The Fulani herdsman is nomadic and migrates from one area to another in search of grazing land for his animals. The herdsman leaves the North during the harmattan season, usually during the end of the year and travels long distance by foot, covering hundreds of kilometres to the Southern part of the country in search of grazing lands to feed the herds. MOHAMMED AMINU, who spent time with these herdsmen in a Fulani settlement in Tangaza Local Government Area of Sokoto, writes
A Fulani herdsman by his nomadic nature, rears animals for economic and social status and moves from one place to another, particularly seeking for a place to graze his animals. He rears cattle, goats, sheep and rams for sale for local consumption and uses the milk produced by the cows as a commodity, which is sold in the market. Similarly, the social standing of a Fulani herdsman depends on the number of cattle he possesses, just as the social status of a man in the society rests on the number of properties, lands, vehicles and investments which determines his mode of social stratification and the class he belongs in the society. Thus, because of the dependence of social status on the number of cows possessed, the herdsman guards his cows jealously and fights anybody who tries to harm his animals. This informs the custom of paying condolence to a Fulani man who loses his cattle probably as a result of communal strife or death arising from an epidemic. There are two types of herdsmen. The moderate and the extremist. The moderates are Nigerians who usually move from the North to the South, while the extremists are mainly trans-border pastoralists mainly from Niger Republic to the North and to a large extent move to the South in search of grazing lands for the animals.
Within the family setting of a typical Fulani herdsman, there is a clear division of labour between the male and female. The herdsman takes care of the cows by taking them out for grazing in the morning. Usually, male children from the age of six, take the cows for grazing, especially if the parent is sick. The wife of a herdsman and the female children take care of household chores. They extract milk and butter from the cows and sell in the market. The raw milk is mixed with a local delicacy and taken as a drink popularly referred in Hausa language as “Fura da nono”. Similarly, there are Fulani herdsmen who become professional grazers and accept the cattle of others like businessmen, civil servants to graze for them for a fee depending on the mode of agreement.
In some Northern states like Sokoto, Kebbi and Zamfara, farmers do contract herdsmen to stay in their farms after the farming season. This is mainly for the manure that would be provided by the animals through their dungs and they stay up to four months in the farms and get paid for their services. The occupation to a very large extent makes them mobile, as they move with their families from one place to another seeking for a better place for their animals to graze.
Following the increase in population and economic growth, farmers increasingly seek for more farmlands to engage in commercial farming activities in order to generate more income. This quest for more farmlands by local farmers, created serious problems, as many cattle routes which were established and demarcated by the Federal Government for the usage of herdsmen many decades ago, are still being encroached by farmers, who have been planting crops on cattle routes over the years.
The replacement of cattle routes to farmlands by some farmers, left the herdsman with no any other option than to allow his animals to graze on farmlands and this brings them into collision course with farmers, whose crops had been destroyed by cattle while grazing. Thus, due to the nomadic nature of a Fulani herdsman, which keeps him constantly on the move, brings him into conflict with farmers in the North and other parts of the country. This is because, in the course of their movement while grazing on farmlands, crops get destroyed and this leads to poor harvest. And due to the fact that the farmers depend on their crops for livelihood and sustenance, this brings them into conflict with herdsmen, resulting into loss of lives and property.
Basically, the conflict between Fulani herdsmen and farmers had been recurring in most Northern and Southern states. It would be difficult for government to bring an end to it. This is based on the fact that some herdsmen believed that, it is only when their animals stray into the farms to feed with fresh crops that they will remain healthy, well fed and be able to resist certain illnesses associated with dry season. So, that explains why it will be difficult to eliminate such conflict no matter what the government does to ensure harmony between farmers and herdsmen.
The herdsmen usually marry from their clan, especially their cousins in order to preserve their culture and protect their lineage. The most common aspect is that, in most cases, the parents determine who their child gets married to and this occurs within the family setting. Thus, dowries are paid either in cash or in animals, depending on the request made by the bride’s family. The nomadic life of Fulani herdsmen compel them to move to the Southern part of the country in search of grazing lands. This affects them especially in terms of gaining access to western education and other modern opportunities for their children.
Some herdsmen though in the minority, move to the Southern part of the country with their wives, children and animals. They use camels to carry their belongings which include clothes, food stuff, clothing, tents and traditional medication as well as local herbs. They are also well armed and move around with sticks, daggers, cut lasses, bows and arrows, swords and other dangerous weapons to protect themselves against any attack. The herdsmen also move around with amulets and charms for protection for themselves and their animals in the forest, as they encounter dangerous animals while on their way to the South.
However, during a visit to a fulani settlement in Tangaza local government area of Sokoto recently, a prominent herdsman in the area, Malam Bello Tangaza, told THISDAY that the people of Tangaza are predominantly Fulani. He revealed that many herdsmen in the area do travel to the Southern part of the country annually, particularly to places like Lagos, Oyo, Ogun, Ondo and Osun while some move down to Enugu and even Rivers State in search of grazing lands to feed their cattle, especially during the months of November and December.
He said the herdsmen who travel long distance to the Southern part of the country do not go with their wives and children due to long distance that is about 1000 kilometres. “We don’t normally go with our wives and children to the South because the journey is very tedious and we don’t want them to be killed by wild animals in the bush. So, we prefer to leave them behind at home to avoid putting their lives at risk in the forests,”.
According to him, his last expedition in 2010 was a long tortuous journey to Oyo state and he went there along with five other herdsmen, which took them about four months to reach Ibadan on foot through the various cattle routes. “You are aware that during the harmattan, the land is dry in the North and there are no grasses for our cattle to feed, so we have no option than to move down South to places like Ibadan and Lagos for greener pasture. So, I embarked on the journey along with five other herdsmen and we left Sokoto late December 2010 only to arrive Ibadan by mid April by then the rainy season had set in and the grazing lands were okay for the cattle to feed. So, we trekked an average of 30 kilometres daily by foot through the various cattle routes in the forest, but sometimes if a cow is sick, we trek for just 20 kilometres or even lower than that to ease the burden,” he said.
Malam Tangaza pointed out that in the course of their journey, they sought the assistance of fishermen to cross the river with their animals in some towns in Kwara state whereby there was no bridge. He maintained that they encountered dangerous animals in the forest like tiger, python and hyena while on their way to Ibadan but were not attacked. He pointed out that such wild animals attack cattle and sometimes even kill a herdsman who unknowingly stray into the danger zones.
He further explained that some herdsmen were usually attacked by cattle rustlers, who may attack them, especially if not well armed, adding that they did not encounter such problems during his last trip. Tangaza emphasised that some herdsmen out of ignorance may encroach on farmlands and this creates conflict with farmers, especially if the crops were destroyed by the cattle.
“It is true that some herdsmen still carry amulets and charms which they strongly believe will protect them against any attack by wild animals in the forest. So, most of us carry charms to protect ourselves from unwarranted attacks by dangerous animals like tiger and python, which may inflict untold pains on not only the herdsman but also devour the cattle. But some of us, who do not have faith in charms do engage in incessant fasting for God’s protection, while in the forest. That is why, a herdsman who sleeps alone without anybody around, may be attacked and even killed by these wild animals,”he stressed.
He stated that in a situation whereby a herdsman gets sick, the other herdsmen in the group will rally round and convey him to a nearby hospital for treatment. They still continue with the journey and leave him there until he recuperates and join them and in case of death, they inform his family back home. The herdsmen usually take care of the cows until they return back to home to Sokoto and would be handed over to the deceased family.
He further stated that due to the nomadic nature of the herdsmen, they rarely take three square meals in a day. “ We normally take fresh milk in the morning before embarking on the journey and therefore, skip lunch only to take dinner consisting mainly of garri and sometimes we eat yam or the local ‘Tuwon Masara’ when we are back from grazing. We even go to the market to buy bread and bean cake which is our favourite food.”
He emphasised that the cattle are allowed to graze in open fields for a period of two months to enable them feed well. Tangaza averred that when they were fully satisfied that the cattle had fed well after two months in Ibadan, they started thinking of returning back to Sokoto by which time rainy season had already set in the North.”We usually spend two or three months in the Ibadan and after our cattle had really fed well, we start thinking of returning back to Sokoto. So, we left Ibadan by May and reached Sokoto by the end of August when the rainy season had already set in,”he stressed.
It is against this backdrop of recurring conflict between herdsmen and farmers, that the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association is always being involved in mediating disputes between nomads and the farming communities. But even then, these clashes still lingers. Most of the clashes that occur, THISDAY learnt, involve nomads, especially those from Niger Republic, who go as far to the Southern part of the country for grazing.
The issue of clashes between herdsmen and farmers had become frequent in recent years and a source of concern to the Federal Government. In fact, one of the deadliest clashes occurred in Gwadabawa local government area of Sokoto, involving pastoralists from Niger Republic and farmers in which seven people from both sides were reportedly killed. Similarly, few months ago, a clash occurred between the two groups in Kware local government, leading to the death of two people, while several houses belonging to the herdsmen were set ablaze.
In Plateau State, what should ordinarily be a clash between farmers and herdsmen, had been given different religious and ethnic colouration and all these have implications well beyond the scope of the clash.
It was against this backdrop, that the national Patron of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association and Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, set up a committee that will look into the problems and find solution to the recurring clash. Nevertheless, even though a committee was set up to seek a way to tackle the frequent clash between farmers and herdsmen, the problem still persist. So, many are of the opinion that the Federal Government should do more by way of public enlightenment. Government should also set up committees at district and village levels to monitor the passage of the pastoralists, so as to raise alarms whenever they encroach on farmlands as well ensure that cattle routes and grazing reserves are not encroached upon by farmers.