NOTES FROM ATLANTA WITH FAROOQ KPEROGI
ON the surface, it sounds counter-intuitive, even ridiculously counterfactual, to suggest that an unreflective Fulani supremacist like Muhammadu Buhari is the single greatest threat to members of his ethnic group. But it’s true. Here is why.
Although I had always been aware of this fact, it was actually a Fulani person who caused me to develop a heightened consciousness of it. In a lengthy phone conversation last weekend, a cosmopolitan Nigerian of Fulani ethnicity shared with me his deep worries about the deepening animus toward the Fulani all over Nigeria.
In his 1983 pamphlet titled The Trouble with Nigeria, Chinua Achebe talked of “the national resentment of the Igbo.” If Achebe were alive, he would probably agree that the Fulani have displaced the Igbo from this position. In most parts of Nigeria today, the Fulani are feared, resented, reviled, and avoided like never before.
To be sure, inter-ethnic relations have always been intensely conflictual right from Nigeria’s founding, and fear of “Fulani domination” is an enduring anxiety in both the South and in the Christian North. But the sort of mass resentment of the Fulani that has enveloped the country in the last few years since Buhari has been “president” has no precedent.
My Fulani interlocutor attributed this to Buhari’s unprecedentedly explicit favouritism toward the Fulani even when, as he said, “the favouritism does nothing to advance the living conditions of the average Fulani person.” Bloody farmer/herder clashes aren’t new, but they took a different dimension when Buhari appointed himself as the chief defender of and spokesperson for Fulani herders where studied neutrality from him would have been helpful.
He initially said the Fulani don’t have guns, only carry sticks, and therefore couldn’t be responsible for the bloodstained violence attributed to them. When the facts later incontrovertibly contradicted his claim, he changed tack and said the Fulani who murdered farmers with guns weren’t Nigerian Fulani. He said they were foreign Fulani.
“These gunmen were trained and armed by Muammar Gaddafi of Libya,” he said. “When he was killed, the gunmen escaped with their arms. We encountered some of them fighting with Boko Haram.”
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Nevertheless, in the aftermath of a particularly horrendous mass slaughter in Benue, which provoked mass outrage in the country, Buhari told Benue elders who came to plead for his intervention, “I ask you in the name of God to accommodate your countrymen.” The murderers can’t simultaneously be foreign Fulanis “trained and armed by Gaddadafi of Libya” and be the “countrymen” of their victims in Benue.
Everyone in the Buhari regime took a cue from the “president”: whatever you may do and say, never blame the Fulani for anything. That was why presidential spokesman Femi Adesina, in defence of “cattle colonies,” once told Nigerians to choose between their land and their lives.
The former defence minister also routinely blamed incessant bloodletting in the land to the enactment of “anti-grazing laws” in some states of the federation. Never mind that violent upheavals between farmers and herders predated “anti-grazing” laws and that they episodically erupt even in states that have no such laws, including in far northern states.
A day after herders massacred more than 200 people in Plateau State in June 2018, the presidency issued the following statement: “According to information available to the Presidency, about 100 cattle had been rustled by a community in Plateau State, and some herdsmen were killed in the process.” No official investigation had been conducted when the statement was issued. The statement therefore came across as a knee-jerk defence of the herders by the presidency, which only inflamed passions.
Now, there is no difference between the president’s media team and Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association. The president’s media team now customarily issues press statements to defend herders and even justify or explain away mass murders committed by herders.
As I said earlier, there is no parallel for this sort of naked ethnic partisanship in Nigeria’s entire history.
When the O’odua People’s Congress (OPC) became a mass murdering machine of northerners in Yorubaland, President Olusegun Obasanjo never defended them even once, even though OPC was fiercely pro-Obasanjo at the time. He gave orders to shoot on sight any OPC thug who disturbed the peace. Even at that, we in the North weren’t impressed. We wanted him to do more.
Only former president Goodluck Jonathan is on record as having defended the terrorism of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND). In the aftermath of a terrorist attack in 2010, which MEND owned up to, Jonathan said, “We know those behind the attack and the persons sponsoring them. They are terrorists, not MEND. The name of MEND that operates in Niger Delta was only used. I grew up in the Niger Delta so nobody can claim to know Niger Delta than [sic] myself, because I am from Niger Delta.”
In an October 16, 2010 column titled “A MENDacious President,” I called out Jonathan’s “unreasoning ethno-regional chauvinism” and pointed out that no past president had ever defended the transgressions committed by his people so brazenly like he did. So did many other columnists. What we thought was Jonathan’s unexampled defence of the terrorism of his kinfolk has now paled in comparison with Buhari’s.
As my friend pointed out, when a father of many children, through his words and deeds, habitually shows undisguised preference to one child, he unwittingly exposes that child to envy, hatred, and even gang-up among his siblings. It’s a natural human instinct.
The “Ruga” initiative, which had been unwisely called “cattle colonies,” provoked raw emotions because it was perceived as yet another intentional act of parental indulgence to a favoured, pampered child to the exclusion of others.
Nevertheless, it helps to remember that the Fulani are just as human as anyone else, and there are several of them who are uncomfortable with the current state of affairs. But the current climate of unreasoning mass panic makes it seem like Fulanis are an undifferentiated collective of murderous villains. That’s both dangerous and inaccurate. Buhari shares the largest blame in this.
…Farooq Kperogi is a professor of Journalism based in the USA