Mrs Baheejah Mahmood, from Azare in Katagum Local Government Area of Bauchi State, is the National Women Leader of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, a Fulani socio-cultural association. In this interview with newsmen in Bauchi, she spoke on a number of issues affecting the Fulani; the controversial Rugga settlement introduced by the Federal Government. Ishola Michael brings excerpts of the interview.
In your opinion, who do you think is Fulani? What are they known for?
A Fulani is a courageous, self-reliant, fearless and shy person who can be considered an introvert. The Fulani man does not interact and mingle so much with people of other languages and cultures. He prefers to be alone or with his animals or among his kith and kin. He feels intimidated with the presence of other people who he does not know, around him. Despite these though, the Fulani man is a sociable person who likes a lot of fashion and fashionable dressing in multi-colored attire. I consider the Fulani man a very enterprising and thorough person, tending to his herd every hour of the day and going in search of grazing lands to wherever the search might take him. The typical Fulani man is very straight forward and honest but will not stop at anything to defend himself, his family and herd against any predators; human or wild animals.
A Fulani woman on the other hand is a very respectful, obedient, shy and submissive woman to her husband and family. She does all the house chores from taking care of the children, cooking, and preparing and selling the cow milk and cheese. Traditionally, the Fulani woman is a full-time housewife who is fully in charge of the home front. When the family is moving around in search of pasture for the cattle, she is responsible for the children throughout the journey.
The Fulani are mostly known to engage in cattle rearing or transhumance endeavours. Most of them are without a permanent settlement because they move from place to place in search of greener pastures and water for their cattle. In Nigeria, the Fulani move from the North towards the South during the dry season months between February to March and back towards the North at the start of the rains. They depend on the cattle for their means of livelihood.
As a people, what do the Fulani contribute to the economy of the country and its people?
The Fulani contribute a lot to the economy of the country and its people. They provide the country with over 90 per cent of its meat requirement. The cattle provide beef; they rear chickens, guinea fowls, goat and sheep too. They contribute to the dairy (milk) production and supply of hides and skin of the country, which contributes to the GDP of the economy. The affordable meat and eggs consumed in Nigeria are largely as a result of the activities of the Fulani. During festivities of Muslims and Christians, and almost anything in-between, cattle, sheep and goats are used which are readily available as a result of the transhumance activities of the Fulani. All the products of the activities of the Fulani contribute to the nutritional enhancement of the country with provision of protein in form of meat, eggs and dairy.
On the flip side, what benefits come to the Fulani from the government and people of Nigeria?
The Fulani as a people gain next to nothing from the government of the country. Because they are mostly on the move, the Fulani’s do not benefit from the provision of basic amenities such as schools, hospitals and roads. They hardly know the importance of infrastructural items such as electricity, tap or borehole water and bridges. In fact, the Fulani only “buy into” infrastructural and economic development programs that are targeted at some other population, but not those targeted specifically at them. Before a program is designed specifically targeting the Fulani, thousands may have been developed for the “regular” population. No one thinks about them and their welfare and those of their cattle, despite the huge direct and in-direct contributions they make to the employment creation drive of the government. Groups such as butchers, traders in cattle and other animals, traders in hides and skin, makers of leather shoes and bags; and yoghurt-producing companies all depend on the animal product of the Fulani. What the Fulani need is a kind of public/private partnership (PPP) arrangement with the government to boost the production of the animals and their products. For example, if the Fulani should decide not to bring their livestock to the market for one week, all Nigerians will then know and appreciate their contribution to the economy and the well-being of Nigerians.
What challenges would you say Fulani women and children face as cattle herders?
The Fulani face a lot of challenges. Moving across the length and breadth of this country and even beyond, with their cattle, in search of greener pasture is not an easy feat as their health, safety and general well-being and that of their children and animals can all be compromised during such trips, especially with the current insecurity reigning in the country. Fulani women and children are more vulnerable in every situation when their husbands and fathers embark on such trips in search of greener pastures, in places thousands of kilometres away. They are equally vulnerable when the whole family moves on such trips as the women have to back the infants while the older children are made to trek through treacherous terrains on foot, open to the elements.
Their children do not attend schools, their women do not enjoy their matrimonial homes. They don’t enjoy any form of care yet they constitute the larger percentage of the ethnicities of the northern part of the country. They have no access to all the social amenities and yet they provide most of the proteins Nigerians depend on. When we talk of such Fulani we are refering to the nomadic amongst them, while some have excelled to become professionals, top government officials, marketers, teachers, the Armed Forces and in other fields of endeavour. Yet that does not change anything for the nomadic Fulani, they still suffer in silence, the hatred, brutally marginalised, lack sympathisers, voiceless, misrepresented, misunderstood and misguided by many different ethnic groups in the country that want to take advantage of them.
Why do you think people label Fulani as criminals?
Like I said earlier, Fulani are not criminals. They are hardworking entrepreneurs, self-reliant, honest, reserved and conservative people. They are law-abiding; pay tax as and when due and do not have access to basic amenities the rest of Nigerians enjoy. The Fulani are the most misunderstood lot. Unfortunately, because of the Fulani’s naivety, people they meet take advantage of them and corrupt them with bad influence. They are generally trusting and open minded to those they meet for the first time but people take advantage of that and lead them into all sorts of bad behaviors, including what we are now experiencing in Nigeria. Fulani are not bad people and what they need is our understanding and empathy so that those bad eggs amongst them can be rehabilitated and reintegrated into the society. Truth is only a small percentage of Fulani fall into this unfortunate category and gave the whole race a bad name which is broadcast by media and other not-so- well meaning Nigerians.
The issue of Fulani is politicized in Nigeria and they were labeled as criminals out of hatred and unfairness, but they are not. There are many tribes that have criminals committing various crimes and criminalities in Nigeria and beyond but have you ever heard the names of their tribes being mentioned? The people that stole from the Fulani, killed them and made them become hostile, what are they? Whenever arrests of suspects are made, you have to go deep and find out who are their sponsors. If the sponsors are identified then we will know the real actors behind Fulani criminality. A Fulani does not push cocaine, do not rob banks, do not engage in 419 they are not brought up in any kind of misdeeds, they only rear animals in the most difficult ways and when that is taken away, they fall prey to evil doers within the society.
What, in your opinion is the Ruga-to-Rugga project? Can you proffer some advice on the scheme?
The Rugga-to-Rugga project is a national program meant to benefit the Fulani, the North and Nigeria at large. The Fulani may be the direct beneficiaries of the programme, but Nigerians will also benefit indirectly, especially those in the animal marketing and supply chain sector, the consumers, butchers, etc, In comparison, a sea port in Warri or a land port in Ibadan does not directly impact on the lives of people in the hinterland of Nigeria, but rather indirectly through their contribution to the economy. Likewise, the provision of Ruga settlements for the Fulani may not have direct bearing to the lives of people in the South and Eastern parts of Nigeria but will definitely have indirect impact through its contribution to food security, GDP of the nation, employment, industrial sustainability through provision of raw material.
What advice do you have for the government and people of Nigeria on peaceful coexistence, especially as it affects the Fulani?
Nigerians should learn to tolerate one other and they should be patient and avoid doing anything that will breed hatred, disaffection and disunity. We have to understand government is for all Nigerians. My advice to the Federal Government is that it should continue to initiate, implement and sustain laudable programs that will positively impact the lives of the citizens of the country. The Ruga-to-Ruga is a laudable project, but the government needs to involve those that are knowledgeable in all aspects of the program to implement it. As it is, life in the North is becoming more challenging due to worsening infrastructure and economic indices, so the Northern elites and political leaders need to stand up and demand or lobby for developmental programs and projects to be implemented in the North that will be of economic, social and political value to its people. For example, border states like Katsina, Adamawa, Sokoto, Taraba should have their borders opened to enable them continue with their trans-border trade on which many of the citizens depend. Therefore government should remain focussed in moving Nigeria forward at any cost. Nigerians should stop being judgmental and sentimental for no reason, after all it’s part of development to even provide and protect animals and trees. Why not for a human being? If the North can provide an enabling environment for all Nigerians, why not the other part reciprocate. Why do we need to move to other parts of the country if the government will provide us with the needed infrastructure, after all we are stakeholders too? Love for your brother what you love for yourself or be your brother’s keeper. We have decided not to suffer in silence; we will sensitise Nigerians and the world over of the reality.