By Rotimi Fasan
IT would appear that the Fulani are the least admired ethnic group in Nigeria today. That is stating it very mildly. Nigerians of all ethnicities are apparently united in their disenchantment with their Fulani compatriots.
If it was possible to excise a section of the Nigerian space from the rest of the country as Gideon Orkar and his band of military rebels had wanted to in 1990, the parts occupied by the Fulani would be most favoured for such political re-engineering. Yet the perception of the Fulani in today’s Nigeria as violent hegemonists is another proof of how a soiled finger can contaminate an entire hand.
The activities of a few hundred Fulani now reflect badly on an entire ethnic group in a country in which they have lived in harmony and engaged in business with other Nigerians for centuries.
Viewed now as wily, dangerous and murderously acquisitive, the Fulani are being made to carry the burden of a failing Buhari administration. The contemporary perception of the Fulani is mainly linked to the emergence of Muhammadu Buhari as president in 2015. Before that time, not much was thought of the Fulani as a group separate from the Hausa much less as one in which every Fulani is viewed as a cattle herder and a potential murderer, rapist or arsonist working in the overall scheme of entrenching a Fulani hegemony.
Which is the same thing as saying that if Nigerians can no longer trust the Fulani, if they can no longer accept their activities at face value; if Nigerians of other ethnicities would rather not have the Fulani around them as is the case now with the botched establishment of ruga, and read all kinds of meanings into their every gesture, despite having lived and shared friendship with them for several centuries. It is mainly due to the failures of the Buhari administration.
Herdsmen and farmers clashes are nothing new in many parts of Nigeria. They are as common and familiar as boundary clashes between communities populated by even Nigerians of same ethnic background.
The emergence of Buhari as president brought a trend to the erstwhile friendly but sometimes tense relationship between farmers and herders that was never there. It is all partly the outcome of Buhari’s wrong understanding of his role and place as president, his failure to rise above petty ethnic and religious considerations in his engagement with Nigerians on the one hand and on the other hand his failings as a leader who came into office unprepared for the demands of the office of president.
Buhari became president and set about defining Nigerians along ethnic and religious lines, creating a special space for those who share the same religious and ethnic background with him.
This was one step away from filling every available office with people he “knows”, those he says are familiar to him, before moving to the “97 per cent” that voted for him while ignoring the “five per cent” that did not.
This was his first act of violence against our social fabric and national cohesion. It is true that most Nigerian leaders tended to have closely around them persons with whom they share the same ethnic origin. Nigerians understood this: the sense in which a leader would want to have their “people” around them.
They never complained about this kind of arrangement that was of the same character as putting your own sibling in charge of the preparation of your food.
Buhari gave this practice a different definition and took it in a whole new direction by giving nine of every possible ten appointments to his “people”. He made such appointments a matter of entitlement, as if his emergence as president was an opportunity to transform other Nigerians into a conquered people under the leadership of the Fulani, Northern Nigerians and others that profess Islam.
There is no doubt that such appointments must be to the embarrassment of many Fulani, Northerners or Muslims. However, others of very little education or exposure would interpret such brazen acts of nepotism and favouritism as invitation to impunity.
It is not impossible that many of the Fulani herders that have in the last few years gone on rampage across Nigeria view their position in a new light and feel entitled to engage in acts of wild brigandage, murder and arson on a mass scale, certain that their man in Aso Villa would ignore their activities. They have since added abduction for huge ransoms and armed robbery to their crime list.
That Buhari has done next to nothing about this (not even in the notorious cases in Benue, Taraba and the Mambila Plateau for which he summoned a former Inspector General of Police into action), given the fact that no Fulani individual or group, including those given to making inflammatory statements every now and then have been subjects of state prosecution, is proof of the culture of impunity that his administration has enthroned.
In addition to his tunnel vision as an Islamo-Fulani revanchist, Buhari is also a leader who is dwarfed by the demands of his office.
He has a poor sense of his role as president. His situation is nowhere helped by his physical weakness due to his advanced age. Thus, he sits back in his living apartment in Aso Villa or his office and literally marks time. He could, therefore, come out without any sense of urgency, irony or embarrassment to say he is being pressured to release his ministerial list about two months after his inauguration as president. Which type of leader talks like this?
Having sat back, doing nothing for most of his four years as president even as Fulani herders go about inflicting destruction on different parts of the country, he comes to Nigerians one morning with tactless talks of a cattle colony and a so-called National Livestock Transformation plan that was surreptitiously renamed ruga and expects a country already traumatised by the murderous impunity of Fulani terror groups to accept an agenda tailor-made to appease their tormentors.
Had Buhari played his role as president of all Nigerians and risen to the demands of his office by demanding justice for Nigerians ruined by criminal elements masquerading as herdsmen, had he taken pre-emptive and proactive steps to stem the rising tide of Fulani nationalism rather than advertising himself as defender of his “people”, he would not now be fighting the fire of anti-Fulani sentiments.
His personal failure as a man unprepared for the office he occupies is the reason an entire ethnic group is today being viewed with hostility and stereotyped as land-grabbing hegemonists that would kill on a mass scale at the slightest provocation. Buhari is the reason Nigerians are unhappy with the Fulani.