Ethnicity should enrich us; it should make us unique people in our diversity and not be used to divide us. ––Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf
This week we are starting right away playing the devil’s advocate for the Fulani, Nigeria’s most maligned ethnic group today. The relentless bashing of these people is a direct consequence of the myopic governance style of President Muhammadu Buhari since 2015. Before the coming of PMB in 2015, this ethnic group was not spitefully spoken of as is the case in today’s Nigeria. Truth is that the Fulani were always seen as politically sagacious and shrewd. They try to accommodate even conquer neighbours with little friction.
I can say so much of them, having begun my journalism career in Kano, the Fulani heartland. I had ample and unimpeded opportunities to mingle with them. And I am not alone in this assessment. However, since PMB came to power this congenial image of Fulani people of Nigeria has changed.
Drastically so. They are now seen as troublemakers who reap where they neither cultivated nor sowed, breeding trouble in doses. In Nigeria today, the fear of the Fulani, whether in the bush with cattle or in government and politics, is the beginning of wisdom. Are the Fulani this bad? Are their hegemonic attributes this bad? Why is this abrasive nature more pronounced in this era? Finding answers to these questions will help us decipher really if this overwhelming ethnic group is the Nigerian problem or not.
When Fulani scholar and teacher, Shehu Usman Dan Fodio, led the jihad in the 18th century into the geopolitical space that later became Nigeria, his mission was specific and defined, to convert the animist north of Nigeria. His disciples and descendants expanded this missionary vision to include metaphorically dipping the Quran into the Atlantic.
This objective was not completely achieved but they went far, conquering a larger part of Northern Nigeria and some parts of the West for Islam. He founded the Sokoto Caliphate from where he and his descendants have been superintending over his conquered territories. From Usman Dan Fodio to Ahmadu Bello, the iconic founder of modern Northern Nigeria, there has been no much show of Fulani threat to their neighbourhood. While their land-grabbing instinct is legendary, they have always managed to cohabit both with their conquered ones and the unconquered. This is perhaps why most non-Fulani heroes in the north, whether Muslim or Christian, owe their success story to the politics of accommodation of Sir Ahmadu Bello.
The Sunday Awoniyis and Solomon Lars of old as example. If Dan Fodio led a jihad and conquered indigenous people and lived with them amicably for hundreds of years, what is this hullabaloo about the Fulani hegemony from a section of the media crying more than the bereaved? Have the so-called non-Fulani in the north voted alongside the south on any serious issue? Have they even with their number stood up to be counted? Even from Ahmadu Bello to the most recent Fulani leaders, there have not been stories of demonic Fulani we hear and dread today. During the second republic, a humble Fulani teacher from Sokoto, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, was elected President and everyone saw how humane his regime was. He was never identified with his religion or tribe. He was a pan-Nigerian leader. Young bright Nigerians like John Nnia Nwodo and Pat Utomi were picked by Shagari and given responsible positions at that time.
Vice President of that era, Dr Alex Ekwueme, was Shagari’s closest ally and they worked amicably together until the military junta truncated the republic for 30 years, defacing the nation’s politics and political evolution. After Shagari the next Fulani-born President was Umaru Yar’Adua. Although his tenure was cut short by natural death within three years, he ran a humane and accommodating government. The most glaring problem of the country during his time was the Niger Delta militancy.
He found a lasting solution not with the use of might but by accommodation and understanding that led to the establishment of the amnesty programme. Even the current spiritual head of the ethnic Fulani stool, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar, is known for his amicable relationship with the other non- Fulani. In Nsukka, Enugu State, where he spent most of his youthful military career, he has many civilian friends with whom he still relates to. Recently, he visited Nsukka and spent days with his friends. He is a known supporter of Enugu Rangers, an admiration he developed when he served at Nsukka and which he still retains even as the Sultan.
When Rangers play Kano Pillars today, the Sultan will stand by his beloved club Rangers. This was the image of innocence of the ethnic Fulani that most Nigerians knew before this dangerous dispensation that has turned them into a dreadful lot…to be feared and avoided.
If they are in minority and can live peaceably for hundreds of years among the majority, shouldn’t they be credited for the navigational ability that has kept them going, giving them an advantage where it should be otherwise? Even now that some agitators have been trying to draw out these conquered people from their cocoon to enjoy their advantage, has it been possible? The last six years of increased antagonism against Fulani within the North and the rest of Nigeria has proven the fact that with amicable relations a minority can control the majority.
If the ethnic Fulani from the days of the caliphate founder through to Ahmadu Bello to Shagari had been nepotistic and narrow-visioned as witnessed in this dispensation, perhaps the Fulani commanding political position would not have endured. It would have been brutally challenged as is being witnessed in turbulent areas like Jos and Kaduna. Our history as a nation is clear about the origin of tribalism in this country but this dispensation has made it look as if Fulani are the incubators of tribalism. Every dog visits the trash can but the one that comes out of it with rotten meat is usually tagged.
What the Buhari government has done inadvertently by their myopic approach to governance is to position the ethnic Fulani as the vanguard of tribalism. Olusegun Obasanjo is a scion of ethnic Yoruba. He certainly favoured the Yoruba people during his reign but it was not done spitefully as we are seeing today. At least, he picked his Chief of Staff from Kogi State, his Secretary to Government of the Federation from Akwa Ibom and he is from Ogun State. We also heard that the man who saw him off to bed daily as a Presidential domestic assistant is an Igbo from Anambra State. We didn’t hear too much of religion and tribalism under him.
Privately, most Igbos or Yorubas like to do business with Fulani people even ahead of their kinsmen. Ironically, the Fulani man who would not appoint another tribe into a sensitive or so-called lucrative public office today, when he sets up his private firm, goes for Igbos to manage it. What does that show us? The richest African man today is a Fulani, check out the technical hands in his firms, Fulanis are not dominant at critical positions.
His biggest investment is not located in Fulani land. But today nepotism is a huge bug under a Fulani command If we are tribalistic by nature we would not be allowing persons of other tribes near our private businesses. What we do is hide under politics to perpetuate tribalism and nepotism in the thinking that we are smart and are cheating the other tribes.
Top Emirs, Obas, and Obis are sharing board positions in blue-chip companies and they hardly fight. More fights are recorded in such private boards populated by the same ethnic group. In all of the looting done in this country, every tribe has participated and hardly are there any disagreements during loot sharing, either on a tribal or political basis. In the National Assembly, when they want to pad the budget, party differences, religion, and tribe take the back seat. So who is fooling who? This devil’s advocacy shows how PMB’s (mis)rule has brought monumental misfortune to the Fulani, pitting them against the rest of Nigeria.
In the long run, the eight years of a Fulani President in Nigeria would have done more damage to them than good. This is also to show Buhari buddies who are thinking they have been great Fulani irredentists that history will not place them well in the long run when the consequences of their actions begin to materialize. As I draw this discourse to a close I am just imagining if any non-Igbo can wholeheartedly say positives of the ethnic Igbo.
Not when Evans the kidnapper is arrested he becomes an Igbo kidnapper but when Chimamanda writes a good book she becomes a Nigerian girl. When an ethnic agitator emerges among Igbos he becomes a terrorist who should be crushed but if a Fulani agitator emerges he becomes a bandit who should be understood and rehabilitated.
Nigeria certainly can be and will be better if we stop all these political hankypanky of hiding under tribe and religion to destroy our brotherhood. We ought to embrace Monic Crowley’s position that “true equality means holding everyone accountable in the same way, regardless of race, gender, faith, ethnicity or political ideology.” May God help us.