This week, there was a big story. Some of the perpetrators of the massacre at the Owo Catholic Church were arrested and sadly, that is not the big story. The big story was that they were not Fulani. Immediately after the dastardly act happened, opinion leaders asserted that they were Fulani marauders doing what they know best, engaging in atrocities against innocent people.
Let me state that there are indeed Fulani gangs that do that, there are also religious extremist groups who are not Fulani that engage in such acts. The reality in Nigeria today is that many among the 100 million Nigerians living in extreme poverty are also discovering that criminality, violence, kidnapping and wanton killing of innocent souls is the fastest route to power and wealth and are being sucked into what we can call equal opportunity operations. At the same time, Jihadi ideas are spreading and gaining adherents.
In a couple of weeks, the monograph by Ibrahim Muazzam of Bayero University, Kano will be launched. It is an extensive literature review on the theme of ethnic profiling in Nigeria’s politics and it’s a reminder that nothing we are seeing and hearing today is new. He draws our attention to the incident of the 1st of November 1965 when one of the main political party alliances, the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA), put out a release in Ibadan entitled, “Fulanis are a great threat to Yoruba: Seven facts to prove it”. Today, we hear similar statements repeatedly.
Muazzam draws our attention to one of the early and significant incidents of ethno-political violence, the Kano Riots of 1953. The immediate cause of the Kano Riots was the motion on self-government, which polarised the Northern and Southern members of the House of Representatives. All sorts of insults were exchanged on the floor of the House and outside, due to the northern leaders’ amendment of the motion, leading one of the leaders to gravely remark about the “Mistakes of 1914 coming to light”. On their way back to the North, the leaders were “Booed, jeered and abused by a crowd composed mainly of supporters of the major Southern political parties. The crowd, amid shouting, called…(the Northern leaders) thieves, imperialist stooges, stupid Hausas, the men who have no mind of their own”…etc. The result was the ensuing riot.
Ibrahim Muazzam draws attention to the habit of reducing people to fixed types, stereotyping those different from us, and fixing the identities of others in manners that reject metanarratives and varied nuances through a homogenisation that draws imaginary political maps and markers, which end up victimising or pushing these others to the margins. Absurd traits are assigned to some national (or sub-national?) groups and these have implications for intergroup relations. He draws attention to the analysis of the problem of “tribalism”, leading to the “ethnic power tussle” done by Obaro Ikime (1969) in relation to events at the University of Ibadan. The basic problem, as he observed it, was the lack of a grasp of the historical factors and accidents that determined the development of various groups in the country.
Professor Ikime had argued that the average Southern Nigerian views the Northerner through a stereotypical lens as a ‘Gambari’, who is not just a “herdsman… but a complete nincompoop”, incapable of any higher intellectual development. The implication of this is that a whole group of people is branded as fools in an unfounded manner., In addition, when Southerners meet a Northerner whose education or situation comparatively equals their qualification, they are irritated beyond words that a mere Gambari could dare to seek a place in the sun. In like manner, the Igbo-Nigerian is considered as “selfish, grasping, ubiquitous… avaricious and unscrupulously competitive… he is always seeking a place for his brother and the “password is Kedu Dianyi”. As for the Yoruba, he is regarded as cowardly, untrustworthy, lazy, cunning and diplomatic, but self-seeking dirty in his habits and full of tricks”, according to Obaro Ikime’s analysis.
At the same time, the Northerners, who take pride in their cultural development due to Islamic influence on their worldview, never feel inferior to the Southerners but desire a sympathetic understanding of the factors that have influenced their lives. When the Igbo emerged as a group to challenge the Yoruba dominance, conflict arose. The “Ibo-Yoruba struggle for supremacy was rendered more complex with the arrival on the national scene of minorities from the Midwest and the east” says Ikime.
Muazzam reminds us that way back in 1947, Obafemi Awolowo was assertive in stereotyping the Fulani as “autocrats” and the Igbo as individualistic people. For him, in terms of receptiveness to Western culture: “the Yoruba take the lead and have benefited as a result. The Efiks, the Ijaws and the Ibibios and Ibos come next… and are doing all they can do overtake the Yorubas. The Hausa and the Fulani are extremely conservative and take very reluctantly to civilisation.”
Such labels have therefore been in circulation for over seven decades and might therefore still be stuck in the minds of some of his followers.
While we focus our energies on stereotyping the other, our real enemies, the terrorists are consolidating their grip on communities in the country. Premium Times recently drew the attention of its readers to a memo allegedly sent by the Kaduna State governor, Nasir El-Rufai, to the president stating that terrorists have essentially established a “parallel” government and “permanent operational base” in the North-western state near Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. The terrorists apparently belong to Ansaru al-Musulmina fi Bilad al-Sudan, or Ansaru for short, and are believed to have moved to Birnin Gwari in Kaduna State in 2012, when they broke away from Boko Haram.
According to intelligence reports and human sources consulted in further reporting for this story, the terrorists that formed Ansaru were responsible for some of the high-profile attacks claimed by Boko Haram before the split. Such attacks included the UN building bombing of August 2011 and the kidnap of some foreigners. They pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, AQIM, in 2020, and are responsible for many of the high-profile abductions as well as armed attacks on the police in Kaduna State. As jihadi terrorist groups ally with bandits and begin to take over and control territory, it is high time we get out of our comfort zone of ethnic profiling and team up to save our country and our people.