The ubiquitous Fulani herdsman as metaphor


The once limited public view or perception of the Fulani herdsman as alternately a real ogre or as a cruel imp is happily now pervasive or global. What however is baffling still but has added fillip to our understanding of this national scourge is his curious ubiquitous nature. This blood-thirsty gnome seems to be everywhere at the same time. A mood of utter disgust attends his rampage which seems to be no respecter of the principle of territorial integrity or of the sanctity of boundaries. Stories of cold- blooded massacres of sleepy communities, of mangled limbs or trunks of persons who dared to challenge the foolhardiness of his invasion and of the accompanying misery are the rancid dishes with which an embattled nation is routinely fed.

The natural quest or desire of the people comprised within the Nigerian territory for order, restraint, mutual respect, rationality, the resolution or reconciliation of conflicts when they arise, etc is being rudely jolted by the unprovoked malevolence of a people that are suggested to be alien to the mores, traditions and customs of their host communities. From Oyo to Ekiti, Enugu, Benue, Plateau, Anambra, Taraba, Adamawa, Kaduna, Kwara, Nassarawa, Ogun, Ondo, Osun and Delta states, it has been a trail of blood, of deaths and of agony. A bemused nation has alarmingly looked on expressionless even as its leadership appears curiously or incapacitated or unable to arrest the situation.

Even though the Fulani jihad of 1804-1810 is widely regarded as the single most important highlight in the spread of Islam in Nigeria, that faith had penetrated indigenous Hausa culture before the jihad. Traditional Hausa or Habe kings drew their authority from a syncretic blend of Islamic and “pagan” precepts. The jihad itself reportedly arose, among other reasons, from Fulani opposition to the mixing of “pagan” practices with the observance of the “true” faith and not as between believers against infidels. The jihadist themselves subsequently imbibed the culture and language of their new subjects and virtually all the previously-condemned Habe institutions and practices found their way back into the emirates as formal practices. Thus Islam has remained inseparable from the indigenous Hausa culture. Fulani imperialism or expansionism or what some have referred to as a thirst for territorial aggrandisement or economic expansion has however been canvassed as the main reason for the jihad.

Modern Nigeria, however, evinces a fundamental contradiction between the political claims of Islam and the secular desiderata of a multi ethnic and multi-religious state. This contradiction manifests as the Islamic religion’s reluctance to recognise the distinction between state and religion even as it views politics and all aspects of social life as a dimension or extension only of religious life. An undercurrent of Islamic opposition to a secular definition of the Nigerian state is visibly observable and is troubling indeed.

There is a requirement to probe the circumstances, strategy, tactics and ultimate objective of the post –Pax Britannica oligarchy drawn primarily from among the descendants or heirs of the 1904 jihadist movement with a view to identifying their motives among which may be reasonably presumed the foisting of the movement’s ideology on all the constituent parts of modern Nigeria. To the extent that the mindless attacks of the herdsman are targeted at communities that share dis-similar religion-ethnic views with his; also to the extent of the attacks’ deeply primordial nature, our interrogation becomes all the more important. Without attempting to pre-judge the faithful or dis-interested outcome of such an examination, the truth of the matter is located in the interstices of history. The indigenous people of Nigeria (no pun on Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB) never had to engage the kind of hostile or condescending external forces which the Fulani jihadists unleashed on them in the 19th century. Their social conduct had been deeply marked by the historical contexts of their livelihood. The people’s pre-European (or even pre – jihadist) contact fashioned systems of thought and standards of action and responsibility that were neither confrontational nor disruptive of the traditions of mutual or fellow feeling, of genteel conduct or suave disposition. “Undue radicalism” or fundamental departure from conventional or known lifestyle, acceptable conduct or activities was alien to the people even as life was predictable but non-complacent. It is these hapless communities that were the unsparing objects of the scurrilous attacks on them by the jihadists from time immemorial. What therefore we are witnessing today is a recrudescence, in a modern fashion, of the orgy of blood, killings and destruction unleashed on our people by their un-invited guests whose ancestral homeland is ethnographically traced to the Fouta Djallon highlands (from whence, ironically, our River Niger takes its source). The employment of modern supersonic warfare tools e.g. AK 47, sub-machine guns, grenades, fire or smoke bombs and I.E.D.s has confirmed the extant nature or condition of the project conceived in the twilight of the 18th century.

The Nigerian nation, however, manifests awful indifference to the plight of her people even as there has developed enormous communal hostility between native communities and their pastoral or nomadic guests. A mass of unruly tribesmen has launched a violent revolt against their sedentary host communities.
Rotimi-John is an attorney.

The Nigerian government arms and technology seem dwarfed by the urbanised sophisticated weapons of the Fulani herdsman as the native population is cold-bloodedly mauled and decimated by the superior weaponry of seemingly illiterate attackers. The nation’s security forces are caught napping each time as they visibly throw up their arms in utter despondency unable to protect their own kind.

This writer rejects the inference that a sovereign state can become so helpless within its own territory even as its authority power and dominion are rudely questioned by a band of unruly aggressors. Nigeria appears weighed down not only by a debilitating economic crisis but also by an expressed convenient lack of will on the part of its ruling elite to confront and resolve the Nigerian question. But first, there is a requirement of an immediate official clampdown on the activities of the marauding Fulani herdsman who appears to be unfairly enjoying state privilege or immunity from prosecution going by the numerous acts of official smug indifference to his anti-social malady. This one is rather pacified or courted with gifts and preferment instead of a stern rebuke or unyielding chastisement.

To the extent that the Fulani herdsman is far from being identified with our national aspiration or ethic to live together under a regime of unity, peace and progress he is damnified and deserves to be declared an enemy of the state and the laws relevant to such misanthropy applied to him with full force or rigour. Or we continue to bear his impunity with unnatural equanimity.

Rotimi-John is an attorney.

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