Okay, actually we know it’s not just a Nigerian problem. But it is a problem all the same. The nomadic Fulanis are a phenomenon spanning many countries from the north to the south of Africa. One could say that the ‘tribe’ is one of the few bucking the trend of ‘modern’ civilisation. And they have every right, and wherewithal to. After all, they have a trade, and trade means finance. When a man doesn’t depend that much on others to live well, he takes on this independence that will likely become an issue to others. A lot of Fulanis are operating in their own planet. They have largely carved out a world for themselves that very few can understand. They are almost unaffected by the issues that send many of us to the hospital. And to a large extent, we are not hearing from them. It could even be said that very few non-Fulanis understand their language. And indeed very few really understand their way of life.
But in this increasingly globalised world where modern structures are expanding, and where every inch of the earth is now increasingly captured, bought and allocated, the Fulani lifestyle is creating a few problems here and there.
First, let me describe how I see them. I see…four, five years old Fulani boys controlling cowherds that are worth tens of millions of Naira and I marvel at the social system that defies the normal run of the mill. Here are boys already schooled in responsibility from such early age. Each cow costs over N150,000 and they are put in charge of dozens. It is a marvel for the world to behold. Perhaps nowhere else in the world does such a system exist. This is different from Almajirai-ism, which sadly consists of millions of jobless boys attending Madrasas. For Almajirais, a lot of work needs to be done, because there is no economics supporting them. If you like you can call a Fulani boy an illiterate, but he has what many of our children will never have. In time, he could get rich in livestock and live the kind of life he enjoys.
Then there is the language they speak to the cow. The language and system is unique…and it is undocumented. I’ve seen these little boys speak to cows and cows obey. I hear each cow has a name, and that these days even when cows are rustled, all the owner has to do if rustlers are caught, is to go to the rustlers’ den and call each cow by name. Each cow will march forward, at its owner’s prompting. There is a system of identification that would perhaps marvel even sophisticated Westerners. Like every other real treasure we have, this system is handed down orally, and, of course, under-appreciated.
But I also see the increasing tendency for herders of cow to show disregard for the rest of us; road users and, of course, farmers. If these cows could make it to Abuja expressroads, how much more some farm in Benue, Plateau, Enugu and other states? I have seen a cattle-herder with his cattle on the Gwarimpa expressway, close to the Federal Ministry of Works. Though he was smart and within seconds or minutes, diverted his cows into a nearby valley, but that was a dangerous maneuver. On another occasion, a black cow stood adamantly, in defiance of his master, in the middle of the road on the LifeCamp end of Obafemi Awolowo road. It showed it was the ‘master of the road’, as cars had to skirt it in order to pass. Jogging in the morning, one has to constantly side-step cow dung along the pedestrian walkways. Sometimes, you are just unlucky or the dung is all over the place. As a diplomatic city, Abuja is not doing well at all on this score.
Abuja and its cattle problems pale into insignificance when compared with what is going on elsewhere. The Falae case is still fresh in everyone’s minds…we should not fall into the trap of a ‘single story’ as far as Fulani people – or any other people – are concerned. Not all Fulanis are cattle rearers. Millions of Fulanis drive cars and speak English language. The President is one. And…not all Fulanis are honest or stick to the straight and narrow. Just like in every other tribe, there are criminal Fulanis who are ready to steal in order to live the high life. All of us are getting drawn by the allure of modernisation. All of us are falling for the story that money solves all problems. We only react in different manners.
Diplomats who also use these walkways for morning walks and runs will wonder why we are deliberately stuck in a pre-modern era. Even the lawns planted around our bridges are not meant to be cow feed. The world is increasingly transparent and intertwined. Some things don’t look good on us at all. The way we are mutilating Abuja shows that we don’t understand how these things look on us. What is more, since these merchandise are not cheap, the owners of cattle – many of whom are big men and women in the civil service or politicians – should know better than to make money at other people’s inconvenience. Why would cars have to bend over backwards on the roads just because another person – a cattle-herder – is doing his own work and making money for some boss somewhere? Some have even alleged that the increase in cattle on Abuja roads is because a Fulani man now leads the whole of us, and so his ‘kinsmen’ are ‘flexing’ their muscles. I don’t believe that but whatever the case is, the president is best suited to help curb this before civilisations start to clash right in the seat of government. After all, President Buhari owns cows but is not putting them to graze on express roads.
Abuja and its cattle problems pale into insignificance when compared with what is going on elsewhere. The Falae case is still fresh in everyone’s minds. And though some alleged that the man was lying when he said he was kidnapped by Fulani boys, who also claimed at some point to be ‘Boko Haram’ – we found out eventually that the boys arrested by the police, as having carried out this crime, were indeed Fulani. Only that they probably spoke English, and rode in cars. This means that we should not fall into the trap of a ‘single story’ as far as Fulani people – or any other people – are concerned. Not all Fulanis are cattle rearers. Millions of Fulanis drive cars and speak English language. The President is one. And…not all Fulanis are honest or stick to the straight and narrow. Just like in every other tribe, there are criminal Fulanis who are ready to steal in order to live the high life. All of us are getting drawn by the allure of modernisation. All of us are falling for the story that money solves all problems. We only react in different manners.
The reason why the Fulanis have hit the radar now is that for one, their nomadic culture will take with it all sorts of people to different places in Nigeria and beyond. With honest, cattle-rearing Fulanis will come dishonest, and if you like, ‘English-speaking’ ones who are ready to kidnap for big ransoms. This is a different problem from an equally despicable issue of cows trampling and eating people’s crops. The second reason has to do with the morbid fear of Fulanis. The late Chief Bola Ige wrote some terrible treatises which categorised them as the Nigerian ‘Tutsis’. The rumours are still making the rounds in the underground, beer-parlour circuit about how wicked the Fulanis are, and how they schemed to get the power back and have vowed never to release it again! Nothing actively is being done to counter this rhetoric, to re-orientate Nigerians or to dispel the rumors. Nothing is being done to re-orientate the cattle-herders or create grazing reserves or corridors. Simply nothing!
Like is normal with us, the Fulani cattle-herders problem is another of those difficult issues that we fear to confront. We would rather bury our heads in the sand or try to pray them away. Nigeria will yet learn how to confront its hard questions. Or the road ahead will be even rougher than we ever imagined.