Fulani herdsmen or Fulani pastoralists are nomadic or semi nomadic Fulani herders whose primary occupation is raising livestock. The pure Fulani pastoralist engages in random movement of cattle while the semi-nomadic makes transhumance migration and return to their camps or homes. The Fulani herdsmen are largely located in the Sahel and Semi-Arid parts of West Africa but due to changes in climate patterns many herdsmen have moved further south into the savannah and tropical forest belt of West Africa. The herdsmen are found in countries such as Nigeria, Niger, Senegal, Guinea, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Benin, Cote d’Ivoire and Cameroon. In Nigeria, the livestock supplied by the herdsmen provide a bulk of the beef consumption in the country.
Fulani pastoralists have grazed in lands around the Arid and Sahel regions of West Africa particularly in Nigeria because of the environmental conditions that limit the amount of land for agricultural purposes leading to intense competition for land between farmers and herders. However, after recurrent droughts in the Arid and Sahel regions, Fulani pastoralists have gradually moved southwards and the tropical forest areas resulting in conflict for grazing routes with farmers.
Fulani pastoralists’ started migrating into Northern Nigeria from the Senegambia region around the thirteenth or fourteenth century. After the Uthman dan Fodio jihad, the Fulani became integrated into the Hausa culture of Northern Nigeria. Thereafter, during the dry season when tsetse fly population is reduced, Fulani pastoralists began to drive their cattle into the middle belt zone dominated by non Hausa groups returning to the north at the onset of the rainy season. But while managing the herd and driving cattle, cattle grazing on farmlands sometimes occur leading to destruction of crops and becoming a source of conflict.
Nigeria's implementation of the Land Use Act of 1978 allowed the state or federal government the right to assign and lease land and also gave indigenes the right to apply and be given a Certificate of Occupancy to claim ownership of their ancestral lands. This placed the pastoral Fulani in a difficult position because most did not apply for lands of occupancy of their grazing routes and recurring transhumance movement will lead to encroachment of the properties of others. The Nigeria government designed some areas as grazing routes but this has not reduced clashes. In 2017 alone, about 73 people lost their lives in Benue state as a result of conflicts between pastoralists and farmers.
As Nigeria is still reeling from the Boko Haram insurgency and its numerous atrocities, the country plays host to another terrorist group as yet unrecognized. Fulani herdsmen, nomadic cattle grazers, have been named one of the deadliest terror groups in the world comparable to Boko Haram, ISIS, the Taliban and al-Shabaab. The group has wreaked enough havoc to be acknowledged by the global community as the fourth deadliest terror group in the world.
The “Fulani militants”, as they have come to be known, is made up of members of the Fulani or Fula ethnic group, a tribe of over 20 million people, 70 per cent of whom are nomadic grazers, who are native to at least seven West African countries. The tension between Fulani herdsmen and farming communities has been in existence for many years, but has seen a dramatic escalation in recent times to include attacks, kidnappings and killings by the nomads.
It is unfortunate that this level of criminal impunity is happening in a sovereign nation with a constitution which declares that the security and welfare of the citizens shall be a major responsibility of the state. Perhaps we need to ask why the police and the military are incapable of protecting the farmers from violent attacks by Fulani herdsmen. Is it true that the Fulani militia is better armed and sometimes outnumbered the police? Why is it difficult for the federal government to curtail the terror of the Fulani militia? Who are those arming the Fulani cattle rearers to unleash mayhem on innocent and defenseless Nigerians?
Most people think that the herds of cattle that the Fulani herdsmen roam around with are their own. No, not in all cases. The herds of cattle are often times owned by rich Fulani men and women. The Fulani herdsmen in most cases enter into an agreement on how the calves or milk will be shared. This reason also makes them powerful since the herdsmen know that they are the major source of meat in Nigeria and they have prominent people to shield them. Hence, we call on all the Fulani herdsmen to adapt to the modern worldview and engage in activities that will be beneficial both to them and to society in general.