Dr. Junaid Mohammed and the trouble with Fulanis
“All generalisations are dangerous, even this one.” — Alexandre Dumas
I learned everything that I needed to learn about Nigeria within the first few weeks I started writing for Nigeriaworld. It was the early days of the Internet. At that time, a majority of those connected to the World Wide Web were the elite. Which meant that they read more than the headlines before they fired a barrage of abuses as their responses.
I was young and innocent, then. I did not know that “all generalisations are dangerous, even this one.” But those few weeks changed my perspective on Nigeria forever.
I started what accidentally became a series with “The Trouble with Igbos.” The bombardment of responses that came in my mailbox shocked me. While the Igbo attacked me from all corners of the globe, the rest of Nigeria, Yoruba, Hausa-Fulani (as we used to call them), Urhobo, Ijaw, and others declared that I was the best thing since kulikuli. One Igbo professor sent me three epistles in one day, where he lectured me on Nigeria and the place of the Igbo in it. He is a very good friend of mine today.
In subsequent weeks, I wrote “The Trouble with Yorubas.” Almost the same people who hailed me the weeks before landed on me with prime and premium abuses. Their central argument was that going to school in Yoruba land did not give me the impetus to claim that I understood the Yoruba people and their troubles. A Yoruba professor fired a rejoinder that was three times longer than my original piece. He mentioned my name thrice in every paragraph. I didn’t know that was possible before then. He also became a good friend.
And then came, “The trouble with Fulanis.” By the time I wrote that piece, there was nobody left to defend me. These were the early years of President Obasanjo’s first term. I do not recall the people who responded to my piece. I had become seasoned, too. By then, raining attacks on me was more like pouring a bottle of sunrays on an eagle’s feather. But I recalled that Sanusi Lamido Sanusi was still engaged in public discourse then, before becoming the CBN governor and an Emir. I remember one Haruna Muhammad was active then. It was, however, Wada Nas that I subsequently connected with. His satire brought us together. I miss Wada Nas and his spectacularly bad satire.
I remembered those good old days of jaw-jaw rather than today’s war-war with nostalgia. The debate on the insecurity in Nigeria vis-à-vis the menace of criminal elements within Fulani herdsmen triggered a remembrance. With the death of Dr. Junaid Mohammed, a Second Republic lawmaker who became a unique fixture in Nigeria’s political discourse, I found the old article and reread it.
Dr. Junaid Mohammed had a penchant for giving newspaper editors bombastic headlines. Such is often the delight of editors the world over. One of Dr. Junaid Mohammed’s final interventions in Nigeria was an interview published in Daily Independent newspaper of January 24, 2021, where he said, “Let me be frank with anybody who wants to listen- Buhari is not a Fulani man! I repeat, Buhari is not a Fulani man even though he is claiming to be one. You can quote me on this.” He went on to say, “I challenge him (Buhari) to subject himself to a genotype test so that we can know his gene because you can find out the genes of a typical Fulani man.”
I started the piece, “The Trouble with Fulanis” by recalling how the Fulanis came into the territory that became Nigeria. It was the days I had a lot of time on my hands for research. And it showed.
“Five hundred years ago, the events that were taking place on the vast piece of land currently referred to as northern Nigeria were more fascinating than what is going on now. The Trans-Saharan trade routes had earlier on established a communication avenue with the Mediterranean. And from it, Islam had come into West Africa after the 9th century. Various Hausa states like Ghana, Gao, and Kanem, which sprung up outside present-day Northern Nigeria but indirectly impacted the history of today’s Northern Nigeria had declined. And out of a small state of Gao, the Songhai Empire emerged. By the last decade of the 15th century, Songhai in the East had overrun all of Mali and established itself as one of the two major places where much of Northern Nigeria paid homage. The other one was Borno in the West.
“As Songhai and Kanem-Borno Empires prospered, small Hausa states such as Kano, Katsina, and Gobir, founded by the children of Bayinjida (who became sarki of Daura after subduing a snake and marrying the queen of Daura) remained in the periphery. They fought against the Jukun and Nupe in the Middle Belt in a quest for slaves, treasures amongst other things. Islam was gradually introduced into Kano and Kastina by clerics from Mali. In the 13th century, the Fulanis entered Hausaland from the Senegal River valley first as nomadic cattle rearers. One group of Muslim Fulanis settled in the cities and transformed themselves into an educated elite who served as Islamic teachers, judges, and government advisers to Hausa kings.
“When Songhai Empire collapsed abruptly in 1591 as a result of Moroccan attack from the Sahara, Borno Empire dominated the region for the next 200 years. But before Songhai fell, it had subdued Kebbi and their kanta (king). It had introduced the trades in kola nuts from the forests of modern Ghana. And of course, Islamic culture had developed. The rise of Borno effectively relocated the focus of the Hausas to Birni Gazargamu on the Komadugu Yobe River.
“The Hausa states of Gobir, Kastina, Zamfara, Kano, Kebbi, and Zaria fought amongst themselves for much of the 17th and 18th centuries. Eventually, Zamfara fell to Gobir and ceased to exist as a state. (It was to re-emerge 200 years after and once again doing things to change the history of Northern Nigeria.) Severe drought, one of which lasted for seven years and constant military attack from Tuareg warriors of Agades finally brought about the decline of the Borno Empire. Just when the Hausa states were about to breathe free, many Fulanis in an attempt to escape droughts moved into Hausa land.
“The Fulanis, known in those days for their lack of loyalty to political authorities, increased tension in the Hausa States. At the tail end of the 18th century, Muslim scholars (Mallams) who had become fed up with the instability of the Hausa States began to think about a revolution. They formed the Qadiriyah brotherhood and initiated the plan to overthrow existing authorities. And leading this group of radical Mallams was Usman dan Fodio.
“In 1804, in Gobir, the Jihad began. Incidentally, 20 years before, Jubril, a Tuareg, called for a Jihad. And Abd as-Salam whose actions truly started the Jihad was Hausa. But a majority of the Mallams who supported Usman dan Fodio were Fulanis. And in 1808, when Hausa states were overthrown, all the prominent leaders of the emerging new order were Fulanis. Various Hausa Dynasties fled as a result. The Zaria Dynasty ran to Abuja, the Kebbi rulers ran to Argungu, the Katsina Dynasty ran to Maradi in present-day Niger. The Fulanis also brought down the Borno Empire and destroyed Birni Gazargamu but another cleric, Al Kanemi, forced the Fulanis to retreat.
“Usman dan Fodio established his capital in Sokoto and the new state became known as the Sokoto Caliphate. Headed by the Sultan (Commander of the faithful) the caliphate was a loose confederation of emirates. When Usman dan Fodio died in 1817, his son, Muhammed Bello succeeded him. Three decades after, the caliphate had stretched its control from Sokoto to Ilorin and down into cities in modern-day Cameroon. Ilorin, which used to be the headquarters of Oyo cavalry, composed of Muslim slaves revolted in 1817 following a failed coup and pledged allegiance to the caliphate. Oyo warlords were to spend the 1820s fighting amongst themselves and resisting the caliphate.
“The Fulanis who inherited power following the success of Usman dan Fodio’s jihad intermarried with the ruling Hausa families and moved into the household. Though assimilated into Hausa culture and language, and generally referred to as Hausa-Fulani, the rulers of what later became Northern Nigeria were very proud of their heritage. On the surface, they allowed what looked like the continuous hausanisation of Northern Nigeria but as directed by the Fulanis.”
In 2000 when I wrote the piece, there was palpable tension in Nigeria, as we have today. That time, it was about the introduction of Sharia law by twelve northern states. There were fears then Nigeria would split or go to war. The fears were that these northern states were using Sharia to destroy Nigeria’s secularism and thereby set in motion a systematic Islamisation of Nigeria. (Sounds familiar?)
President Obasanjo’s reaction was that Sharia law would fizzle out because it was a weapon the northern elite deployed to show their displeasure that he was elected president. Obasanjo thought that the northern elite were just using Sharia to distract the poor masses from their failure to take care of their welfare. In Obasanjo’s body language, one could see that he believed that the monster the northern elite were letting off the leash would eventually swallow them.
Fast forward to 2020, twenty years after, Sharia Law has produced several unintended consequences. Besides sowing the seed in most people in the South that Nigeria was not marching in one direction, it directly or indirectly led to Boko Haram. And Goodluck Jonathan’s failure to deal with the Boko Haram insurgency led to Buhari’s presidency. And Buhari’s presidency has begotten the insecurity we currently see in the North and South of Nigeria. Even though I did not predict this twenty years ago, I can confidently say that without introducing the Sharia Law in 2000, there wouldn’t have been Boko Haram today. And without Boko Haram, there would not have been bandits all over Northern Nigeria.
I now cringe at my diagnosis as the trouble with the Fulanis, which is the same thing that I feel when I go back to read my trouble with Igbo and Yoruba. As I said, I did not know Alexandre Dumas then. I did not know that “all generalisations are dangerous, even this one.”
Having said that, here is my diagnosis then.
“Clientage and competition were the two significant factors in Fulani political system. A Fulani man was expected to compete amongst his fellow men for the right to rule. He proved this by showing his capacity to attract large fellowship. The client who accepted to follow the powerful Fulani politician would offer gifts and political support in return for protection. But that was how it was in the beginning before the Fulanis overthrew the Hausa Kings and began to see themselves as those born to rule.
“The trouble with the Fulanis is that they have stayed too long on other people’s throne (Hausa people’s throne) that they totally forgot how they got there in the first place. The Fulanis have forgotten that they penetrated the Hausa society by serving as clerks, teachers, judges, advisers etc. When the Nigerian experiment began, Fulanis who had become kings of Hausaland assumed they would naturally become kings of Nigeria. They forgot that Nigeria was a new society and for them to penetrate Nigeria, they had to serve as teachers, clerks, judges, and advisers. For a while, their thinking pattern worked for them, until the Second Coming of Obasanjo, which coincided with the opening of the eyes of Nigerians by Babangida and Abacha. If the Fulanis had spent some time to serve Nigeria, the mere fact that they did not produce the president this time around would not have left them feeling like fish brought out of Sokoto River.
“About 200 years ago, when Usman dan Fodio and his group were about to overthrow Hausa land and their kings, they studied the Hausa society and struck when the Hausa states were in disarray. But their weapon of choice was Islam, which they had sold to the Hausa people. The current attempt by Fulanis to strike back after losing power was a miscalculation. The yet unconquered Nigerian society (Middlebelt and Southern Nigeria) may be in disarray but Fulanis choice of Sharia as the weapon of choice was a tactical mistake. It is similar to Saddam Hussein’s firing of scud missiles at Israel during the Gulf War with the hope of breaking the resolve of the Allied Forces. It failed and so would Sharia. In fact, rather than destroy, the Sharia is uniting the rest of Nigeria.
“By Fulanis choice of weapon, they have lost the Middlebelt forever. Not even the Wakus of Middlebelt would be enthusiastic about continuing to line up in front of Alhaji’s house for some handouts. What is left to be seen is whether the Hausas, most of whom currently pretend to be Fulanis, will see the clue and learn that they have been taken for a ride for much too long by the Fulanis. The decision of the Fulanis to partake in the Hausa language while reserving their own Pulaar and Fulfulde languages for just their ‘sons of the soil’ totally deceived the Hausas. To even note that the jihad that brought down the Hausa states was triggered by Abd as-Salam, a Hausa man, and envisioned by Jubril, a Tuareg, was shocking. Those who used to be their own kings have become other people’s servants.”
I am not ashamed to be wrong, twenty years ago, in several aspects. But I am proud that I gave these matters a serious thought, probably more than the people paid to do the job for Nigeria. I am also very proud of my ultimate prescription. It is one that I continuously think about whenever I hear the likes of Dr. Junaid Mohammed talk about Nigeria. And it went like this:
“One major mistake the Fulanis made was not to have followed the teachings of their own Usman dan Fodio. Writing in his book, THE PURIFICATION OF THE HEART FROM KIBR (Pride), Usman dan Fodio warned of the danger of being proud and arrogant. He wrote that self-exaltation does not make anyone arrogant as long as one sees that another person is greater than him or his equal. What makes one arrogant, dan Fodio wrote is when, “he exerts his own value in relation to someone else, he despises the one below him and put himself above others’ company and confidence.” To this kind of people, dan Fodio warned; “You own neither your heart nor yourself. You desire something while your destruction may be in it, and you detest something while your life may be in it. You find some foods delicious when they destroy and kill you, and you find remedies repugnant when they help you and save you. You are not safe for a moment, day and night. Your sight, knowledge, and power may be stripped away: your limbs may become semi-paralyzed, your intellect may be stolen away, your ruh may be snatched away, and all you love in this world may be taken from you.”
“There is no gentle way of describing the trouble with the Fulanis. There is no hope of being reasonable either because the Fulanis are like Gibreel, a character in Salman Rushdie’s novel, THE SATANIC VERSES, whose girlfriend Allie observed and concluded that, “The worst thing about him … was his genius for thinking himself slighted, belittled, under attack. It became almost impossible to mention anything to him, no matter how reasonable, no matter how gently put.”
As I write this, I do not know if Junaid Mohammed was Fulani or not. And I do not care. And that is one of the dangers of generalisation. But it doesn’t really matter if he was Fulani or not. What matters is that he contributed to Nigeria’s political discourse. And for that, we pay tribute to him. We hope more people will choose Junaid Mohammed’s path of jaw-jaw and not the war-war option. We hope more will do so with a little less bombastic attitude. If not for any other reason, for the mere fact that generalisation is the cement used to build all bombastic proclamations. And as we have seen, “all generalisations are dangerous, even this one.”
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