MY HEART WENT OUT TO Alhaji Abass Njidda Tafida the other day. His plaintive cry attracted the sympathy of the listening world. Being the Emir of Muri in Nigeria’s Taraba State firmly situates him among the ruling class. But the rich also cry. The Muri emirate, like many other parts of the country, is under the stranglehold of terrorists — yes, the same criminals euphemistically referred to as ‘bandits’ by the authorities. Living a lie has its limits because what goes round always comes around.
There is nothing the emir said that others, north and south of the River Niger, have not said before. In the past, some people had always tried to insinuate an ethnic motive whenever the victims complained. Now that the underworld industry of kidnapping, rape, arson, looting, murder and ransom collection has reached full bloom in all parts of the country, perhaps the federal government will finally take positive steps in reaction to the message and not to the messenger.
For years, it had been widely alleged on social media that there was an upsurge in the mass migration of foreign Fulanis into Nigeria. Even when borders were closed during the COVID lockdown, trailer loads of French-speaking young men were seen making nocturnal trips to southern Nigeria. There are countless video clips of these migrations on social media. With time, highway killings and kidnapping for ransom held sway with many of the survivors alleging that their captors were mostly French-speaking Fulanis.
Those who don’t want the problem addressed said it was an attempt to profile the Fulanis of Nigeria negatively. But that is not true.
Admittedly, some of our political elites have been playing games with the issue. Take Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State, for example, who tried to justify the occupation of forests in Ondo State by Fulani herdsmen. Mohammed said Nigerian forests belong to nobody and that the herdsmen had a right to decide to live there.
Indeed, he expanded the issue to legitimise irregular migration of Fulanis from other countries into Nigeria: “The Fulani man is a global or African person. He moves from The Gambia to Senegal and his nationality is Fulani. As a person, I may have my relations in Cameroon but they are also Fulani. I am a Fulani man from my maternal side; we will just have to take this as our own heritage, something that is African. So, we cannot just close our borders and say the Fulani man is not a Nigerian. In most cases, the crisis is precipitated by those outside Nigeria. When there is a reprisal, it is not the Fulani man within Nigeria that causes it. It is that culture of getting revenge which is embedded in the traditional Fulani man that attracts reprisal.”
It is such statements that set up the Fulani for negative branding. It cannot be true that any ethnic group is lawless, revenge-driven and contemptuous of international boundaries. Is Nigerian citizenship automatic for any Fulani man from Mali, Chad, Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Niger and any other country? Does he operate under his own rules alone? Have all Fulanis repudiated the 1884-1885 Partition of Africa?
Following the same premise, will it be right for example, for millions of Yorubas from the Caribbean, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Brazil, Ivory Coast, Sierra-Leone and Latin America to breach Nigeria’s borders on account of their Yoruba-ness?
Would it be considered proper for Haitians of Igbo ancestry to mass-migrate to Nigeria because of ethnic affinity? Or isn’t it true that Haitians, in their traditional worship, appease the “Ibo Loa”, the deity originally believed to have come from the descendants of Ndigbos of Nigeria? Is he aware that there are Igbos in Gabon and that even the Gabonese president, Ali Bongo, was rumoured to have been a Biafran orphan adopted by former president Omar Bongo during the Nigerian civil war?
Hiding under the ECOWAS protocol to justify an attempt to tamper with the demographics of Nigeria is foolish, counter-productive and futile as we have seen so far.
Were the ever hilarious Chief Zebrudaya asked to intervene in this discourse, he would have croaked, “What are good for the goose are good for the gizzard!”
But this is no laughing matter. Last February, I advocated that Nigerian Fulanis have to speak up in denunciation of those foreign invaders so that the good name of the Nigerian Fulani would not be soiled. In my column, under the title, “Fixing the Fulani Brand”, I gave my perspective on the Fulani as follows:
“The Fulani that many southern Nigerians knew and affectionately interacted with for decades are different from the variant of the tribe committing sundry violent crimes today. When the AK47-wielding herders came on the scene and motley ethnic groups were falling over each other to support them and lampoon their victims, I did warn that grievous damage was being done to the Fulani brand because everything happening was totally at variance with the previous perception of the Fulani as a contented, hardworking and peace loving lot. If I was Fulani, I would have denounced those violent nomads for what they were. I would have screamed, “Not in my name!”
Thankfully, some Fulanis have been speaking up. Our unity of purpose is strengthened when we put ethnicity and religion and other parochial sentiments aside to affirm that what is bad cannot be good at the same time.
The Sultan of Sokoto has spoken up several times on the need to wipe out terrorists from the land. Soldier of conscience, Col. Abubakar Umar Dangiwa (Rtd), has also been proffering solutions to the problem. Dr Akeem Baba Ahmed has also been reaching across the tribal aisle, seeking to understand and to be understood.
But no one has spelt it all out so definitively as Emir Abass Njidda Tafida of Muri emirate in his Eid el Kabir sermon. He was obviously incensed, frustrated and devastated that his emirate had been laid waste by a band of violent wastrels. He may have sounded as if he was legitimising self-help. But the terrorists have pushed everybody to the wall. That was why the emir issued the 30-day ultimatum to the foreign Fulani elements to vacate the forests or be destroyed.
His words: “Our Fulani herdsmen in the forests, you came into this state and we accepted you, why then will you be coming to towns and villages to kidnap residents, even up to the extent of raping our women? If you are not a Muslim, let us know.
“From now onwards if anyone is kidnapped from this emirate, we will go into the bush and kill any Fulani man we see and we will not ask for his name or what he does because the Fulanis cannot say they do not know the kidnappers, they had better stop them.
“From now on, anyone caught conniving with kidnappers, we will kill him and his family members. Police should be warned! We have respect for them but when next they arrest someone conniving with kidnappers and they let the person go free, we will also arm the youth to protect the citizens.
“Because of this unending menace, every Fulani herdsman in this state have been given 30 days ultimatum to vacate the forests. We are tired of having sleepless nights and the hunger alone in the land is enormous and we will not allow this oppression to continue.”
You can feel his pain, his frustration, his feeling of helplessness. Of course, nobody is saying that lynch mobs should take over law enforcement in the country, but the right to self defence in the face of certain death is universally acknowledged. No one can accuse the emir of tribalism, religious discrimination or Fulaniphobia. We are all identically robed in the garment of victimhood. The least we can do is defend ourselves.
“When it comes to self defense”, says Kevin Shearer, “it is better to have the power and not need it than to need it and not have it.”
- Wole Olaoye is a public relations practitioner and a public affairs commentator and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org