He is Jamilu. An 11-year old who passed by my farm this morning where I went to inspect the application of manure in preparation for planting soybean later in the rainy season.
Without question, he looks like any cattle Fulani boy you can find in West and Central Africa. Something told me to follow him and get a flash of his story as quick as he walked past me.
I asked him in Fulfulde his name and he replied, “Jamilu (the Arabic name for handsome)”. Then I enquired about his cows. He said they are at where his family settled, pointing at a distant place somewhere around Barc Farms, across the Dilimi River. Finally, I asked him what brought him to town. He gave me an answer that is as beautiful as his looks: Mi yahai Islamiyya (I am going to the madrassa). All in less than a minute.
With these three answers, his story was full. I can fill in the spaces inbetween. In spite of the challenges of free ranging of cows, many of the cattle Fulani are today venturing into education, unlike their ancestors, before their cattle finish. The madrassa around are packed with them. You see them daily trekking long distances to attend conventional primary and secondary schools during working days and madrassas at weekends. They rush back to their homes to relieve their elders of tending the animals.
This is the centuries old trend I have been talking about recently as I speak angrily of those Fulani who are not strong enough to join civilization through settling and taking a trade. Instead, they resort to crime – first, crude robbery (kwanta-kwanta), then armed robbery, then cattle rustling, then banditry and, now, kidnapping. As a footnote, I must say that not all the violence associated with the Fulani can be attributed to crime as there are genuine cases of self defence against existential threats that find a shred of legitimacy in the language of reprisal where government aids or fails to avert the hostilities of others against them. Still, robbery and kidnappings are monumental crimes that must not be condoned and government must be supported in every bit of effort it takes to stop them.
I will not be tired of repeating myself that the current crimes committed by many Fulani is shameful to any responsible Fulani and if I were in a position to stop it I would have done so with all my will. But crime belongs to the domain of violence, something that demands a coercive force to check by the authorities entrusted in keeping the government side of our social contract. In them is vested the authority, tools and personnel to neutralize violence. The best that we citizens can afford are sermons of the clergy, appeals of the learned and advice of the kindred. However, sermons, appeals and advice can discourage a contemplation only in a to-be-criminal. They rarely make sense in someone that makes crime a profitable venture.
Nomadism will die a natural death as the environment and society cannot afford the luxury of its low output/space ratio. Developing societies have many competing demands for space to feed and house fast growing populations generated by improved human fertility, nutrition, healthcare and peace. The new partnership between the Sahara and climate change has precipitated in the sub-region fast deforestation, mass migration, more ethnic conflicts, entrenched poverty and widespread crime.
Nigeria would have foreseen this and planned for increased productivity of its herds in settled lands. Instead, successive governments at all levels condemned existing facilities to death and herders are left to wander desperately into wherever nature can provide succor. As nature restricts its opportunity in favor of sedentary populations, families like those of Jamilu must join the wagon of civilization, settle and imbibe the etiquettes of learning, trade, refinement and pay their dues in the social contract that makes it possible for over seven billion citizens to inhabit our planet.
In southern Bauchi, we have received thousands of Jamilus who crossed over here from neighboring Plateau. To facilitate their settlement, we recognized them as indigenes, giving them a permanent address on the planet. Their next step is skills acquisition and the rest of life will flow naturally. It is our hope that they will reciprocate the gesture and contribute to peace building of our nation.
Twenty years down the line, Jamilu will be an adult with a family, an entrepreneur, a scholar or both, saved by hostilities of today from the dangers of the nomadism of tomorrow. He will join the millions of Fulani who Sub-Saharan Africa has settled, often cruelly, in the past 5,000 years. Crude at first they seemed to their new neighbors in townships and villages, but with successive generations they came to acquire their fair share of civilization – built towns, established schools and partook in the rise and fall of its empires.
Jamilu is not the first to undertake this journey. My ancestors joined the wagon 400 years ago, earlier than many and later than many others. Jamilu can never be late. Many will come later. In the end we will all settle down and face the challenges of civilization and enjoy its benefits, as did the Jews, Arabs, Persians and other nomadic tribes before us. The cows may vanish, the language lost, but the DNA will remain.
While the Fulani in Northwestern Nigeria today are seen as symptoms of a failed society, Jamilu, with us here in the Northeast, is the face of hope. With skills of modern husbandry – or any trade for that matter – on his one hand and knowledge on the other, he can be regarded as the poster-boy of our prosperous future in spite of the rugs he is wearing today. May we live long to see the realization of that hope.