nigeria.

Everything associated with the Fulani – when criminal herdsmen kill, or when the police acts contrary to one’s expectation, we now see as the political expressions of some kind of Fulani hegemony. Every known evil that has befallen Nigeria, including the failure of Nigeria’s national team to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations competition, is attributed to “Fulani hegemony” – or the double-barreled version of it also known as the “Hausa-Fulani” hegemony. The talk of a “hegemony” is a lazy form of political analysis in Nigeria, as the facts of the contours and architecture of Nigerian society makes a “Fulani hegemony” in Nigeria impossible.

But there is a past to these presumptions: first, Nigerians still think that the Sokoto Caliphate is alive and well. The myth of a “Caliphate” conspiracy to dominate Nigeria politically and Islamize Nigeria has been retailed so widely that many unreflective Nigerians, particularly going south, have invested such a mythology with the power of truth.

There is certainly a Fulani presence in Nigerian politics, but quite often, as in all legends, that power is exaggerated, and given a life of its own, and it becomes, in some ironic way unconditional truth. Southern Nigerian intellectuals, politicians and propagandists have, far more than anybody else, certainly far more than the Fulani themselves, ascribed or assigned near-omnipotent political capacity to the Fulani, far beyond the capacity of the so-called “Hausa-Fulani.” Much of these stem from profound ignorance and the kind of deadly prejudice that creates hatreds and genocides.

A Fulani hegemony makes Nigeria unworkable; mirrors the political greed and ambition of the “Hausa-Fulani,” and leaves the political space roiling with fierce resistance. But it is a hegemony and power fueled more in the media than in the truth of its actuality. But let us step back a bit, and analyse it, starting with what I have suggested as the myth of “Caliphate power” with its bastion in Sokoto, the old Capital of the Caliph of a once powerful Sultanate, then one of the larger outposts of the Ottoman empire – given that its founder Sultan Othman Dan Fodio was a General of the Army of the Ottoman empire.

But the British had abolished the Caliphate of Sokoto, killed the last Caliph Attahiru, and installed a puppet for administrative and religious purposes to serve British colonial interest as the policy of indirect rule took shape. They retained the title of “Sultan” but the once powerful “Caliph of Sokoto” was reduced in the British administration, to some kind of native administrator of no more than a handful of sand. Indirect rule, we all know worked best in the North and West of Nigeria, but the true administration of Nigeria was in the hands of the colonial bureaucrats who were the master of the “local potentates.” That was the reality from the moment a modern administration was formalized over the new nation founded with the amalgamation of many disparate, desiccated “ancient kingdoms” and “empires” and “city states” and “Village republics” in 1914. To cut this short: the Sokoto Caliphate does not exist as a political reality. It exists as a symbolic reality and for purely nostalgic purposes as does all the fake “kingdoms” and “empires” – paper tigers inside a modern democratic republic.

The Sultan of Sokoto is first, a citizen of Nigeria, and by law under the constitution of Nigeria, no more of importance than any other citizen of the country according to the equality clause of Nigeria’s Republican constitution. When Sani Abacha deposed the Sultan of Sokoto, Mr. Dasuki, the heavens did not fall.

The greatest political mistake that the Parliament of this Federal Republic has made is not to abolish  such titles as the “Sultan of Sokoto” or the “Obi of Onitsha,” or “the Ooni of Ife,” and these false “kingdoms” and “Sultanates” which cannot legitimately exist side-by-side with the republic, and thus follow in the steps of India which abolished its more powerful, more ancient, and more glittering “Rajas” and such other titles for the stability of the Indian republic.

There is, undoubtedly, some nostalgia, among mostly conservative monarchists and those who value the “volk” over the modern nation to continue to perpetuate these boundaries of the old principalities, because, “it is our culture.” Nothing can be more asinine. “Our culture” has long evolved into a modern, national culture, which is however clashing with the old loyalties. That is why we see everyone else other than ourselves as “sinister” and hardly as sharing our interests as Nigerians.

There is also no doubt, that there may be people in the North, who may plot to revive the old Sokoto Caliphate as part of an international movement in the restoration of the Ottoman Empire. Such plots exist. But we cannot talk about a “Fulani hegemony” merely on account of incidentals. Its source was that the first powerful Premier of the North, Ahmadu Bello was Fulani, and its first Military Governor, Hassan Kastina was Fulani. And there is an abiding architecture of Fulani spread across what we continue to call the North of Nigeria, right through the Adamawa swath, to the Cameroons. But a close look would reveal that the Fulani do not control this North, either politically or economically, in spite of the “larger-than-life” impression we have managed to create about Fulani dominance of Nigeria.

The Fulani have contributed to Nigeria’s political culture – with three Presidents: Shagari, Buhari, and Yar Ardua, but it is not because they have any more capacity. It is that they have managed to insert themselves into myth. Power requires a vast mythology. But without these myths of Fulani power and dominance – the Fulani do not have the capacity to dominate Nigeria or create a hegemony: they do not have the numbers. They cannot mobilize an Army. They do not have the financial wherewithal. Nor do they have the bureaucratic capacity. They have a history of competence, and are masters of political intrigue, and have maintained the subterranean complex and network of the old empire through the old “Emirates” of the North. But the old North no longer exists. It ceased to exist in 1967 when the Gowon cabinet created the first twelve states.

The myth of Fulani hegemony was also furthered with the rise of a group called the “Kaduna Mafia” which in the 1970s, established themselves to maintain and further old Northern political interest, in an era when a young generation of old Northern intellectuals and bureaucrats felt that though a Northerner, Gowon, was Head of state, but the actual power resided in Western Nigeria. The activities of the Kaduna Mafia was, like all mythologies, larger than life, and gave credence to a Northern mission to perpetuate itself in power –through the connivance largely of the so-called “Hausa-Fulani” and by all means necessary, including violence. This view has not been helped with the rise of President Buhari, a Fulani as president. But when we examine it closely, we will see that what propels political power in Nigeria is mythology.

Everything wrong with Nigeria now is associated with the “hegemonic” Hausa-Fulani. One writes this as a cautionary treatise. Being Igbo in Nigeria, it is imperative that one does not participate in this kind of myth-making frenzy that breeds a hatred of the “other.” Once, the Igbo themselves had suffered on account of what became circulated among other Nigerians as “Igbo domination” of Nigeria. The Igbo, others said, were plotting to dominate Nigeria, and this fear of “Igbo domination” led to the massacres of the Igbo. It is important that we do not associate an entire Fulani people with the kind of intrigue that would instigate Nigerians against them.

If Cattle herds who happen to be Fulani commit murder, they should be arrested and treated on their individual basis. If the Hausa and the Yoruba clash in Ife, and the police seem to act with partiality against the Yoruba in arresting them, the incompetence of the police should not be associated with a “Hausa-Fulani” plot or hegemony. If Buhari acts or fails to act as president, it should not be a “Fulani plot.” We must dispense with these dead-end essentialisms. As I say again, because of its unique complexity, no single ethnic entity can establish a hegemony over Nigerians.




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