The Fulani Pastoralist and Violence Accruals: The Nigerian State Policies and the Igala Polity (Pt1)

Fulani in Kogi

By Rev. Fr. Attah Anthony Agbali


In this column, my intent is to add voice and perspective to the growing incidence of Fulani herdsmen atrocities and violence in Nigeria, but more the real and potential effects of such scenarios and imaginations among the Igala.

Specifically, this column attempts to examine and filter Igala historical interactions with Fulani, and related sources especially since the 19th century. It is believed that the precolonial 19th century was a period of great cultural and interethnic group encounters, due to growing socioeconomic, commercial, religious and even rivalry or conquest induced interactions among different groups in the Niger-Benue confluence region.

Strenuous efforts at chronicling some even if not all of the Igala and Niger-Benue regional links with Fulani presence is attempted. While, such attempts are made, it is recalled that is not always easy to document the totality and scopes of such vastly undocumented interactions.

In attempting to frame some of these developments, it is conceded that I might have missed others. Therefore, such historical efforts while cogent have opaque features that make them neither totally prescriptive nor exhaustive, but merely anecdotal outlines and instrumental tapestries at best.  

The moment of the pastoralist activities of Fulani and other herdsmen into Igala territories cannot be focally pinpointed. Yet, by either between the mid-1950s and late 1960s, presumably due to land and population pressures, Fulani herdsmen had presumably started moving episodically and in isolated formats, into Igala territories. By the 1970s, the sight of Fulani pastoralists was becoming common across different locations in Igala land. Seemingly, perceived as transients some communities under mutual understanding provided these transient nomads with usufructuary grazing and temporary settlement rights. 

Recent news in Nigeria has focused on the growing menace of Fulani herdsmen, drawing attention to a genocidal instinct and decimating agenda of local natives in their homelands. The Fulani herdsmen had continually emboldened as they kept intruding into farming communities with their cattle and destroying farm products.  Complaints by local residents are often met with violence, often atrociously graphic and vicious.

The memories of such kind of Fulani atrocities has long been ingrained within the West African historical imagination. Peoples of the Niger-Benue confluence territories are well acquainted with stories of Fulani brutal violence, including unimaginable viciousness marking such acts, including the 19th century Jihadists brutal killing of pregnant women by grotesque acts of ripping their belly and decimating their offspring in vitro (cf. Macgregor and Oldsfield, Narrative, Vol 1, pp. 21-22; 85; Elphinstone, 1921:38).

The new violent orgies and genocidal attacks depict the complicit lack of neutrality and inability of the Nigerian state to exercise her highest and most fundamental duty in protecting citizenry. Unwarranted and increasing vile attacks by Fulani herdsmen keeps enlarging, and dangerously. However, the nation-state security apparatus has been caught in a web of ethnic bias, professional incapability, and muted theatrics that protects the perpetrators rather than the innocent and vulnerable victims. The culpability due to the lack of professional neutrality of state security officials in many of these crises are so patently blatant.

Under this unfolding scenario, coupled with the heightening cases of direct Fulani brutal altercations with local Igala, especially farmers over land issues, destruction of farm products, and pollution of waterways and drinking pool sources, the Igala are more alert to such scenario.  The Igala also have experienced the partiality of the state, and her partisan officials—often favouring these violent pastoralists against poor farmers and communities that have experienced direct Fulani herdsmen aggressive brutality and fallen victims to their vicious destructions of human lives and properties Such state partisanship and partiality in favour of a class of citizens is petrifying, and constitutes a gross human rights abuse by the state—which legally has the sole moral authority to violence and not unauthorized individuals or groups.

This column anticipates to relay and relate the broad issues at stake and elevate consciousness. No conclusion is made for readers, as each reader is at liberty to make their own informed conclusions revolving around these cogent issues—including the freedom to challenge the inherent assumptions that form the ballast thrust for its arguments.

However, I hope that such conclusions are not reached via gullible sentimentality and inane adoption of basal emotive and primordial ethnic and religious partisanship, which tristful is so easily the convenient rather than critical and analytical resorts of many Nigerians, among them a vast number of Igala and specially the youths.  The arguments can be intense but it is intended to create dialogic opportunities for sharing and enlarging our informed purviews.

The Looming Crises and the Present Stage

Since the assumption into office, the surprising and glaring reticence in the face of these crises of the Nigeria presidency, with President Muhammadu Buhari, an ethnic Fulani at its apex, has remained odd and raised more questions than answers. Such explicit display of lack of empathy and patent muted endorsement of such acts fans the allegations of nepotism, ethnic favoritism, and unhealthy lack of empathy.  Such views keep hurting the image of the president and ebbing his political capital and popular appeal. These sentiments too have and continue to shake the very foundation of the negotiable and contractual trust that ought to exist between the citizens and their government.

Eloquently, many Nigerians are alluding to the president as an interested and complicit party in the crises, favouring his ethnic Fulani kin and base. These observations are also eliciting critical questions regarding the nature of government and negatively affecting perception about the role of state security apparatus in internal and national crises.  Such negativity while valid further undermines the government, and spools more citizens to repugnantly perceive it much negatively just like, but along different angles, like the Boko Haram insurgents.

Overall, the Nigerian Federal government’s inability to effectively manage without bias intergroup crises, reveals her vital weaknesses and implicates her as crassly incompetent. The task of citizenry protection is any government’s preeminent duty. The dull and ineffectual mechanisms for unbiased citizenry protection masks the fragile nature of the Nigerian state as such.  Further, biased models of governmental interventions and lack of neutrality in crises vitally exposes her absolute incapacities to withstand and forestall conflicts, and embeds a creviced incompetence.

Hence, within the observed internalization of governmental inefficiency and pretentious mask skillful crises actors are quick to discern smart lessons capable of accentuating future public upheavals with potentials for further aggravated agitations within the public and social space. 

Therefore, the modes in which present crises are handled portend the ingredients for stymieing or robustly assist in the incubation of future more lethal and devious crises. Each crises exposes or highlights both the strengths and weaknesses of ingrained and measured capabilities or limitations undergirding future social crises. The weakness and partisanship of the Nigerian security in manifesting crises embeds the perceptions capable of engendering presently low laying but latently potent future conflicts. In each crisis is sown the ingrained determinants for assessing the possibilities of future conflict possibilities.

This is a factor of rational and psychosocial realities—possibility measures and the scale of evaluated justice vs injustice relative to group treatment, revenge or resolution future resolve internalization, respect, and sense of honour, etc. In fact, it must be understood that the tenuous nature of Nigerian state that privileges primordial affinities easily uplifts and yields the pathways for elevating sentimental rationalizations.

As such, this becomes the lenses scanning the privatized bifurcated arena and subterfuges of ethnicity and religion as the weighted instruments and endorsed prisms for keenly visualizing and processing social and public realities, even with malaise blinders on. Thus, this often underscores the swift and easy sentiments can get so publicly pervasive and overwhelming given the modes in which such pejorative markers and eruptive capsules can quickly spool primordial ethnocentric rhetoric and reactions unto the surface from any buried depth.

Thus, within the recent Benue scenario, the police inspector general, Ibrahim Idris has adduced reasons that has been analyzed by pundits as atavistic, unprofessional, and embedding ethnic bias. Such portraitures have equally led to his been vilified as morally deficit and described as an interested party playing out a hideous Fulani expansionist script.

The Inspector General Idris has overwhelmingly been asked by the public, including national assembly members to honourably resign or face disgraceful firing. Some Nigerians claim Idris to be Nupe, whereas others allege he is of Fulani ancestry. This is not surprising and neither are the two very mutually exclusives. But it is important, if indeed he is Fulani to declare such conflict of interests that could lead to accusation of professional bias. It is instructive that in the middle 19th century until the early 20th century, Nupe ethnicity had colluded and conflated with Fulani identity.

This is due to the many complex matrix of intrigues, depositions, alliances involving various Fulani warriors and dynastic forces. This historical reconfigurations and hybrid integration underlined and undermine any easy and clear-cut dichotomy separating or categorizing pure Nupe and Fulani ethnic identity or classification over the course of the 20th century right to the present due to the massive Fulani transformation of Nupe society and ethnic identity (see Kolapo, 1995, Ochonu 2001, 110-112; Maiyaki, 2014). 

In the light of these development, two former Nigerian leaders had drawn attention in separate public statements to this weighty and dangerous state of affairs. Sadly, while the opinions are divided, many are increasingly depicting President Buhari as an irredentist ethnic bigot, who though at the national pinnacle is sidelining and dampening the cogent significance of the Fulani herdsmen growing assault on innocent Nigerians, without offering the state’s protection to the attacked citizenry.   

Overall many groups of the Niger-Benue are often not very comfortable with the Hausa-Fulani based upon past experiences of Fulani Jihadist expansionist schemes that depicted inhuman brutalities that they consider as very excessive and extreme. In recent times, the most pronounced case of Fulani atrocities came to the fore with the Fulani massacre of aborigines in the Agatu area of Benue State in February and March 2016, months after President Buhari was installed Nigerian president. Many Agatu residents were killed and their residences destroyed. This resulted in the spatial dislocation causing enormous refugee surge. Since then there have been multifarious incidences in different parts of Nigeria including the southeastern and south-south regions of Nigeria.

These skirmishes between Fulani herdsmen and local farmers often evince the herdsmen as heavily armed; equipped with dangerous ammunitions such as high impact AK47s. With these, vicious herdsmen have left dismal tell-tales of trailing death and mournful sorrows in their wake. Such display and brutal use of ammunitions by Fulani pastoralists have begged the questions as to whether they are not part of the Boko Haram militant terrorists (Akinwotu, 2016). Sadly, the government often turns a blind eye.

Interestingly, the Nimbo, Uzo-Uwani incidence carried out by Fulani herdsmen have been associated with the dreaded Boko Haram. The assumable confession by one Fulani herdsman arrested in the wake of the Nimbo atrocities related the site of their planning meeting to have occurred in Kogi State (Wdn,). It is equally alleged too that Kogi State had been at the epic center of Fulani herdsmen atrocities and varying Boko Haram plots. Such correlations, if in deed true, portend enormous challenges for national security and intergroup dynamics.

As Professor Moses Ochonu observed of colonial Idoma’s resentment and resistance against what he phrased as the “Hausa-Caliphate imaginary,” is the fact the ingrained previous historical memories can reawake further invidious memories in later times. Among the Idoma the sentiments against previous Hausa-Fulani Jihadist expansion schemes, though very much past and unsuccessful among them, provoked a repulsive against the Hausa-Fulani elements within the colonial administrative schemes.

Such resurgent and reawakened consciousness incensed their repugnant reactions and directly unhidden antagonisms toward Hausa-Fulani persons or alien non-Hausa-Fulani peddling the Hausanized identity so privileged by the British colonials as their preferred hegemonic collaborators and accentuated models for ensuring appropriate colonial demeanour and native control (Ochonu, 2008: 98). The Idoma remained recalcitrant in their disavowals and dislike.

The Igala did not experience massive Fulani attacks on her territories, except for the episodic late 19th century Fulani incursions and occasional raids along the Benue river especially around the Bagana and Abejukolo area. Such incidences never affected other parts of Igala land in the interior and never reached Idah, or touch other parts of Igala land. Not directly privy to the massive atrocities and gory portraitures that marked such incidence, did not share the same level of anti-Hausa-Fulani resentment like the Tiv and Idoma. Yet, they were and remain very cautiously mindful of the hegemonic predispositions and offensive cruelty that trails Fulani’s unparalleled aggression for any perceived slight or transgressions. They are also cognizant of Fulani’s past expansionist tendencies and dominating exploits.

 As a result, the Igala dealt very cautiously and strategically with the Fulani in the past, and presumably even to this day to avoid unnecessary confrontations. While, that is not a sign of weakness or patent cowardice, the Igala presumably from past experiences relative to Fulani temperaments, given their historical antecedence and traditional embrasure of multicultural cordiality and open disposition toward ethnic plurality seemingly prefer the adoption of a less confrontational mutual coexistence, in shaping the contours of their intergroup relationships and engagement with the Fulani herdsmen. 

Thus, it is instructive as to how the Attah of Igala in the past handled relationships with the Fulani, with subtlety and tact.  Hence, Attah Ekalaga in 1832 and Attah Ameh Ocheje willingly ceded Lokoja to the British in strategically ensuring a buffer zone that would serve as a protective shield from the incursive menace of Fulani direct attacks upon Igala territories, based upon his assessment and realistic awareness of the British military prowess (Magregor and Oldsfield, 234-36).  The inhabitants of the confluence area were so happy about this development (Allen and Thompson, 1841, Vol. 1, 347-48, 356-57, Schon, 111, 117-118; Macgregor and Oldfied, A Narrative Vol. 2, 123-24; 234-35) as they assumed the British protective shield. The Attah also in dealing with his declining authority in the mid-19th century Niger-Benue, had sent envoys to Masaba with tributes to pacify him against any attack on the Attah and Igala territories (Kolapo, 1999). 

Seemingly, since the Igala were more metropolitan following the convergence and incorporation of diverse precolonial ethnicities and identities –Igbo, Nupe, Yoruba, Edo, Igbirra, Idoma, Hausa/Fulani-especially in Idah into her precolonial social fabric due to commercial activities, innovative technological and ritual and skilled specialists acquisitions in embracing multiple ethnic and cultural identities (Agbali, 2004), they were unlike the Idoma and Tiv, less likely to be negatively aroused and more adept at skillful handling of intrusive ethnic diversities and cultural open toward welcoming aliens.  

However, such welcoming was expected to be based on certain mutual norms of cordiality hinging upon cultural sensitivity and respect of Igala traditional values and integrated embedding and total submersion of alien traditions into a conflated Igala identity as its dominant motif.  Therefore, any alien values that threaten the Igala core cultural and traditional institutional paradigms, whether internally, or otherwise, are met with repugnant and stiff resistance and repelling vehemence.  

This was also among the major reasons for the mid-19th century Udulugbo war between the Idah royals and the Abejukolo ruling house (Ukwede, 2001).  Similar scenario was equally behind the disruptive 1833-35 civil war in Idah following the assassination of Attah Ekalaga (Okwoli, 1984: 18-19; Boston, 1968: 100).

Thus, it was such crass threat capable of undermining the Igala traditional institutions and provoking volatility against her normative cultural values that raised her antenna when accosted with Fulani-Hausa-Nupe military, political, hegemonic and religious potency and potential offensive onslaughts. Hence, they deplored varying strategic means.

 In fact, the easy consent to ceding and conveyancing Lokoja to the British for the purpose of establishing a model settlement seemed to tie with such strategic moves, with Lokoja (Adda Kuddu) serving as a strategic buffer zone against immediate Fulani onslaughts. The ceded territory to the British was equally rationalized as offering the necessary protective shield against Fulani direct effrontery from across the Niger ( Magregor and Oldsfield,   Vol 2: 234-236). The Attah using sound intelligence derived from foreign and alien sources was presumably well aware of the British military might, given that he had asked the expedition whether they were not the same one blocking slavery on the Atlantic (Schon, 89-90; Magregor and Oldsfield, vol. 1: 124-25; vol. 2. Pp. 121-22, 125).

Even though the Igala had invited and later embraced the integration of the Hausa-Fulani ethnic sediments into the bedrock of her precolonial society, during the Mahionu war the Igala remained very resolutely adversarial to alien Hausanized elements—whether Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba, or Nupe—who under the emblem of cultural superiority and Arewa identity were superimposed upon different Igala local chieftaincies across Igalaland (Etuh and Miachi, 1980: 35-37). In the same manner, many repulsed the air and arrogance of the Native Authority clerk, whom the British upgraded into a local authority, Maman Argungun (Etuh, 1993: 75).

Indeed, the Igala resentment did not directly evolve from the experience of the Fulani-Nupe raiders and expansionist Jihadists. Rather, the insolence and assaultive arrogance precipitated by these British superimposed non-Igala Hausanized aliens in colonial Igala land against their traditional institutions, especially the Attah and other local ruling hegemons that warranted the tensile and heightened antagonisms against this group (Etuh and Miachi, 1980: 35-37).

Around January 1st, 2018 Fulani herdsmen attacked certain villages in Benue State destroying houses, killing local residents, and injuring many others viciously and graphically orgiastic. In a few days over seventy (70) members of the Tiv ethnic group were killed in a carnage that has no such recent historical parallel.  Just months before that in Plateau States, alleged Fulani herdsmen had infiltrated a community and gruesomely murdered innocent citizens so brutally and ghastly. The Nigeria State under the watch of President Buhari turned a blind eye.  In December 2016, in Southern Kaduna Fulani herdsmen attacked villages and innocent citizens mauling many to death in the dead of night.  Both the state and federal government hardly provided enough protection for the victimized residents. For days the killings and arson continued unabated.

Governor Nasir El Rufai had even claimed the state government paid the killers days prior not to carry out such carnage, and only later inferring that the carnage was the handwork of foreigners who were invited into the area to settle score.  Till today, nothing serious has been done to bring the killers to book. Under the watch of the state and federal government the killers are still walking the streets very free and probably engaging in more vicious atrocities.

In all of these, many folks believe wittingly and unwittingly that these are not isolated incidences but well coordinated and orchestrated developments that involve the federal authorities and some ethnic coalitions of political actors, intent upon Fulani expansionism. Others also assess that these incidences are beyond the rank and file of Fulani but that these actors are some funded members of the dreaded Boko Haram militants, who have now morphed from their battlefields and infiltrating many communities in the Middle-Belt and southern parts of the country in furthering their devious militant agenda.

In the Igala area, for many years at least over the last almost 50 years, Fulani herdsmen have been welcomed into many communities, allocated settlements to reside and mainly engage in pastoral activities. For many years in most of these communities both the Igala and the migrant pastoral Fulani settlers lived in mutual peace. In different communities, however, occasionally conflict manifested often as a result of Fulani herdsmen leading their cattle into farmlands and destroying farm products and invested labors and farmers’ potential earnings.

In some cases, the Fulani herdsmen belligerently cause bodily harm and injuries to the persons of farmers and others that accosts their nefarious activities, especially when the altercations develop on farmlands located away from the communities. Most often, in the past, community and traditional leaders weighed into such situations and effect amicable settlements.

Beginning from the late-1970s, it is alleged that these Fulani herdsmen and leaders of their transient communities that began to adopt semi-permanence nature began to access and induce the local law enforcement officials and local traditional authorities with gifts and bribery toward leveraging advantages and manipulatively seeking victims’ sympathy. In this way, these Fulani were able to, even if at fault and are the root causes of conflicts and violence in favour of the Fulani herdsmen interests.

Fulani are often asserted to induce law enforcement officials, local public and traditional authorities with gifts of meat, dairy products, and directly with slush money derived from selling their cattle and other animals, as forms of bribery and corruption.  Obviously, the resultant effect was slanted and tilted justice that accentuated further crises and conflicts.

Such modalities pervert justice and have equally not helped matters breeding more invidious injustices. Felt injustices aggravate local peasants the more, hence engendering as their easy recourse to primordial sentiments of revenge through cattle poisoning, entrapment, and rustling activities whenever able. Given that the cattle is at the center of Fulani herdsmen’s life, such methods also precipitate further tensions engendering more lethal or fatal adversarial confrontations between these parties; Fulani and local owners and farmers. The Igala, in the past resorted to such acts, presumably toward getting the Fulani to move away from their localities to other ambience in the hope of regaining their peace and sanity. At times, with escalating crises and experiencing increasing cattle loses, some Fulani will relocate or move out entirely from the locale. 

But such tactics by the 1990s had substantially failed to achieve such provocations of getting the Fulani herdsmen to out-migrate elsewhere, rather more and more Fulani communities that were initially adjudged and imagined as temporary settlement began to adopt more permanent features.  And as this happened, the Fulani herdsmen, while still keeping their ethnic autonomy and separate communities living in settlement camps often within but outside the settled arena of the aborigines, began to arm themselves with more lethal ammunition.

With heightened social changes and the declining powers of local traditional authorities, the Fulani herdsmen had equally become more grounded as they established more direct access and inducements of the local public officials and law enforcement toward manipulating these officials to be biased in these Fulani’s advantageous favours, often siding with and acting in Fulani herdsmen favour. This was the reported case in 2016 in Umomi, Ofu Local Government where some youths were inordinately killed by the police acting in connivance with Fulani herdsmen (Dan Sulaiman, 2016), functioning in their biases after allegations of Fulani bribery and material inducement of the Tofu Local Government Police department, Ugwolawo’s leadership.

More lately in the 1990s, some of the settlements that were initially in the 1970s and 1980s assumed to be transient gradually became more semi-permanent and even permanent. In some cases, intermarriages occurred between mainly Fulani males and Igala females, with the reverse been very rare.  The interbreeding and the resultant miscegenation also helped to foster the increasing residential permanence of a nomadic migrant group, admitted within the understanding of their transience status. In 1995, I came across a significant number of this phenomenon among the Fulani around Akpagidigbo. Ofu Local Government area, that was interesting at the time.

…to be continued


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