In the last five years, the Fulani ethnic group has been at the centre of discussions in Nigeria and for the wrong reasons. In almost all parts of the country they are accused of banditry and kidnapping. They have been accused of killing, maiming and in some cases uprooting of communities.
For many, especially those in the northern part of the country, the sudden transformation of the Fulani into the status of villains is hard to believe. For the past 50 years, the average Fulani was seen as law-abiding, easy going and accommodating.
Worried by the situation and specifically to analyse the issues surrounding banditry and how the Fulani man came to be involved in it, but most especially how to address the situation, the apex Fulani organisation, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), in collaboration with the Northern Consensus Movement (NCM), organized a one-day national security summit on pastoralism in Nigeria.
The summit, held in Abuja with the theme ‘Exploring the Contemporary Challenges Facing Pastoralism and Fulbe with a view of Proffering Workable Solutions in Curbing Insecurity Across the Nation’, had also the aim of dissecting the extent of involvement of the Fulani in cases of banditry and kidnapping and what led to it.
The National President of MACBAN, Alhaji Husseini Bosso, told the participants that contrary to the general belief that pastoralists were behind the crimes, they also were victims of the atrocities.
“What is baffling is that crimes perpetrated against pastoralists have no traction in the media. Our members have been the highest victims of criminality.’’
He said many prominent and poor members of the association were also victims of the crisis.
“This buttresses the fact that we are not spared from the atrocities of the kidnapping and banditry in our communities,” he added.
He expressed concern that, unlike other Nigerians, no compensation or resettlement had been given to herders who lost cattle to rustlers or other non-state actors.
“For a people with no known skills or trade, this is a real danger in the making,’’ he said, adding that to further complicate the situation, many states across the nation had enacted anti-grazing laws thereby further restricting the pastoralists’ economic activities and means of sustenance.
“This is being done without recourse to the fundamental human rights as guaranteed by the constitution,” he said.
The genesis of pastoralists’ dilemma in Nigeria
In a presentation tagged “The Dilemma of Fulani Pastoralists’, a former Minister of Interior, Lt.-Gen. Abdulrahman B. Dambazau (rtd) highlighted some of the problems that befall the Fulani pastoralists in Nigeria.
He noted that the Fulbe pastoralist youth, most of whom are uneducated (both in Islamic and western education), are unskilled and unemployable, which led to a high rate of drug abuse among them.
Dambazau said another dilemma of the Fulbe pastoralists is the fact that after centuries of nomadic or semi-nomadic life, they have shied away from integration into the mainstream society and past governments made little or no effort to integrate the group, therefore they are always forest bound and isolated.
“In the forests, they neither own land nor properties, but remain tenants that pay rents to landlords wherever their nomadic lifestyle takes them. They do not enjoy infrastructure such as electricity, water, roads, railways, etc.; yet they pay tax and contribute significantly to the economy, at the least by providing sources of protein.
“The population of the Fulbe pastoralist is not adequately captured in the general population, if at all, through such systems of national identification number; international travelling passport; Bank Verification Number; driver’s license; population census; etc. Their nomadic lifestyle and the inability to acquire the required education deny them the opportunities to be in the civil service; the armed forces; police and paramilitary institutions; the judiciary; and indeed, the private sector, especially the financial institutions. I can bet that the Fulbe pastoralists community has not benefited from the N-Power social welfare project of this government.
“There is almost total absence of governance in their forest communities, especially arrangements for security, law and order, local administration, etc.
“Rather, the Fulbe pastoralist communities relied on their traditional rules and regulations governed by Pulaaku which, of course, had been eroded for a long time; and the wisdom of their parents and elders. However, contemporary happenings have shown that the youth no longer respect their elders and do not listen to them, and community and family values have eroded,’’ he said.
The way out
Dambazau suggested that one of the steps out of the situation should be blocking access to weapons and cleaning up all those already in circulation within the Fulbe pastoralist youth environment.
“We must also clean up the stable, and by this, I mean, with the help of the NDLEA, the society must work on the drug abuse among the Fulbe pastoralist youth.
“We must ensure justice and pursue human capital development that would improve the education and health of the Fulbe pastoralist to open more opportunities for him for self-development in the society. To do this, access to quality education and healthcare facilities should be provided for the Fulbe pastoralists, in addition to skills acquisition,” he said.
Gumi advocates Nomadic ministry
Kaduna-based Islamic cleric, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, told newsmen that establishment of a Ministry of Nomadic Affairs by the federal government is the way to address the grievances of bandits and herders terrorising the country.
The cleric said the Fulani herders and other aggrieved groups should be accorded the same treatment given to the Niger Delta militants by the administration of the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
“Government should focus more attention on these people because they always say that they are aggrieved. What I expect from the government is nothing less than what it did when the Niger Delta youth were vandalising the economy.
“These people are also disturbing the Nigerian agriculture which is the backbone of the national economy. I think the government needs to be more proactive. They need attention; the least they need is the Ministry of Nomadic Affairs that will look into their affairs,” he said.
In a communique released after the summit, the participants agreed that pastoralists/Fulani are the worst victims of the current security challenges ranging from banditry, kidnapping and cattle rustling.
“The pastoralists have suffered massive economic losses as a result of the current security challenges. The government ought to have given priority to the integration of the pastoralists into the mainstream society through immediate and long-term interventions.
“Stereotyping and stigmatisation of herders and the incendiary role of social and the mainstream media leading to profiling is a prelude to genocide. Crime and criminality should be treated as such without ascribing it to ethnic or religious groups.
“The barbaric activities of IPOB/ESN, ‘Yan-Sa-Kai have worsened the security situation and are threatening the corporate existence of the country.’’
The summit noted that there are over four million out of school pastoral children roaming the streets even though education is a fundamental human right and bedrock of social change.
“Bandits in most rural communities lack moral and religious education which is a key driver in societal reorientation and transformation. Therefore, the government, as well as individuals and NGOs should support and prioritise the education of pastoral and rural communities,’’ it stated.
The summit called for the overhauling of the criminal justice system to punish and prosecute criminals found guilty of crimes including kidnapping, cattle rustling and extortion of innocent pastoralists.
It also called on the national centre for control of small arms and light weapons in collaboration with relevant stakeholders to be empowered to block all access to weapons in the society and mop up all weapons already in circulation.
The group however stated that the current focus and kinetic approach in resolving the security challenges are clearly not yielding the desired results hence the need to explore other non-kinetic options.
Analysts viewed the summit as an avenue that further opened channels of dialogue to address banditry and believed that more of such interactions are needed to find lasting solutions to the problem.