The recent outburst of the Fulani herdsmen crisis has created a disparity between the three major ethnic groups, which, according to scholars, is leading to secession. Many controversies have been generated about the reason for the sudden crisis of the Fulani, as they are known in the history of Nigeria as pastoralists.
Fulani herdsmen, as the name implies, are people whose primary occupation is breeding livestock and who are based largely in the Sahel and semi-arid parts of West Africa. However, according to research, Fulani herdsmen have continued to move south into the savannah and tropical forest belt of West Africa as a result of civilization.
Fulani herdsmen are now found in countries like Nigeria, Niger, Senegal, Guinea, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, and Cameroon, among others. Research has it that they live in the southeastern and northeastern regions of Senegal. Also, their minority group known as the Fula are found in several of these nations.
According to the most recent Index study, Fulani herdsmen’s attacks in Nigeria between 2020 and 2021 claimed thousands of lives across five Nigerian states, primarily in the Middle Belt of the country rather than the Boko Haram-dominated north. Additionally, they have a history of planning strikes in the Central African Republic, especially in West Africa, which has been labelled part of the cause of socio-economic problems in the country.
In this piece, Naijabiography examines the history of the Fulani herders and the foundation story of the Fulani herder crisis.
The Muslim theocracy known as the Fulani Empire ruled over Western Sudan throughout the 19th century. Furthermore, in the 14th century, the Fulani, a people of unknown ancestry, migrated from Futa Toro in Lower Senegal to the east. By the 16th century, they had settled at Macina, known as the upstream from the Niger Bend, by the Niger River and were moving eastward into Hausaland.
Some moved to Adamawa in the nineteenth century, which is located in northern Cameroon. Many Fulani continued to live pastoral lifestyles. However, some, especially in Hausaland, gave up their nomadic lifestyles, made their homes in established urban areas, and converted to Islam.
Usman dan Fodio (1754–1817), a Fulani Jihad leader, who resided in the northern Hausa state of Gobir (known as the northeast of Sokoto), fought with the local authorities in the 1790s. History has it that he incited the Hausa people to revolt by decrying the Hausa kings as little more than pagans. The jihad, or holy war, swept over Hausaland and, repulsed only by the eastern kingdom of Kanem-Bornu, encompassed Adamawa, Nupe, and Yorubaland to the south. Therefore, it was joined by both Hausa commoners and Fulani pastoralists. The northeastern emirate of Ilorin was chosen as the hub for the introduction of Islam among the Yoruba following the Fulani invasion of the northern provinces of Oyo.
After the Jihad war, Usman, who was more of a scholar than a statesman, gave his son Muhammad Bello, who settled at Sokoto, practical control over the eastern portion of the empire, and gave his brother Abdullahi control over the western, with its capital at Gwandu. All three of them kept up the Fulani criticism of Bornu. He, like Usman, governed the empire in accordance with the laws of Islam and brought it to its height. The collapse of this structure helped the British establish control over what would eventually become known as Northern Nigeria in the late 19th century, although they started migrating to the North around the 13th and 14th centuries.
The history of the Fulani people gave birth to the Fulani herders, whose lives and careers are based on breeding livestock and are, according to research, known for providing meat and some other agricultural products to Nigeria. However, the history of the Fulani herders can be traced to the 19th century, when the indirect rule system was the order of the day.
Following that, Fulani pastoralists started to drive their cattle towards the Middle Belt zone, which is dominated by non-Hausa populations, during the dry season when the tsetse fly population is reduced, returning to the north at the start of the rainy season. But occasionally, when driving cattle and maintaining the herd, cattle would graze on farmlands, destroying the crops and creating a cause of tension.
The Land Use Act of 1978 was put into effect in Nigeria, giving the state or federal government the authority to assign and lease land. Indigenes also had the option to apply for and receive a certificate of occupancy in order to claim ownership of their ancestral lands. History has it that most pastoral Fulani did not apply for rights of occupancy of their grazing routes, and because of their frequent transhumance movements, others’ holdings were invaded.
Therefore, this puts them in a precarious situation. Conflicts have not decreased despite the Nigerian government’s construction of some areas as grazing routes. Conflicts between farmers and pastoralists resulted in roughly 121 fatalities in the states of Bauchi and Gombe between 1996 and 2006.
Meanwhile, the traditional herding family is a pastoral Fulani community. This is because the family members are assigned different tasks based on their ages and genders. According to research, men’s primary tasks include managing the herd, locating grazing areas, constructing tents and camps, and producing weapons like knives, bows and arrows, and guns for security purposes. On the other hand, the women in the unit do typical gender duties for women, such as buying food at the market, milking cows, weaving, and producing mats. Some women prefer to work in agriculture, like keeping chickens and growing vegetables.
Research has shown that in nations like Nigeria, cattle make up the majority of the Fulani herd, with camels being the least favoured species. About 60% of cattle are female, making up the majority of the livestock; male species are typically eliminated by selling them.
Herdsmen from the Fulani ethnic group travel between herds at random and on purpose. Also, purely nomadic Fulani herdsmen typically wander at random, whereas semi-nomadic pastoralists normally migrate on a schedule. Reaching regions with enough grass and water for the cattle is one of the main causes of the herdsmen’s migration.
As a result of this, ranchers also travel to avoid tax collectors, dangerous insects, bad weather, and an unfavourable social climate. However, to the Fulani herdsmen, maximizing food resources for the cattle and minimizing overgrazing are two important advantages of the movement. Because of this, the herdsmen, therefore, deploy a reconnaissance party before going to a new place to check the land for the presence of resources like grass and water.
According to research, because of environmental factors that limit the amount of land that can be used for agriculture, which results in less fierce rivalry for land between farmers and herders, Fulani pastoralists have historically grazed in areas near the arid Sahel regions of West Africa. Fulani pastoralists are now in conflict with farmers for grazing routes as a result of their progressive southerly migration to the Guinea savanna and tropical forest regions following repeated droughts in the arid Sahel regions. Along with population growth, farmers have relocated further north.
Fulani Herders’ Attack in Nigeria
The conflicts between herders and farmers in Nigeria have a long history and can be traced back to the pre-colonial era, before the 1900s. However, due to population pressures, climate change, and a number of other causes, these conflicts have significantly worsened recently. History has it that herders and farmers used to collaborate on a system known as burti during the British colonial era. Under this system, local authorities, farmers, and herders mutually agreed to set up designated migration routes for herders. The burti system, however, broke down around the 1970s as tensions grew as farmers asserted control of more and more property along cattle movement routes.
While previously herders were unable to keep their cattle on a large scale due to tropical diseases in humid climate zones, modern treatments have also made it possible for herders to migrate their livestock further south into the “tsetse fly zone” in the south.
However, the Tsetse management initiatives, beginning with those started by the British colonial authorities, have lessened the risk of illnesses like trypanosomiasis. In order to keep their animals alive, herders can now easily acquire medications for trypanosomiasis and dermatophilosis. Herders have also interbred trypanosome-intolerant zebu cattle with trypanosome-tolerant humpless varieties during the past few decades, enhancing the cattle’s resistance to tropical diseases.
All of the above-listed factors have made it possible for Fulani herders to migrate widely into Nigeria’s southern regions, where there is a high demand for beef and other meat products in the country’s populated southern towns and cities, making it simple for them to sell their livestock for higher prices. They would, however, run into sedentary people in the south who have never before interacted amicably and coexisted with nomadic herders.
Research reveals that more than 19,000 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands more have been displaced as a result of farmer-herder violence since the Fourth Nigerian Republic was established in 1999. It was part of a trend that saw farmer-herder conflicts rise across much of the western Sahel as a result of an increase in agriculturists and cultivated land at the expense of pasturelands, resulting in deteriorating environmental conditions, desertification, as well as soil degradation, population growth, and the failure of traditional conflict resolution mechanisms for land and water disputes, which led to the spread of small arms and crime in rural areas.
Many people have developed ethnic and tribal militias and self-defense units as a result of violence and insecurity, which has resulted in additional violence. Reports gathered affirm that the majority of farmer-herder conflicts have involved Muslim Fulani herdsmen, escalating tensions.
Research has shown that conflicts between farmers and Fulani herdsmen have resulted in the deaths of over 121 people in the states of Bauchi and Gombe between 1996 and 2006. Furthermore, since 2016, battles between farmers and semi-nomadic herders have claimed thousands of lives.
According to reports, there is no getting around the fact that the herders have representatives in different regions of the country, whom they receive directives. In addition, the Fulani herdsmen are represented in Nigeria through advocacy organizations like Miyetti Allah.