Friday Discourse (114)
Dr. Aliyu Tilde
Misconceptions in Fula Advocacy
This article is a shield to the three previous ones. As our discourse returns to address more general issues next week, it is important to focus on certain misconceptions, which are very likely to be held by people – Fula and non-Fula alike – who will have a cause to comment on the subject publicly or privately. Fortunately, the misconceptions are few, two in fact: political and religious. There may not be time for the column to revisit the matter in the near future. For many of our readers who will be concerned about any criticism on the matter, they can always return to this article to remember what our true position on the issue is. It is our final word.
It will be an act of ingratitude if we will proceed without thanking God for the success that the series has already recorded. Alhamdu lillah. My prayer was answered, for no other topic has attracted so many responses, almost all of them positive, than the Fula series. They have not ceased. I hope the people directly concerned – I mean the Fula themselves and others whose official duty require dealing with them – will translate this interest into action by taking cogent steps of redress.
There were few discontent voices, in spite of our initial apology. From Zaria, I received one from one of my most loyal readers, which essentially read thus:
“… Mallam, it is quite unfortunate that after a series of your indefatigable defense of Hausa language, its people and culture – with an extraordinary emotional plea over the years and seeing yourself as part and parcel of them – you are now advocating for Fula culture, language, everything, not Hausa.
“… Mallam we have many problems. The situation requires that we speak more about our similarities than our differences. Your presentations… will shift us away from attending to other issues that urgently require our attention.”
A friend in Kano first argued that it is natural for languages to die. (This was also the same idea expressed by a British colleague who lives with us here.) Secondly, he expressed the fear that Fula advocacy, if not handled carefully, has the potential of dividing our society. Thirdly, he corrected me on Chomsky, asserting that genetics and language, according to the linguist, are discontinuous.
Then came the rejoinder by Abdullahi Doki, titled, Tribe Worshipping and Decline of the Fulani who found my first article faulty only in one place (what a generous score: 99%, if the article had only 100 sentences). He wrote:
“The problem is Dr. Tilde might have punctured the swelling gratitude his peace… generated with a few lines on pulaaku. Advising his ‘blue-blooded domesticus friends’ on what to do when getting married, he wrote: ‘Expounding the theory of pulaaku in a newspaper is not enough. I will make Fulfulde a precondition for their enthronement whenever the seats in Kano, Bungudu or Katsina become vacant...’ Tribe worshipping, manifested in ideas like these, are responsible for the decline of the Fulani and other problems Dr. Tilde wrote so well about. Dr. Tilde has not erred in the remaining part of the essay…”
His last sentence read:
“Should not the fear of God, not Fulfulde and tribe-worshipping, be the precondition for enthroning Pulaaku?”
The last two have really touched on sensitive aspects of Fula advocacy. The apprehension from my friend in Kano was political, while that from Abdullahi Doki was religious, supposedly. I will clarify my position on both.
First, Abdullahi Doki did not catch the essence of the appeal I made to my “blue-blooded friends”. There is no way I will have a say in the enthronement of anybody, anywhere, not even in my village. My blood is red, deep red in fact.
Unfortunately, Abdullahi took it so seriously that he used it to accuse me, along with Sanusi, of pagan attributes – as tribal-worshippers, or Jahiliyya as the Prophet would accuse Aba Zarr in his dispute with Bilaal. I know very well of the existence of ‘Fula-phobics’ among us. And that tells you how difficult it was to write these essays. Humour was the only option that I could use to daunt their feelings. That was why I had to, for example, turn the Fulani into a genus, like plants or animals, and give them Latin names – naturalis, domesticus as distinct species of the genus Fula – in place of say town Fulani or cattle Fulani. For a scientist, only humour can warrant this. That is also why I combined language with genetics, regardless of the relationship between Mendel and Chomsky, and expressed the proliferation of our genes among other people. And so on.
But for some people, the humour was to no avail. The phobia for the Fula talking about his culture, when any other is free to do so, arises first from his stigmatisation by his adversaries – among some Hausa and missionaries – who are still bitter about the Jihad; and secondly by others from the South who saw the Fula, as Awolowo once complained about, as the only force standing in the way of grand ambition to rule Nigeria. That is why my Bagobiri customer could look at me and say: Ku filani kun ramma mutane, simply because I refused to do something which is also discouraged in Islam. That is also why many southern politicians and middle belters refer to Fulani as colonialists, feudalists, and what not.
There is a misconception regarding the stand of Islam regarding tribes, languages, cultures, and so on. We are often reminded of verse 49:13: “Lo! The noblest of you in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct.” To many, the verse signifies the dissolution of all differences, cultural and otherwise. A simple question here is: why did not God make us all Arabs, for example?
The answer, to my understanding, is to be found in the same verse: “O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another…” In other words, our interaction is facilitated, if not made possible solely, by our differences as nations, tribes and gender. Think of the confusion that would arise, if the over 5 billion people inhabiting the planet Earth today were clones of Adam, without any phenotypic or genotypic differences.
But God has planned that his creation should be in form of variety, whether they are clouds, people, mountains, plants and animals, as he mentioned in Fatir. A combination of geography, history, religion and genetics has contributed to the evolution of distinct morphological and behavioural traits among groups we call tribes. Some of the traits are irreversible. This is a reality that is better accepted than renounced. It is impossible to make all of us behave like Arabs, for example, simply because we are Muslims. Islam recognizes such differences and has been flexible enough to accommodate them. In Malaysia, I was told, an Imam will hardly find followers if does not wear a wrapper, a complete opposite of Nigeria!
If we consider industrialized societies, we find a strong impact of the Industrial Revolution and of the subsequent social changes associated with it. Add geography and the two world wars, you will then have two serious factors that are enough to cause sharp cultural and political differences between the West and nations of the world that did not undergo such tumultuous history. They do not have to be like Arabs and Africans, who have a tropical weather and largely a traditional sociology.
Such differences not withstanding, God has disproved any superiority based on gender, tribe or nation. All that Islam came to do is to unite these varieties of people under the common goal of goodness (taqwa) that distinctly flows from the belief in, and obedience to, one God, Allah. In spite of this, a surprising thing is how the doctrine of social compatibility (kafa’ah), became deeply entrenched in Islamic jurisprudence. This is a food for thought.
I have made this clarification in my article on pulaaku, the second in the series. There, I have clearly expressed the fact that henceforth Fulani should consider Islam as the paradigm for their pulaaku, since they can no longer remain in the bush. The yield of the interaction between pulaaku and Islam is particularly great as proven a number of times in history. That is why I still feel that Abdullahi’s rejoinder was redundant. Certainly, Abdullahi has shown very little pulaaku, and much less of Islam, if, after reading the article, he still found it necessary to publicly his rejoinder and accuse me of what he called “tribal worshiping” and “supremacy.”
At B.U.K. I was more blunt. Those that attended the Fulfulde Day there will recall my reaction to a remark that seemed to elevate the Fulani over other people. It is their conduct that accorded the Fulani a place in the history of West Africa. Both Danfodio and al-Futi, among others, fought for social justice; they endeavoured to learn and disseminate knowledge; etc. There were many – like Yakubu of Bauchi – who were non-Fulani disciples of Danfodio, just as there are many Fulani today involved in bad habits. Pride should not be sought in history, but in what we are today. We can however use history to encourage righteousness as God did to the Children of Israel in the Quran. We can similarly ask why should decendants of Muhammadu Rumfa in Kano fail to rise against bad governance and ignorance? Why should the progeny of Waliy Danmarina fail to excel in virtue? Why should the North today cry about injustice and ignorance while among their leaders are progenies of Usman and Abdullahi Danfodio? This is the relevance of history. I added that since we are accusing the elite of the Southwest of raising the banner of ethnic supremacy, we couldn’t afford to do the same ourselves.
On the decline of the Fulani that Abdullahi mentioned, I am not aware of any such decline. I agree that they are confronted with problems, especially regarding their security, their livestock, and their language adapting to urbanization. These are not enough grounds for him to use the world ‘decline’. In spite of these problems, the Fula are as good as others would claim to be. If they cannot claim to be superior, obviously, they cannot in anyway be regarded inferior.
Having said so, I think no one should see any fault in the promotion of Fulfulde and the preservation of their culture that are not repugnant to Islam through such avenues as suggested in our preceding articles. I remember that Hausa Week used to be my best week at A. B. U. It gave me the opportunity to meet people like Aliyu Namangi, Mudi Spikin, and the rest of them. There, I heard students and scholars of Hausa speaking fluently with a diction that could only compelled me to accord its scholars my admiration, and for its people my respect, to date. What difference then does it make if there is Fulfulde week, classes, clubs, centres, newspapers, books, radios or websites? That will be a pride to be shared by all northerners. They are preserving an asset that strengthens their link with the past as well as with many people in West Africa. I was very glad to see that the attendance of the Fulfulde Day at B. U. K. was not restricted to the Fulbe alone.
Now coming to the issues raised by my friend in Kano. Why bother about the death of a language? My reply was that though death is natural, we do our best to avoid it by not endangering ourselves, by becoming law abiding, by fighting against hunger and illiteracy, and, most importantly, by seeking medication. The same thing applies to language. If it dies, only God knows the opportunity lost. The Holy Prophet used to send people to learn various languages for the purpose of security and propagation of religion. God has clearly emphasized the importance of language to da’wah when He said: “We have not sent a Messenger except with the tongue of his people such that he will explain to them…” Abdullahi Doki himself has raised the issue of Fulani converted to Christianity in Bompai and some villages in Abuja. If the domesticus who knows a lot about Islam cannot speak to them in Fulfulde, how would he gain their confidence if he will attempt to de-convert them?
Lets us turn to the political aspect. I share the view that all caution must be taken to avoid any cultural group becoming involved in politics to the detriment of our collective interest. Politics must be based on the egalitarian scale of individual competence and articulated principles of social justice, regardless of tribal differences.
Presently, the Hausa-Fulani are considered as one political group in the country. Some people, including my friend in Kano, detest this. They feel that the two tribes must be separated to maximize political gains. I disagree. It is impossible to separate the Hausa from the Fulani, and vice versa. The entire political interest of the two became merged since the conquest of Alkalawa 200 years ago. We must remain together, tib da taya, united in a camp with all those who share our ideals from whichever ethnic group they might be.
Separation in response to the ethnic politics of the Southwest will only weaken our position. The dangers in doing so are many, the least being the polarization of people along tribal lines. The Holy Prophet has also commanded us to remain together, for, as he said, “the wolf eats from a herd the sheep that is afar.” I am glad that my friend accepted my stand.
In line with this, I seriously condemn the effort of some politicians in the Northeast, trying to separate the two zones by appealing to cheap regional sentiments. They claim that the Northwest has dominated northern politics for long. So what? This card is intended for 2003 and we will stand firm against it. We are after a credible candidate, from wherever he may be. Let the Fulani or Kanuri, if they can, produce someone better than Obasanjo, we will be glad to vote for him. Let us be wise enough to ask what the politicians from the Northeast in the present administration did to the region apart from calling its people names at the beginning and fighting for their shares in privatisation. Their contribution, if any, must be too little to be recognized.
Finally, we must not forget that at the national level we are all Hausa. The Nupe, the Kanuri, the Fulani, the Angas, the Bachama, in fact almost all northerners, even if some will detest it for reasons of religion, are all referred to as Hausa by people in the south. When I use Malam B. for example, I am referring to all of us in the North, not only the real Bahaushe. In terms of the behaviour of our elite, there is very little difference, unlike what some would like to assert, between the various tribes. Collectively, we can affirm that we have failed.
In fact the claim to Hausa will soon become inevitable to many tribes in the North, regardless of religion, after their languages have completely been wiped out in the next 100 years. (That is how the Fulani wiped out a number of smaller languages in Guinea, to become the most spoken indigenous language there today.) Then the Hausa-Fulani of today may find Fulfulde handy, ready to adopt it as a second language, especially in case of privacy.
Finally, let’s return to what my student said. In discussing Fula and their problems in Nigeria, I do not think I have digressed from the main theme of my discourses, Northern Nigeria. The Fula are part of the North; their livestock is part of its economy; and their culture is also part of its cultures. There is no way talking about any such cultures will tantamount to a digression.
Agreed that we have a myriad of problems. But that is the more reason why our discourse is not restricted to politics. In fact today, with the strong columns at the back cover of the Daily Trust, our discourse is relieved of the monotony of always discussing politics, as it used to be at the beginning. We can now indulge in problems of other sectors, which other columnists might be reluctant to explore.
Neither would our discourse on Fula be an emphasis on our differences in place of our similarities. Differences are bad only when employed to earn undeserved dividends. However, where they are employed to express variety and continuity of the praiseworthy in our cultures, in my opinion, they become something that cannot be overemphasized. We do not have to look on, until when our cultures are completely wiped out, then we start spending millions reviving them as a major preoccupation of generations to come. We can avoid what happened to Hebrew, Aramaic, Berber, and many other languages.
It may interest my readers that I am still an advocate of Hausa as our lingua franca, apart from its inevitability. I do not see this as a contradiction because only the lazy will restrict himself to a language or two. In 1984, disturbed by the poor quality of English among our undergraduates, I strongly nursed the idea of using Hausa as a mode of instruction. We discussed extensively with my then Vice Chancellor, Professor Mahdi Adamu, who educated me on the number of obstacles on that path. Though my postgraduate work overtook that ambition and I have long lost my draft of Kananan Halittu, the appeal has remained to date. Unfortunately, few students and scholars of Hausa think of this possibility and the enormous challenge it poses. They are presently engulfed by the usually unending literary debate between old and the new.
There is every need for making Fulfulde overcome the challenges of urbanization. Promoting it has become necessary for various reasons, religious and secular. Attending to the problems of Fula naturalis – their livestock and security, among others – is also necessary for the region. The responsibility of addressing them lies first among their domesticus brothers who ignored their plight over the years. With a little effort, I believe, we will succeed in saving them from being exploited either at Bompai or in some villages around Abuja. Doing this should earn the Fula a praise, not condemnation, from people whom he considers among his best partners throughout his memorable history.