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As the Fulani pass the baton…

As the dawn of last Wednesday broke, the INEC’s announcement of Senators Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Kashim Shettima as Nigeria’s President-Elect and Vice President-Elect signalled…

As the dawn of last Wednesday broke, the INEC’s announcement of Senators Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Kashim Shettima as Nigeria’s President-Elect and Vice President-Elect signalled not only the beginning of the end of President Buhari’s government but also a dark chapter in the stigmatisation of the Fulani. Since Buhari’s relocation from Daura to Aso Villa, the Fulani have been fiercely profiled and branded as a collectively ruthless, bloodthirsty band that wallows in state-sanctioned impunity, responsible for a spate of heinous murders. This pathologising rhetoric has spared no member of the ethnic group.

Despite being a recurring decimal in the statistics of the farmer-herder clashes across the country, the vilification of the Fulani has been fueled by relentless propaganda, in which Buhari has been portrayed as the chief protagonist of the Fulani agenda, and accused of shielding a group that has ironically been subjected to dehumanising stereotypes under his watch. The notion of a grand conspiracy to protect the Fulani, therefore, holds no weight, save for those who have willfully ignored the bigotry and injustice that this group has endured.

Under Buhari’s watch, a group of governors, especially in the North Central and South West, put forth measures to constrain the nomadic lifestyle of the Fulani people, whose pastoral existence has often been at odds with the interests of their constituents. In a bold move that epitomises this spirit of defiance, Ondo State governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, even invoked the Land Use Act of 1978, insisting that the Fulani herders must vacate the forest reserves in the state, despite the disapproving stance of the Presidency.

The one-dimensional portrayal of the Fulani people as the villains of every crisis has resulted in them being unfairly targeted and thrown under the bus since Buhari took office. Despite the criminal activities of a small subset of herders, it is the Fulani as a whole that has borne the brunt of the backlash, experiencing widespread discrimination and stigmatisation. This slippery slope of scapegoating a particular group for the actions of a few is a troubling trend that must be addressed to neutralise the conflict profiteers benefitting from the mutually-dispensed bigotry.

The political convenience of scapegoating the Fulani during Buhari’s presidency cannot be overstated. Failing politicians have seized on this bigotry to deflect attention away from their inability to deliver even the most basic of services, such as primary healthcare and payment of civil servants’ salaries. With alarming fluency, they have articulated this prejudice to perform for their constituents, thus elevating themselves to the status of ethnic champions. This insidious tactic has also allowed them to maintain their hold on power while taming the anger of the masses who have been duped into cheering them on, oblivious to their failure to meet their obligations.

Our biggest blunder as a nation has always been this tendency to swiftly label an individual criminal as a representative of their entire ethnic group. Unfortunately, even those holding the highest offices in the land are not immune to this ethnic line of fire. Senator Tinubu and Senator Shettima are already enmeshed in the machinations of our identity politics, and the road ahead is likely to be fraught with peril, as they must now navigate a treacherous path lined with the insidious trappings of bigotry against their people.

And this has begun. Upon the release of the election results, my dear friend Sodiq Alabi, a Nigerian with an impressive level of tolerance, found himself facing an unfortunate predicament. He was forced to take to his Facebook page and compile a barrage of hateful comments aimed at his own Yoruba ethnic group from certain Nigerians who had expected the Yoruba to reject their fellow kinsman, Bola Tinubu. One particularly egregious example was a screenshot of a tweet targeting the Yoruba, which lamented that “All my life I have always judged the Yoruba people as a group of intellectuals,” before concluding with the unfortunate admission, “But sadly this election has taught me to stop.” The situation only grew more distressing from there.

The virulent bigotry directed at the Yoruba for simply voting for their own candidate bears striking similarities to the unrelenting prejudice against the Fulani people, which even extends to the educated and urbanised members of the group, who are unfairly tainted by the actions of their pastoral kinsmen. The unfortunate habit of branding individual criminals as the representatives of entire ethnic or cultural groups is a dangerous practice that poses a grave threat to the notion of a unified Nigeria.

The inception of anti-Kanuri bigotry made waves when Senator Shettima was unveiled as Tinubu’s running mate. Initially, it was seen as a partisan ploy to undermine his choice. However, the bigotry soon morphed into an attempt to associate him with the sponsorship of Boko Haram. Despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, provocateurs and stereotype artists contrived to link his ethnic origin to the operations of a terrorist cult that he had fought as a two-term governor of a state ravaged by the ruthless insurgents. This agenda propagated the fallacy that the Yoruba and Kanuri were undiscerning and murderous monoliths, respectively.

The looming Tinubu-Shettima administration seems to hold a potential bias against the Yoruba and Kanuri, with hints of anti-ethnic propaganda that casts the former as uneducated and the latter as terrorists. Yet, these damaging narratives have no place in our political discourse. Such insidious tactics only fuel the ambitions of opposition leaders who use opposing ethnic and religious solidarities to counter their opponents. It’s vital that we resist the temptation to fall into these traps and instead promote a more inclusive and respectful society that recognises the individual merits of all citizens regardless of their ethnic or cultural background.

As Tinubu and Shettima prepare to take on the task of leading a fractured country, they must pay attention to the debris of the clashes that propelled them to this height, even as their opponents take recourse to legal procedures to challenge the election. With the reins of power about to be handed over to them, it is incumbent on them to recognise the weight of the baton they are inheriting from the Fulani.



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