This writer’s knowledge of Miyetti Allah has simply been that of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders’ Association (MACBAN). Will his perception change? Well, kindly read on to find out. For want of clarity, MACBAN is a loosely partisan advocacy group which promotes the welfare of Fulani pastoralists in Nigeria. Headquartered in Kaduna, the organisation was founded in the early 1970s but became operational in 1979. However, it was not until 1987 that the socio-cultural association which represents the interests of almost 100,000 semi-nomads and nomads in Nigeria, gained wider acceptance as an advocacy group across the country.
In the 1970s membership was drawn from Kaduna and Plateau States. Little wonder then, one Muhammadu Sa’adu who was born in Jos but raised in Kaduna headed the organisation. He was strategic in canvassing for new members to populate the body. Although meetings were irregular, they gradually started having branches in other states. Common themes for the Miyetti Allah group include advocacy for nomadic education and acquiring grazing reserves for members since pastoralists like roving about.
In recent years, the association has been in the eye of the storm. This is largely due to the farmer-header conflicts in the Middle Belt Region and other parts of the country. While their cattle are dear to them like an only child, farmers are equally passionate about their farm produce. The impasse between the duo is occasioned by destruction of crops by herders and killing of cattle by farmers which often leads to mutual attacks. Painfully, between 2010 and 2015, reports have that 6,500 lives were lost and 62,000 others were displaced from their homelands in 850 recorded violent clashes between herdsmen and farmers in the Middle Belt Region of the country.
While Miyyeti Allah continues to promote the welfare of Fulani pastoralists, there is an increase in the incidence of farmer-herder conflicts. In the midst of this, from 2011, cattle rustling became a booming business. These unsavory realities have brought an erstwhile unknown group into limelight. As this consciousness makes sense to one group, it is apparently a scum to others that should be discarded. The activities of the dreaded Fulani-killer herdsmen have not helped the narrative. The provocative statements of some leaders of the association without query has emboldened them and made many Nigerians circumspect of their activities. Perhaps that is why some people easily paint the Fulani race with the same brush.
Unfortunately, the body language of the government has not authenticated the President’s purportedly plagiarized catchphrase during his 29 May 2015 inaugural speech which says: “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody.” Otherwise, how would be tell Benue people to go home and live in peace with their neighbours as widely reported in national dailies on 12 March 2018? Why would the Federal Government through the Defence Minister, Mansur Dan-Ali blame the killings in Benue on the anti-grazing law which was enacted by the Benue State House of Assembly on 22 May 2017 as reported in Premium Times of 25 January 2018? Was that a response to MACBAN’s plea with the Federal Government, National Assembly (NASS) and international community to intervene in the Anti-Open Grazing Law operating in Benue? The RUGA Policy and Water Resources Bill tells who is the well-beloved child in the matter.
Desertification and conflicts have forced Pastoralists from other countries like Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, Sudan, Chad, Niger Republic, Cameroun into the country. The porous nature of our borders is an added incentive to these foreigners who may have little or no links with the native cattle breeders except for ancestral linkages. The statement by the UK House of Lords which raised a red flag on Fulani headers and other Islamic militia who have continued attacks in northern and central-belt states which was dated 14 September 2020 clarified the matter when it said: “We recognize the important distinction between the Fulani in general (a diverse group of millions of people with hundreds of clans) and the sub-group of well-armed, radicalized Fulani who carry out attacks.” Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje of Kano State did not throw caution to the wind when he called on the Federal Government to ban the influx of herdsmen from neighbouring countries into Nigeria.
In an editorial titled “The Miyetti Allah provocations” published on 15 June 2020, The Guardian decried that: “Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, led by Bello Abdullahi, ordinarily a cattle breeders’ association has morphed into the equivalent of a terrorist organisation operating without let or hindrance in the public space.” It also noted that: “Coincidentally, their sense of self-importance has grown in provocative proportions since the Buhari administration took over in 2015. Apart from threatening other ethnic groups and stakeholders in the country, in a rather vexatious manner, its leaders recently declared that ‘Nigeria belongs to Fulani’ and that the ‘Fulani will rule forever.’” Abdullahi added that his organisation has concluded arrangements to set up its own security outfit of five thousand men to be deployed across all the states of the federation.
In their separate reactions, Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in the 19 northern states and Abuja and Yoruba World Congress (YWC) condemned the remarks, describing them as capable of disrupting the fragile peace of the nation. The Guardian further lamented that: “So far, there is no indication that the Federal Government has cautioned the group on the volatility of its statements. This is unfortunate in the extreme.” It decried clannishness which has given Miyetti Allah the gumption to utter provocative statements capable of setting the nation ablaze while emphasizing that by contrast, the now proscribed Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) did not threaten the unity of Nigeria as much as the former but got python dance.
Recently, I was at Tilden Fulani market in Toro LGA of Bauchi State to buy some foodstuffs. While the over 70 years old (from her looks) petty trader was about handing over what I asked for, I saw her giving an item to another woman who graciously answered: “Miyetti Allah.” I asked her what that meant and with a generous smile, she replied: “Nagode Allah” in Hausa which translates as: “Thank you Lord” in English. At that, the other Fulani woman said, “Who wants to learn Fulfulde at a time that Fualnis are the most hated people!” I was taken aback! Well, for me, there are two interesting parts to this story. One, the generosity of the old woman which is highly commendable and two, the other woman’s disturbing statement which raises questions about identity and the perception of a particular ethnic group by others.
Going forward, we need to return to the drawing board. We need to trace where we got it wrong. Our parents and their forebears lived in peace. The Fulanis were friendly pastoralists who supplied milk and meat to farmers who in turn donated their farmland to the nomads after harvest for the grazing pleasure of their cattle. The truth is, someone is not telling somebody the truth. Unless we wash our bodies off the debris of ethnic coloration and cover-up, criminals would continue to feast on an already bad situation. These two Fulani women in our story reveal how a simple remark which expresses worry about how a certain group of people are stereotyped can initiative discussions leading to peace and reconciliation in our communities and country. Those who hold a single narrative of Miyetti Allah should remember “The Danger of a single story” as Chimamanda Adichie puts it. God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria!
Fr. Dyikuk is a Lecturer of Mass Communication, University of Jos, Editor – Caritas Newspaper and Convener, Media Team Network Initiative (MTNI), Nigeria.