Prejudice, ignorance, profiling and the Fulbe nomad

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The last time I wrote about the FulBe nomad was on December 16, 2004. The piece was titled “A RESOLVE FOR THE PASTORALIST”; and I had done it for my old column in DAILY TRUST, to coincide with the meeting of the West African body, Pastoralist Resolve (PARE), which was held in Kaduna.

I had noted that my pastoralist cousins (FulBeNa’i) are, arguably, the most misunderstood and disadvantaged sections of Nigerian life. They are also regularly prejudicially reported and profiled by the media.

I tried to locate the misunderstanding and deep prejudice against the FulBe nomad in the difficult relationship between pastoral peoples and sedentary farming communities on the one hand. And those familiar with history understand that these difficulties are as old as the invention of agriculture itself.

On the other hand, there is a political history between FulBe peoples and some communities, especially in Yorubaland and North Central Nigeria, in pre-colonial state building processes, which resulted in the creation of the most extensive political empire in pre-colonial Nigeria, the Sokoto Caliphate, led by FulBe Jihadist scholars.

The nomad operates in a world dominated by sedentary farming peoples today, and those elites that hold power or influence power relations in our society come from farming backgrounds. Naturally enough, they have very little sympathy for nomadic groups whose animals enter farmlands and in the process trigger conflicts with farmers, often leading to deaths and injuries.

More often than not, those responsible for agricultural policies protect the interests of cultivators and nomads are completely out of the loop or are a pitiable after-thought in the scheme of things. In recent years, the conflict element in the relationship between nomads and farming communities has heightened and the clashes are more reported in the media. Most of the media elite is of farming roots and they demonise and profile nomads negatively.

The late Chief Bola Ige, who used to write a column for TRIBUNE in Ibadan, in fact described us (all FulBe people) as “the Tutsis of Nigeria”; this was soon after the genocide against Tutsis in Rwanda. It sounded suspiciously like a call for genocide (Dr. SaddiqueAbubakarof ABU’s Political Science Department did a study of Bola Ige’s anti-FulBe tirades in a well-known monograph).

Fulbe nomads and the Media
In recent years, the increasing profiling of FulBe nomads has coincided with the almost intractable conflicts with communities in the North Central Nigeria.

Reports from Plateau, Nasarawa or Benue, in many of the Lagos newspapers,regularly give the impression the conflicts have been exclusively triggered by FulBenomads; the farming communities are often presented as helpless victims of aggressive nomads. Even day-to-day crimes involving nomadic FulBe are reported with a mindset that criminalises FulBe collectively.

In the past week, I have extensive studied problems facing the nomadic FulBe and I honestly think that our society needs my FulBe nomadic people as much as they also need the farming communities they have interacted with for millennia.

In the same vein, it is imperative for elite groups, especially people in the media, to rise above their prejudices to appreciate the humanity of FulBe nomads; the difficulties associated with their lives and the very significant contribution they make to our economic life. Afterall, most of the animal protein consumption of the Nigerian people comes from FulBe pastoralists!

From the 1950s fundamental changes emerged in the management of nomadic patterns of existence; grazing reserves and cattle routes were carved out for use of nomadic groups around West Africa.

The introduction of veterinary drugs had led to the increase in the sizes of cattle herds just as the improvement in health facilities were assisting the growth of populations amongst farming communities around our country.

For most of the early years of independence, the grazing reserves and cattle routes functioned effectively enough to ensure that there were few clashes between nomads and farmers. But as populations increased ever more land was alienated for farming and these often included old nomadic migration routes. As patterns of global climate began to change, and trees were felled to provide energy in expanding urban areas, the relentless expansion of the Sahara desert saw the disappearance of fodder for cattle.

The recurrent patterns of drought in West Africa from the 1970s decimated cattle populations and nomadic groups began to move further into Central and Southern Nigeria; areas of different cultures, religions and land use patterns. The alienation of old grazing grounds and migration routes often brings nomads into conflicts with farming communities.

Innovative ways to assist groups

In the past, the clashes were fought out with traditional weapons. However, with proliferation of small arms as a result of the wars fought in West Africa and the general breakdown of law and order in the country, nomadic groups have also introduced small arms into the conflicts they have in various communities. As I noted earlier, policy makers are often from farming backgrounds while the media elite share similar backgrounds and the same prejudices against FulBe nomads.

In the Plateau, the past decade of crisis started as urban conflict over political power, but these were then taken into rural areas, where farming communities have attacked FulBe nomads and rustled their cattle; Miyetti Allah, the organisation of nomads recently said over N3billion worth of cows were lost to these recurrent fights. This is the broad background to the problems associated with FulBe nomadic groups in Nigeria and the clashes over grazing grounds, water and routes of migration.

This broad analysis does not justify whatever excesses our people might have committed, anymore than the alienation of grazing reserves and cattle routes by farming communities can be justified.

We must find more innovative means to assist the balance between the needs of nomadic groups and those of sedentary farming communities, because the two play vital roles in the economic, social and cultural life of our country. I also hope elite groups like the media will give themselves the pause to understand the nomadic FulBe.

We can do better than the undignified and philistine patterns of prejudice and ignorance which feed the regular profiling of the FulBe, especially, but not only the nomadic FulBe. As we say in Fulfulde: “Allah yiiduFulBe”!

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