Critical Conversations

Politics, Security and the Criminalization of the Fulani

The media and the biased representations that have spread over the years have normalized the criminalization of the Fulani ethnic identity through the propagation of the unsavory “Fulani herdsmen” connection. The Fulani herdsmen have been blamed for all the evil engulfing all the states in the Southwest region.

Far worse than it is, a good number of people have raised the blame game to a crescendo, insisting that the Fulani people are responsible for the overall problem in Nigeria. Many hold this view just to spite the man at the centre, who, for the love of country and nationhood has done nothing but serve the people.

Against this backdrop, Lauretta Onochie, media aide to President Muhammadu Buhari, recently described as evil, the generalization of the Fulani ethnic group as criminals.

The media aide to the president noted that criminalizing Fulani herdsmen because you don’t like Buhari’s face is evil. She made the statements in reaction to a statement by human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN) that all kidnappings are traced to Fulani herdsmen. In the words of Onochie:

“If Emeka, Chijioke and Adanma commit crimes in any state, Emeka, Chijioke and Adanma alone are arrested and charged. Not Ndigbo.

“If Adeleke, Ayodele and Iyabo commit crimes in any state, Adeleke, Ayodele and Iyabo alone would usually be arrested and charged. Not the Yoruba nation. However, when the criminal is Musa, Aliyu or Ibrahim, the whole Fulani nation is guilty. Sometimes, Fulanis who have lived in the area for decades are made to suffer the consequences of crimes committed by others. Why is this? They are Fulanis, President Buhari’s ethnic group.”

The criminalization of the Fulani ethnic group is what is described in philosophy as fallacy of defective induction. In normal parlance, it is called faulty generalization which ordinarily defies logic and reasoning. It is a conclusion made about all based on a few instances or experiences. Most times, people who reason using hasty genralisations will conclude that everybody from a particular country is corrupt because of their encounters with some corrupt persons from that particular country.

In light of this, Mrs. Onochie strongly faults any case of pitting any crime on a particular ethnic group. According to her, “If there is an ethnic or community clash where lives and properties are lost, we pick and choose which to lay on the doorsteps of the Fulanis, President Buhari’s ethnic group, in order to satisfy the craving for more bitterness and hatred towards the president.”

Noting that there is no tribe that is free of bad eggs, the media aide to the president maintained that “criminalizing an ethnic group because you don’t like President Buhari’s face is nothing short of evil and fishing for more trouble.”

It is imperative to mention that the gory clashes with farmers in the Southwest or Middle Belt aren’t entirely a matter of religion or region. They are simply age-long farmer/herder clashes. This is because cattle herding Fulanis are mostly neither Muslims nor Christians. Their religion is mainly the welfare of their cattle.

Besides, the cattle-herding Fulanis don’t recognize Nigeria’s prevailing geopolitical demarcations. That is, they are invariably not Northerners.

The Fulanis who have lived in the South for ages do not see themselves as Northerners living in the region. They have lived there prior to the amalgamation of the different Nigerian regions into a nation-state. Ideas of Southern Nigeria and Northern Nigeria are strange to the Fulani herder and have little or no meaning for him. That is why they are referred as transhumant pastoralists.

The Fulani people are the most widely dispersed ethnic group in West Africa. Although they dominate the cattle herding trade, they are not all cattle herders, and most cattle herders aren’t violent and murderous. Nor are all cattle herders Fulani. The Fulani nomads who destroy communities not only in Nigeria but throughout West Africa, do not have any sense of affinity with any modern nation-state. They are largely untouched by the impact of modernity, and feel they owe no allegiance to any overarching primordial, regional or religious identity.

But there are also other Fulani herders who plant roots in communities and live peacefully with their hosts. They are different from the blood-thirsty, marauding citizens without frontiers who inflict violence on farming communities, not only in the Southwest, but also across West Africa.

The media has to state clearly between the two when they criminalize Fulani herdsmen. People must understand that it is the herders with no sense of geographic rootedness that are perpetrating the crimes in the region of the Southwest and not the bucolic Fulani herders, who live peacefully in their host communities.

Meanwhile, the general rhetoric from detractors and critics of the president has always been that he has failed Nigeria and her people. And now that the opportunity to further discredit him has presented itself they are having a field day. Philosophers consider this the Ad Hominem or “At the Person” Fallacy. Because one does not like a person, they are judged from the bias and sentiments of the other person’s paradigm, while refusing to acknowledge any significant argument, contribution or stride of that individual in question.

Some of the people who lampoon the president and resort to criminalizing his ethnic group at every slight opportunity nurse the animosity largely because their position that he has failed runs contrary to what is obtainable in objective reality.

Such things as Nigeria’s insecurity are latched upon but then according to Onochie, “an international “ombudsman” organization, released statistics showing that in spite of security challenges, Nigeria is safer under this government than the previous.”

This has warranted the shift to the economy where most of the criticisms are false. With the pandemic and a downturn in the world economy, the IMF announced that Nigeria had moved from the 46th to the 25th best economy, while still maintaining her first spot in Africa. In the words of the social media aide, “this has angered them”.
“They rarely give it a mention. It was not what they wanted for Nigeria and Nigerians as they wallow in their mud of disappointment.”

The question that is perhaps important to ask is: have Nigerians now gotten to the point where they extol anything that attempts to discredit the man at the center and feed the idea that he intends to subordinate the larger interests of the country to the hegemonic interests of his co-religionists and clansmen? What manner of bitterness and hatred can explain the latch on any opportunity that brings to further disrepute the man at the centre? When will Nigerians rise above the propaganda that continues to divide us as a nation?

The Fulani have been blamed for all the evil going on in the regions in the Southwest. All manners of allegations have been claimed ranging from kidnapping to atrocious crimes as rape, banditry and persistent killings. The general conclusions are that the Fulani Herdsmen are responsible for all the kidnappings, banditry, and crisis heating up the Southwestern states of Oyo, Ekiti, and Ondo.

In Oyo, Ibarapa Local Government Area of the State, residents of Igangan recounted their ordeals in the hands of Fulani herdsmen upon the state government’s delegation to the town. According to the community leaders, they had paid a total of N50m as ransoms for kidnappings carried out by herdsmen in the community. A statement by Mr. Taiwo Adisa, Chief Press Secretary to the state governor, revealed that asides the payment of N50m as ransoms, not less than 15 women were raped by herders in the town in recent weeks. The community presented to the delegation, pictures and other evidence of ransoms paid to the herdsmen. They further accused the Seriki Fulani of complicity in the negotiation of ransoms.

Read Also: Fulani Herders Crisis: Reality Check on Nigeria’s Unity

While the allegations are strong and may be probable, it is equally uncharitable to generalize it to the whole Fulani tribe to the discredit of the President. As the commissioner of Police, Mrs. Ngozi Onadeko, who led the delegation accompanied by other senior police officers, stated, “It does not matter where you come from –whether you are from Igbo, Yoruba or Hausa. Actually, we have the good and bad ones everywhere.”

Criminality should not be ascribed only to a particular ethnic group. It cuts across all the ethnic groups, and ought not to be pitted on one. To condemn criminality is just, but to generalize on account of one is greater injustice.

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