At a Forum of Northern and Southern Leaders which held recently, I was invited by the organising committee to make a presentation on the causes and solutions to the spate of killings in Nigeria. My presentation was to last between 10 to 15 minutes.
Unfortunately, when I was called up to speak, I was informed that I had one minute to make the presentation as the organisers were pressed for time. I had to rearrange my thoughts within that one minute and as I started laying out the bare outlines of my thoughts, I was told my time was up.
The result was that what I intended to put out, starting from a historical point about national security and then do an analysis of the culture of the Fulani ethnic group, had the effect of portraying me as denigrating my brothers of Fulani extraction. That was not my intention. I thought that if I had just a little more room to waggle, I would have proceeded to the strengths of the tribal group from which we would draw out solutions to the spate of killings. My aim was to put the spate of killings in Nigeria today in the proper historical perspectives while proffering enduring solutions to the menace, giving my insights into what is going on in Zamfara State.
After the event, a number of young Fulani compatriots met me as I walked out of the hall and, expectedly, did not have kind words for me. I understand and I apologised. The little space given to me by the organisers did not grant me the room to say what I wanted to say and I crave this space to try a dispassionate discussion of the causes of the rampant killings in the country today and proffer, what I consider, the best measures to tackle the problem. This, in the main, was what I had prepared to say at the summit for which time became an inhibitor.
For a proper understating, a historical excursion is necessary. And it is important to point out that because herdsmen are widely believed to be mainly of Fulani stock, a discussion of the culture and world view of this ethnic group will be made. I believe that it is in the interest of the public that we have this discussion for a fuller understanding of the problems that assail us as a nation.
While it is conceded that the actions of a few misguided persons whose intent do not conduce to the health of the society cannot be a complete basis for a discussion that affect the whole, a general pattern of behaviour can be gleaned, however, from the actions of the few. This is not in the least intended as a referendum on the culture and traditions of the Fulani, but because, rightly or wrongly, the ethnic group has featured rather prominently in the discussions about the spiral of killings, whether as a group, or by a component part of it, or hijacked by a criminal syndicate unknown or in dissonance with the objectives of the group, it is important to understand the ethnic dimensions of the phenomenon.
Causes of armed banditry
The factors responsible for the current spate of killings, cattle rustling, armed robbery, kidnappings, raping and maiming of innocent citizens in rural areas are multifaceted as they are multidimensional. Banditry, at least in the colours we now see it as typified by the killings in Zamfara, began following the depleting of Fulani-owned herds of cattle.
Initially, this depletion was consequent upon recurring payment of large sums of money for the settlement of cases to the police to secure the bail of children or siblings of herdsmen, who, while herding cattle, were involved in clashes with farmers or, in clashes among themselves. The native courts and the police realised the aversion to detention or imprisonment by the Fulani and capitalised on this to threaten detention or imprisonment at the slightest sign of disagreements in order to extort. This aversion itself is a result of the cultural belief that being deprived of the freedom to move about, any kind of imprisonment or detention, attracts calamity to the family. It is a belief steeped in culture.
The belief in most Hausa communities is that this extortion by native authorities and police, exploiting the aversion to detention, was the immediate cause of cattle rustling. The Fulani peasants lost their herds by means of the factors specified above, and also by their contact with modernity’s social interactions. It is believed that for this category of peasants, having had their flocks depleted trying to save their kith and kin from police and court exploitation, decided that no other ethnic group, especially the kado (derogatory word for Hausa and other non fulani blacks) would keep herds of cattle while theirs have been unfairly deprived.