Lives of real Fulani herders of Nigeria

There are 5.4 million out of school children among Nigeria’s nomadic pastoralists, and this is a group that could be put to good use, if it were helped into school. There are 20 million out of school children in the whole world, and Nigeria has 10.5 million of this figure, with nomads accounting for 5.4 million of this population, according to 2017 statistics from the Federal Ministry of Education. Imagine what would happen to Nigeria, if 5 million of its citizens were lifted up, redirected and genuinely given something positive to do. Reflect carefully on the radical shift in hopes and ambitions, and the major turnaround for pastoral life embodied in this .But if they are allowed to remain poor and to lie idle around their camps, then they could easily turn to bad ways and may constitute a time bomb. This is very bad for a nation that has millions of idle youths. Another section of the youths are already on drugs and some have taken to alcohol, especially when they go into the cities. Dr. Umar Ardo, Deputy Director with the National Commission for Nomadic education (NCNE) says “So many of our youths are out of work and they are on drugs. Go to any town and village and check, it is like that. We must engage them in agriculture, and in small and medium enterprises, so that they will have work to do.”


Then there are women who are without work, since all the cows have been stolen. Being largely unskilled, but talented in their own matchless way, they too need to be helped, together with the young ones referred to above. In a 2017 investigation this reporter was informed of hundreds of Fulani orphans spread across two local governments in Plateau state. The parents of the young ones were killed during the Jos crises. In an earlier investigation done by Daily Trust Saturday in Zamfara/Kebbi, there is clear evidence of brutal treatment of many by vigilante gangs in the area, and resultant mass migrations of nomads out of the state. There is clearer evidence of many Fulani camps burnt down by vigilante groups, making this reporter to think that the camp or ruga is slowly going extinct. Countless abandoned camps were seen by this reporter in Lafia, Nasarawa state two years ago, while investigating the camp as a threatened architectural form among the Fulani. Many of the structures may have been vacated all of a sudden in the dead of night. Atrocities endured by simple friendly nomads, who are striving to eke out a living, have largely gone unreported by the media and the nomads complain about this. Many of them, both male and female, weep as they recount the tragic circumstances they have had to endure. The District Head of a large Fulani settlement in northern Nigeria was stripped naked in broad daylight, by members of the security forces, and his people were harassed. Weeks later, the District Head asked, while being interviewed by this reporter “Why are the Fulani so hated? Why are we despised?” Many of the Fulani are victims of so much, but rather many see them as oppressors, as kidnappers and as a violent group. There are widespread stories of nomads coming from other countries in the region, to cause mayhem in Nigeria. Saleh Momale, Acting Executive Director, The Pastoral Resolve (PARE)  would have none of  this, and asks  “Who is that  herdsman who will leave his entire wealth ,and leave the safety of Niger, the peace of Niger ,the absence of rustlers in Niger, the non-existence of rustlers in Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso, and head towards the Chad basin in Nigeria, and fall into the hands of Boko Haram ,to begin to move his cows into Katsina and Zamfara, into the  hands of rustlers and kidnappers?” Rather, he says that it is Fulani elements as well as Tiv elements in Benue state that have been attacking each other. This seems to explain incidents of violence in other parts of Nigeria. 

Dr.  Ardo asks “Most of the nomads are not educated. They don’t even know the law. It’s just about 10% of the total pastoralists that are educated. Can illiterate livestock famers do modern ranching? How will they adapt to that, and how will they use the technology? There is the near absence of extension services on livestock in the country. In fact, there is none. Nobody extends to them. The pastoralists are just left on their own. No compensation. If there is any natural disaster or disease, nobody compensates them, but all other farmers are paid’. To worsen matters, majority of the pastoralists are illiterate, not having any other skills, apart from the age old culture of cattle rearing. If their cattle are rustled, and this has happened countless times, then their economy immediately collapses. Their wives can no longer prepare fura da nono (the popular meal made of millet and yoghurt), and her economy also shrinks, making her more dependent on her husband. Today, a poor version of Nono has emerged, owing to the loss of cows. Nono is now prepared with powdered milk in some parts of the north, and the Fulani milk maids confess that this is actually happening. When a nomad loses all his cows, or some of them, he is tempted to flee from his family, because the shame, the apparent inability to fend for his family, is too much for him to bear. He is heartbroken and he goes eastwards, maybe Cameroon or Sudan, and begins life afresh. This will always remain a puzzle to anyone who does not understand Pulaaku, the code of honour among the Fulani which insists on courage, honesty, and patience, among others. On the other hand, instead of fleeing he may take to farming as Daily Trust Saturday observed during a visit this week to Ladduga Grazing Reserve in Kaduna state, where Hassan Maikella, who had lost thirty cows and had to pay a ransom of N500,000 to regain his abducted wife, has now taken to farming .


 If the cows are stolen, this can freeze the education of the children, halt the payment of medical bills, cripple marriage plans, and even affect a planned visit to Mecca. The cow is everything to the nomad. Remove the cow and the nomads world comes crashing down. The loss of the cow has led to forms of depression, suicides and migration among the group. If he has cows, then he follows the path of ancient stock routes to move the cows from one part of the country to another. But these routes have been compromised in many parts of the country. In some places they have been blocked to make way for factories, or they are now part of housing estates, or they have become part of farms. This creates a huge problem for the nomad who has used the route for decades, only to suddenly find it blocked. In order to skirt this difficulty, he may have to pass through some farms, which pits him against the farmer, a movement which often leads to a skirmish. Some of the pastoralists retaliate for wrongs done at some time. Daily Trust Saturday is told that this is very typical of migrant nomads, but the more settled groups have a greater tendency to forgive, having lived with others  over a long period of time. ‘Wattaki’ the Fulfulde word for retaliate, can explain the series of attacks or reprisals occurring in the country. Sections of the Fulani who were hitherto more forgiving, are gradually being pushed to carry out acts of retaliation, because sometimes they are attacked by their hosts. This means that the cycle of retaliations is increasing .The tendency to retaliate by the nomads, may be an expression of a complete lack of confidence by the group in the justice system in the country. Dr. Ardo explains “The Fulani are shy. You can threaten them and they won’t talk, but they won’t forget. Thats another problem with the Pullo. Thats why you have clashes for something that happened twenty years ago.”

Saleh Momale Acting executive Director, The Pastoral Resolve (PARE) comments “Some people think that the Fulani never forgive, that they are vengeful. I do know that that is not true to a reasonable degree. It is only after you have pushed them to the wall, that’s when they come back. He has a line, if you cross that line, then the cycle of violence begins. It stops when that line is withdrawn, that is, when the matter is sorted out.”

The proposal for ranches, grazing reserves, or the more recent cattle colonies, may help in reducing the incessant farmer/herder clashes. The herder will be settled in one spot with his family, and he would no longer traverse the country with his herds. This certainly looks like the way to go. To work properly, each of these three options requires water, grass, vet clinics, drugs, and accommodation, among other elements. One Fulani leader told Daily Trust Saturday during a recent investigation that Nigeria needs at least fifty years for the Fulani to be fully moved into ranches, or for the plan to become operational .Others speak of a  twenty year period. This is because the country needs to improve the breeds in Nigeria, and the nomads have to be orientated to embrace the idea of ranching etc.

Another fallout of the loss of cows is the rise in incidents of kidnapping, and in some parts of the north such as Kogi, kidnapping of Fulani by Fulani is very common. With all the cows rustled, some nomads have no option but to turn to kidnapping of fellow wealthy Fulani, and Daily Trust Saturday gathers that kidnapping is even seen by some nomads as an activity which is more lucrative than the herding of cattle. Hollow trees are used as spots where ransoms are deposited, and nearby forests are locations where the victims are held. Another area where the spectre of kidnapping has reared its head, is the Abuja-Kaduna expressway, where there are many forests and additional evidence of Fulani on Fulani kidnapping. Huge ransoms are paid, and many still fear to travel along the road both in the daytime and at night. Closely linked to rising cases of kidnapping among the Fulani, is the fact that nomads never get any compensation from the government if they lose their cows. They are pushed to take the law into their hands if they lose their herds.

On kidnaping, Ibrahim Abdullah, Assistant National – Secretary General, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) says “In respect of the issue of kidnapping and other criminal activities, it must be noted that the economy of the Fulani has gone down completely. He has become, very, very poor, and therefore you cannot rule out the possibility of the younger generation resorting to crime.” On this Dr. Ardo says “If a Fulani man is caught kidnapping, the whole world will know, but if it is someone of another tribe caught kidnapping, they will not mention his tribe.”

Abdullah now turns to explore the plight of the nomads “The Fulani man is under threat, his existence, his means of livelihood, even his fundamental humans rights as guaranteed by the constitution and other international laws and conventions, are all under threat. In fact, his citizenship as a Nigerian is also under threat, so the entire life of a Fulani man today, is under threat. Every bad thing is being attributed to him, whether he is part of it, or not.” He comments “A Fulani man today is under very serious stigma. He cannot mingle with the society freely. The society is being misled wrongly to believe that the Fulani is a very wicked person.” In addition to the above, the Fulani have been described as the fourth largest terrorist group, kidnappers, Fulani herdsmen, and as violent persons.

The crises in pastoral life has its origins in developments that took place in Nigeria in the 60s.Many have drawn attention to the absence of a ministry of livestock in Nigeria, and how this has played a role  in the crippling of pastoral life. Abdullah reasons “We used to have a ministry of animal resources during the first republic. We had two ministries existing. One, was the ministry of animal resources, and the second was the ministry of agriculture. In the 70s, these two ministries were merged, to form a ministry of agriculture. Then we began to have total marginalisation or neglect of the livestock subsector. In terms of annual budgetary allocation, we recently conducted research, and we found that some states allocate less than 2% of their annual budgetary allocation to the ministry of agriculture, and even this negligible 2%, the implementation in most states is zero. It is also the same with the federal ministry of agriculture, the priority has always been the arable farming, agric implements, fertiliser, and what have you, to the extent that farmers are being encouraged to expand their land, to the detriment of grazing areas.”

But the nomad still makes significant contributions to Nigeria’s economy. Abdullah states “Everybody knows the importance of protein in the life of a human being. 99% of the sources of protein, the animals we see today in Nigeria, are being controlled by the Fulani. But the Fulani benefit nothing from the government. A Fulani man who is not assisted in anyway, is still trying to produce animals for the consumption of this country, but many large scale farms have collapsed. The livestock sub sector provides a large part of our GDP, as you have hides and skin and other animal products that we use.”

Ibrahim Mohammed, Extension Officer, NCNE Abuja, argues “The Fulani contribute a lot to the economy. The cow itself brings milk to the society as well as meat. Fulani, who have thousands of cattle, employ other people, not only Fulani to work for them. At the end of the day, he pays them, and gives them cows. But today, this situation has changed, because people view the Fulani as a terrible set of people. Even those who give children to Fulani for employment, no longer do so. Some of the Fulani today were not originally Fulani. They were of different ethnic origins, but they grew up with us and learned our ways, including the language and the herding of cattle. So, they became Fulani over time.”

Dr. Ardo adds “The Fulani control about 85-90% of the total livestock, large animal population in Nigeria. An estimated 20 million cattle exist in Nigeria today, and an estimated 90% of the entire cattle populations are in the hands of the Fulani, though there are other tribes that keep cattle.” He also refers to another aspect of pastoral life “They believe that land belongs to the Almighty, not communities or people. They also believe that water belongs to the Almighty too, and that the animals are God’s gift to the Fulani.” According to him “Illiteracy, loss of family values and social cohesion that existed before, when parents had full control of their children and youths is the situation today. Over time it changed, because they will allow them to go herding from Kano to Oyo. They will meet with ten different tribes along the way, and socialize with them. The movement from one place to another affected them.

Next he speaks on the pride of having cattle among the nomads “We need to look at the production system of these people. If he used to keep 1,000 cows before, now the land is not there. You need to reorientate him towards the economics of production, rather than pride and prestige of having numbers. It is the quality of the animal that is paramount, not the quantity, not the number. Some have to be advised to reduce their stock to manageable levels, which is very difficult, because it has a cultural connotation to it. The more animals you have, the more prestige you have in society. But others say why would you keep two hundred cows that will give you twenty litres, while three cows can give you a similar twenty litres? But they will tell you that they are not keeping the cows because of the milk .Their own pride and prestige is part of the Fulani code. It is inbuilt and it is very difficult to erase. It is only education that will change that.”

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