By Emeritus Professor (Senator) Banji Akintoye
We Yoruba Nation are confronted by countless daunting challenges today. In all directions, our nation is suffering decline and retrogression. Our educational system, once the flagship of our development achievements, is fearfully sick. Our nation’s whole future is imperilled because the masses of our educated youths roam the streets without any hope of jobs, most of them unable to marry and start raising their own children, some falling into crimes, and countless hundreds of thousands seeking ways to flee abroad. Among the most desperate, many are falling for the temptation of trying to reach Europe through the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea, and very many of these are dying daily in the desert and the sea. Of the hundreds of thousands who manage to succeed in reaching other countries, hardly any ever think of returning home these days, and our Yoruba nation is becoming dispersed across the world. Back home in Nigeria, various Nigerian policies and realities discourage the spirit of enterprise among our people. Businesses are failing, others are relocating to other countries, and the prospects of employment continue to plummet. Most of the industries established by our leaders in the 1950s have closed shop, and most of other assets created then have been allowed to perish. Infrastructures are declining abysmally in all directions and, in particular, federal infrastructures are strangulating our Yoruba homeland. Our agriculture has suffered neglect for decades, until we now must depend on food importations to feed our growing population. Federal take-over, and incompetent or even hostile federal handling of some of our leading achievements, such as our great university in Ife and our produce exports, have engendered a spirit of frustration and lack of confidence among our people. On the whole, we Yoruba people of today are suffering a depth of poverty that no known generation of Yoruba people have ever suffered.
Altogether, we are a nation under very devastating stress in the context of Nigeria. But none of these reverses ranks as high now as the invasion which our Yoruba homeland has been experiencing since 2014. Since 2014, gangs of Fulani herdsmen and militias, coming from the Nigerian Northwest and other parts of the Nigerian far North, have been destroying farms in our homeland, killing large numbers of farmers and farmers’ wives and children, raping and killing women, destroying villages, kidnapping people, and generally engaging in uttermost rampage in various parts of Yorubaland. It has been the same in the homelands of the many peoples of the Nigerian Middle Belt, in the Igbo homeland in the Southeast, and in the homelands of many of the peoples of the South-south.In short, the whole of the Nigerian Middle Belt and South have been experiencing unimaginable disruption since 2014 as a result of persistent rampages by Fulani herdsmen and militias. And it is my belief and recommendation that we must get rid of this invasion without any delay. It is only after we have done so that we can meaningfully tackle any of our other challenges.
To be able to get rid of the Fulani invasion of our land, we need to understand it. For a start, it was very difficult for the people of Nigeria, and for informed observers abroad, to understand it. Most people everywhere thought it was merely an escalation in the traditional conflicts between farmers and cattle herdsmen. Most intellectuals who studied the situation thought it was caused simply by the fact that the serious droughts and consequent loss of grasslands in the Nigerian far North in recent years were compelling herdsmen to veer generally southward in search of grasslands for their cattle. International television organizations like CNN and Aljazeera described it to the world as merely a worsening of traditional conflicts between farming folks and cattle-herding folks in Nigeria.
However, as the years have rolled on and the mass killings and devastations have continued, people have come to understand the situation much better. It is now known conclusively that there is a serious agenda in progress – an agenda of the Fulani people for the forcible remaking of Nigeria. No sincere Nigerian or informed foreign observer now doubts that an uncommon programme is being pursued in Nigeria – a programme without any other programme like it in any other country of the world. Nigeria’s most influential statesman, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, has called it an agenda of “Fulanisation” of Nigeria.
It is now known conclusively that there is a serious agenda in progress – an agenda of the Fulani people for the forcible remaking of Nigeria. No sincere Nigerian or informed foreign observer now doubts that an uncommon programme is being pursued in Nigeria – a programme without any other programme like it in any other country of the world. Nigeria’s most influential statesman, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, has called it an agenda of “Fulanisation” of Nigeria.
Briefly stated, the agenda has the objective of inculcating Fulani settlements into all parts of Nigeria and creating a situation in which Fulani emirates shall command the lives of people in all parts of Nigeria. Nigeria will therefore become a country in which all parts will be forcibly dominated by the Fulani. Since the Fulani of Nigeria, who are only about six million in population, are too few for such a massive enterprise, as many as possible of the Fulani who belong to most countries of West Africa (altogether numbering up to 23 million) will be encouraged to move into Nigeria.
It is very obvious that much indoctrinating of Fulani people all over West Africa has been engaged in for this agenda. From close observations, the content of the doctrine seems to be the spreading of a belief that Nigeria is the country that Allah has destined to be the home of the Fulani nation. While the Fulani have lacked acceptable levels of political influence in other countries of West Africa (including even Guinea where the Fulani, with about 42% of the population, are the largest single ethnic nation), the Fulani have almost consistently had great influence in Nigeria even since before the coming of British rule. In the early 19th century, a small number of Fulani, led by a Reformer, subdued the large and rich Hausa nation and established Fulani rule over the Hausa people. Under British rule, the British chose the Fulani as a “friendly people”, generally helped to build up Fulani influence and, at independence, left Nigeria under the dominant control of the Fulani. Since the 1950s, Fulani men and Fulani proteges have almost consistently held dominant positions in Nigerian affairs – from Ahmadu Bello, to Tafawa Balewa, Murtala Mohammed, Shehu Shagari, Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha, and now Buhari again. All these historical facts are being explained as God’s hand at work in Nigeria for the Fulani nation. The large numbers of Fulani herdsmen are also seen as a God-provided tool for the Fulani agenda, because the herdsmen have traditionally had easy access to virtually all corners of Nigeria.
Since the 1950s, Fulani men and Fulani proteges have almost consistently held dominant positions in Nigerian affairs – from Ahmadu Bello, to Tafawa Balewa, Murtala Mohammed, Shehu Shagari, Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha, and now Buhari again. All these historical facts are being explained as God’s hand at work in Nigeria for the Fulani nation. The large numbers of Fulani herdsmen are also seen as a God-provided tool for the Fulani agenda, because the herdsmen have traditionally had easy access to virtually all corners of Nigeria.
Much of the information about the intentions of the Fulani agenda is from statements made by the Fulani themselves – either by prominent Fulani individuals, or by spokesmen for notable Fulani organizations such as Miyetti Allah, Gan Allah Fulani Association, and the most influential Fulani organization, Fulani Nationality Movement. Such statements are very many, but we cannot do more than pinpoint a few in this speech. In 2014, a tirade against all non-Fulani peoples of Nigeria was published in the worldwide social media. It was credited to one Aliyu Gwarzo, and it promised that if any people of Nigeria resisted Fulani control, “we Fulani” “will kill, maim, destroy, and turn Nigeria into Africa’s most bloody war zone”. He concluded with the warning: “The Mujaheedin are more than ready, and by Allah, we shall win”.
It is important to point out that in January of that year 2014, the popular first governor of Kaduna State, Balarabe Musa, had raised the alarm that an “insurgency” was about to break out in Nigeria, an insurgency that would be better armed, more murderous and more widespread than Boko Haram, an insurgency that was being organized by some notable Nigerians for the purpose of achieving a political objective.
In my experience, the historically most important one among the Fulani statements to date is the letter of threat which a Fulani organization wrote to the Governor of Benue State, Governor Sam Ortom, in early January 2018. In late 2017, the Benue State government had enacted a law to regulate nomadic cattle herding in Benue State, in order to reduce Fulani violence against Benue State citizens. In response, a Fulani organization wrote to threaten that Fulani people would attack the people of Benue State. On January 01, 2018, the threatened attack came massively, destroying many villages and taking the lives of about 78 people, all in one night. As Benue State carried out mass burials and a state mourning, a delegation of citizens sent by the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum arrived on January 05 in Makurdi to sympathize with the people of Benue State. The governor then shocked the assembled delegates and leaders of Benue State by announcing that he had received yet another letter of threat from the same Fulani organization that had written the letter of late 2017, and he read out the new letter. The new letter threatened that greater attacks would soon come on the people of Benue State;that the source of the problem was that the nationalities of Benue State believed that the land of their homelands belonged to them; that the land did not belong to these peoples but to the Fulani; that the Fulani were now on the warpath to seize their land; that the same thing applied to the land of all the peoples of Nigeria; that the Fulani had accumulated enormous funds and weapons for this war, and had invited all Fulani from all over West Africa to come and help take the land of all of Nigeria; and that the Nigerian Federal government could not stop the Fulani.
Some of the visible evidence and success of the Fulani agenda are already significantly visible in most parts of the Nigerian Middle Belt and South. The Fulani herdsmen who are part of the agenda usually come rearing a considerable number of cows, accompanied, or followed at a short distance, by some militiamen armed with sophisticated assault weapons, mostly AK47 rifles. While traditional cattle herders had commonly come, and still do come, peacefully rearing their cows, respecting farms along their way, and doing nothing to hurt anybody or any property, the agenda-driven herdsmen since 2014 have come intent on provoking conflict. Such a herdsman would let his cow ravage a farm – or, according to many farmers, would guide his cows into a farm. When conflict with the farmer ensues, the cow herder scurries away from the scene, and the militiamen then move in to kill the farmer and other persons, and to destroy villages and other assets.
Under cover of the widespread violence, large numbers of non-Nigerian Fulani are arriving and spreading out and taking hold of territory in the Middle Belt and the South, including Yorubaland and including the Yoruba parts of Kwara and Kogi States. The Fulani settlements or hide-outs exist today in scattered locations in Yorubaland. In some parts of the Yoruba homeland, their populations are considerable – especially in areas such as Oke Ogun in Oyo State and the Yewa area of Ogun State. Some of these Fulani settlements or hide-outs may have some cow herders tending their cows, but most are occupied by people who have no visible jobs or means of livelihood. Every settlement or hide-out has some armed militiamen.
While traditional cattle herders had commonly come, and still do come, peacefully rearing their cows, respecting farms along their way, and doing nothing to hurt anybody or any property, the agenda-driven herdsmen since 2014 have come intent on provoking conflict. Such a herdsman would let his cow ravage a farm – or, according to many farmers, would guide his cows into a farm. When conflict with the farmer ensues, the cow herder scurries away from the scene, and the militiamen then move in to kill the farmer and other persons, and to destroy villages and other assets.
From time to time, from these hide-outs, small gangs of armed men go out to attack nearby villages, to kidnap people, or even to hold up highways, rob motorists and passengers, kidnap or kill passengers, rape and kill women, and kill children, on farms or isolated paths to farms. When they kidnap people, they usually take the kidnapped into the forest where they brutalize them while demanding ransom from their families by telephone. In this way, they have extorted unknown millions of Naira from Yoruba families.
These Fulani rampages reached a peak in the Yoruba homeland in Southwest Nigeria in 2015 when they kidnapped on his farm one of the most eminent Yoruba citizens of our time – Chief Olu Falae, a former Secretary of the Nigerian Federal Government, former Nigerian Finance Minister, and former Nigerian presidential candidate. They came to his large modern farm in broad daylight, kidnapped him and killed some of his farm workers. They then took him captive into the forest, and held him there in drenching rain for three days while some of their people called his family by telephone from some unknown place to demand ransom. The public has never learned how the ransom was delivered; obviously, it is unsafe for Chief Falae’s family to disclose this.
The Fulani rampages have not been limited to farms of arable crops. They have also been extended to farms of tree crops. After releasing Chief Falae, they came again and again for months in the night to burn palm trees in his palm-tree plantation. On some of such nights, they made sure to damage or destroy farm structures and equipment. In various other parts of the Yoruba homeland, including parts of Kogi and Kwara States, owners of tree crop plantations – palm trees, fruit trees, rubber trees, wood trees – have experienced similar devastation of their tree-crop plantations.
In more recent months, kidnapping on highways has escalated most noticeably. One attack on the highways resulted, in August 2019, in the killing of Mrs Olufunke Arakunrin, the daughter of the leader of Afenifere, Chief Rueben Fasoranti.
Under these kidnappings, which are really a feature of the Fulani invasion of Yorubaland, local crimes have escalated troublingly, with some local criminals kidnapping people for ransom, in order to take some share in the Fulani ransom bonanza.
In early November 2019, the government of Oyo State enacted a law to curtail nomadic cattle rearing in Oyo State. While we Yoruba people are rejoicing at the law and congratulating and thanking our Oyo State Government, some Fulani organization has issued threats against all Yoruba people of Nigeria. They are saying that they see the Oyo State law as an attack by all Yoruba on the Fulani, and that they will mobilize all the power of the Fulani from all over West Africa and the world for an attack on all of Yorubaland in Nigeria.
WHAT WE YORUBA SHOULD DO
We Yoruba must embark immediately, seriously and universally on generating awareness and vigilance among our people, and on getting ready to defend our families, our communities, our farmlands, our villages, and our churches, mosques and shrines. When a country is not aware of a coming invasion and not ready to defend itself, it is easy for the invaders to succeed. But when the people of a country are widely aware and are ready to defend their land, it is difficult for an invasion to succeed.
We have two examples to look at and learn from. First, the peoples of Benue State in December 2017 to January 2018 were not much aware of the looming danger, and were not seriously ready to defend their homelands; they apparently were hoping for federal help; and the result is that the Fulani attack on January 01, 2018 succeeded in wreaking enormous devastation. In contrast, after the Ekiti State Government enacted a law in 2016 to curtail nomadic cow rearing and the Fulani began to threaten reprisals, Ekiti State immediately mobilized the traditional hunters. And the result has been that the Fulani were not able to carry out the kind of mass attacks in Ekiti that they were threatening to do. From January 2018, the people of Benue State at last took steps to mobilize themselves, and the Fulani invaders have been experiencing serious resistance there since then.
The lesson is clear for us Yoruba. We must respectfully, and in the true spirit of family, urge our governments that, as they make laws in this situation, they should take steps to rev up awareness and vigilance among the generality of our people. They should also wake up and energize existing vigilante and citizen defence forces that we have at our disposal. We Yoruba are blessed with many of such forces. Pre-eminently, we have Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC). We also have very capable branches of Agbe Koya under the leadership of such brave and seasoned warriors as Olamilekan Ayikaaka, Dr. Kunle Oshodi and Olalere Ayalu. We have a plethora of smaller similar organizations such as Yoruba Koya Movement, Soludero, etc with each of these doing what they can do; we shall quickly show the Fulani marauders that Yorubaland is not the kind of land they can invade.
But we must also mobilize our traditional hunters, in all our cities and towns. And our State Governments might consider reviving the colonial Forest Guard institution, for special deployment in our rural areas.
But nothing can match the mobilization of all our people to be ready and vigilant. As a means to getting this done, we must call upon all our self determination organizations – from the prestigious OPC, Agbekoya, Soludero, Yoruba Koya; to the humblest of our civic organizations – to take the message to all of their members. The number of organizations today in our Yoruba World Congress, YWC, the umbrella of all Yoruba Socio-cultural and self determination groups, stands at 85, representing millions of our people. We must activate each of these our organizations to mobilize their members to be vigilant and ready to defend their families, homes, villages, farmsteads, farmlands, towns and cities.
And we must mobilize our millions of people in the Diaspora. The Fulani organizations threaten that they will bring Fulani people from everywhere in the world to attack Yorubaland. We Yoruba must show them that we have overwhelming millions that we can summon from the Diaspora, and that those millions are educated and very capable people, and that some of them are among the most educated, most skilled, and most resourceful people in the world.
I have heard some of our wisest people say that the war which the Fulani people may soon bring upon us is the prophesied war in which we Yoruba people will definitively retrieve the dignity and liberation of our nation. I am not sure what to say about that. I am a historian, and historians are not trained to speculate or prophesy. But I say proudly to my people, get ready and let us win this war decisively and absolutely. And get ready to rise to the highest peaks of human courage and statesmanship in the handling of the outcome of the war.
However, we Yoruba, because we are a nation given to positive and constructive approaches in all things, will like to propose a possible alternative to war.
The alternative consists of two steps;
STEP 1: We demand that the Fulani should immediately remove, repudiate and cancel their agenda of conquest and subjugation of other peoples of Nigeria. This would give the peoples of Nigeria the opportunity to find peaceful and harmonious coexistence in Nigeria.
STEP 2: After this has been done, all the people of Nigeria should join hands together to restructure Nigeria in ways that countless Patriots have been proposing for years, in ways that would make Nigeria a workable country. We hope and expect that all other peoples of Nigeria will support this demand of our Yoruba nation.
I thank you all.
*This piece was excerpted from a speech delivered by Yoruba Leader, Emeritus Professor (Senator) Adebanji Stephen Akintoye at a roundtable organized by a Self Determination Group, Yoruba Oodua Union; held at Ile-Ife, Osun State on 16th November, 2019.