Dying for the cow to live – Greg Abolo

Dying for the cow to live – Greg Abolo

If you find southern Nigerians shaking their heads and breaking out a sad dirge, know that once again, Fulani herdsmen have shown up in a community, leaving in their wake the usual signature tune of sorrow, death and destruction.

To cap it all, the legislative arm of government is alleged to harbour on their attention list, a National Grazing Bill that seeks to appropriate the lands of peasant farmers in the country, specifically for cattle herders, at a time of heightened mistrust between the nomadic herdsmen and the sedentary crop farmers found in the lush green vegetation of the south and middle belt regions of the country. Note that there are zones that have not been the traditional homes of the nomadic Fulani.  

That is the proposition made by the federal government, to wean them off the morbid propensity for killing those who oppose their peripatetic lifestyle.

The arguments of the nomads seem compelling though. They say that the federal constitution grants them the right to inhabit anywhere in the country  they so desire and  carry on their  business in a peaceful atmosphere.

And they are absolutely correct.

Fulani in Northern Nigeria ~Historical Perspective

Unfortunately, their entrance into most communities has been anything but peaceful, going by recorded events dating back over two hundred years since their migration from the northern fringes of West Africa, especially the Futa Djallon Mountains in Mali and Senegal. They migrated  on the wave of a successful jihad or holy war to overthrow the indigenous Hausa kings, eliminate them and establish a Fulani dynasty that has lasted since 1804 till the present time.   

Shehu Usman Dan Fodio who led the  revolution  was a religious teacher, writer and Islamic promoter, and the founder of the Sokoto Caliphate. Dan Fodio was one of a class of urbanized ethnic Fulani living in the Hausa States in what is today, northern Nigeria . He was a leader who followed the Sunni Maliki school jurisprudence and Qadiri branch of Sufism.

Sokoto Caliphate
I9th Century Sokoto Caliphate

A teacher who lived in the city-state of Gobir until 1802 when, motivated by his reformist ideas and repression by local authorities, led his followers  in  a political and social revolution which spread from his base in Gobir throughout modern northern Nigeria and Cameroon , and was echoed in a Jihad movement led by the Fula ethnic group across West Africa.

Usman Dan  Fodio developed a critique of existing African Muslim elites for what he saw as their greed, paganism, violation of the standards of Sharia law, and use of heavy taxation.

His uprising was a major episode of a movement described as the Fulani hegemonies in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. It followed the jihads successfully waged in Futa Bundu, Futa Tooro, and Futa Djallon between 1650 and 1750, which led to the creation of those three Islamic states.

As Amir al-Muminin or Commander of the Faithful, he became a political as well as religious leader, giving him the authority to declare and pursue a jihad, raise an army and become its commander. A widespread uprising largely composed of the Fulani, who held a powerful military advantage with their cavalry (horses), started the jihad against Gobir in 1804.

This soon spread to the Hausa City States of Kano, Katsina , Zaria , including also Borno , Gombe , Adamawa , Nupe , and Ilorin . Soon all their indigenous rulers were executed to pave way for Fulani emirates.  After only a few years of the Fulani War ,Usman  dan Fodio found himself in command of the largest state in Africa, the Fulani empire.

Thus all Hausa states, parts of Nupe and Ilorin, and Fulani outposts in Bauchi and Adamawa were all ruled by a single politico-religious system.

From the time of Usman Dan Fodio to the British conquest at the beginning of the twentieth century, there were twelve caliphs. Their conquest of most parts of the North before the British arrived as colonizers, made them lords and masters of the present day northern Nigeria, up from the  Rivers Niger and Benue.

When the British came, they decided to rule the north of Nigeria indirectly through the political system they met, which was the emirate rulership, effectively stamping the authority of the Fulani rulers over most parts of northern Nigeria.

On  January 1st, 1914, the British Governor General of Nigeria, Lord Frederick Lugard amalgamated the North and South into one country with a law that whoever was found on Nigerian soil on that day , automatically became a citizen of the new nation, called Nigeria  .

Therefore whatever land the Fulani occupies today, was acquired either by conquest or purchase. Their history in Nigeria is about two hundred years old, whereas aboriginals have been here in the present day Nigerian territory for thousands of years.

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