With the recent farmers-herders clashes across Nigeria leading to tragic loss of lives, Fulani people have been left in the proverbial cold, seen in a light which a majority of them do not deserve. National President of the Miyetti-Allah Kautal Hore Fulani socio-cultural association in Abuja, Alhaji Abdullahi Bello Bodejo, told Daily Trust that while many fellow Nigerians generally love them, it is his experience that many also project hate due to confusion or misinformation.
Bodejo said the lack of understanding stems from the issue of clashes between some pastoralists and farmers. “Another issue that seems to confuse people is the anti-open grazing law in Benue State, over which we are in court, as law-abiding citizens. We are doing the best for our people and for others Nigerians. It is people like the Benue Governor, Samuel Ortom, and some others who hate us,” Bodejo said. According to him, many Nigerians appreciate the worth of Fulanis in the socio-economic and political development of the country.
Boyi Gidan Dikko, a 67-year-old herder in Sokoto, recalled nicknames fondly given to Fulanis, Agwai or Makiyaya (Hausa for ‘herdsmen’). But he also remembers that in some parts of the country, especially crisis-prone areas, they are called derogatory names. According to him, their search for pasture is now limited to short distances, for fear of attacks. This has led to shortage of pasture for their cattle.
Dikko noted with dismay the open hatred against herders in some part of the country, due to the actions of criminal elements among them, particularly those coming from neighbouring countries. “We don’t feel safe anywhere because we can get attacked or get robbed at gunpoint. Our members are losing their animals to rustlers while farmers kill us at will even without any offence, especially in the Middle Belt and in the southern parts of the country. Locals look at us as if we’re criminals, and take advantage of even a slight mistake to unleash terror on our people,” he said, a look of sadness on his face.
Another Sokoto-based herder, Malam Bello Tangaza, said native herdsmen are not destructive, but peace-loving. He said those causing trouble are ‘Wadade’ herders from Cameroon. “Nigerian herders don’t carry guns, and they are not violent. They are shy, even,” he said.
For the pastoralists in Plateau, paradoxically, they feel loved and hated at the same time. The Chairman of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), Bassa Local Government Area of Plateau State, Alhaji Umar Dakare, said there are many negative perceptions about Fulanis, like false accusations of attacks on communities, making them hated by some people. He however said that they are not bothered since they know their hands are clean.
While saying that a good deal of the hatred is ages-old, and is beyond recent events, he feels the Fulanis are being targeted because of their prowess in cattle-rearing. “We have no farms, no bank accounts, or such. All we have are our cows, which we rear and graze about with and manage them very well,” Dakare said.
For 65-year-old Abubakar Ardo, who has been herding cattle around the nation for over 40 years, the way people look at Fulanis now is unfair. He said he moves from one village to another, around forest and villages in Adamawa and Taraba states, and relates with farmers very well, without friction.
According to Ardo, while there used to be misunderstandings between farmers and herdsmen for a long time, such were usually settled amicably. But, he says, today the herder is blamed immediately anything happens, declared guilty by default.
“I’ve never killed anybody, and therefore nobody should call me a killer. There are bad eggs among us, and equally there are farmers who are bad eggs, too. It feels as though everyone is against us. No-one ever looks at what the farmers do to herders,” Ardo told Daily Trust.
Another herdsman, also in Taraba, who gave his name as Musa, said there are a number of instances where farmers killed several herdsmen and stole their cows, but it is the herdsmen that are branded as criminals. “It is unfair, and unjust, because many herdsmen have been killed by farmers who go scot-free,” Musa said.
But the Sarkin Fulani in Osun State, Alhaji Oluwatoyin Sulaimon, who has been living in the state for decades said the Fulanis are enjoying their stay and assured that they would continue to live together in harmony with the people in the state. He said the Fulani people in Osun have been conducting themselves well among the residents of the state and that the administration of Governor Rauf Aregbesola has put some mechanisms in place to ensure harmonious relationships between them and other people in the state.
Speaking fluent Yoruba, Sulaimon said Osun State is home to them. “Everyone here see us with human dignity, and as fellow Nigerians. We don’t have problems with any ethnic group. We see ourselves as brothers and sisters, with no crisis or barrier between the Fulani people and Yoruba people. I must appreciate Governor Aregbesola for his efforts at ensuring that we keep enjoying peace in this state. The state government made it clear to us and the farmers in the state that we have to live together peacefully,” he said.
Also, the Sarkin Fulani in Ikire, Ayedaade local government area of Osun, Alhaji Usman, confirmed that there is peaceful coexistence between the Fulani and others in the state. “We are not happy with the news of crisis in some parts of the country in which the Fulanis are being accused of killing other people. We also condemn such killings, and urge government to expose the killers, because Fulani people are not murderers,” he said.
If only the love was so in Zamfara, where clinging to his radio set and listening to BBC Hausa, a herder called Malam Sulaiman Umar instructed his little daughter to bring a mat for him. He told Daily Trust that Fulanis in the state feel hated, as a result of incessant cattle-rustling they have been suffering. “Whenever cattle are rustled, the beneficiaries of the atrocities are the elites themselves living in urban centers. In cattle-rustling, all ethnic groups are involved, but to my surprise, the blame is shifted to herdsmen,” he said.
However, to Musa Ja’e, Fulani herdsmen are not killers until they are pushed to the wall. “For instance, about 10 years ago my brother was attacked and had his children, his wife and brothers killed by a group of local vigilantes known as Yan Sakai in Zamfara State. My brother was the only one who escaped that attack, but nobody acknowledges that anything had happened, almost as if they aren’t human,” he said.
Echoing Ja’e, Another herder who identified himself as Shehu Daza, said the root cause of the crises was the injustice being meted out to Fulani herdsmen. “I’m not exonerating herders from blame, but, have relevant authorities ever sat down for once to look in to our problems? Then why all these noise and calls from different selfish individuals, that we should be declared as terrorists?”
But an elder at the Tabanni Fulani settlement, simply called Alhaji Bello, said all stakeholders must come together for a lasting solution.
In Kaduna, hate is in the air, according to Ahmed Yandeh, the Sarkin Fulani of Sabon Gari Bypass and Caretaker Committee Chairman of the Mobgal Fulbe Development Association of Nigeria (MFDAN). He told Daily Trust that tagging Fulani herdsmen as killers, is a design to ‘give a dog a bad name in order to hang it’. He wondered why even though any tribe that rears animals are herders, the Fulani are tagged as herdsmen with negative connotations. “The Fulani man is a rearer, a farmer and knowledge-seeker. Nigeria has 60 million cows today. Who produces them, if not the Fulani man?”
Abdullahi Ibrahim, a native Fulani from Matsirga, Zangon Kataf Local Government Area of Kaduna State who was also a victim of 2011post-election violence faulted the call by some that the government should declare Fulani herdsmen or members of the Miyetti Allah as terrorists.
Abdullahi said that history has recorded Fulanis as victims of several attacks, with no-one rising in their defense.
In Yola, Adamawa State, watching his cows grazing on a post-harvest farmland on the outskirt of Yola, Abdullahi Alhaji dismissed the calls on nomadic Fulanis to ranch their cows as a show of hatred by ethnic bigots. He said he believes the relationship between herdsmen and many farming communities across the country deteriorated when criminals in those communities encouraged their youths to attack herders and steal their cows.
Alhaji said whenever Fulanis try to defend themselves from aggressors, they are labeled as violent. “A true Fulani man does not start trouble,” he said.
Alhaji added: “Animals used to graze on harvested farmlands but nowadays members of some ethnic groups prevent our cows from eating even the unwanted grasses on their farms after they harvest their crops. So it is not about eating their crops, it is about hatred.”
Another pastoralist in Yola, Ja’e Buba, while rejecting the idea of ranching as ill-conceived and counterproductive, said herdsmen could not keep their cows in one place as they moved around in search of greener pasture. “Human beings and animal live on food and water, so cows must move when there isn’t food to sustain them,” he said.
Down in Benue State, Sule Isah, 30, is a Fulani herder, for whom things are no longer the same since the recent killings of many people in Guma and Logo LGAs by gunmen suspected to be herders, as he and his family now live in fear. He said he has been herding cattle for a living, until recent events changed the perception of Nigerians about Fulanis, stereotyping them violent, and even murderous.
“I can no longer move freely, or go anywhere in Makurdi town for fear of being hunted down. I dare not even cross the bridge to the North Bank area. Only the main town appears to be safe for me,” Isah said. The husband of one wife and father of three, said the worst part of it was that he has lost his means of livelihood, because the owners of the cows under his care moved the animals to neighbouring Nasarawa State in the wake of crisis. The young herder was reluctant to pose for a photograph.
Similarly, Sanusi Adams, who accompanied Isah, complained bitterly about how negatively Nigerians look at Fulanis as a result of recent events. He wondered aloud: “When will Fulanis feel safe in Nigeria once again?”