Today, they are not seen through the very civilisation that they were the chief catalysts of in most of Africa. They’ve been left behind by many governments under the pretext that wherever the Fulani is, he or she is seen as an immigrant due to their nomadic lifestyle; hence, “no government has seriously invested in them or their livestock.”
Growing up in the North, the first thing that gets fixed in the minds of everyone is the obvious truth — that the most important article in Fulani society is a cattle — which the men look after while the women milk the cattle and sell to make ends meet.
Ga fura da nono, da maishanu, meaning here is ground millet cake, sour milk and instant butter) for sale. These are the desperate words of a Fulani girl which echoes through the streets of Bekaji in Yola of Adamawa State, which is very familiar in most parts of the North. This pretty Fulani girl who simply gave her name as Ummi, presumably in her early teens, has never had the privilege of schooling.
But the distinctive difference between her and other girls of other ethnic groups that have had the privilege of schooling is glaring. The time she must have devoted to apply cosmetics, the tattoo in her barely-covered body, adorned with a very colourful dress, was a sign of her artistic aptitude, which if translated to schooling or any kind of vocation would be beneficial not only to the Fulani women like Ummi, but the society at large.
According to Zainab Nyako, the wife of the Adamawa State governor and founder of Women Education and Empowerment Initiative (WEEIN) during a recent training programme for Fulani women in Yola, “we have commenced the training of women of pastoral resolve who gained skills on soap-making, pomade-making, groundnut oil extraction, yoghurt processing and beads arrangements. The number of the beneficiaries of my programme is over 2,000 so far,” she said, adding that she intends to hit “six digits” by the end of her husband’s term in office.
Interestingly, Ummi, Weekly Trust learnt, was part of the training programme. Though at first very shy to speak to a male journalist, she told a female reporter that it was her mother who benefited from the WEEIN programme, saying she herself has already started learning from her mother, and with the expected loan which the organisation promised to facilitate, they hope to start a more reassuring business. “These days, milking is very difficult, as there is not enough food and water for our cattle,” said Ummi.
For her, all she has ever known before her mother began to attend the WEEIN programme was how to make mai-shanu. According to many participants of the training scheme by WEEIN, the programme did not only train them in skills acquisition, but has taught them a lot in food processing and personal hygiene.
For these Fulani women, the programme has brought hope that the situations in the Sahel, a wide belt of semi-arid land on the southern edge of the Sahara in Africa, which is part of some areas in northern Nigeria that have been having the difficulty of deforestation and aggressive drought, will improve. The problem had made milking (their only means of livelihood) not to be an attractive business of late.
“Such a programme at the state level that is meant to expose nomads to a diverse world of economic opportunities is welcome and must be supported by both the Federal Government and international community,” said Dr Mustafa Bello, a consultant paediatrician with the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital and a proud Fulani man.
Hajiya Zainab had in a remark at the closing ceremony of the week-long training at the Lamido Zubairu Education Centre recently said she would do her best to pave way for the beneficiaries to obtain soft loans from financial institutions like the Bank of Industries, Lagos; the Standard Micro-finance Bank and Union Bank so as to enable them to start up their own businesses and never to be caught in the kind of hunger and deprivation mentioned earlier.
For now, not all of the beneficiaries of the WEEIN/NDE programmes have received loans and whether or not all of them will be empowered to become self-reliant remains to be seen.