Friday Discourse (113)
By Dr. Aliyu Tilde
Fula and their masters in Nigeria
Jam bandu na?
I have dedicated the third part of this series to the economy and the growing insecurity of the Fula naturalis in Nigeria. So I have discussed the imperative of his movement from one place to another as well as the problems and dangers that doing so poses to his life and that of his cattle today. His demands are not hard to meet, if it were not for the betrayal from his domesticus brother. The necessity of coming to his rescue has been emphasised, particularly given the fact that though he alone toils to keep the cows alive, he is not their only beneficiary. As an addendum, I have a message from Bayero University Kano followed by a prelude to the next article.
How the Fula came across the cow remains a mystery. I often wonder if he is not under a con-tractual obligation with nature. It might have told him, the day he broke away from the Jews, the Romans or the Indians, whichever theory you believe in: “take these animals and live by them, with them and for them.” He promptly accepted the offer and faithfully followed its command. Except the Hindu, it is difficult to come across a person preoccupied with cows as is the Fula. From the former, the animal derives the vener-ation of a deity, and from the latter the dignity of a profession.
In the age long relationship between the Fula and the cattle, it is difficult to distinguish the master from the slave. But I have finally con-cluded that the cattle are the masters. He strives to meet their demands for food, water, space, security and protection against diseases, among others. Though other domesticated animals do also require each of the above, however, the ag-gregate demand of the cow in this respect is ob-viously the greatest.
In his effort to meet these requirements the Fula earned the notoriety of being one of the most travelled nomads of the world. While most nomads did not go beyond the boundaries of their countries or empires, he has successfully traversed the African continent beginning from his earliest known location in North Africa. If there is no record of his cattle tasting the waters of the Mississippi, the Euphrates or the Ganges, we can certainly claim that they have tasted those of inland rivers of Africa: the Senegal, the Niger, the Benue, the Nile, the Congo and much beyond.
Wherever he went, pushed more by necessity than by adventure, he came across, and learnt to live among, different peoples. He learnt to toler-ate their temperaments, and know their strengths and weaknesses. He has seen the rise and fall of nations, of which many he, as a domesticus, con-tributed to build, and few he conspired to ruin.
However, resources are no longer in abun-dance because populations have increased while arable landmass has shrunk. The ensuing compe-tition over these resources has become intense especially after the advent of modern nation states. Another danger to the Fula, which ac-companied such states, is the growing restriction on cross border movement. The naturalis does not know an international passport. He looks trapped today like bacteria in a petri-dish.
If we take Nigeria as an example, the Fula was earlier restricted by Tsetse-flies to the Northern Guinea Savannah, especially after the collapse of soil fertility in the Sahel. Desertifica-tion has exacerbated the situation by further re-ducing the forage yield of the region. A south-ward migration became necessary. Conse-quently, in the last three decades, he dared the flies and downwards he penetrated the forest regions of the Southeast and the Southwest.
He does so not only for the sake of food, but also for keeping his herd healthier. The new ar-eas are richer in minerals, particularly nitrogen and phosphorus, than long inhabited ones. As they move southward, the cattle can feed on grasses that are richer in these minerals, enabling them escape the fatal ravage of phagotic diseases that make them eat soil and other hard materials.
Earlier, he used to migrate southward annu-ally, returning home as the rains start to stabilize. Recently, with less Tsetse-flies, with the availab-ility of effective drugs, and with the relative se-curity brought about by colonization and inde-pendence, many Fula have yielded to the tempta-tion of remaining in lands between the lower Benue basin and Delta region. This has brought about some cultural problems. I have lamented on this for long, for unlike in Hausaland, where there is a cultural continuity as a result of Islam, in many southern states the Fula have to forego certain values, tolerate or learn bad habits, and practice the forbidden. Imagine a daughter of a naturalis married to non-Muslim husband in Calabar or Nsukka! Taboo. Living under such circumstances, and with the indifference of the naturalis to religion, they have become very cheap targets of evangelism.
But after building homes, fortunately (?), they have today realized that those isolated set-tlements are food, not safe, havens. Their lives, together with that of their cattle, are under real danger.
As the struggle over its diminishing pros-perity intensifies; with its security apparatus overstretched; and its leaders handicapped by the doctrine of democracy or the impotence of in-competence, Nigeria is faced with a rising trend of intolerance.
The masses, under the influence of the elite with whom they share religion or ethnicity, are overdosed with ethnic sentiments and religious bigotry more than what their heart could bear and beyond what their mind can accommodate. Many times, they would burst like a balloon, naturally, at the spread of the smallest rumour or following the slightest misunderstanding. While the elite who instigated them earns the relevance he desired, the masses suffer the loss of lives and property as well as the anguish of terminated relationship and the agony of living in perpetual bitterness. This is the trend, in Lagos, Kano, Ka-duna, Enugu, everywhere.
The most heinous aspect of this unfortunate development, and which affects the Fula natu-ralis most, is how religion, in confederation with ethnicity, is stripped naked of its innocence and conscripted to serve in the battalion of ethnic cleansing that is different only in proportion, but not in intent, from those perpetrated by Serbians in former Yugoslavia and the Hutu in Rwanda. It has served to elevate intolerance above patience, violence above dialogue, and chaos above tran-quillity.
But one would assume that the theatres of po-litical struggles are restricted to the cities, that they should have little impact on the life of the rural Fula. Not so in Nigeria. Those that use eth-nicity to achieve their political aims still have their vestiges rooted in the countryside. They have found it convenient to return and preach their doctrine of violence among their people. And the Fula, who belongs to a different culture, is made to suffer the full brunt of their rage.
Where city dwellers, with all the police sta-tions, barracks, modern means of communica-tions and transportation, and the benefit of to-getherness, cannot be protected in times of crisis, what do we expect would be the fate of the Fula who lives in the bush, alone with his family? He becomes a punching bag, someone on whom other tribes will vent their anger after finding city dwellers hard nuts to crack. On a simple promise of a stipend from one local political leader or another, some youths will storm his settlement, burn it down and drive him away. He is turned into a refugee overnight. When luck is not on his side, he is butchered, together with his sons and daughters, and his cattle are taken away by the invading thugs.
This has become his most recent fate. Exam-ples are too numerous to mention, a fact that makes it difficult to convince the pessimist that it is not a calculated attempt at ethnic cleansing. Plateau and Taraba states are the recent areas where he has suffered the worst of brutalities. In all these encounters, he has suffered losses of life and property that the mannered would prefer to bury than to render.
It is not clear when this rising trend of vio-lence will end. But if it is true that such atrocities are provoked by declining prosperity; if it is cor-rect that democracy encourages the reluctance to amend; and since there is no end in sight to both evils of poverty and maladministration, the Fula will be reckless to invest in hope better than he could in despair. He has since started to retrace his route, back to the friendly areas of the North.
On our part, the domesticus and other Nige-rians as well, I feel it is time we abandon our hypocritical stand regarding these helpless peo-ple. The country cannot afford to see its sole source of beef laid up by insecurity at a time when its foreign exchange earnings are declin-ing. Insecurity worsens our plight as Nigerians. It must be fought and discouraged in all ways possible. But we shall take up that monster in another article shortly.
The main suggestion regarding the plight of the naturalis is obvious. We cannot run away from finding means that will limit his migration into hostile areas where there aren’t adequate provisions to protect him. He must be encour-aged to remain in the Northwest or the Northeast. May I cease the opportunity to, for the first time, praise Obasanjo for mustering courage, after the last September crisis in Jos, to affirm that Nige-rians must be free to live anywhere in the coun-try, pursuing their professions and enjoying full rights as citizens of this country. We welcome such assurances, but unless enough evidence is there on ground, the Fula will find it difficult to return to certain places.
Fortunately, governments in the Northwest and the Northeast have the basic infrastructure required to meet the demands of the Fula. All their states have grazing reserves. They only require rehabilitation, and such other things like gazetting and reclamation from trespassers. Res-toration of stock routes is also essential. Their livestock departments, together with the exper-tise of federal establishments like National Ani-mal Production Research Institute in Shika and the National Veterinary Research Institute in Vom, can supply the services required to enrich those reserves with all the modern forages and facilities that will sustain large populations of cattle. Dams can be constructed, in addition to many existing ones, which will serve their cattle and irrigate their fodder.
There is also the need to cultivate what I call grazing fields, thousands of hectares planted with improved varieties of fodder that will pin down the naturalis to their areas. Such grasses are perennials, once they are planted and catered for during the first season, they will survive any drought and their coverage will increase annually by the natural dispersal of their seeds by the cattle themselves. The innumerable rivers we have are long enough to sustain millions of hec-tares of such forage along their banks. We hardly have reason to fault nature.
The fault is in us. It is shameful to note how the Fula domesticus has so far treated the plight of the naturalis with wanton abandon. He has preferred to concern himself with the contracts of public utilities in urban areas at the expense of the dire needs of rural people. But if he would sit down, for just a moment, to remember that his immediate father or grandfather was a naturalis, and that he only narrowly escaped living like one, he would have been overcome by pity; and the nobility he claims would have persuaded him to behave responsibly.
All northerners must give a helping hand to the cause of revitalizing the livestock sector. The argument of resource control will continue, given the trend in the past twenty years, to gain mo-mentum until it is finally settled to the disadvan-tage of the North. Then, livestock will be one of the few sectors that will immensely contribute to the economy of the region.
It is surprising to see how a country like Burkina Faso has endeavoured to remarkably meet this challenge for the Fula in their country. Nigeria – with a greater population, and more cattle and Fulbe – has preferred to ignore it com-pletely, if not for the recent effort by the PTF and the Pastoralist Resolve (PARE) of our for-mer Head of State, Major General Muhammadu Buhari. The PTF has completed all the paper work on grazing reserves which present gov-ernments can readily use to forge ahead.
There is also the unexploited area of im-proved varieties of cattle, artificial insemination, and many modern methods in animal husbandry. I was surprised to read that the Sardauna person-ally two such cows from overseas and kept them on his farm at Bakura. That would have served as a good example to others, if not for the apathy of Malam B. But the idea died with his death, until its reinvention by Admiral Murtala Nyako recently. And even now, Nyako is a lonely voice.
It is not true that the Fulani cannot be settled, as it is often portrayed. That misconception has contributed immensely to their present state of neglect. Given the harsh realities today, and the above-suggested facilities on ground, most of them will be glad to settle down. If failures were encountered previously, they were largely be-cause adequate attention was not paid to meeting the requirements of their herds, which we listed at the beginning of the article. Without meeting those requirements, it will be difficult to expect the Fula to stay and watch his cattle die.
Our argument is simple. With a responsible leadership, almost every state can sponsor the establishment or rehabilitation of grazing re-serves and their management, with the attendant facilities of clinics and dams where perennial rivers are absent. Every local government can assist the Fula and the country at large by creat-ing smaller communities in suitable places with at least a veterinary clinic for his cattle, a dispen-sary for his family and a school for his children.
Once this is done, the Fula naturalis will no longer find it necessary to maraud in search of food for his cattle. He will not be forced to aban-don his culture or religion. He will not be ex-posed to brutal violence in other communities. Other Nigerians, on their part, will be assured of beef and employment. Above all, however, we have enabled the Fula to continue fulfilling his contractual agreement with nature: service to his masters – the cattle.
BUK Fulfulde Day
The Ardo Fulbe of Bayero University Kano in-vited me via email to their annual Fulfulde Day last weekend. I had the pleasure to honor it; after all, I could not turn it down after putting the challenge strongly in the first part of this series. It was a successful day, which I believe Fulani students in other campuses should endeavor to emulate. There were speeches, paper presenta-tion, drama, and cultural dances before an im-pressive gathering at the Twin Theatres. The sweet memory of the crowd and of the warm reception I enjoyed will linger in my mind until the next occasion.
I had the privilege of meeting many senior Academicians like Professors Ahmed Jalingo and Professor Isa Abba. I also met with an old friend, Gausu Ahmad, the first time in thirteen years, but regretted missing the opportunity of seeing Mal. Abubakar Jika for the first time. Jika’s arrival at BUK, as confided by many of his colleagues, has given the Department of Mass Communication a new vitality. I saw a notice board carrying articles of the Writers Col-lective club. With efforts like these, the future of the North in journalism is certain to be very bright. I doff my hat for people who change so-ciety by marrying their words with their actions.
I never knew that this column was being fol-lowed with a lot of exuberance and deep interest, until that day. Apparently, the column, at least at BUK, has succeeded in capturing the interest of the students and commanded the respect of their lecturers.
For some hours, I was treated like a celebrity, close to what Hausa films star Fati Mohammed or Princess Diana enjoyed. I only missed a shot with their ex-balloo, supposedly as a result of her pulaaku, not mine! But even when there was no prior acquaintance to warrant a hug (taboo!), or an intimacy to permit a kiss (blasphemy!), I thought there was enough pain in farewell to justify a reminder!!
Beyond the numerous snapshots, the readers interrogated me regarding some of the ideas that I expressed in this column: ideas on IBB in 2003, the Fula series themselves, women rights, pri-vate schools, and so on. The interesting thing was the respect in which questions were asked and the due regard they were answered.
I promised Professor Jalingo a correction on my list of emirates in the Northeast that have enviably remained custodians of Fulfulde. I omitted Muri that has a distinct history from that of Gombe and Adamawa. Mi tuubi. Thank you Prof also for the advice you gave the organizers. I believe they will work with it. Next year will record more success.
I am grateful to the officials of the organiza-tion and also to Mal. Abubakar J. Njiddere (sai ka yi, as I heard them say) for the sumptuous meals throughout my stay, and in case of the latter, for continuously giving the students the encouragement they need. I also accept the chal-lenge he posed before the audience, that “Tilde must deliver his paper next year in Fulfulde.” Great. Sai yendeere fere, kadi sai to giidal hauri.
On a serious note, during the occasion, I saw the need to clarify some issues regarding the promotion of Fulfulde. I explained myself there, I suppose to the satisfaction of the audience, in order to dispel the normal apprehensions. I be-lieve the ideas of interest some readers also.
While still in Kano, I had the liberty to dis-cuss with a critical friend, Dr. Aminu Taura, a versatile consultant psychiatrist (!), who was initially against my Fula advocacy, in many re-spects. Somehow, though a full-blooded kado, I was able to convince him about the political sig-nificance of Fulfulde having a firm root in Hausaland. It will likely be the future second language of their Hausa. How we arrived at that will also be explained next week, the last in the series. I promise.
Use ni, bear with me. Keep a date with the column and learn more fulfulde. Jam waala.