On October 18, 1990, the United States, in a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), predicted the end of a country which was behaving almost as Nigeria is behaving now. It said, “Yugoslavia will cease to function as a federal state within a year, and will probably dissolve within two. Economic reform will not stave off the breakup. […] A full-scale inter-republic war is unlikely, but serious intercommunal conflict will accompany the breakup and will continue afterward. The violence will be intractable and bitter. There is little the United States and its European allies can do to preserve Yugoslav unity.”
That country called Yugoslavia ceased to exist in 1992 –within exactly two years as predicted by the US. I wonder what the authors of that report are writing about Nigeria this moment. Analysing Nigeria in 2013, two US security experts, Robert D. Kaplan and Mark Schroeder, also predicted that Nigeria would “not descend into a civil war” but would “totter onwards.” They described it as “a country that is not wholly a country…an assemblage of several British-ruled territories” where “life is a Hobbesian, zero-sum game that adds up to an aggressive, predatory system of survival of the fittest…a place where life is too often a matter of who can intimidate whom.” As grim as their conclusion was, they did not see that just two years ahead, the intimidation of a part for a part would come directly from the government itself. The best of patriots, in alarm, today query the terms and costs of preserving Nigeria.
You do not reduce the lion to the leopard’s caddie and expect a peaceful forest. It is difficult to understand the ways of the Muhammadu Buhari regime. There are deadly crises across the country with Fulani herdsmen as the common denominator. And the government’s solution to herdsmen’s fire is more fire from herdsmen. First, it was exclusive Fulani radio; now the regime is creating exclusive towns for herdsmen in all states –even where they have victims. It is not funny. Benue State has seven camps hosting 112,500 internally displaced persons. Taraba State has even greater number of IDPs. Both states are now being reinforced by the federal government with special, purpose-built settlements for the Fulani, a major side in the unceasing bloodletting there. The regime called the new creations Ruga – a Hausa-Fulani word for village.
Across West Africa today, the most popular term in security documents and discussions must be ‘Fulani.’ Killings and reprisal killings have pushed the Fulani name up the chart of safety concerns. United Nations figures say that in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, the Fulani versus others crises have claimed more than 1,200 with 4.2 million people displaced across the Sahel. In all these places, killings by Fulani and counter-killing of Fulani are shameful blitzes on the conscience of humanity.
If Google would be truthful, it would confirm a surge in searches on who the Fulani truly are. They are not many but they are making news, great and gory, everywhere across West Africa and the Sahel. Everywhere they inhabit, their creepy wisdom makes them the dominant voice in politics and policy. In Nigeria, they have President Buhari; in Senegal, they have President Macky Sall; in The Gambia, they have President Adama Barrow. The vice president of Sierra Leone, Dr. Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh is a Fulani, just as the prime minister of Mali, Dr. Boubou Cisse. They have used these seats to plant their own and sit pretty well in every international organization of consequence. Globally, they are just about 40 million –and are blessed beyond measure.
Historian M. Delafose in his 1912 account ascribed Judae-Syrian roots to the Fulani. He traced their movements across sandy hills, alleys and valleys, lands and rivers. He said when they “arrived in the region of the ancient Ghana, they found the country occupied by Sonnike (Wakore) but eventually became predominant and ruled as the ‘white race of Ghana’ from the 4th to the 8th centuries.” To be the ‘white race’ anywhere is to mould yourself into a super race –like Hitler’s Aryan master race.
A people with a famed tendency to crawl into and dominate their environment can’t be trusted by anyone with sense. That is the very reason the Ruga plan is suspect and is being resisted from the Middle Belt to the Atlantic. One scholar notes that at the beginning, “the Fulani movement in West Africa tended to follow a set pattern. Their first movement into an area tended to be peaceful. Local officials gave them land grants. Their dairy products and fertilizer were highly prized. The number of converts to Islam increased over time. With that increase, Fulani resentment at being ruled by pagans, or imperfect Muslims, increased. Then they revolted and overthrew the old order. Then followed what scholars describe as “the basic principle of Fulani ethnic dominance.” The ‘white race’ is a long distance trekker. The more of their guileful fingers you cut, the more they grow. You note that General Muhammadu Buhari contested in 2003 and lost. He tried again and again in 2007 and 2011 and met the hot iron wall of rejection. Then he talked to himself and remembered that he was a Fulani. He correctly read history, identified and befriended his ancestral political enemies – the Yoruba. He bewitched them with the same charm snakes use to pull in preys. They rallied round him, repaired and rebranded him as the ultimate friend of everybody. He got the prize but trashed his collaborators almost immediately after the conquest. Two years into the next campaigns, he remembered and bewitched them again. And again, he had them.
Political collaborators of today only need a little peep into history to behold the future that awaits them. Fulanis are smart in war and smarter in victory. Their victories in all wars always become ethnic triumphs. It was so in Ilorin between Afonja and the Jamaa. Even soon after Afonja’s horrific death at the hands of his friends, a successor Kakanfo who did not learn from Afonja’s fate replicated the disaster for himself. Aare Onakakanfo Edun of Gbogun betrayed his people in a war waged to remedy the Afonja tragedy. The invading Fulani force once again reaped the fruits of that betrayal. But how did it profit Edun? His Fulani friends soon confronted him with his own war and fate. History says at the subsequent Gbogun war, Edun’s Fulani friends pursued and caught him at a place called Gbodo. “His head was taken off, raised upon a pole and carried in triumph to their camp, and from thence to Ilorin.”
It happened also in Bauchi –the indigenous Hausa who fought shoulder-to-shoulder with them in the Jihad had their seats placed outside the palace of victory. In the Yola area of today’s North-East, a historian notes that after their victories over the Mandara kingdom, they “eased their Hausa collaborators from positions of power and forged alliances with fellow Fulani.” The area became Adamawa –named after their leader, Modibbo Adama.
The resistance to Buhari’s Ruga is rooted in the feeling of deja vu; a feeling that we’ve been here before and the experience was not pleasant. The one whose mother was killed by a snake would run at the sight of an earthworm. Or, put differently, if you know the ways of snakes and you behold an earthworm dancing like a snake, if you are wise, you will kill it like a snake.
A former member of the House of Representatives, Jonathan Asake, was on a television programme last Thursday. No one who isn’t in Buhari’s government would hear his words and dance to the Azonto beats of Buhari’s Ruga. Asake said that in 1987, the then government of Kaduna State approved Ruga settlements in the old Kachia Local Government Area which now comprises Zangon Kataf, Chikun, Kajuru and Kachia Local Government Areas. He said that the Fulani soon began to expand these settlements and today, some of them are being converted to Emirates. Listen to him: “I’m from Zangon Kataf Local Government Area in Kaduna State. We have what was established in 1987 as the Kachia grazing reserve in the then old Kachia Local Government which comprises Zangon Kataf, Chikun and Kajuru and Kachia Local Government Areas of today. That grazing reserve has been changed to Laduga. Laduga is actually a Fulani word and no indigene is there. The land has been taken over from the indigenes. And that place is now a big town, with big hospitals and roads. In fact, the last voter registration exercise there, two registration machines were put there. Today, they have a district head and they are asking for an emirate. It is just a model of what will happen tomorrow in this country when these settlements are established. You will have state constituencies in the state assembly established all over the country –strictly for Fulani.”
The Buhari regime is a mighty river coursing most headily towards tempestuous depths. The way this government stubbornly cooks broths of poison, ignoring every wise counsel, it is almost certain that nothing will stop it from that journey of finality. Why would you use collectively bestowed powers to settle your outsiders on the ancestral lands of others? There was a mindset which massed all state security powers in someone’s bedroom and created a radio for the president’s ethnic group. That mindset ignored all protests and allayed no fears of ulterior motives. It is now rudely putting Ruga trouble in everyone’s mortar to pound. Perhaps since the civil war, no other time has seen our country badly polarised as it is now.
If time has healed our old wounds, I am not sure that this regime’s insensitivity to the complexity of feelings of Nigeria’s ethnic nationalities has not reset the country to the rawness of the past. November 2, 1970, ten months after our civil war, the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in a report summed up Nigeria as “…still very much a tribal society, in which clan, tribal and regional jealousies, hostilities and interests count far more than national attachment.”
That was 49 years ago; nothing has changed. And nothing will change as long as fingers of ethnic insults recklessly rock the nation’s affairs.