Fulani rulers and herders, living a world apart

The Fulani nation is the only  ethnic group in West Africa that has produced Heads of State in at least five different African countries viz: the current President of Senegal, Macky Sall, the current President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, the present President of Gambia, Adamu Barrow, the current Vice President of Sierra Leone, Mohammed Jalloh, the former President of Cameroon, Ahmadu Ahidjo, the former President of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara, the former Prime Minister of Mali, Boubu Cisse, Diallo Telli a Fulani from Guinea-Conakry was the first Secretary General of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) now African Union (AU)

Other prominent Fulanis are Dame Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, Professor Jibril Aminu, former Minister of Petroleum and Education in Nigeria, Dame Kadaria Ahmed, a brilliant journalist, former President of ECOWAS, Ibn Chambas from Ghana  and countless others holding prominent positions in various fields worldwide.  This spread shows the phenomenon of the Fulani people, their prominence and clout across many countries.

Sheikh Usmanu Danfodiyo, a Fulani intellectual, reformist and Islamic Scholar established a theocratic Caliphate in today’s Northern Nigeria in the 18th Century and left a legacy which has lasted for over 200 years.

His descendants are today traditional rulers, governors, ministers, oil magnates, political leaders, who are at the top echelon of Nigeria’s society.  Fulanis have ruled Nigeria as President, Vice President or kingmakers for most of the 60 years of Nigeria’s Independence.

According to Fulani legend and folklore, the people migrated from the Futa Djalon Highland in Guinea-Conakry, where they constitute about 40 per cent of the population.  Although, they do not hold top political positions in Guinea-Conakry, they are the intellectuals, entrepreneurs, estate developers, business moguls, skilled artisans, professionals, mining magnates and technocrats. Their influence also extends to neighboring Sierra-Leone, where they hold high political positions.

The Fulani in Northern Cameroon, especially in Garoua, Maroua, Ngaoundere, Lagdo area constitute about 90 per cent of the population, and like their Guinean kinsmen are industrialists, business magnates, industrial farmers and intellectuals. The farmers grow maize, pineapples, bananas, cotton, cash and food crops. During my tour of duty in these countries, I did not observe cattle rearing as practised today in Nigeria. The  standard of living of the Fulani in most countries of their sojourn  falls within  the  middle and upper class range, except  in Nigeria, where there is a large population of  Fulani poor beggars, herders and thousands of Fulani street urchins (Almajiris).

If the Fulani are thriving and prospering in other countries but live in extreme poverty in Nigeria, the Fulani elite of Nigeria should be held responsible for this anomaly because they control the wealth of the Nigerian state, they control blue chip companies in the private sector and choice positions in the public and civil service. The Fulani elite in Nigeria have isolated themselves from their herder kinsmen and trivialized the plight of those who are herding and gathering as ‘their way of life or destiny.’ Fulani herders and poor are now hounded from state to state and community to community in Nigeria, accused  of being  responsible for  kidnappings, murders and all criminal  activities, irrespective of who committed the crimes.

Most of the Fulani herders unfortunately are pre-teens and teenagers, who should be in school. And this is particularly tragic because the poverty cycle will not end, except the children are educated. The kidnappings, killings attributed to Fulani herders may just be a tip off the iceberg of Nigeria’s security problems. It may even be diverting attention from the actual perpetrators of these crimes.

I can recall that, as far back as 1998 (23 years ago) bandits from Chad, mainly the defeated enemies of Idris Debby were terrorizing towns and travelers along the Baga-Monguno- Maiduguri road. It was extremely dangerous to travel at anytime of the day on that road axis. I was part of the Nigerian delegation that went to Baga- Borno State to set up the multinational task force with the armies of Chad and Niger republic to curb banditry in the region.  That was 11 years before the outbreak of the Boko Haram war and widespread insecurity in Nigeria.

The Chadian bandits with other terror groups have now migrated down south and to other parts of Nigeria, disguised as Fulani herders or hiding behind them to carry out military style operations which certainly cannot be the handiwork of pre- teens and teenage Fulani herders seen on the cattle trails all over Nigeria.  Of course, there are Fulani kidnappers and other copycat raiding bands that are making a lot of money by taking people hostage on the high ways or are accomplices to the crimes.

Kidnapping has become an all comers business and a free for all because of the weak security system and the minimal risk involved. Individuals have been busted for organising their own kidnapping to extort money from family members.

Fulani herders and poor are now fighting for survival in Nigeria and their salvation can only come from their affluent kinsmen, a challenge which hopefully they will undertake as a moral obligation. The herders must now be settled in ranches and the children enrolled in schools to break the poverty cycle and prevent them from swelling the ranks of insurgents. Fulani rulers have been accused of nepotism to favor the elite in their group. They should extend the same favoritism to the Fulani poor whose demands are basic and not beyond the reach of their more fortunate kinsmen

In any case, Fulani elites cannot be extricated from the stigma of the assumed crimes of Fulani herders, as both will be classified as offenders by omission or commission. The creation of ranches is now urgent because of the increasing hostility towards the herders. Several states in Nigeria can host the ranches, especially in the North, where there is an abundance of land. Niger State of Nigeria for example is almost three times the size of the five South Eastern States put together, about 24 times the size of Lagos State and about the same size as the entire South Western states of Nigeria. About 70 per cent of the land mass of Nigeria is in the North. The conflict over grazing land in Southern Nigeria which has limited space is therefore avoidable and unnecessary. However, the success of the ranching system in the North will encourage other states to willingly adopt this type of animal husbandry for economic reasons.

The enrollment of Fulani children in schools should be mandatory because of the enormous benefits and public good. This is achievable within a short period of time, if done in an imaginative and pragmatic manner.  Lagos State between 1979 to 1983 solved the problem of two shifts school day by building classrooms and expanding facilities in existing schools. This model should be adopted in solving the problem of large enrollment at a time and funding. The classrooms need not be five star facilities. In my cursory research, 1.5 million naira or 3,000 USD can build and furnish a classroom, which will accommodate 30 children. Fifteen million naira (30,000 USD) will build 10 classrooms for 300 children, 150 million (300,000 USD) for 3000 children, three million USD will put 30,000 children in schools, etc. Thereafter, new schools could be built with modern facilities to accommodate more children.

Fulani elites and other well meaning Nigerians and philanthropists could build and donate the classrooms in batches of two, 10, 20 or 100 directly or through their philanthropies. At least, that was what a handicapped woman, Madam Omotunde, who with her little means built a school for the children of handicapped people like herself at Karamajiji, behind the national cemetery, along the airport road in Abuja.  There are over 200 children of destitute people in the school, who are not paying school fees. Let Fulani billionaires emulate this poor woman and take action. It is not enough to talk about a problem or lament about it. What is needed now is positive action, by walking the talk.

In conclusion, Fulani rulers of Nigeria cannot run away from their responsibilities towards their poor kinsmen. They should emulate the good example of other tribal leaders, who are very protective of their underprivileged. MACBAN (Miyeti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria and the Sarki Fulanis in communities should be commended for standing out to represent the interests of Fulani herders. But, their efforts are not enough to handle the huge existential problem of the herders in Nigeria. Fulani rulers must get involved. Distancing themselves from the crisis is unhelpful and morally wrong. Fulani herders must be integrated into the mainstream of the Nigerian social and economic society. They must be given the opportunity to live a normal dignified life in Nigeria.


  • Ambassador Akinkuolie, Director  of Trade, Investment and Policy in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Abuja, sent this piece


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