From the Gayawa Fulani settlement in Birnin Kebbi local government where I encountered more than 200 children of school age whose parents are desirous that they be educated but seem helpless; to Ruggar-Era, another Fulani town in Argungu local government—where more than a hundred women gathered to receive me along with their young children who also have no school to attend—I came face to face with the contradictions of the Nigerian condition on Monday in Kebbi State. The visit also opened my eyes to the danger that confronts our nation if we continue to ignore what has become the class dimension to the ‘Fulani crisis’ as well as the endless possibilities of what can be gained if we do the right thing.
The Permanent Secretary, Kebbi State Ministry of Animal Husbandry and Fisheries, Alhaji Usman Umar Dakingari, who served as my tour guide and interpreter, had with him a few other government officials as well as the Financial Secretary of the Kebbi State Miyyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), Alhaji Demgiya. It helped that in every of the Fulani settlement, I was introduced not only as a journalist from Abuja but also as the spokesman to the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, a Fulani man whose name still evokes good memory. But then what was I doing in Kebbi State?
In July 2015 when Governor Atiku Bagudu was just in his third month in office, I had visited Kebbi at a period the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) team was inspecting the rice paddies and Fadama planes for their Anchor Borrowing in support of the governor’s efforts to use agriculture for empowerment. Following that visit, I wrote a column titled, “Kebbi Rice and a Nation’s Tragedy”. At that period, I could see the prospects of the state in agriculture and the conversation I had with Bagudu suggested that he might be serious.
In that piece, I argued that agriculture presents the most viable alternative to an oil dependent economy in our country and that Kebbi was on the right path. Agriculture, I wrote, would “feed our multitude, employ most of our young people and thus quicken the end of Boko Haram and other death-wish militia. It will also feed processing industries and salvage many of our mismanaged and cash strapped states”. I added that “the Kebbi State Governor is right in his bid to seek the support of his Lagos State counterpart in the rice project. Purchasing power and investable capital reside mostly in the south while the land and natural resources which agriculture needs to thrive is more abundant in the north.”
Meanwhile, what was no more than a wish by the Kebbi Governor to strike a partnership with Lagos State, when we spoke almost three years ago, has resulted in LAKE Rice; additional rice processing mills with bigger capacities have also come on stream in the state where thousands of young men are now fully engaged in farming not only rice but other crops, including wheat, cocoyam and sugarcane. But efforts to make me come back to Kebbi had failed until Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah ‘moderated’ the agreement between me and the governor last Thursday at the Kukah Centre Symposium in Abuja where the President of Ghana delivered a moving lecture. So, on Sunday, I was back to Kebbi.
Blessed with Fadama land of about 400,000 hectares and huge water reservoir from its many tributaries, farming in Kebbi is an all-year round activity and Bagudu’s intervention programmes have empowered several people in the state. A young man with whom I exchanged mobile numbers at the premises of Labana Rice Mills located within the precincts of the state capital told me on Monday that from rice cultivation, he made about N3.8 million last year from a cumulative investment of about a million Naira mostly spent on power and inputs. He said he would make more money this year. The yields are increasing for the farmers because they are being taught better farming techniques aside the Village Saving and Loan Association (VSLA) which came on stream last year with the help of Oxfam and European Union.
Despite the setback in January, when a sugarcane field of about 30 hectares was destroyed by fire in Mai-Ramu village, Koko/Besse Local Government Area, the next project on Bagudu’s mind is the production of ethanol. The state is already partnering with the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) and other private investors to produce from its vast sugarcane resources the organic compound used as automobile fuel. Farmers in Kola, Raha, Zuru, Bagudo and other communities within the sugarcane belt are already expecting a new lease of life once the project takes off. But the highlight of my visit was the interactions with Fulani people live in Kebbi State, for obvious reasons.
On Monday, my first port of call was the 60,000 hectares Moccyho Grazing reserve where we met the Lagos State Auditor of MACBAN, Alhaji Mohammed Ladda who hails from the Gayawa community located within the reserve and was just visiting home. But it was Demgiya, as leader, who spoke for the people. He reaffirmed what the governor had earlier told me that they do not have the kind of security problem that has turned the neighbouring Zamfara State into a killing field because “the government has been able to deal with that”. In my earlier conversation with Bagudu, he said it was one of the security issues he tackled on assuming office. “The biggest local government in the state is the one that borders Zamfara State. But having anticipated the problem, we concentrated much of our security plan along the axis” said Bagudu.
But for the Fulani of Gayawa, there is a bigger problem, a microcosm of what has become a national challenge. “Here, we have herds of more than 10,000 but we have a problem with farmers. Although we have arrangement with them on when they would leave the Fadama for us to graze, with dry season farming, we are sometimes left without any route to graze”, said Demgiya who painted a picture of helplessness by the herders not only within Kebbi but all over Nigeria. To demonstrate how knowledgeable he was on such matter, Demgiya informed me of a meeting holding that day in Osun State between some Fulani leaders and Yoruba elders to resolve contending issues.
When I asked him whether he was aware of the notorious reputation of Fulani people as trouble makers who are going about the country, killing people, he replied in the affirmative. In a tone that was emotional, he said, “I am quite aware that Fulani people are now being killed in several places in Nigeria. If a criminal who happens to be a Fulani man kills one person, it will be big news and all Fulani would be held responsible but in a situation where one hundred Fulani men are killed, it doesn’t matter again in Nigeria. It is as if we are no longer human beings.”
Demgiya believes that Fulani people are being profiled across the country because of their way of life yet when I asked him what he would like government to do for the community, he did not hesitate to say school for their children. He took me to the community school whose roof had been blown off. It has only four small classrooms, each of which cannot take more than about 15 persons. But Demgiya said the children would like the school to be fixed and for teachers to be available. They also need water since the borehole in the community has since stopped functioning as well as health facilities.
The challenge became rather vivid at Ruggar-era, another Fulani community in Argungu local government that has been hemmed in by farm settlements. Leader of the community, Buda Gomna, not only spoke of their challenges, he said he would get the women to speak to me and true to his word, more than a hundred women in the community were gathered to interact with me. Many of them came with children of school age who only have access to some form of Islamic education.
Even though Gomna said Governor Bagudu has promised them a school, I asked for how long they have been in the community. “I was born here and so were my parents and it is the same with all the people in this community so we are talking of more than 100 years”, said Gomna. Yet, the big settlement has neither a school nor a health centre and I wonder why none of the civilian administrations since 1999 has bothered about this. But what seemed to concern him the most is that they now have no route for their cows with their community practically hemmed in by farm settlements. “There is no stock route anymore as we are now surrounded by farms. There is no exit from here. Everywhere is blocked. Every day, we worry about our future. To be honest, I am no longer sure of what the future holds for us in this place but where do we go? It is crisis upon crisis every day”, said Gomna in a note of resignation, before he directed me to go and speak to their wives.
With more than a hundred women surrounding her, the women leader, Hajia Hawau Neabi, also spoke passionately about their greatest concern: the education of their children who have no school. “They just attend Islamic school here. We want them to go to a proper school to have real education” said Neabi who added that “security has become a big problem. We trek for several hours to hawk dairy products. We want help”.
The take-away from my interactions with the Fulani men and women at the settlement is not only that pastoralist societies face more demands on their way of life than at any previous time in history, but also that in our country, the real Fulani people, as opposed to some political opportunists who use them as canon fodders, are also victims of the way we have mismanaged our affairs. While it may suit some reckless individuals to propound nonsensical theories of how Fulani people are ‘born to rule’, majority of their people are living in deprivation and want.
Those fat-cat Fulani politicians who send their own children abroad to school yet argue that it is the tradition of Fulani men to roam the bush must be called out for what they are. They are not speaking for the ordinary Fulani people nor do they care for them. As Dr Chidi Amuta always argue, it is one of the tragedies of modern Nigeria “that we have come to accept the category ‘nomadic’ as a permanent description of a vital segment of our populace” which, according to him, explains why “we have effectively denied these citizens the benefits of settled human civilization which include the right to a place to call home, the right to own land and other property and above all the full citizenship rights enjoyed by other Nigerians.”
The greater danger is that in the process of allowing these hapless Fulani men to roam, we unwittingly encourage the violation of the rights, as well as lives and livelihoods, of other Nigerians, especially settled landowners and farmers. The consequences are what we now witness in Benue, Taraba, Adamawa and other theatres of violence. Incidentally, I interrogated some of these issues in a two-part series published exactly two years ago. While interested readers can read the fairly long second part, https://www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2016/05/05/herdsmen-and-the-killing-field2/, I have pasted the abridged version below.
I found it instructive on Monday when one of the officials whispered to me, “you are the answer to the prayer of this people today. I am sure the governor will act immediately on their issues once you inform him.” As it would happen, I left on Tuesday morning without seeing the governor again (after my dinner with him on Sunday) but he must be reading this and I want to believe that he will act. That then brings me to the contradictions I mentioned earlier. Bagudu is a Fulani man. While he has done much to encourage crop farming and associated industries, he must also understand that the greatest form of empowerment is education; and in that regard, the Fulani people should not be left behind.
From my interactions with them in Kebbi, the Fulani people would not mind a settled life where their children can also have education with better prospects, just like the children of other Fulani men whose fortunes changed just by going to school. Two weeks ago, the Governor of Kano, Dr Umar Ganduje, clad himself in Fulani costume while calling on all herdsmen in the country to relocate to his state. It was a political statement to rally his kinsmen for whom he had no real plan. After all, Nigerians were witnesses to the fact that when his daughter married recently, it was not to any nomad roaming the forest but rather to the son of a fellow governor from Oyo State!
Whether in the North, East or West, and regardless of the language they speak or the God they worship, the reality of Nigeria is that the poor majority have no voice. Yet, it is their neglect and deprivation that serve as catalyst for the violence that has become a transnational language of protest across the country. It is therefore unfortunate that despite the economic importance of livestock to the nation’s economy and its huge contribution to the GDP, there is as yet no federal government programme for pastoralists the way we have for farmers. That exposes the lingering deceit of the ruling class in Nigeria who uses ethnicity and religion primarily as tools for exploiting the people.
Herdsmen and the Killing Field…2
Early in 2012, I took my son to the birthday of a classmate of his at Maitama Amusement Park, Abuja where I noticed a familiar face. As I muttered almost to myself, “is that not Mrs. Maryam Abacha?” my son, then 8, replied in the affirmative. “Yes, that is his grandmother. His grandfather was General Sani Abacha that you wrote about in your book.” Although I didn’t say anything to that, my son then added: “They say his grandfather was a very wicked man. But he is not wicked. He is a good person.”
I didn’t need any reassurance about this particular classmate of my son even though I had no inkling until then that he had any relationship to the late General Abacha. Well-mannered and brilliant, I had encountered the boy several times at the primary school and I liked him. However, my son was probably concerned that I might have been trying to judge the boy by my prejudices against his grandfather. That was the meaning of the testimonials he was reeling out. As amused as I was, that also taught me a lesson about how we judge others, not necessarily by who they are but by the family or ethnic group they belong or the religion they practice.
Ever since the seasonal violence for which herdsmen are protagonists started about three months ago, I have followed most of the comments and had been worried by some of the slant. Among herdsmen, who must be in hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, we have a bunch of criminals roaming the country, killing innocent people. If we don’t isolate those people and deal with them as criminals that they are, but would rather criminalise the entire herdsmen in our country, then we are unwittingly helping to give the criminals among them group protection by default.
That our security agencies are failing on this crisis is evident from the fact that they have not even interrogated the challenge to understand what exactly we are dealing with and I will cite just one example. A church member with whom I am very close was recently kidnapped somewhere in Kogi State while travelling to his village in Ondo State. Throughout the tricky negotiations with them while my friend was in their captivity for five days, the kidnappers spoke in Hausa and of course, the conclusion of everyone was/is that they are Fulani herdsmen.
However, from the experience recounted by my friend (after his release and following payment of ransom, of course), though they are Hausa-speaking, the kidnappers also claimed to be graduates and they spoke impeccable English. In justifying their crimes, according to my friend, the boys spent the whole time moaning about the conditions of the country and bad leadership. There was nothing to suggest that these opportunistic criminals own a single cow! Besides, the issue of herdsmen is a security challenge that also comes with economic opportunities.
A former staff of World Bank assisted Projects in Nigeria who has dealt with this problem in the past sent me a mail, part of which reads: “I like the part of your article on ‘Gaa Okanla’ although you left the fact that Baba Okanla and his children probably spoke only Yoruba and Fulfulde. These types of settlements also exist in several communities in the South-east. I know for a fact that there is a major settlement of Fulani herdsmen in Adada-Nkpologu-Adani-Iggah axis with other minor settlements in Awgu-Nkanu-Abakaliki axis all in Enugu state. They have lived peacefully for years. The Federal Government under a World Bank assisted Second Livestock Development Project (SLDP 1987-1995) established two Ndama Cattle Ranches in Adada in Southeast and another one at Fashola, a town not far from Iseyin in Oyo State in the South-west. Ndama are trypanotolerant cattle (that have some resistance to the disease Tryponosomosis caused by Tsetse flies) which were imported from Senegal.
“A credit model financed by the then NACB of five heifers (young female cows) and a bull was designed and disbursed to beneficiaries in these zones only. Most of the beneficiaries were from the communities I mentioned above. Obviously there will be exchange of labour and technologies between the Fulanis and the indigenous credit beneficiaries. These are some of the changes in cattle ownership in Nigeria that should be encouraged. The worrisome question now is: why will people in such communities that have lived for long harmoniously suddenly start killing each other overnight? Like you said the current analogy is just too simplistic and there is need for the relevant authorities to interrogate what exactly is going on.”
The man, who doesn’t want his name disclosed, attached for me the World Bank documents on the projects which had other components like credit models (smallholder fattening, goat, sheep, pigs and poultry breeders) grazing reserves and stock route development, dairy cooperatives and research. What that says clearly is that we do not need to reinvent the wheel. For a government that has made all the noise about reviving agriculture, we can turn this crisis to a big opportunity.
For sure, we cannot continue to encourage the violation of the rights of settled landowners and farmers whose means of livelihood now bear the brunt of cattle grazing, whether in the south or in the north. But we must also deal with the security component of the current crisis because the Fulani herdsmen that I grew up knowing carried only sticks and perhaps dane guns to hunt, just like the farmers they usually encountered and contended with. But now we hear of AK-47 and other high-calibre weapons.
Just recently, soldiers from the Guards Brigade of the Nigerian Army, Abuja apprehended some of these men who claimed to be on a mission to recover their stolen cows. Assorted ammunition, including pump action rifles were recovered from them. Nothing has been heard about that incident ever since. Where did those guys get their arms and ammunitions from? Who exactly are they and what was their mission?
The danger of not getting to the root of such issues is that it could encourage farmers and communities in the savannah belt to make their own private security arrangements which would be nothing more than a resort to self-help. When that happens, then anarchy is at the door for our country. But even as I hope the authorities will do everything to deal with the problem, I am also aware that for them to succeed, they will need the help of all the critical stakeholders. We must see this as a national challenge that tasks all of us, whether in the south or in the north, and regardless of the faith we profess.
However, Buhari must rise up to lead the charge, not because of any sense of guilt that he is a Fulani man, but rather because he is the President of Nigeria in whose hands lies our collective destiny.
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