Why always accuse the Fulanis?
“The police have acted according to the instructions they have been given, that any criminal should be shot at sight…anybody who calls themselves OPC…should be arrested or if he doesn’t give himself to arrest should be shot at sight.” – President Olusegun Obasanjo (December 1999).
The above quote is one of many old comments from past and present leaders of the country, which have suddenly resurfaced in the wake of the recent happenings across the country, especially in the South-West of Nigeria, with regards to the directive by the Ondo State governor, Arakunrin Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN) on the 17th of January, 2021.
He directed all people who are illegally occupying the state forest reserves to vacate there within seven days, which elapsed on 24th of January, 2021. He said that all herders should also register to ensure proper identification, given the infiltration of criminals disguising as herdsmen. The directive became expedient following the criminalities, kidnappings and killings that have engulfed the state in the past few years, and the fact that the forests have served as safe haven for these criminals where they keep their victims, negotiate and share ransoms. This generated hue and cry from the Fulani herdsmen and their leaders.
Then the vacation order issued by Chief Sunday Adeyemo, popularly called Sunday Igboho to criminal fulani herdsmen to leave Igangan in Ibarapa land, following many heinous activities of the killer herdsmen in that axis and many other areas for many years. It reached a tipping point with the murder of Dr. AbdulFatai Aborode last year December. A man who returned from overseas to come and invest in his fatherland.
He established a 400 acre of cashew farm which employed over 200 indigenes of Igangan. These marauding herdsmen invaded his farm and destroyed everything. On top of that, when he complained, he was said to be kidnapped, tied to the stake and hacked to death, in his home town. The picture of his butchered body has been in circulation on social media in the past few days now.
Among many others, the alleged story of the son of the traditional head of Igangan, who was abducted, was a shock. The kidnappers demanded that the chief pay ransom to save his son’s life. A sum of four million naira was said to have been paid through the Seriki Fulani of Oyo State, resident in Igangan, before the he was released. What more could trigger unabated anger than such?
The indigenes said that not less than 50 million naira has been paid in ransom in total. About 15 women have been raped and many indigenes have been killed. In all of these, the accusing fingers were pointed at the Fulani herdsmen in that area, just as they are accused in several other areas where such crimes have been committed, not only in the south or south-west, but in many other parts of the country, including places where Fulanis are the dominant tribe like North-west and North-East. The North has been a constant case.
Why is this so? Why is it that Fulanis featured prominently in the accusations of criminalities in different parts of country? Are they the only people who commit crimes in Nigeria? Are all other tribes innocent of criminalities? Or is it a case of profiling an ethnic nationality unjustly? These and many more, are questions that always agitate my mind.
In fact, I have written a few times in their defence when the allegation of Fulanisation agenda against President Buhari raved, he too being a Fulani. However, like Yorubas will say; “o jo ga te, k’ojo ga te, o f’ese mejeeji tiro. Eegun atiro wole, eeyan atiro jade”. If it is not so, it seems so.
I get worried whenever situation as we had in the past few weeks happened. Like I have written many times, my time in the northern Nigeria afforded me the opportunity of first-hand experience with the people there. Many friends I have in the north are Hausas and Fulanis (this dichotomy may sound strange to some people. I will get to it later).
While in that region, I met so many wonderful northerners, including the Fulanis. I used to wonder why such simplistic, unassuming and “seemingly” innocent people could be accused of all that they are often accused of? Despite the reality that we have bad people in all tribes and all religions, why is the case of Fulanis then different? There are many factors driving this narrative.
Unfortunately, many leaders, present and past, whether in public offices or private capacities, who are Fulanis have never helped change such narrative with their words and or actions. Rather, they often reinforced such beliefs or even worsen it. Like in this situation, many statements made by prominent leaders of Fulani extractions have been “exhumed” by people who tried to justify this claim. The story of the president Buhari’s visit to the then governor of Oyo State, Alhaji Lam Adesina has been retold.
The then General Buhari (Rtd.) was said to have stormed the government house in Ibadan and asked the governor; “why are your people killing my people?”. This is instructive, given that he was once the head of state in Nigeria. That was not expected of him. Such statement has come back to hunt the president. Coincidentally, the case was also about a crisis in Oke-Ogun, neighbouring Ibarapa, where the current crisis is happening.
The promptness with which the “presidency” is often seen to rise in the defence of the Fulanis or Fulani interests is another case. Why the leaders of Yorubas were cautioning Sunday Igboho with regards to the vacation order he issued, the hasty statement from the presidency about Ondo that the governor has no right to give the directive he gave exemplified that. It happened that the “presidency” was wrong.
Similar hasty counter position was taken when the security outfit, Amotekun, was established to counter the same insecurities in January 2020. The AGF rushed to declare it illegal, rather than properly engaging the promoters, who happened to be constitutionally elected governors of the six south-west region. When actions like these are taken, what do they expect the victims to think? There are insinuations that the president is “tribalistic” and always protect the interest of “his people” (Fulanis), even if it is at the detriment of other tribes or the country.
It is the belief of many other ethnic nationalities in Nigeria that the Fulanis are all about domination. Conquering the people, displace them from their ancestral lands /homes, take over their territories and rule over them, many times, viciously. This stemmed from the history of Fulani invasions in many cities which made up of the present northern Nigeria at the amalgamation of 1914.
Before the invasion of 1804 by the Uthman dan Fodio, the present northern region were aboriginally not Fulanis or ruled by them. They were Hausas. These were the indigenous people in the present North-west and North-East. The heart of Hausaland was Daura in the present Katsina state. The Fulanis came from the north Africa. The conquest wars between 1804 and 1808 led to the dethronement of indigenous leadership in different cities across the north and taking over by the Fulanis. Sarkin hausawa were replaced with Fulani emirs.
All these were done under the guise of spreading Islam. That was the reason it was referred to as “holy jihad”, modelled after the jihad undertaken at the time of the holy Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him). However, I do not think that is precisely correct. All jihad by the prophet did not entail any “forceful” take-over of peoples’ lands or converting them to Islam by force. They occurred only as necessity for self preservation and self defence. Not conquest as the Nigerian case was referred to.
At amalgamation, all the Fulanis within the territory carved out to become Nigeria then became Nigerians. There are Fulanis across the north African countries who are not Nigerians. Their presence in this country without proper documentation is illegal and criminal, and should be treated as such but is that so? This is the history of Nigeria, which I did not author. They are there for interested people to learn since the study of history was removed from Nigeria’s education curriculum. That is another calamity that befell the country.
So, in the light of the above narration and possible mindset that must have been historically established, though suppressed for many decades, there is always the mutual suspicion whenever actions of some unscrupulous people, many of whom are herdsmen and Fulanis, seem to replicate the past history. And the constituted authority does nothing to allay peoples’ fear or worse still, reinforced it, this is what we get.
The northern Nigeria used to be the safest in this country for many decades, apart from the religious and ethnic crisis that happened now and then. Only petty thieves and criminals existed. People could move around any time, sleep outside, leave their doors open, without any fear. The bigger crimes were common in the south. This kidnapping that has become a monster today started in the Niger Delta. It was done by militants to protest against the destruction of the region through oil exploration in order to call the attention of the governments and the oil companies to their plights. Oil workers were the targets then and they happened majorly on the water and in the creeks of Niger Delta.
After, they were then called for dialogue as a result before they safely release their hostages. This continued until criminals took it over and started kidnapping innocent people on the streets. It spread to Aba, in Abia state by 2007 upwards and continued to spread across the south. Southerners were the major perpetrators and were also the victims. A classic case was that of the “billionaire” kidnapper, Chukwudemeje Onwuamadike known as Evans.
This became a lucrative criminal entreprise. It was well organised and professionally executed. There usually were specific targets who were monitored for days, weeks or even months by a web of collaborators before the final strike. It was usually just one person who is rich or important enough to pay the demanded ransom. It was not mass abductions as we are now witnessing. Their operations were across the south. We did not hear of cases happening in the north. How would Yoruba or Igbo or Ijaw kidnappers even go to any village in the north and kidnap? “Dem never born them well”.
However, since it began in the north, they have overdone it. Kidnappings now happen anywhere and everywhere, irrespective of the status of victims, whether rich or poor, important or commoner. Everyone is a potential victim. Imagine two, three or more bus-load of passengers kidnapped at once. Or a whole school or community, abducted. Many communities, now pay protection fees to bandits or they will be attacked. This has been the bane of the north for many years now. Only that it got extremely worse in the past few years. They have become more audacious and operate with greater impunity.
Since these have continued, how many of them have been apprehended, prosecuted and punished? Criminals escaping justice is one major problem and it has kept the criminalities striving. While I have acknowledged the involvement of many other ethnic nationalities in banditry and other criminalities, like the case of Gana and his gang. They were responsible for many attacks and killings in Benue and environs. Their origins are never in doubt.
Whenever bandits attacked and the victims claimed that they are Fulanis, the authority and many fulani leaders and sociocultural groups will be quick to deny them, claiming they are “foreigners”. We will begin to hear that they are from Mali, Niger, Chad, etc. By the way, whose responsibility is it to prevent foreigners from entering the country illegally, not to talk of killing the citizens? The federal government of course.
But once the people under siege decided to defend themselves against the marauders, the same authority and groups will suddenly rise up in the defence of the Fulanis and claim they are their people. No other tribe in Nigeria use this double identities like that, which has indulged and protected the criminal Fulanis. You cannot hear that a person is a Yoruba from, Cotonou, Togo or Ghana when arrested for crimes. Likewise an Igbo man, or Ijaw or Itsekiri. Only the Fulanis and Hausas have such luxury. This is inimical to fighting the bandits.
As it is now, government and security agents need to be above board, and not be seen as taking sides whenever issues of killings and attacks that involve the Fulanis and other ethnic groups occur. What is the explanation for the recent allegations that soldiers escorted Fulani herdsmen to some villages in Ogun state to beat up the indigenes and their chiefs for preventing the herdsmen from overrunning their farmlands? That is the problem. Obasanjo did not treat OPC leaders and members with kid-gloves because they were Yorubas as seen in that opening quote.
Many people have complained that police will never do anything in any case reported once it has to do with the Fulani herdsmen. With all the lopsidedness in the heads of the security agencies in Nigeria in favour of the North, such dispositions from security agents are not unexpected since many have substituted loyalty to country for loyalty to the office holder. Such action will always worsen insecurities. They need to be stopped.
The people should do as much as possible not to take laws into their hands while trying to defend or protect themselves, even if they feel helpless and unprotected by the constituted authority (apologies to Ajimobi). Dialogue should also be part of the peace process. People and leaders of different tribes should be mindful of their utterances to avoid what can push the country overboard. This is also applicable to the government officials. They should remember they are working for Nigeria and not an ethnic group.
The Fulanis and their leadership should guard their words too. What does it mean that; “all lands in Nigeria belong to the Fulanis and they can do as they wish anywhere”, as attributed to Bello Abdullah Bodejo, President of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore? That’s reckless and preposterous. The genuine fulani and herdsmen will do well to start exposing those criminals that have infiltrated them instead of covering them or feigning ignorance. They know themselves. This will correct the negative stereotypes about them. Modern ways of herding cows must be adopted. The pastoralists cannot continue to practise archaic methods. Ranching is the way to go.
Ultimately, there is need for the continuous association of all the ethnic groups in Nigeria to be discussed on the round table. The terms and conditions of such association need to be renegotiated and implemented. The demand for restructuring is more than critical at this time. While should we continue to flog a dying horse? Nigeria is not working right now as it should. Why pretend?
May God give the country’s leaders the courage and wisdom to face the truth and do the needful before it is too late.
God Bless Nigeria.
By Lateef Adewole