Fulani  Rulers and Fulani Herders : Living a World Apart

Presidents Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria and Macky Sall of Senegal. They are Fulani

By Rasheed Akinkuolie

The Fulani nation is the only  ethnic group in West Africa that has produced Heads of State in at least five different African countries viz: The current President of Senegal, Macky Sall; the current President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari; the present President of Gambia, Adamu Barrow; the current Vice President of Sierra Leone, Mohammed Jalloh; the former President of Cameroon, Ahmadu Ahidjo; the former President of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara; the former Prime Minister of Mali, Boubu Cisse; Diallo Telli a fulani from Guinea-Conakry was the first Secretary General of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) now African Union (AU)

Other prominent Fulanis are Dame Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations; Professor Jibril Aminu, former Minister of Petroleum and Education in Nigeria; Dame Kadaria Ahmed, a brilliant journalist; former President of ECOWAS, Ibn Chambas from Ghana  and countless others holding prominent positions in various fields worldwide.  This spread shows the phenomenon of the Fulani people, their prominence and clout across many countries.

Rasheed Akinkuolie

Sheikh Usmanu Danfodiyo, a Fulani  Intellectual, reformist and  Islamic Scholar established a theocratic Caliphate  in today’s Northern Nigeria in the 18th Century, and left a legacy which  has lasted for over 200 years.
His descendants are today traditional rulers,  governors, ministers, oil  magnates, political leaders, who are at the top echelon of Nigeria’s society.
Fulanis  have ruled Nigeria as President, Vice President or kingmakers for most of the 60 years of Nigeria’s Independence.
According  to Fulani legend and folklore, the people migrated from the Futa Djalon Highland in Guinea-Conakry, where they constitute about 40% of the population.  Although, they do not hold top political positions in Guinea-Conakry, they  are the intellectuals, entrepreneurs, estate developers, business moguls, skilled  artisans, professionals, mining magnates and technocrats.
Their influence also extends  to neighboring Sierra-Leone, where they  hold high political positions.
The Fulanis in Northern Cameroon, especially in Garoua, Maroua, Ngaoundere, Lagdo area constitute about 90% of the population, and  like their Guinean kinsmen are industrialists, business magnates, industrial farmers and intellectuals. The farmers grow maize, pineapples, bananas, cotton, cash and food crops.
During my tour of duty  in these countries, I did not observe  cattle rearing as practiced today in Nigeria. The  standard of living  of Fulanis in most   countries of their sojourn  fall within  the  middle and upper class range, except  in Nigeria, where there is a large population of  Fulani poor, beggars, herders and thousands   of  Fulani street urchins  ( Almajiris).
If  Fulanis  are thriving and prospering in other countries, but  live in extreme poverty  in Nigeria, Fulani elites of Nigeria should be held responsible  for this anomaly, because they control the wealth of the Nigerian State, they control blue-chip companies in the Private Sector, and choice positions in the Public and Civil Service.

Fulani elites  in Nigeria have isolated themselves from their herder kinsmen, and trivialized the plight of those who are herding and gathering as: ‘their way of life or destiny’,

File: Herdsmen

Fulani herders and poor  are now hounded from state to state and community to community in Nigeria, accused  of being   responsible for  kidnappings, murders and all criminal  activities, irrespective of who committed the crimes.
Most of the Fulani herders unfortunately are pre-teens and teenagers, who should  be in school. And  this is particularly tragic because the poverty cycle will not end, except the children are educated.
The kidnappings, killings attributed to Fulani herders  may just  be the tip  of the iceberg of Nigeria’s security problems. It may even be diverting attention from the actual perpetrators of these crimes.
I can recall that, as far back as 1998 (23 years   ago) bandits from Chad, mainly the defeated enemies of Idris Debby, were terrorizing towns and travellers along the Baga-Monguno- Maiduguri road. It was extremely  dangerous to travel at any time of the day on that road axis. I was part of the Nigerian  delegation that went to Baga- Borno State to set up the multi national task force with the armies of Chad and Niger Republic to curb banditry in the  region.  That  was 11 years before the outbreak of the Boko Haram war and widespread insecurity in Nigeria.
The Chadian bandits with other terror  groups  have now migrated down south and to other  parts of Nigeria,  disguised  as Fulani herders or hiding behind them to carry out the military  style operations , which certainly cannot  be the  handiwork of  pre teens and teenage Fulani herders  seen on the cattle trails all over Nigeria.
Of course, there are Fulani  kidnappers and other copycat raiding bands, who are making a lot of money by taking people hostage on the high ways or are accomplices  to the crimes.
Kidnapping has become an all comers business and a free for all, because of the  weak security system and the minimal risk involved. Individuals have been busted for organizing  their own kidnapping to extort money from family members.
Fulani herders and poor are now fighting for  survival in Nigeria and their salvation can only come from their affluent kinsmen, a challenge which hopefully they will undertake as a moral  obligation. The herders must now be settled in ranches and the children enrolled in schools to break the poverty cycle and prevent them from swelling the ranks of insurgents.
Fulani rulers have been accused of nepotism to favor the elites in their group. They should extend the same favoritism  to Fulani poor , whose  demands are basic and not beyond the reach of their more fortunate kinsmen
In any case, Fulani   elites cannot be extricated  from the stigma of the assumed crimes of Fulani herders, as both will be classified as offenders by omission or commission.
The creation of ranches is now urgent because of the increasing hostility towards the herders. Several states in Nigeria  can host the ranches, especially in the North, where there is an abundance of land.
Niger State of Nigeria for example  is almost  three times the size  of the five South Eastern States put together, about 24 times the size of Lagos State, and about the same size as the entire South Western states of Nigeria.
About 70 % of the land mass of Nigeria is in the North.
The conflict over grazing land in Southern Nigeria, which  has limited space is therefore avoidable and unnecessary.  However, the success of the ranching  system in the North will encourage other states to willingly adopt  this  type of animal husbandry for economic reasons.
The enrollment of Fulani children in schools should  be  mandatory because of  the enormous  benefits and public good. This is achievable  within a short period of time, if done in an imaginative and pragmatic manner.
Lagos State between 1979-1983 solved the problem of two shifts school day by building classrooms and expanding facilities in existing schools. This model should be adopted in solving the problem of large enrollment at a time  and funding.
The classrooms need not be five star facility. In my cursory research, 1.5 million naira or 3,000 USD can build and furnish a classroom, which  will accommodate 30 children. 15 million naira ( 30,000 USD) will  build 10 classrooms  for 300 children, 150 million (300,000 USD) for 3000 children, 3 million USD will put 30,000 children in schools etc. Thereafter, new schools could be built with modern facilities to accommodate more children.
Fulani elites and other well meaning Nigerians and philanthropists could build and donate   the  classrooms  in batches of 2, 10, 20, 100 directly or through their philanthropies.
At least, that  was what a handicapped woman,  Madam Omotunde, who with her little  means, built a school for the children of handicapped people like herself at karamajiji, behind  the national cemetery, along  the airport road in Abuja.  There  are over 200 children of destitute people in the school, who are not paying school fees.
Let  Fulani billionaires emulate this poor woman and take action. It is not enough to talk about a problem or lament about it. What is needed now is positive action, by walking  the talk.
In conclusion, Fulani rulers of Nigeria cannot run away from their responsibilities towards their poor kinsmen. They should emulate the good example of other tribal leaders, who are very protective of their less privileged.
MACBAN ( Miyeti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria and the Sarki Fulanis in communities  should be commended for standing out to represent the interests of fulani herders. But, their efforts are not enough to handle the huge existential problem of the herders  in Nigeria. Fulani rulers  must get involved. Distancing  themselves from the  crisis  is unhelpful and morally wrong. Fulani herders  must be integrated into the mainstream of the Nigerian social and economic society. They must be given the opportunity to live  a normal dignified life  in Nigeria.
-Ambassador Akinkuolie Rasheed was Director  of Trade , Investment and Policy, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Abuja, Nigeria