Analysists and media reports show that at least 5000 people have been killed by Fulani Herdsmen in Nigeria within the last 12 months. This makes the Fulani herdsmen the second deadliest Islamic group in the West Africa region after Boko Haram. ”It is estimated Nigeria loses about $14 billion annually” to these attacks by the herdsmen another report says.
The Fulani is a nomadic tribe that spreads across the northern belt of the entire West Africa to some parts of East African countries like Ethiopia and Sudan. The population of the Fulani tribe is about 8 million nomadic while about 16 million who have embraced non nomadic lifestyles. A larger population of the tribe is found in Northern Nigeria.
The Fulani are of Middle Eastern descent to North Africa around the 8th or 11th century AD. The prominence of the tribe in West Africa emerged with its introduction of Islam to the region from 1790 through Usman Dan Fodio who was dissatisfied with the Hausa tribal indigenous form of Islam mixed with pagan worship in Northern Nigeria. Dan Fodio led a revolt and embarked on a Jihad that spread Islam in most parts of North Western Nigeria. The Sokoto Caliphate emerged as a result of this Jihad.
The Jihadists were however defeated in the Northeastern Nigeria by the Kanem Borno Empire where Islam had already been established and in the Mambila Highlands that extend to Cameroun as well as on the Jos Plateau by the minority tribes that took advantage of the hilly and rocky terrains. These tribes have embraced Christianity and today are facing another Jihadist onslaught by Boko Haram and Fulani Herdsmen.
The Sokoto Caliphate has since then sustained its influence as the seat of Islam in Nigeria and a powerful political factor in the country. The British colonial administrators maintained the northern Muslim administration in its indirect rule system of administering the country from 1914. The British Colonial administration in Nigeria, by its policy, empowered and protected the Islamic monarchical structure until independence in 1960. The Sokoto Fulani Caliphate, the seat of Islamic religious control and power has influenced and controlled the Nigerian government policies to date.
The influence of the Caliphate and Islam in Nigeria is such that anarchy, sharia law and the constitution become blurred in the North. Hundreds of Churches have been destroyed and hundreds more Christians have been killed on very flimsy excuses; Miss World beauty Pageant statement, the Danish ‘Mohammed’ Cartoon or even an unsavoury statement about Osama Bin Ladin in Borno resulted in the deaths of Christians without any prosecution either under the criminal or sharia laws.
Desertification and disease have forced the Fulani herdsmen to migrate seasonally across the country in search of pasture. This migration has brought conflict with indigenous local famers whose farmlands are destroyed by the cattle mostly in Benue and Plateau States because they both fall on the greener paths to the fertile river Benue basin. While the Fulanis arepredominantly Muslims, the farmers are largely Christian. Religion has played a key role in mobilisation for the bloody clashes.
In all the killings so far the Fulani Herdsmen have been protected by the Federal authorities and northern states despite their attacks on villages and communities killing women and children. The Miyetti Allah, an association for the Fulani Herdsmen with powerful influence in government has been the voice for the Herdsmen.
The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Saad Abubakar has demanded that the media desist from reporting that Fulani herdsmen are responsible for attacks in villages, despite all evidences and President Buhari would not deploy the military against the herdsmen and he continues to conceal news of villages that are devastated by the Fulani. The press are required to simply report the killings “by unknown gunmen”.
The attacks by the herdsmen intensified in March 2010 at Dogo na Hauwa and in March in Byei, where over 500 people were massacred overnight by a suspected Fulani militia. Their identity has never been determined nor was anyone prosecuted for the killings.
The attack was preceded by Boko Haram’s video posted online calling all muslims to a jihad against the Christian in Jos, Plateau State. The video had alleged that Christians abducted, raped and killed muslims in the State.
Many observers pointed out the growing evidence of either a collaboration or influence of Boko Haram on the Herdsmen. Security experts have said that mercenaries from outside the country and within the Nig
erian Army have also backed and/or trained the Fulani for attacks in several communities. The Nigerian military has continuously denied these allegations that its soldiers have been involved, blaming the attacks on both Boko Haram and foreigners.
Suffice it to say that these attacks have been primarily targeted at Christian communities in the north eastern and middle belt regions of Nigeria who are predominantly Christians.
The coincidence with the same regions which the Fulani Jihadist armies under Usman Dan Fodio could not defeat since their invasions in the 1790s raises a lot of questions.
The North East and Middle Belt regions have been the Mission field of Christian missionaries from all over the world for at least 5 decades. Islam has not been able to reach and penetrate most rural communities in these areas. The invading Fulani herdsmen has become reminiscent of the Jihad of Usman Dan Fodio who invaded the North Western Nigeria.
The question therefore is how can this happen in a country where there is supposedly a secular democratic government?
Christian leaders have argued that the Nigerian government is neither democratic nor is it secular. Many claim Nigeria is to all intents and purposes an Islamic State. A senior Advocate of Nigeria, Solomon Asemota, Chairman, National Christian Elders Forum (NCEF), said, “It is not in dispute that Nigeria is an Islamic State contrary to Section 10 of the Constitution. What is in dispute is whether Nigeria is ruled by mainstream Muslims or by Islamist Jihadists.”
Christians find themselves sandwiched in – between the Sultanate in Sokoto and Boko Haram. The story is seen by many Christians as a trail of death, destruction on the road to Islamisation.