Ahmadu Shehu, PhD.
The first part of this essay published here highlights the necessary ingredients for genocide which are vividly in the advanced stage in Nigeria against the Fulani, one of the largest ethnic groups in the country. The socioeconomic and sociopolitical conditions that preluded genocide in various countries worldwide have been well documented in history books. Therefore, the worst anyone could do is to fail to see the looming disaster in Nigeria.
Decades ago, some political leaders had set the ball running when Bola Ige, a prominent Yoruba leader, called Fulani the “Tutsis” of Nigeria. Threatened by Fulani leaders’ socioeconomic and political clouds, politicians across the country who saw the Fulani not just as rivals but as a threat to their desired political hegemony borrowed a leaf from Ige’s playbook.
Those were the framers and promoters of diabolic stories against the North and northerners, especially the region’s political leadership. The narratives of “owners of Nigeria”, “northern oligarchy”, “Kaduna Mafia”, and such epithets as the cabal, northern domination, Islamization agenda and the completion of Danfodio jihad were given persistent, often aggressive, currency in the Nigerian public domain.
Another set of narratives to debase the intellectual competence and meritocracy of the North is put behind the federal character, with any northerner attaining success being assumed to be a beneficiary of some affirmative action, sheer luck or even the corrupt Nigerian system, regardless of their proven intellectual and mental capabilities.
This constant and persistent brainwashing has blindfolded a large chunk of southerners to the extent that many of those I meet believe that being Hausa-Fulani, even the richest black man on earth – Alh. Aliko Dangote – did not actually earn his wealth. So some of them would ask if I got some favours to be able to obtain a PhD from Europe, or question my academic job in Nigeria even when I teach them in Hamburg, Cologne or Vienna.
An average southerner has been made to believe that a northerner is an empty shell, a dullard, an illiterate who is incapable of any mental or physical success. Of course, these deliberate, false narratives are geared towards maligning and disorienting the North. But, the North is one large, diverse, but culturally interwoven community that cannot be beaten as a whole. There is, therefore, the need for a scapegoat.
Indeed, the orchestrators of this scheme got a few points wrong, but one thing they got right was the point of attack, i.e. the Fulani. Yes, Fulani, because they are the traditional rulers. They are the religious leaders. They are the political leaders. They have become Hausa-Fulani, and therefore the focal point of unity. The cultural war of the ’70s has failed to disunite the North simply because the Fulani historical and cultural orientation was left intact.
However, an opportunity presented itself when the media stereotyped the Fulani as herdsmen in all the reportage around herder-farmer conflicts – a stone-aged human resource conflict that has existed for ages – but only to be used as a tool for demonization and stereotyping of the Fulani people.
Populist politicians ala Ortom, Darius and their cronies in the North and South of the Niger seized the moment to first and foremost cover up their asses against the glaring failures of their administrations and to complete the agenda for the social, if not geographical, disintegration of the North. It was yet another tool for fighting a perceived Fulani president.
Throughout 2015 – 2019, the electronic, print and social media was flooded with the “Fulani herdsmen” stories. Headlines, editorials, columns, opinions, misinformation, disinformation, fake news – the word “Fulani” became the vogue in the media.
Today, this stereotyping has taken us a step closer to the looming genocide. Displaced Fulani herders in the northwest have become easy targets for recruitment into banditry and kidnapping. While arms dealers, informants, financial collaborators from other ethnic groups have established a business cartel in robbery, banditry and kidnapping, young, impoverished Fulani herders have become the foot soldiers that carry out these physical acts of crime.
Their knowledge of the forests and ecological terrain, their military-like lifestyle, bravery, coupled with the excruciating economic conditions, have made these unsuspecting lads easy prey of the city-based cartels. These are nomads who knew nothing, had nothing, and depended on nothing other than livestock, which is no longer a dependable source of livelihood, as indicated in the first part of this essay.
Millions of nomadic and sedentary herders’ continued destitution provided a vast army for crimes and criminalities we see today. This fact has been confirmed by research and is attested to by the governments. For example, in a recent in-depth study of banditry in northern Nigeria, Dr Murtala Rufa’i of Usman Danfodio University shows that bandits are victims of circumstances and tycoons from all other ethnic groups in the country.
Although this has been a known fact, have we ever heard of Igbo arms dealer, Hausa kidnap kingpin, Bagobiri kidnapper, Kanuri Boko Haram, Nupe informant, etc.? Do we know of Hausa yan-sa-kai, Bagobiri yan banga, etc.? How many people know that bandit Turji is actually ethnically Bagobiri and not Fulani? Why do we hear of “Fulani kidnappers” or “Fulani herdsmen”?
The implications for this sweeping criminalization of a whole community are as dangerous as they are numerous. Firstly, it has set the most united, cohesive ethnic groups, Hausa and Fulani, on each other’s throats. This is the arrow that might break the camel’s back in the scheme of setting the North on fire.
Secondly, it has criminalized the most important northern ethnic group in the sociopolitical front, making political cohesion impossible. Thirdly, it legitimizes crime and criminals by ascribing them to ethnicity or other human value systems. Fourthly, and sadly, that is the last bus stop on the road to Kigali.
When a whole community, ethnic group or society is viewed as criminal, worthless and or dangerous, the natural reaction is a sweeping, conscious and deliberate elimination of the community. Their elimination becomes a duty as the larger society feels unsafe in their presence. And yes, these feelings are illusions but have been entrenched in people’s minds to the extent that restraint becomes impossible.
Today, people (including Fulanis) consciously or subconsciously talk of killing the “Fulani” in Zamfara, Sokoto or Katsina. But then, in reality, when you kill Turji or his lieutenants, you do not kill Fulani. Because when you killed Shekau, you did not kill a Kanuri, neither did you kill Igbo by killing Evans. You have, in reality, killed a blood-thirsty criminal.
Now, why is the Fulani case different? Why are the media and various sections of this country bent on demonizing millions of Nigerians in the bad light of a few rugged criminals? At the risk of sounding conspiratorial, I will give my take in the next part of this essay.