Wednesday, April 9, 2014


 “How was your trip?” Ibrahim your Fulani guide asks, taking your right hand in both his hands, avoiding your eyes as he welcomes you. He has waited for close to an hour under the bridge after the SDP junction in Gwagwalada. There are no creases of impatience on his face when you see him from afar. No complaints. Only gratitude that you are interested in his story and an eagerness to guide you into the lives of pastoralists.
You steal a look at your phone. You have tweeted about your visit to a model grazing reserve which promotes sedentariness of pastoralists and teaches modern methods of livestock breeding and dairy production. People tweet the questions they want answers to: do the Fulani prefer a nomadic way of life to staying in one place? What is the conflict between farmers and herders about? Do they have arms?
People tweet their conclusions and prejudices: the Fulani are a murderous tribe. The Fulani are bloodthirsty. The Fulani are evil. The Fulani should be driven out of our lands. The Fulani should be killed.
Twitter is the sum of all our fears.
Someone tweets at you to be careful with the Fulani. You want to tweet back and say, you have lived all your life around Fulani people and that not all Fulani are the same. But you can see it is not a question. It is a statement, driven on the wheels of its assuredness. Only facts can respond to this. Only stories of persons suffering from the same tragedies that we blame them for can douse the wild flames of propaganda and hate.
Twitter is the sum of our self-assured ignorance.
You used to think that herders had an attachment to a nomadic way of life, that it might be hard to convince pastoralists to become sedentary. Aliyu Ghana, a herder who used to live in Ghana travelled with his family to the model grazing reserve in Paiko-Kore when he heard that the reserve had facilities that would keep his family in one place: pasture, a nomadic school for his children, a vet clinic and water.
‘I will bring my father and his family here if everything goes ok,’ he tells you.
You can see in his eyes that he is disappointed. In the lack of adequate pasture. In the lack of facilities. But he is thankful there is at least a school he can send his children to.
Herder after herder demolishes your theory about the nomadic way of life. They move in search of pasture and water, to escape conflict and to escape disease. Movement is not so much cultural as it is borne out of necessity. All Aliyu wants is pasture for his cattle and a school for his children. He himself has completed basic Quranic education and attended the same primary school his children now attend.
Blessed are those who tweet for they will be rewarded now-now.
‘They are just terrorists,’ someone tweets at you as you explain why there are clashes between farmers and pastoralists. You check to see which of your tweets he has responded to direct him to the explanations you have just made. You see that he was responding to your explanations and that a few people have favorite and retweeted his tweet. Some have responded to register their agreement with him. You imagine him, in Lagos with his iPad, far away from the area of conflict and from reason, nodding as he counts his mentions. Soon he moves on to tweeting about sports. He has spread the hate and he has forgotten.
Blessed are those who hate in 140 characters or less.
A herder from Kaura tells you, in response to the question about the Fulani arming themselves, that a herder has implements for herding and occasional hunting- daggers, machetes, perhaps a dane gun. The Fulani man is used to herding with these basic weapons because of the nature of his existence, he tells you.
‘But if you see someone with a pistol, an AK-47, or other bigger guns that is not herding. Such a person has other motives.’
You tweet the answers that you get, about the other sides of the conflict, the stories of farmers encroaching and cultivating crops on known cattle grazing paths or routes; about negligence of some herders that leads to destruction of farmland; about the pastoralist children who get killed by cattle thieves; about the proaction of many pastoralist communities in dealing with and settling conflict with farming communities.
On your way back after many hours conducting interviews, your guide tells you he can’t take you all the way because he is receiving visitors. His brother, who lost wife and child in an accident, is still in the hospital. You are sorry that you kept him away from grieving. There is no problem, he says.
You take a bus back into the city, thinking of prejudice and fallacies and half-truths in 140 characters or less.


  1. 'there are two sides to a story' has never rung truer in my head. Good read.

  2. Twitter; telling single stories in 140 characters or less.....

  3. Elnathan, I always read your writings. I love the way you write. I don't know why I missed this very important one.

    I am Tiv, from Benue state. I think your story about clashes between crop farmers and herdsmen would have been much more accurate if you interviewed victims on both sides. You seem to limit your story to cattle rustling, and inadequate grazing facilities. I feel you can do a better story.

    You are clearly unaware that herdsmen rape women in their farms. I am a farmer, a victim of Fulani hostilities in Benue. I am not talking based on hear say. On several occasions they have been caught and handed over to the police, where they disappear almost immediately. And the case dies.

    Severally they have attacked, and even killed people who challenge them for destroying their crops.
    You also omitted to mention ecological problems that derive from overgrazing, like erosion, desertification, and contamination of natural water sources.

    You seem to believe the narrative that it is due to inadequate grazing reserves, and encroachment on grazing routes by farmers that cause herdsmen to resort to hostilities.

    As a lawyer I expect you to question the propriety of the the said grazing routes/reserves. Land everywhere belongs to individuals, and to the community in some instances. If the land belongs to the community, can someone who is not a member of that community lay claim on that land? How did every one come to believe that Fulani have rights over every land including those outside their ancestral homes?

    As Nigerians, Fulani a free to live anywhere. But why is too difficult to preach that if a Fulani man wants to live, say in Benue, to do his business of rearing cattle, he should buy land there, fence it and keep his cattle therein? Instead you people find more appropriate to preach that government should create and equip grazing reserves for Fulani to breed their cattle. Fulani must be special. Is that how they would set aside land for me in Kano to cultivate my crops?

    I invite you to Benue state to see for yourself the destruction Fulani have caused, and are still causing, to conquer territories for grazing. May be then you would rewrite your story.



You fit vex, bet abeg no curse me. You hear?