I am Fulani

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You ask how I feel about events and circumstances which shape my life and define my identity today. First, let us be clear. I do not want your pity or any more hostility from fellow Nigerians. Like you, I want peace and progress, but not at all cost. I am strong enough to fight my battles, but too weak to defend myself against hostilities I have no remedies for. I am on the edge. I cannot stay here for much longer, and if I fall over, I will take a lot with me to the bottom. I am Fulani, a villain and a victim. I am running out of options, and out of space to run or live.

I am Fulani, and my world is closing in on me. This is the world that bears my imprint in every part of its fabric and economy and history. I am rooted irretrievably into the foundations of much of what is Nigeria, West Africa and the Sahel. I am a creature of an ecosystem and a lifestyle that makes me a king here, and a pastoralist on the fringes of existence there. My fortunes change with politics and the choices I have made in the course of the last few decades. Like you, I have pride in my culture, shaped by the twin demands to seek peace and accommodation or fight to survive and live with some dignity. Unlike most Nigerians today, I am vilified and demonized, in most cases, just for being Fulani. I cannot change my ethnic identity, but I understand the realities which demand that I affect changes in the manner I earn my livelihood. What I will not do is submit to prejudice

I am Fulani. You may not be not interested in history, but you must know this. Today you know me more as a kidnapper, bandit and the herdsman who fights farmers for their land. This nation which ignores history gives no credit to the roles of the Fulani and Hausa in the making of modern Nigeria. Throughout the last century,I, Fulani, stood tall, the mobile guardian of one of the nation’s greatest asset, its livestock economy, and a proud pillar of a nation of great promise. My blood runs in large quantities in most groups in Nigeria. Until recently, I have been the beneficiary of goodwill, and I have contributed to every community’s growth. Today I am a fugitive in the nation I helped build and feed.

am Fulani, stereotyped, profiled and typecast as the embodiment of evil and purveyor of fear and terror. I am everyone’s nightmare, a threat on highways and farming villages, a danger to all with just my cattle and sticks. A decade ago, I was just one of the many communities in Nigeria eking a living in an increasingly violent environment that was changing faster than our leaders were fleecing it. I was the soft underbelly of a nation that had lost control over the security of citizens. Millions of our cattle were rustled, substantially wounding the very heart of our existence as a people. The nation took little notice. We turned on each other and discovered the power of AK47.The nation took little notice. We moved into safer areas, but we met hostility and walls where routes and open arms used to be. Between shrinking land for herding and expanding hostility in parts where we could not survive without goodwill and cooperation, we were boxed into a permanent fighting mode. The nation labelled us fighting herders, and it did not matter if we were the victims or the aggressors.

I am Fulani. You will not see much of me on social or other media, but I am in all your lives. Many of our people have taken to crimes and drugs and the Fulani race was their first victim. Leaders who should stand up for us, the Sultan, Emirs, politicians including the President and governors and legislators who should understand us speak in hushed or confused tones. No one seems to have the courage to defend us openly when we are wronged; distance us from odium that is undeserved; proffer practical and urgent solutions that involve us; or stand up for us when we are bullied, harassed or chased all over the nation. Our law-abiding people cannot visit markets without being lynched in many parts of the North. Our women cannot go to hospitals. Our young do not go to schools. We cannot travel in vehicles without being stopped and arrested. Hundreds of our people are missing. We dare not ask the police what happened to them. More and more of our young are enticed by the easy money that comes from kidnapping, rustling and banditry, while others are taking up arms to fight Hausa and other vigilante groups who treat every Fulani as enemy.

I am Fulani, and I am tired of running. A huge part of Nigeria says it does not want to see Fulani, only the meat from his cattle. The part that cannot distance itself from us lacks the political will and the imagination to find a solution to our problems. Our most natural habitat, the North, has everything it takes to keep us herding and ranching in any shape or form. Now northern leaders are being told by people chasing us out that they cannot design solutions even in their own region. And, just to be sure, we Fulani are not idiots. We understand the challenges of ecology, expanding human and cattle population and growing urbanization. We can tell politics which whips up sentiment against us from one that is indifferent. We are used and abused by politicians like all Nigerians, and our army of self-styled leaders will win global prizes for selling out their people. Like all Nigerian communities, we are growing a sense of collective destiny and a consciousness that suggests that fighting is the only means to peace.

Our young are getting restive. We are angry at a nation that leaves us at the mercy of all types of problems, including some which we create. We are angry at communities that chase us out without any provocation. We are angry at a leadership which appears helpless in the face of dangerous provocations that single us out and allow other groups erect barriers and cages around us. We see Nigerians from other parts of the country who sell drugs to our youth, guns and bullets to the criminal elements among us, who share in the thriving kidnapping and rustling industry and in many other ways also corrupt our basic cultural values. We have not heard a single demand that members of these communities leave, or a sweeping indictment of their entire communities.

You ask what I will do. I am not running any more. I want peace and the opportunities and rights that accrue to me as a Nigerian. Those who want peace should leave me in peace. I am a better citizen when I am protected along with my cattle. I recognize the rights of all other Nigerians to their peace and the means to grow and develop. There must be a way all of us can live in peace and pursue our livelihoods in this country. I will not be sacrificed to feed ethnic pride. I am Fulani. I am Nigerian. It will be a terrible mistake to think I can be cleansed.

Abubakar wrote this piece from Abuja

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