Did you read Professor Ango Abdullahi in a national newspaper yesterday? If you didn’t, this is what he was quoted as saying on why Nigeria won’t stop grappling with herdsmen’s attacks: “The land belongs to Nigerians and herdsmen are Nigerians. If an Igbo man can go to the North and set up a business, why won’t herdsmen go to the South, including your village, to graze their cattle?… Where we come from, you don’t pay for land, you only ask for permission to use it. That is why I said you people are biased against other people and that is why the peace of this country will be very difficult…” That is from a member of the Fulani elite and spokesman of northern elders’ forum. Through him, we can now understand the enormous problem we have on our hands.
For our Fulani pastoralist, in the beginning was cow; and since that beginning, nothing else has mattered — and nothing else matters even now. Not human life. Not the sweat of farmers; and not even the integrity of our men in power. How many lives have been lost since we started this cow war across the country? I remember the horrendous 73 in Benue. Ango mentioned hundreds in Taraba and other places. There were forty-something corpses in Zamfara and those single-digit murders in other states across the South. Where herdsmen struck, those who died had to die so that sacred cows could graze and live large. Nigerian cows are the new gold – costly, deadly. You cannot be sure that as you read this, many more people are not dying the shameful death of cattle.
Muhammadu Buhari deserves our sympathy. It is not easy at all to be president of anywhere. Being president of Nigeria can be a punishment if your ethnic group is in the eyes of the storm. Those you back with everything are the first to stab you for doing nothing for them. President Buhari is easily a typical Fulani man. He loves his cow so much that he ignores every other thing. But in the last one week, at least two Fulani leaders have accused him of abandoning them. Chairmen of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association in Kwara and Oyo states spewed bile. They said Buhari had not done well for them, his kinsmen. They even threatened to report our president to God. Could it be that the God of herders is different from that of their victims? This is Fulani’s worst moment ever, they said. One of them did not forget to add that they won’t vote a Buhari in 2019.
They were right. This moment is the very worst for the Fulani and his costly cow. It is the scariest for the usual and the unusual victims of Fulani herdsmen — farmers, office workers and even air travelers. This is also the worst season for Buhari himself as he swims in his own beef pepper soup. Every strongman has a heel of vulnerability. Jonathan had his own in that far corner called Chibok. The bloodhounds called killer herdsmen appear to be this president’s own Chibok girls. And it is shocking that both presidents’ response mannerisms are identical in tragedy. Jonathan felt the Chibok disaster was contrived to fight and stop him. He ignored the victims until it was too late. Buhari feels the noise about what herdsmen are doing all over is pure injustice. The herdsman’s ancestral paths – north to south – have been blocked. So, why wouldn’t they kill to clear their way? Ango Abdullahi said something like that. Buhari’s defence minister also said so. The president heard him; we heard him too. There were cries for the sack of the minister who defended the aggressors. Buhari didn’t hear that; or he didn’t know what wrong the gentleman said (or did) that must take him out of his job. He ignored the calls. The man is there in the full glory of power, waxing lyrical, enjoying his fura de nunu. He will remain there until the market is over.
The Nigerian cow and its Fulani are the new lords of our manor. Runways and hallways are their conquered playgrounds. They get bolder by every official endorsement they get for their misbehaviours. They started deep in the bush, oppressing farmers and their luscious wives. Then they moved to the villages and took over harvests in communal barns; then to the towns, grazing in flustered palace grounds. They then, with the swag of conquistadors, marched into the cities and universities – even attempting the takeover of a local government.
Farmers and other victims of this new terror feel betrayed by Buhari. They say he is backing his kith and kin. Blood is thicker than water and it goes without saying. Herders too feel their Fulani brother has abandoned them. God will ask him, they vow. That is what you get when you are a hawk with forgetful talons. You must never have power and be very absent in your responsibilities. A leader must never be indifferent in all moments. That has not been the case with Buhari. He has been visibly absent where decisive presence is demanded. And as we look up to the man who is our president to do something, he looks down on us and wonders why we are troubling his preparations for re-election. Goodluck Jonathan did just that four years ago. What we feel is called deja vu. We were here before.
Where I come from, the cow is just meat. It is nothing more than meat. And how much meat do we need to fill our contented cheeks? We do not think any hunger for beef should make us turn cow to an ancestor deserving veneration. But the Fulani thinks his cow is not second in command to any other creation. It is the god of his existence. That fact is in the Fulani man’s mythology. The first Fulani to be rich followed the direction of a water spirit to worship and water cows. He ended up with great wealth and others, till today, follow his example. There is also the Fulani folktale of “A man, his sons and a Cow” adapted into a book years ago by the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA). It is the story of a man whose love for his treacherous cow made him disown all his three sons. That is the life of the Fulani. The cow has rights over the rights of any other creature. And I hope that is not the explanation for the cold shoulder victims of Fulani attacks have been receiving from those they chose as their leaders.
How long will the Fulani go with his current campaign for space and more space? He will go far unless he meets his match. That is his history. He is a celebrated king of marathons who rarely loses campaigns. Whether in or out of the bush, the Fulani is the wily snake that skins other animals. He is the timid leopard that takes over the forest with the sneaky smile of the powerless. Leopard is the patient aggressor, the ferocious great watcher of the idiocy of his victims. Someone said it is ‘the supreme hunter” with the “symbolic magic of nocturnal energies and creativity.” Hear Ango Abdullahi again on why the herdsmen had to kill: “The truth is, if you want to kill me and I have a chance first, I will kill you; or do you want people to be killed and not defend themselves? By your reporting, you have denied them justice and government also has denied them justice by not going to arrest those that are killing them. So, they defend themselves.”
All these fit into the history of Fulani relations with all he interacted with right from his hazy Judae-Syrian roots, through North Africa to the Futa Jallon, to Northern Nigeria. He leaves his unforgettable marks for good or for ill. The stripes and marks you see on others’ faces are called tribal marks. But they are scars imposed by the realities of slavery and slave trade. The Fulani predators and their white collaborators were drivers of that era. Scholars agree that throughout history, the Fulani movement into and subjugation of others follow a set pattern: First, with the flag of peace and friendship in his hands, the Fulani moves into any land he covets. He gets land grants and uses his dairy products to make more friends. Then he resents being under his hosts; he revolts and subjugates his landlords. That is the pattern. Look around you. Look at the short history of the APC and the long knives carving it today. Who was the leader of that party before the 2015 victory and who is the leader today sending others on houseboy errands? Peep into the near future and sigh for him who won’t learn. Look back – deep into the long history of ethno-political relations in Nigeria. The greedy chief wants the king’s throne at all costs. He won’t take heed of all the warning signals everywhere. The ambitious flings his destiny into the hands of the Fulani to his sorrow. You can’t ride the tiger to anywhere else apart from its belly. It is the lesson of history. That should explain the current tension and why the Fulani demands, but can’t have, new lands to make his colony.