Fulani in a New-Found Land




Ismail Iro, Ph.D. 



 February 17, 2021


The debacle facing Nigeria about farmers and herders typifies the conflicts between nomadic pastoralists and sessile agriculturalists co-habiting the same geographic space and competing for scarce land resources.  Land-hungry people who have been usurping the grazing land and encroaching on the cattle pathways have compounded the problems. In recent times, however, the problem has been the dispossession of the Fulani of their livestock through cattle rustling.


Rapid population expansion of both human and bovine, as well as the constructions of roads, dams, large-scale irrigation projects, game reserves, stadia, state and local government headquarters, higher institutions of learning, airports, barracks, and other anthropogenic activities has shrunk the area of pasture land.


Elsewhere in my write-up, I have mentioned that improvements of health standards have resulted in human population explosion, while improvements in veterinary services have swell the population of livestock. There are negative consequences of both human and livestock boom where land is limited and its carrying capacity exceeded. Both people and animals rely on finite land resources. Over-grazing, over-cultivation, over-construction, over-mining, and palm wine tapping have resulted in the dereliction of land, spoliation of forage reserves, and intensification of land competition. Thus, the Fulani herds are forced to drive further into the southern forests, because the dry-season sanctuaries in the savannah have disappeared under the hoe.


Banditry started with cattle rustling. When a Fulani man is dispossessed of his main and only means of sustenance, he undergoes fundamental occupational mutation. He abandons herding completely. What do you expect of a Fulani man in the bush, with a modicum of armament, with all his cattle gone, without land to cultivate, without skills of any kind, with neither education nor religion nor fear of God, and with desire to live like everyone else? Is it surprising, therefore, if such a Fulani man resorts to any survival strategy, including cattle theft, kidnapping, or banditry?


In this write up, I want to state that herding in the southern forests of Nigeria is a fairly recent phenomenon, starting around the 1960s. Until then, nearly all herding activities have been limited to the savannah region of northern Nigeria. Fulani herdsmen are virtually unseen in the southern territories, except in few, localized cattle markets, scattered near major urban centers.


The national herd is afflicted by a variety of ailments caused by microorganisms. Pests, insects, rodents, reptiles, and mammals act as hosts of these organisms. They cause widespread infections on livestock and human beings. The devastation of biotic organisms is more serious in livestock, accounting for the largest percentage of fatalities among the animals. Combined with meteorological adversities, livestock illnesses impair the qualitative and quantitative expansion of the Fulani herds.


Any effort to improve the living condition of the Fulani must first address the issue of grazing space, in addition to livestock security and veterinary health. By preventing and eradicating animal sicknesses, beef and lacteal output from Fulani cows can be increased. An improvement in the health status of the animals will, therefore, produce better quality herds, change the stocking pattern, and remove what we generally referred to as cattle complex.


Herding predates farming in Nigeria and the two cannot be stopped. While farming provides the bulk of the carbohydrates, herding supplies the main source of protein consumed by the teeming population in the country. Ranching has commercial objectives and cannot replace open range grazing, which is still the most efficient, most ecologically sensible, and most feasible method of raising livestock. Those who are advocating ranching as an alternative to open range animal production are doing so without understanding pastoral nomadism.


Understanding the Fulani herding operations means understanding that cattle mean many things and everything to the Fulani. Animals satisfy a wide range of uses. Feder and others (1988, 78) quote Dyson-Hudson and Dyson-Hudson (1966):


Cattle are property, and accordingly they represent variable degrees of wealth, of social status and of community influence. They are a man's legacy to his sons. They can be exchanged to symbolize formal contracts of friendship and mutual assistance. The transfer of cattle from the groom's family to the bride's is needed to validate a marriage. The sacrifice of cattle is a vital feature of religious observances.


Writing on the importance of cattle to the pastoralist in East Africa, Navile Dyson-Hudson (1966, 83) summarizes:


Milk and blood of cattle are drunk; their meat is eaten; their fat used as food and cosmetics; their urine as cleanser; their hides make sleeping-skins, shoulder capes, anklets; their horns and hooves provide snuffy holders, feather boxes, and food containers; bags are made from scrota; their intestines are used for prophecy, and their chyme for anointing; their droppings provide fertilizer. 

Why the Fulani Herds People Enter the Southern Forest


History identifies the Fulani, who use mobility as a strategy for production and consumption, with leadership, scholarship, livestock wealth, and pastoral movement in West Africa's aberrant landscape. Movements in search of water, markets, pasturage, salt licks, and the highly priced crop residues account for the spread of the Fulani in the Sub-Sahara. Bearing at least thirteen names in West Africa alone, and found in more than twenty countries, the Fulani make up the continent's most diffuse ethno-cultural group.


The search for greener pasture is the primary reason the Fulani man drives his cattle all the way to the coast. What allows the infiltration of cattle into the southern region? The answer is the work of The Nigerian institution for Trypanosomiasis Research (N.I.T.R.) with its headquarters in Unguwan Rimi, Kaduna.  Emerging from the West African Institute for Trypanosomiasis Research (WAITR) of the 1951, N.I.T.R. was established in 1964 to fight African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness in man) and onchocerciasis (River blindness. The sleeping sickness epidemic of the twentieth century, took a large human toll and cause outright desertion of the affected farming and grazing lands.


The government has mandated the institute to research on the transmission, eradication, immunology, reproduction of trypanosome pathogens, drug resistance and the effects of drug deposits on animal tissues. The institute has by far succeeded in its mission, even though the more-difficult-to-control forest species of tsetse fly, G palpalis and G tachnoides, continue to plague the bush and the swamp environment. The absence of wildlife in the forest makes animals and human beings the primary prey of the tsetse fly (Bourn and Wint 1986).


As a result of the campaign against the insect, vast grazing areas of Nigeria are rid of the tsetse, and the Fulani are moving and grazing year round in these areas. Cattle tax returns show that the Fulani are spending longer grazing period in Lafia and Maria Districts that have been reporting fewer insects. By eradicating the tsetse, the Veterinary Department hopes to boost the population of herds in the grass-rich Middle-Belt. Once freed of the insects, an area becomes a gold mine for farmers and grazers.


The success of N.I.T.R.  in eliminating the tsefse fly in the middle-belt and the southern regions has led to the opening of the pasture lands in those zones. The Fulani cattle can now graze year-round as far as to the coastal margins of Nigeria, which are once no-go areas because of the limitations imposed by tsetse fly. Since the mid-60, however, more Fulani herdsmen are taking their stock deeper into the forest, without the need for periodic nomadic migration, characterized by seasonal oscillating between the northern and southern limits of the savanna, according the vacillations of the weather.


In conclusion, I will state that the only solution to the perennial conflicts between the people and the herders in general is reviving the grazing reserves and the cattle routes, and re-interjecting pastoral nomadic activities in its original state. This will also require restocking the Fulani of their stolen animals, without which they cannot partake of any form of economic activities. A restoration of pastoral systems will re-introduce economic complementarity and symbiotic relationship between the Fulani and the neighbors they come in contact with in their sojourn for pasture.


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