Obasanjo’s ‘Fulanisation’

Two important issues competed for my attention this week: Obasanjo’s uncharacteristically explosive public statement on Boko Haram and Fulani herders and the dissimulation of two US-based pro-regime apologists who are misleading the Nigerian public into believing that they are representatives of “Nigerian scholars in the diaspora.”

The news media reported former president Olusegun Obasanjo to have said that Boko Haram’s enduring homicidal fury was a manifestation of “West African Fulanisation” and that the relentlessly broadening menace of murderous Fulani herders all over the country was being done in the service of “African Islamization.”

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When people called my attention to these statements, I immediately dismissed them as improbable claims Obasanjo would make. Whatever you may say about Obasanjo, I said, you can’t deny that he is probably Nigeria’s most academically inquisitiveformer president who is also not given to flippancy. So how could he equate Boko Haram with “Fulanisation” when, in fact, Boko Haram and “Fulanisation” are almost mutually exclusive?

Boko Haram is a predominantly Kanuri phenomenon. Anyone who has even a faint familiarity with northern Nigerian history would know that Kanuri and Fulani people are historical adversaries, although the passage of time, colonial and post-colonial northernisation policy, and semi-ritualised “joking relationship” (Kanuri and Fulani people now playfully make fun of each other, such as calling each other “slaves”) has eased the historical tensile stress between the two groups.

Many scholars place the incipience of the historical animosity between the Kanuri and the Fulani to the time of Usman Dan Fodiyo’s jihad. The Kanuri, who have been Muslims since at least the 9th century (making them probably the first ethnic group to embrace Islam in West Africa), froze off Dan Fodiyo’s jihad, whose goal was to “reform” Islam where it already existed and to replace traditional power structures with Dan Fodiyo’s protégés who were invariably Fulani.

Although Dan Fodiyo failed in his bid to take over Kanuri land, his version of Islam and the political structure he established predominate in contemporary northern Nigeria, as exemplified, for example, by the fact that the Sultan of Sokoto, a descendant of Dan Fodio, is higher in rank in the hierarchy of northern Nigerian traditional rulers than the Shehu of Borno. So, if anything, Boko Haram would actually love to “de-Fulanise” Nigeria and West Africa.

It is also problematic to say that the activities of nihilistic Fulani predators all over Nigeria are inspired by a “West African Islamisation” agenda. Perhaps the greatest challenge to that narrative is the fact that Muslims are also victims of the wildly murderous rage of these anarchic brutes. In fact, at the moment, northern Muslims are disproportionate victims of their sanguinary brutalities. It doesn’t make sense to advance an Islamisation agenda by killing other Muslims.

Obasanjo, more than any past president or head of state, should know this. Fortunately, it has turned out that the news media mischaracterised what Obasanjo actually said.

This was the statement that instigated the misleading headlines: “It is no longer an issue of lack of education and lack of employment for our youths in Nigeria which it began as; it is now West African Fulanisation, African Islamisation and global organised crimes of human trafficking, money laundering, drug trafficking, gun trafficking, illegal mining and regime change.”

In this quote, Obasanjo didn’t equate Boko Haram with Fulanisation and murderous herders with Islamisation. After reading the entire speech, it became clear that he only said Boko Haram’s ultimate goal was the Islamisation of West Africa, which is accurate especially because the group has transmogrified from a ragtag of Kanuri holy terrors to the “West African” branch of ISIS with territorial expansionist ambitions.

It is also difficult to sustain a logical defence against the charge that the Fulani nihilists who are on a murdering spree all over the nation aren’t on a “Fulanisation” agenda because they are dispossessing people of their lands and reterritorialising places that are uninhabited as a result of their pogroms. This is as true in Benue as it is in Zamfara.

But it isn’t the fact that Obasanjo is right that should trouble us; it is the fact that, of all people, it is Obasanjo who is saying this. As a retired northern Nigerian military general told me on the phone a few days ago when we discussed this, that Obasanjo, a defiantly pan-Nigerian enthusiast who had never been publicly associated with sub-nationalist proclivities, would talk of “Fulanisation” and “Islamisation” in any context is the biggest indication of how much Buhari has destroyed faith in the desirability of Nigeria’s continuity as a country.

From proclaiming IPOB a “terrorist” organisation and instructing the mass slaughters of its unarmed members while overprotecting murderous Fulani brigands who have been called “the fourth deadliest known terrorist group” in the world by the Global Terrorism Index, to appointing a security council that is almost exclusively Muslim and northern, to his unprecedented levels ofnepotism and small-mindedness, etc. Buhari has shown that he doesn’t care if Nigeria collapses under the weight of his thoughtlessness, toxic sub-nationalism, and incompetence.

Diasporan intellectual impostors

Several people on Twitter called my attention to the existence of a politically partisan, pro-government association that calls itself the “Association of Nigerian Scholars in Diaspora [sic].” People wanted to know if I was a member of the association—or if I had any familiarity with its existence and work.

People reached out to me because the association issued a tendentious press statement on May 20 commending the reappointment of CBN governor Godwin Emefiele and urging Buhari to retain his incompetent service chiefs even in the face of the escalating loss of lives and the deepening and widening of the theatre of insecurity throughout Nigeria.

I had never heard of the association and have never met anyone who has, although the Vanguard described it as the “umbrella organisation of Nigerian scholars in the Diaspora.” It turned out that the statement was signed by Professor Bitrus Gwamna, whom I met last year in Columbia, Missouri, during the annual convention of the Zumunta Association, USA Inc., an association of northern Nigerians in the US.

A search of “Association of Nigerian Scholars in Diaspora” on Google yielded another disgracefully pro-regime propaganda signed by Professor Gwamna and Professor Pita Agbese(famous journalist Dan Agbese’s younger brother, whom I also met in Missouri) on behalf of the “Association of Nigerian Scholars in Diaspora [sic].”

Titled “Diasporan Nigerian Scholars Fault US Report on Corruption, Insecurity,” the report quoted Gwamna and Agbese as describing the US State Department’s 2018 human rights report on Nigeria, which every sober Nigerian knows to be factual and accurate, as “legitimising the criminal activities of terrorists and extremists in Nigeria,” among other utterly ridiculous and indefensibly pedestrian, not to mention willfully mendacious, farrago of nonsense passed up as a press statement.

I initially thought the names of these gentlemen, for whom I had a lot of regard, were fraudulently used without their knowledge or permission by pro-regime propagandists in Nigeria. But my preliminary findings show that Professor Agbese, who lives in the same city with Professor Gwamna, has a record of pro-regime propaganda, particularly in support of the military.

For instance, in September 2018, six months after his vituperative press statement against the US State Department and in defence of the military’s horrendous human rights abuses against innocent civilians, he organised a “conference” in Minnesota where he invited Nigerian military generals to come “educate” Americans on the military’s “successes” in fighting terrorism and other forms of insecurity.

His public participation in Facebook forums, particularly Idoma-themed Facebook groups, also shows that he is an unabashed apologist for the Buhari regime—and for the Nigerian military. I have no idea what Professor Agbese’s connection is to the Buhari regime and to the military in particular, nor do I care.

Nevertheless, I want to alert the Nigerian public to the fact that the “Association of Nigerian Scholars in Diaspora” does not represent all Nigerian scholars who live abroad. It is a two-man association that isn’t even formally registered in the US—or anywhere in the world.

Many of us who have a heightened moral conscience and who are intensely aware of the unavoidable abyss Buhari is obstinately leading Nigeria to won’t ever be part of such an association.

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