A LETTER TO MY FULANI BROTHERS AND SISTERS
By Abdallah Jalo Abba
Dear Fulanis, I am writing this fully aware that this might never get to the Fulani herders journeying in forests. That is why I’m precisely writing in English instead of Fulfulde, hoping the educated amongst us will accept my message and join hands as we push to help our nomadic brothers.
Rest assured, I know we like to talk about nomadic cattle herding in glowing nostalgic terms. Still, over the years, this practice has only exposed our nomadic brothers and sisters to agony and a harsh lifestyle in their attempt to live an impossible 17th-century life in the 21st century. Sincerely, this isn’t bravery but naivety.
Nomadism harms our Fulani cousins more than anyone. I won’t talk about the needless loss of lives this archaic practice has caused since almost everyone is aware of that. I will instead concentrate on the health and socio-economic dangers this primitive practice has brought to our brothers.
As I write this, more than two million of our tribespeople are illiterates and do not own a house due to their lifestyle. However, this isn’t surprising since a nomad cannot own a home or go to school if he’s always on a perpetual journey from Borno to Enugu.
Hitherto, our nomadic brothers die of snakebites, infectious diseases and fever. They live in the rain and under the scorching sun and naturally cannot vote during elections. They sleep out in open areas or in rare situations in thatched makeshift accommodation (for the lucky among them), both of which expose them to tsetse flies and mosquitoes. When they get sick, they lack access to medical care like you and I, thereby risking losing their lives because of their chosen lifestyle.
The nomads drink from polluted water sources contaminated with human faeces; the raw milk they drink carries dangerous bacteria, leading to food poisoning. In addition, they get respiratory diseases because of the dust they inhale while travelling in bushes and unfairly get extorted from security agencies.
Their children are born and raised under impoverished circumstances. They get driven from one place to another by fellow humans or natural forces. Often, this results in the loss of their lives or that of members of their family and/or their cattle.
Selfishly, sedentary Fulanis who live in cities and enjoy housing, electricity, decent water and healthcare like myself are the proponents of nomadic cattle-herding today. How convenient.
So, this same Town-Fulanis who send their kids to school want children of nomads as young as seven years old to continue chasing cows from Sokoto to Enugu and get paid N6000 every month. I know some of you may think this is mere exploitation, but I know slavery whenever I see it.
Obviously, nomadic cattle-herding in Nigeria is impossible. A country with a fast-growing population dependent on farm produce for sustenance cannot accommodate this practice because of the pressure on land and other resources.
A cattle route followed by a herd moving from Northern Nigeria to the South during the dry season is already filled with farmlands come rainy season, making it impossible for the same pack to return to the North via the same route. The problems are too many.
Indeed, it is northern states that have land for cattle grazing. So, it’s astonishing that our brothers choose to travel south where they’re desperately hated and where land is relatively scarce in search of greener pasture they already have in abundance in the North.
Undoubtedly, the land is the most precious of commodities, and land is what the North has and what the South lacks.
Borno state with a surface area of (70,898Km. Sq.) is 11 times the size of Abia state (6,320km. Sq). Niger state with a land area of (76,363km Sq) is 22 times the size of Lagos (3,345 km. Sq).
The entirety of Ondo state and its forest reserves that Governor Akeredolu has been losing sleep over is only (15,500 Km. Sq), meaning you can remove four Ondo states and four Lagos states in one Niger state. In fact, the entire southeast boasts of only (41,440Km. Sq).
So, can anyone calmly explain to me why cattle herding is more viable in Ondo and not Niger or Borno states?
This nomadic lifestyle has only brought hardship and suffering, turning our cousins into cheap and easily disposable labour, which has left them in extreme poverty of millennial dimensions and with no access to decent water, electricity, housing and healthcare.
Against this backdrop, the privileged and educated amongst us should advocate for the settlement of nomads, so they and their children can also attend school, watch TV, sleep in a conducive environment like ours and generally achieve economic emancipation.
Doing that will improve literacy and reduce disease burden among our cousins, thereby freeing up more land to farmers and generally solving the problem of farmer-herder conflicts permanently.
When we do all that, children of the retired nomads will become doctors in our Medical Centers, Engineers in our factories and lawyers that’ll represent us when people from other social groups seek to malign our loved ones or us.
Like it or not, we cannot disconnect ourselves from the advancement of the 21st century and peacefully coexist with people of this age. So, the earlier we abolish this archaic and primitive practice of chasing cows from pillar to post, the better for everyone – and more so for our landless tribe members.
Abdallah Jalo Abba is a Fulani and Engineer from Yola. He sent this article via firstname.lastname@example.org.