Competition over scarce resources between farmers and herders; and absence of a justice system to resolve cases of rustling over the years, led to the violence that has turned into widespread terrorism, across northern Nigeria.
Currently, the stereotype and stigma of herders in Nigeria and across the Sahel are driving many Fulani youths to forest areas, where they are joining violent groups.
These assessments were done by Abubakar Ibrahim, a lecturer with the Department of Sociology and Idris Saminu, a lecturer in the Department of Political Science at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria during an interview with HumAngle.
“Sociologically, stereotyping and generalization would likely continue because generations will be socialized along this divide.
“This was created by the antagonistic relationship from competition over scarce resources between farmers and herders leading to the stereotype of herders by the farmers,” said Abubakar.
Idris Saminu added that this attitude further widens the existing gap between the citizens in all their sociocultural forms.
“It would definitely make more Nigerians more vulnerable to open attacks of the stronger people,” he said.
Some Fulani public servants in Gusau and Zaria told HumAngle that because of the way people stare at them, as they are easily recognised by the Fulani-like features, “they are living in a perpetual fear that if care is not taken, it may eventually lead to genocidal attacks and pogrom.”
Idris, who studies violent conflicts in northern Nigeria said “most genocides across the world were caused by stereotypes.
“The recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa are as a result of shock experienced in how certain groups of immigrants were identified with certain traits and behaviour.”
The experts said the 1994 Rwandan genocide was equally caused by stereotypes and “the present and persisting protests we are currently witnessing in the US are a product of stereotype.”
They added that the problem creates “inflexible images of racial, ethnic, or cultural groups that are held without regard to whether they are true across the country.
“It is not limited to Nigeria alone,” Idris said.
The experts argued that legitimate herders and law-abiding Fulanis have to tell their own stories and be loud about their condemnation of the actions of some criminal armed Fulani militias claiming to represent all Fulanis.
HumAngle had earlier reported on how the Fulanis have become villains and victims of militia attacks in Nigeria.
Some Fulanis, that are law-abiding, are determined to change the narrative and counter those involved in violent crimes.
“Almost all Fulanis in the rural areas are accused of colluding with armed groups. They are constantly questioned by the military and the police.
“They are also assaulted by the armed groups and Hausa vigilantes and profiled negatively by the media in Nigeria as violent criminals,” said Fatima Muktar, a Fulani businesswoman in Kaduna.
“This must stop,” Muktar added.
According to Abubakar Umar, Raka, a community located in the eastern part of Tsafe Local Government Area, a home for herders and over 400 animals, have been rustled by Hausa vigilantes.
“Life wasn’t easy, even before the coming of this violent crisis. The struggle to find water all year round was a challenge on its own but we thank God. We are living peacefully with everyone, including the Hausa people of the community,” said Umar.
He narrated how his animals were rustled by both bandits and vigilantes and as such he had to pay each group individually to get back some of the stolen animals.
“I had at least 40 cattle, but my animals were rustled twice by armed groups and local vigilante groups. I had to pay 500,000 naira to get my animals back from the armed group and I only got 30 back.
“The second time I paid 50,000 naira to get my animals back from the local vigilantes. The most heart-wrenching aspect is that after paying them, they gave me the animals and called another vigilante group to inform them (members) that a rustler has rustled animals.
“On that day, my children were beaten and my house was set ablaze by the vigilante group,” Umar said.
He pleaded with the government to assist in creating new routes for herders and create water swamps “because farmers have taken over everywhere and the sole cause of the conflict is having to share or fight for these amenities.”
Another herder, Halilu Babangida, said he had to travel to Ekiti State for months when the campaign against the Fulani started. He said he left behind his animals which he never recovered.
Babangida said, “most youth like me will either join armed groups or leave the area. We are hunted by everyone, including the military, the police, the bandits and vigilante groups.
“When people see us in town, they try to call vigilante leaders who will hardly listen to you, once you are Fulani they execute you.”
A Fulani leader, Ardo Babangida said he had suffered in the hands of the police, vigilantes and armed gangs.
“When you sit to think about how peaceful we were and what we are today you feel sad. You hardly feared a human being, we only feared animals but today it is not the same, we lived in peace, Hausa and Fulani.
“Bandits rustled my 26 animals, they came back and shot 12 cattle. I ran to bring the rest to town, vigilantes came and raided the place, shot my nephew and cut his veins.
“We have seen bad days. Bawa Nakantu was the leader of Miyyetti Allah, he was beaten by vigilantes and they took him to the military. On that day they killed four elderly people around the age of 60.
“In Babban Kauye, they picked Ila and killed him, we had to plead with soldiers and police to guard us to bury them, the vigilante stopped us but the DPO (Divisional Police Officer) protected us. We have lost so much, most importantly, our trust with everyone,” he said.
Ardo stressed, “No one is absolving Fulani youth from criminality but we need to look at them critically. Most Fulanis are in the forest. Most times when a crime is perpetrated, the people run to the forest so when you get there, you meet Fulani.
“In fact, in some places like Giwa Local Government Area of Kaduna State, we have seen people dress in Fulani regalia to attack local markets but we need to look at it from the point of individuals, there are a lot of Hausa people in this crime.
“Rustled animals are not eaten in the forest, arms are not produced in the forest, drugs, food, etc, so who is taking these things to them?
“I agree Fulani youth are involved but we need to be just to everyone. I will call for reform, starting from towns to the forest,” Babangida said.
The leader also called on Fulani youth involved in violent crimes, in particular, to embrace peace and renounce violence.