Nomadic Education and Education for Nomadic Fulani




Ismail Iro, Ph.D.







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  1. Abstract and Introduction

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  4. Fulani Herding System

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  6. Scarcity of Water as an Impediment to Pastoral Fulani Development

  7. Nomadic Education and Education for Nomadic Fulani

  8. Grazing Reserve Development: A Panacea to the Intractable Strife Between Farmers and Herders

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  10. Livestock Transportation and Marketing in Nigeria

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  12. Diffusion of Innovation: The Fulani Response to Livestock Improvement

  13. Fulani in a New-Found Land

Education occupies a center stage in Nigeria's social and economic development. The importance of education has been adequately documented in the literature. Education serves as the spring board for social and economic change. "All who have mediated on the art of governing mankind have been convinced that the fate of empire depends on the education of the youth." (Wennergreen, Antholt, and Whitaker 1984, 34). The importance of education in Nigeria is evident from the large budgetary allocation in the national Development Plans. The government of Nigeria believes that learning is the primary means of upgrading the socioeconomic condition of the rural population. This population, particularly the Fulani, are difficult to educate. With less than ten percent of the men and two percent of the women Fulani formally literate and numerate, the number of lettered men and women in western-style education among the Fulani falls below the national average.

Apart from the literacy gulf between the Fulani and the non-Fulani, there is a disparity in the attainment of different types of education among the Fulani. In a sample of 1,998 pastoral Fulani surveyed in this study, about half of them have Koranic education. Forty percent have no education, and only seven percent have either formal or both mainstream and Koranic education

To remove the chronic illiteracy among the mobile population of Nigeria, the government introduces the nomadic education program. The program has three broad goals: to raise the living standard of the rural community; to harness the potentials of the Fulani; and to bridge the literacy gap between the Fulani and rest of the society.

In reaffirming Article 26 of the United Nation's 1984 Universal Declaration on Human Rights, that "everyone has the right to education," the government of Nigeria has committed itself to literacy enhancement of the Fulani. The national policy on education stresses that " is the birth right of every child, and [education] should be brought close to the environment of the child." The policy enjoins that:

Whenever possible, arrangements will be made for such children to assist their parents in the morning and go to school in the evening. Special and adequate inducement will be provided to teachers in rural areas to make them stay in the job.

The 1979 Constitution of Nigeria demands that the government ensures fair learning opportunities for its citizens. A former federal minister of education, Professor Jibrin Aminu, declares:

...wandering clans of Nigerian cattle rearers are as much a part of Nigeria as any major tribe. Therefore, it is only right that they also partake of the same rights and privileges as the rest of us.

The nomadic education program started officially in November 1986, after the Yola National Workshop on Nomadic Education. The workshop resolved that: "...the nomads needed a fair deal through the provision of education and other social amenities to reciprocate their contribution to national building..." The National Commission for Nomadic Education (N.C.N.E.) began functioning in January 1990 with 206 schools, 1,500 students, and 499 teachers. Ninety-seven of the schools had permanent buildings. The rest of the schools operated in temporary structures or under the trees. Some schools had furniture, others used mats. The schools taught a modified curricula in English, arithmetic, social studies, and primary science, developed by the Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto. To adapt to the work rhythms, nomadic schools run morning and afternoon shifts, and children rotate between herding and schooling.

By January 1991, the N.C.N.E had spent 72,930 naira to produce textbooks in the four curricula areas. The first prototype of a collapsible, mobile classroom, manufactured by the Federal Science Equipment Manufacturing Center, Enugu, was tested on April 23, 1991.

Approaches to Nomadic Education in Nigeria

The nomadic education program has a multifaceted schooling arrangement to suit the diverse transhumant habits of the Fulani. Different agencies are involved in the educational process. These agencies include the Ministry of Education, Schools Management Board, the National Commission for Nomadic Education, the Agency for Mass Literacy, and the Scholarship Board. They work together to offer a mobile school system where the schools and the teachers move with the Fulani children.

Mobile schools

Mobile schools use collapsible classrooms that can be assembled or disassembled within thirty minutes and carried conveniently by pack bulls. A whole classroom and its furniture may be hauled by only four pack animals. Motor caravans are replacing pack animals in moving the classrooms. A typical mobile unit consists of three classrooms, each with spaces for fifteen to twenty children. At N40,000, a mobile unit is cheaper than a regular classroom. Some of the classrooms are equipped with audio-visual teaching aids.

Radio and television education

A pastoral Fulani is a captive audience for radio and television programs. Most Fulani have radios which they carry along during herding. The literate world can, thus, reach the Fulani without disrupting their herding. To improve literacy especially in the rural areas, the government introduces radio and television educational programs. The government supplies the hardware such as radio, television, and electric generator. It also builds viewing rooms for public use.

Although the government has spent millions of naira in nomadic education program, the measure of educational attainment among the Fulani remains low. The quality of education among them is mediocre at best. The nomadic education is, therefore, yet to lift the literacy and standard of living of the Fulani. Many Fulani are taking advantage of the educational facilities provided by the government. However, the children of the farmers constitute up to eighty percent of the students in nomadic schools. In Plateau State, for example, only six of the 100 children in the Mozat Ropp nomadic school are Fulani.

Nomadic education in Nigeria is affected by defective policy, inadequate finance, faulty school placement, incessant migration of students, unreliable and obsolete data, and cultural and religious taboos. While some of these problems are solved by policy and infrastructure interventions, most of the problem are complex and difficult to solve. The persistence of these problems is causing the roaming Fulani to remain educationally backward.

A top-to-bottom planning, where the Fulani are the recipients rather than the planners of their education, dominates the nomadic education policies. For instance, during the first national workshop on nomadic education, only a few Fulani have been invited to attend. Ironically, it is at this workshop that far-reaching decisions that will affect the lives of the Fulani are taken.

Because of the non-participation of the Fulani in decision-making, a simplistic approach to educational planning is adopted. Advice on nomadic education are sometimes emotional, tactless, and  ill-intentioned. Planners fail to take account of the government's inability to provide specialized services. For example, just to impress the public, the government has rushed into policy pronouncements for mobile school system without considering the difficulties in getting teachers, monitoring students, and developing suitable curricula. The nomadic education curricula are unsuitable, if not an impediment, to learning. For example, the use of English for instruction at the elementary school level is inappropriate. Learning in the English language is difficult for the Fulani children who have yet to master their own language. The problem is that due to cost the government cannot develop Fulfulde language to replace English as a medium of instruction in schools. Furthermore, the curricular according to the Miyetti-Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (M.A.C.B.A.N.) focus on teaching irrelevant subjects like cockroach breeding, how to play basketball, and how to climb mountings, things that do not interest the Fulani or that look down upon their cultures and lifestyles. From the beginning, the colonial officers in Nigeria did not have a high regards for jobs involving the use of the hand.  Niamir (1990: 107) adds:

"The formal schools provide the literacy needed in modern times, but their content is too foreign to the pastoralists. They teach the value of sitting in offices behind desks, rather than the value of the land."

Instead of teaching pastoral procedures, formal schools spend too much time on teaching history and cultures of societies the pastoralists least know or want to know about. Conventional education ignores the desirability of the apprenticeship model, thereby closing a vital channel of skill transfer (Aleyidieno 1985). While the apprenticeship model allows the apprentice and the trainer to have an income from the sales of charms, from donations by philanthropists, and from reciting the Koran and leading prayers in the homes of the wealthy, the formal education instead compels students and parents to make such major sacrifices in labor loss and payment of school fees. Writing about education among the East African pastoralists, Nkinyangi (1980: 194) states: "Pastoralist in our education system get knocked on the head, being told they don't know anything..., although they in fact come in with knowledge that even if we studies half our lives we wouldn't achieve." The Fulani are concerned about he attitude of their children who go to school and graduate with ideas that are at odds with traditional pastoral practices. Nkinyangi (1980, 51) quotes a Fulani leader: 'We are not opposed to the idea of getting our children to schools, but we fear that at the end of their schooling they will only be good at eating up cattle instead of tending and caring for them.'

The shortage of funds limits government efforts to provide formal education in Nigeria. States that have started nomadic schools are burdened by the costs. The state governments are finding it hard to pay the teachers, supply furniture, or repair the furniture. Some states are closing down the schools or ordering them to go on extended vacations because the classrooms are inhabitable. Insufficiency in funds has led to inadequacy in education among the rural dwellers (Wennergreen, Antholt, and Whitaker 1984). Lack of financing compels the students to bear partial cost of training. As they face more fiscal hardships, the nomadic schools are asking the children to bring their own teaching materials to the school.

While the oil fortunes of the seventies have helped Nigeria fulfill its Universal Primary Education dream, the fiscal slump of the late eighties has narrowed the country's ability to implement the nomadic education program. With economic hardship, is widespread corruption. The mismanagement of money by officials in the N.C.N.E. and the ministries of education in purchases, contract awards, and payments of teachers has also hampered the progress of the educational program. Page five of the 1990 N.C.N.E Annual Report comments on the abuse of funds:

The draw back of the initial implementation of the program was that the expenditure of money disbursed to the state was not carefully monitored to determine its proper use in paying teachers salaries, provision of appropriate classrooms and teaching materials.

The progress of the mobile schools has been curtailed by the shortage of roads and lorries in the rural areas. Having committed to several capital-intensive, post-independence projects, the government of Nigeria is experiencing difficulties pursuing educational programs involving large capital outlays. The financial burden has forced some schools to operate in the open. While learning in unroofed or partially-roofed space may be possible during dry days, teaching under such conditions is impossible on wet days. Flood, muddy terrain, leaking roofs, and uncooperative weather have resulted in the loss of school days.

Lack of money also forces the government to rely on volunteers or unqualified teachers. The poor salaries cannot attract a caliber of staff with the commitment to educational enrichment of the Fulani. Scarcity of chalks, books, pencils, and blackboards, for example, undermines teaching. Students are taught how to write on the sand with their bare hands. Requests from schools for children to bring learning kits dampen the spirit of parents who think they have already made enough sacrifices by letting their children go to school rather than go on grazing.

The uncertainties of the movement of the Fulani makes educational planning and student monitoring difficult. Unscheduled out-migration due to environmental failures or conflicts between the farmers and the pastoral Fulani disrupts school operations and classroom composition. In one school visited, about half of the pupils who have attended the school in the previous season have moved. Many Fulani ascribe erratic attendance and low enrolment in school to habitual movement. Seventy-one percent of the Fulani interviewed in this research affirm that shifting settlements prevent the children from improving their literacy. As a result of the movement, the teachers face the extra task of adjusting their teaching to fit the dynamics of the transient population

Some teachers cannot endure the rigorous movement of the Fulani. The initial zeal among unmarried teachers--and most teachers are unmarried--in nomadic schools fades soon after such teachers marry. Teaching then becomes a second or a third career choice for these teachers. In spite of the obvious problems of educating the mobile population, the government cannot make sedentarization a precondition for establishing schools in the rural areas. Not only requiring hefty overhead cost, sedentarization is time-consuming, as one government publication (N.C.N.E. Annual report 1990, 10) explains:

It could have been easy to recommend resettling the nomads as a workable solution to the apparent intractable problem of educating them. In that case we would first get them settled, and then introduce the conventional school system. Sedentarisation, in such a situation, becomes a prerequisite for education. But, it has been argued that it is better that education for the nomads goes paripasu with the process of settling them. It is unacceptable to suggest that the Bororo should be given no education until he is permanently settled. Settlement processes and programmes are expensive, complicated, and will take a long time. It may not be completed in the next twenty years. Educating nomadic children does not have to wait that long.

The under-funding of nomadic education is partly blamed on inaccurate demographic data. The lack of reliable statistics on the nomads leads to planning based on guessing.

...there was much confusion as to the actual number of the nomadic schools, types of school facilities and number of teachers in various location. Lack of authentic data in these areas made planning for nomadic education very difficult.

Schools are stationed inappropriately: few in densely populated areas, and many in sparsely populated areas. On the one hand, having many schools in the pastoral areas attracts non-Fulani children and accentuates competition for other resources. On the other hand, having few schools discourages the Fulani from participating in education.

Considering the routine grazing treks, some schools that seem close enough to the homestead may actually be beyond the walking distance of the children. About thirty-nine percent of the Fulani in this sample who are sending children to schools complain that the schools are far from their camp-sites. The extra walk to school is taxing to the health of the herding children. If they manage the extra trek, the children arrive in school too fatigued to learn.

The major hindrances to school attendance are the daily grazing movement and the lack of labor substitutes. Unlike farmers who use child labor marginally, the Fulani rely heavily and continuously on children for labor. A Fulani man will not send his child to school even if an adult is available to tend the animals because the child needs to learn the herding skills. The reliance on juveniles for shepherding task, not ignorance or conservatism, therefore, explains the poor participation of the pastoralist in formal education (Rigby 1980). Twelve percent of the Fulani respondents in this sample say they cannot engage their children who make up sixty-eight percent of the herding labor-force in educational pursuits. Time-sharing between routine grazing trips and school attendance is a Fulani dilemma.

The success of nomadic education depends largely on vigorous and continuous outreach programs in the rural areas. Consequently, government has embarked on village-level campaigns using radios, village announcers, and rural cinematography. However, because the nomads lack centralized authorities, these campaigns run into difficulties in reaching individuals in isolated areas. The nomadic educational drive is limited to a few people in village precincts, which may not be within the territories of the wandering Fulani.

Logistical problems are seriously undermining the government's efforts to get to the rural population. For example, more than three quarters of the vehicles used by the Kaduna State Ministry of Information for public enlightenment are disabled. Likewise, most of the public address and audio visual systems have broken down. The greatest impact of these failures is in adult education that goes simultaneously with the nomadic education.

The adult nomadic educational component is limited to sedentary societies. It uses the Hausa language, which some Fulani do not understand. Reaching the Fulani through newspapers and magazines published in English or Hausa languages is a problem to the people who cannot read. Furthermore, the few Fulfulde or Ajami newspapers have only a narrow circulation within the rural areas. Since it is the adults not the children who know the importance of schooling, educating the children will bring better results if the adults themselves are educated. Nearly all nomadic educational schemes concentrate on the children.

The nomadic educational program is constrained by sectarian and cultural issues. The predominantly Muslim Fulani reject the nomadic schools, fearing that their children will become Christianized. This fear is not unfounded. First, the Fulani are drawing from previous experience when the missionaries, who have brought Western education to Nigeria, have mixed education with Christian evangelism. Second, accusations are made against teachers who preach Christianity in some nomadic schools. Fafunwa (1974, 12), a former Minister of Education in Nigeria, expresses the worry of the Nigerian Muslims about Western-style education:

Since missionary schools were established primarily to convert children and young adults to the Christian faith, the Muslims in the north and south saw this as a definite threat to their own faith. To prevent the wholescale conversion of Muslims to Christianity, the southerners refused to send their children to Christian schools.

The worry of the Fulani on nomadic education is also express in M.A.C.B.A.N.'s grudges against the N.C.N.E. and its Executive Secretary. M.A.C.B.A.N. once accuses the Executive Secretary of N.C.N.E. of shutting his doors and side-stepping the Miyetti-Allah in implementing the nomadic education program. Major accusations include failure of the N.C.N.E. to uplift the educational status of the Fulani, faulty school curricula, mismanagement of funds, and favoritism and tribalism in hiring staff and contracting jobs. The M.A.C.B.A.N. also blames the government for siding which the N.C.N.E.

The Prospects of Educating the Fulani

In spite of the obstacles outlined, there are good signs that the Fulani are gradually embracing education and improving their literacy. Many Fulani are interested in formal education. They admire children who go to school. Interviews with community leaders and the Miyetti-Allah officials confirm the enthusiasm of the Fulani in Western education if the issues discussed are resolved. Eighty percent of the respondents consider going to school to be important and beneficial.

The Nigerian newspapers are reporting a growing interest in schools among the Fulani, as indicated by an increase in the demand for such schools. In some places, the Fulani have even built their own schools through community effort and have asked the government to send teachers and teaching materials. Eighty-five percent of the pastoral Fulani express their willingness to send the children to school. Sixty-nine percent of those willing have already enrolled some or all of their children in the school.

The Fulani have realized that the herding sector cannot absorb all the children, and that not every child who would like to stay in herding will have the chance to do so. Considering the bleak future of nomadic pastoralism, many Fulani are looking for an alternative to herding and school seems a good option. The Fulani have also understood that part of their problems stem from the lack of educated men and women. That the absence of these men and women in governance and policy-making has put the Fulani at the mercy of their more educated counterparts in the society (Wright 1988). The Fulani now believe that sending their children to school is the key to active participation in governance, and the best way to fight for the rights denied them for so long.


To conclude, education plays a key role in the socioeconomic development of the Nigerian society. Despite the importance of education, many Fulani have not embraced it. Mobility, lack of fund, faulty curriculum design, and dependence on juvenile labor are some of the causes of paltry participation of the Fulani in schooling. Of serious concern to the Fulani also is the fear that Western education will have a Christian influence on the Fulani children who are predominantly Muslims. The Fulani express their grudges on the N.C.N.E. and its management, accusing it of alienating the Fulani in educational planning and implementation. Despite these obstacles, there is prospects that education will spread among the Fulani, especially with the bleakness in the future of pastoral nomadism.






Ismail Iro works as a Programmer/Data Analyst in Washington, D.C. USA