Reflection on Sultan’s intervention

At the public presentation of a book, “Dynamics of Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences: Essays in Honour of Prof. Is-haq Olanrewaju Oloyede”, last Wednesday (February 22, 2018) in Abuja, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, made some salient points bordering on the state of the nation and the qualities of the honouree, the Registrar of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB). Expectedly, it was his remarks on the lingering farmer-herder conflict and the need for peace and security in the country that attracted a lot of traction.

Actually, the intervention made by the Sultan is an observation that some  objective and perceptive  Nigerians have also been making for some time now about the reportage of the farmer-herder conflict in some parts of the country. This concerns the strong anti-Fulani stereotyping and ethnic bias in the characterisation of the now familiar “Fulani herdsmen”, an expression that conjures the image of an average Fulani as murderous.

This ethnic stereotyping by the media in other climes is what constitutes racism with negative implications for peace and social order. Since the issue is always between herdsmen and others, there is often no ethnic group attached to the farmers. In essence, the farmers have no ethnic identity but the herdsmen are always Fulani!

According to the Sultan, “there are millions of Fulani who don’t even know what a cow is. I am a Fulani and I am not a herder. I am a proud Fulani. But everyone believes that when you see a Fulani, he is a killer. It is not true. So, for anyone to label any particular ethnicity is wrong. Let’s give criminals their ideal names, not Christian criminals, not Fulani criminals, not Muslim criminals.”

The profundity of the intervention cannot be controverted. As the Sultan further submitted, “Uthman Dan Fodio founded the caliphate many years ago. He said conscience is an open wound, only truth can heal it. We must take a negative inner feeling away from us. We must not allow our biases to prevail over truth.”

It is not fair either in this context or in others to paint every member of a race or ethnic group with a single brush. Rather than complicate matters by attaching ethnicity or religion to criminality for the sake of politics and other parochial interests, prioritising peaceful co-existence and working on the areas of convergence, rather than divergence, would be better.

When hatred is made to overcome human heart through stereotyping and labeling, there is no limit to the evil that can be perpetrated against the victim. Hatred is a major cause of the current wave of intolerance but we all need to purge ourselves of it for our own peace. Ultimately, hatred or “resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies,” as once stressed by the late Nelson Mandela.

The first violent conflict between a herder and a farmer happened at the very beginning of time between two brothers. Two sons of Adam, Cain and Abel, were asked to sacrifice and one offering was accepted while the other was rejected. Ultimately, Cain, the farmer, killed Abel, the herder, as the two respectively became the first to commit murder and the first to die respectively. Cain resented his younger brother and killed him.

Since then till now, tensions that engender latent and manifest conflict have often been between the two foremost traditional occupations. Managing the conflict has always created its own problems as issues are often conflated by “we” versus “them” mentality. The herder-farmer imbroglio therefore requires a deeper reflection and a more inclusive approach while farmers and herders are properly construed as crucial components of the needed food security. Nigerians should stop resenting and killing one another.

Though as it is said, truth is the first victim of any conflict situation as each party involved in it would naturally try to project the image of innocence or victimhood. As conflict is inevitable in all human affairs though efforts can still be made to achieve conflict prevention in specific issues, it is very important that parties in conflict and those allied with them exercise restraint and avoid tactics that would escalate it.

It is in this regard that I strongly support the clamour that killer herdsmen should be called by their fathers’ names or as criminals they are and not profiled as Fulani. The logic is simple: not all Fulani are herdsmen and not all herdsmen are Fulani.