There is in actual fact nothing recent about the on-going debate about the agenda of the Fulanisation and Islamisation of Nigeria. It is in reality an old debate. At the foundational and philosophical core of the debate is the Fulani Question in Nigeria. The debate has merely been undergoing dialectical, dialogical and ideological metamorphosis. So far, in my analytical calculations, it is in the third turn. The first turn was about British colonial favouritism of the Fulani. It began from the colonial period up to independence – that is, from 1904 to 1960.
The second turn was about the Fulani control of the commanding heights of the political leadership and political economy of post-colonial Nigeria. Chronologically, this stage lasted from the period of independence up to Chief M.K.O. Abiola winning of the presidential elections. That is, from 1960 to 1992. The third turn is the Fulanisation and Islamisation of Nigeria.
In the first turn, the argument was that the Fulani were colonially favoured and privileged over and above all other ethnic groups in Nigeria. The adoption of the indirect rule system, the geographically marmot space of Northern Nigeria, the preferment accorded to Emirs, the numerical superiority of the Northern region above the other regions, and so on, were said to be intentional acts of colonial social engineering meant to give the Fulani a vantage position in the social and political architecture of colonial Nigeria. In most cases, some anti-colonial agitators rather than set their sight on the independence struggle used the instrumentality of primordial ideology to mobilise their folk against the North and its people on account of these so-called privileges. This act it is argued sowed the earliest seeds of ethnicity in Nigeria.
In the second phase of the Fulani Question, the argument was that the Fulani have leveraged on colonial advantages provided by the colonial regime to control and dominate the levers of Nigerian post-colonial politics and political economy. Nothing was spared to traduce the Fulani. This period marked the invention of the hyphenated appellation, Hausa-Fulani, to denote a socio-religious and cultural complex intent on dominating the wider Nigeria and oppressing the non-Hausa-Fulani northerners. To break the Hausa-Fulani complex many conceptual constructs such as ‘Far North,’ ‘Northern Minorities, ‘Northern Christians,’ ‘Northern Minority Christians,’ and the likes were invented and actively mobilised to cause dissensions and discord in the North and accordingly break the social and political solidarity of northerners.
When this strategy failed, the ideologues of this school of thought reverted to the mobilisation of the Nigerian populace around the idea of Hausa-Fulani and Islamic control of Nigeria’s political leadership. Not once did such ideologues make their adherents to know that General Yakubu Gowon who ruled Nigeria for nine years and General Ibrahim Babangida for eight years and General Sani Abacha for four years were not Hausa-Fulani. The victory of Chief M.K.O. Abiola in the 1992 presidential elections and his incarceration and subsequent death paved way for the adoption of the principle of rotationalism in the sharing of Nigeria’s presidential office. This thus put paid to the second turn of the Fulani Question and ushered in the third: the Fulanisation and Islamisation of Nigeria.
Before going into the interrogation of the third turn, it is apposite to answer the question: what is the Fulani Question? The Fulani Question is the question of how to ideologically deconstruct the Fulani people’s conceptualisation of their idea of Nigeria. Some views about the Fulani are that they are imperialistic, expansionistic, ethnocentric, religious fundamentalists, and cunning. And yet to others the Fulani people see Nigeria as their cultural heritage and on account of this are pathologically fixated on controlling the levers of its political leadership. The Fulani people have remained conceptually enigmatic in the imagination of Nigerians.
The enigmatic status of the Fulani is further compounded by the fact that whereas the social image depicted by majority of Nigerians of them is that they are largely illiterates, timid, agrarian, stick-carrying, kola nut chewing, and nono-drinking bush people. Paradoxically, there is no congruence between this popular image and who the Fulani are actually. The truth of the matter is that we need to have a paradigm shift of the conceptualisation of the Fulani by shedding the dead ballast of our prejudices and barnacles of old habits of thought about them.
We need to develop a new cultural intelligence and literacy on how to deal with the Fulani people. For instance, while all other ethnic groups and indeed the global community is affected by the technological transformations and social change, the common expectation is that the Fulani should remain the same. Many Nigerians are surprised when they see a Fulani parson with handset. While the predominant mode of agricultural production in Nigeria is primitive—driven by hoe and cutlass—many people expect the Fulani to adopt contemporary best herding practices. It is this provincial mindset that is fuelling the idea that there is a Fulanisation and Islamisation of Nigeria agenda.
The Fulanisation and Islamisation of Nigeria is purely a mythical construction. Nothing of that sort exists anywhere except in the fertile imagination of its protagonists. How would the Fulanisation exercise work? To deconstruct the cultural world view of other ethnic groups and replace it with a Fulani world view? To exterminate the population of other ethnic groups and repopulated same with the Fulani people? To change the professional and occupational preferences of other ethnic groups and replace them with nomadic cattle herding? To abolish all other languages in Nigeria and replace them with Fulfulde? What exactly does it mean to say Fulanisation of Nigeria?
What the foregoing tells us is that if the Fulanisation strand of the debate is counterintuitive, its Islamisation cousin is completely unthinkable and incomprehensible. Is it that there is a grand plan to launch an Islamic Jihad in Nigeria with the sole aim of converting the millions of Nigerian Christians into Muslims? Truly, I find it difficult to understand what Islamisation of Nigeria means. Who is in the vanguard of this jihad? Fulani? ISIS? Al-Qaeda? ISWA? Who? Do the contenders of the Islamisation agenda mean that in year 2019 a group of Islamic proselytisers would go to Saudi Arabia or Sokoto and receive flag to forcefully convert the Christian communities of Nigeria and in their place plant Emirate rule and the Islamic way of life? Is this action even contemplatable at all? This viewpoint amazes me to no end—and it should to anyone with any ounce of intellect.
For instance, let’s take the issue of the Fulani cabal. Who and who are the Fulani people that surround President Muhammadu Buhari? The Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari; the National Security Adviser, Mungono; the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustafa; the Chief of Defence Staff, General Gabriel Olonishakin; the Chief of Army Staff, General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas; the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu; and others are not Fulani. The question that arises is: what is the identity of members of these Fulani cabal controlling the presidency?
The purveyors of Fulaniphobia need to de-intoxicate themselves of their toxic mentality. It does no good to Nigeria and our march to nationhood. We need to tap into the creative ingenuity of all Nigerians across its component parts to achieve our dream of sustainable national development. Rather than raise false alarm about the Fulani or any ethnic group for that matter what we need is a new sense of cultural intelligence and literacy to deal with each other in mutually respectful way and manner.
Atah Pine can be reached on 08035974174.