“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.