29 June 2012

Nigeria: The Case for Settling Fulani Nomads


An armed mob recently stormed a police station in Udege, Nassarawa State and killed Umaru Muhammed and Adamu Sule, two Fulani herdsmen detained for grazing cattle on farmlands (Daily Trust, May 9, 2012, page 8).

In Ghana and South Sudan recently, nomads were attacked and killed by locals, who burnt their houses, stole their cattle and abducted their children for ransom. Within Nigeria, violence has erupted between nomads and farmers in Nasarawa, Taraba, Benue, Plateau and Adamawa states recently. Today, farmer-nomad conflict is second only to Boko Haram among dangers threatening Nigeria. What is the root cause, and is there a solution?

The Fulani were probably all nomads in times past, but some clans later settled in towns and villages (settled Fulani), while others continued nomadism (nomadic Fulani). The two groups are otherwise similar in all respects. However, while the settled Fulani see cattle-rearing as a hobby, the nomadic Fulani considers it a way of life.

It is not known when the Fulani first settled in Nigeria, but by 1535, they were living in Hausaland, and by the late 18th century, they had spread across Kanem Bornu and present-day Congo and Sudan. The rise of the Sokoto Caliphate further widened the gap between settled and nomadic Fulani. While the settled Fulani built new settlements, the nomadic Fulani took advantage of better grazing opportunities to spread across the West African Savannah. With the advent of colonialism, cattle-rearing was no longer practicable for the settled Fulani, whose towns had grown into cities and administrative centres. Instead, they imbibed western education in return for job opportunities in Native Authority administration and teaching. Today, some settled Fulani live in mansions in Abuja and Lagos, while their children study abroad. Father and son communicate with iPads, and only get to see cattle on television.

In contrast, the nomadic Fulani remain attached to cattle. They would set up tents in areas with abundant water and grass. When these dried up, they migrate to greener pastures, moving north or westwards when it is rainy season in the Savannah, and reversing direction during the dry season. Whenever others discuss the plight of nomads, they espouse the benefits of beef and milk to the Nigerian economy, and propose better cattle-routes to allow nomads move without hindrance. Perhaps, they do not realize the price nomads pay in pursuit of nomadism. For a perspective on nomadic lifestyle, i here quote a conference paper:

"Lack of a home, and grazing land for his cattle, has forced the nomad to move throughout his life. He and his family are exposed to extreme weather conditions under inadequate shelter. His children are born and brought up under ... (a constant) menace from snake bites and tsetse flies, (and) he has nowhere else to put his head. He lives on mud-water, and carries Guinea worm and other diseases. ... He is isolated from his compatriots, and therefore, enjoys no rights and privileges. (The nomad) lacks good water, access to health facilities, good roads and good food. He is driven from one place to another, either by fellow humans or by natural forces, sometimes resulting in losing his life or the lives of members of his family, or all, including his cattle" (Hamidu Alkali, In Gidado Tahir, 1991, Education and pastoralism in Nigeria).

Cattle routes and grazing reserves have existed in Nigeria since colonial times, but they still lack the basic amenities required for use. Due to official corruption and pressure on land caused by rising populations, a cattle route followed by a herd moving from North to South in October is filled with farmlands next June, making it impossible for the same herd to return to the North on that route. In most instances, this is the cause of farmer-nomad conflicts.

Conflicts aside, there is no justification for a nomadic existence in 21st century Nigeria. Yes, nomads exist in Canada, Scandinavia and Kenya, but the Innuits, the Lapps and the Massai all enjoy the benefits of modern life available to their countrymen, and are never lynched by farmer tribes. No doubt, beef and milk are invaluable to any society, but nomadism is not the only way to cattle-breeding. Among the world's largest beef exporters is Australia, where there no nomads, and cattle are bred by settled farmers who own large farms and use modern technology.

The government should settle our nomads and integrate them fully into Nigerian society. Our grazing reserves have enough capacity for millions of cows and humans, if amenities are put in place. Villages can be built within grazing reserves, with each having water reservoirs, schools, a health centre and an animal clinic. Settling the nomads will not only help improve literacy and reduce disease burden among that group, it will also free up cattle routes for local farmers, thus solving the problem of farmer-nomad conflicts permanently. Our past inaction has led to deaths. If we learn from that, perhaps Mohammed and Sule did not die in vain.

Alkali is Consultant Neurologist, National Hospital Abuja.

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