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Rising Ethnic Tension Between Hausa and Fulani

I’ve noticed a lot of back and forth between Hausa and Fulani people on social media lately. This column contributes to the debate



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Twitter: @farooqkperogi

The cultural and ethnic melding of Northern Nigeria’s Hausa and the Fulani people is so deep, so labyrinthine, so time-honored, and so unexampled that a fictitious ethnic category called the “Hausa-Fulani” was invented by Nigeria’s southern press to describe the emergent ethnic alchemy it has produced.

Northern intellectuals resented the label at first. For example, the late Dr. Yusufu Bala Usman, the famously iconoclastic professor of history at the Ahmadu Bello University who was ethnically Fulani and who was the scion of the Katsina and Kano royal families, condemned the hyphenation of Hausa and Fulani as both ill-willed and ignorant.

But several Northern Nigerian elites of Hausa and Fulani filiation have now enthusiastically embraced it. President Muhammadu Buhari, for instance, told the Weekly Trust in 1999 that he loved the hyphenated Hausa-Fulani identity that the southern press invented because it encapsulates the complexity of his own identity. His father is Fulani while his mother is half Kanuri and half Hausa.

More than that, though, Buhari is culturally and linguistically Hausa. Like most people in Nigeria’s northwest who trace patrilineal bloodline to the Fulani (including most of the emirs), he doesn’t speak a lick of Fulfulde (as the language of the Fulani is called in Nigeria) and is completely divorced from the culture of the “unmingled” Fulani who now live mostly in Nigeria’s northeast and in the bushes elsewhere in the country.

Over the years, the northern political elite not only used the common Islamic heritage of the Hausa and the Fulani people as an instrument to construct and cement the notion of an undivided and indivisible Hausa-Fulani identity, they also encouraged other parts of the country to see them as one, undifferentiated people.

In time, the rest of the country came to regard the Hausa and the Fulani as indistinguishable. A popular quip among the Yoruba says, “Gambari pa Fulani ko lejo ninu,” which roughly translates as “If a Hausa person kills a Fulani person, there is no case,” implying that the Hausa and the Fulani are homogenous people whose internal strife are no more than evanescent, resolvable sibling squabble.

But the emergence and unabating intensification of kidnapping for ransom and other forms of rural and urban banditry in the Northwest where most of the villains are Fulani and most of the victims are Hausa are rupturing the centuries-old ethnic harmony between the Hausa and the Fulani that Nigerians had taken for granted.

In response to the rural and urban banditry by mostly Fulani brigands against Hausa people, Hausa people have formed vigilante groups called yan sakai or yan banga for self-defense, but Fulani people say the yan banga self-defense groups often indiscriminately murder innocent Fulani people who are not even remotely connected with abductions and murders.

This has provoked an endless cycle of recriminations and retaliatory violence between Hausa and Fulani people and is threatening the age-old, Islam-inspired ethnic fusion between them.

This has been going on for years under the radar of the national and international media until BBC’s BBC Africa Eye brought it to the forefront of global attention in its Jul 24, 2022, documentary titled “The Bandit Warlords of Zamfara.” The documentary showed that although the Hausa and the Fulani share a common culture, religion, heritage, and language, they are, for the most part, divided and rarely mix in rural areas. They fight over land, water, and food.

Self-confessed Fulani bandits told the BBC that Hausa people enjoy preferential treatments in government jobs, that Fulani people face discrimination in the formal sector in northern Nigeria, and that kidnapping, banditry, and indiscriminate mass murders were the only way they could call attention to their neglect.

Following the documentary, which so unsettled the Nigerian government that local TV stations that rebroadcast it were fined, there has been an open discussion, particularly in Arewa social media circles, of hitherto culturally taboo subjects such as whether Usman Dan Fodio whose jihad inaugurated the current Fulani ruling families in much of Muslim northern Nigeria was a Hausa-hating Fulani ethnic supremacist.

Islam had been centuries old and already deeply entrenched in Hausa land before Usman Dan Fodio’s nineteenth-century jihad, which many historians have called a “Fulani war.” The well-regarded seventeenth-century Songhai Muslim scholar by the name of Ahmad Baba, for instance, had recognized Hausa land as a bastion of Islam.

In a 1613 essay titled, “Al-kashf wa-l-bayān li-aṣnāfmajlūb al-Sūdān” (translated into English as “The Exposition and Explanation Concerning the Varieties of Transported Black Africans”), he wrote that “the people of Kano, some of Zakzak [Zaria], the people of Katsina, the people of Gobir, and all of the Songhay” lived under ideal Islamic rule and could never be enslaved by other Muslims.

About 200 years later, when Dan Fodio decided to “reform” the Islam he met in Hausa land, he repudiated the Islam that the Hausa people had practiced. In his 1806 treatise titled “Bayan Wujub Al-Hijra, Ala L-Ibad,” Dan Fodio rebutted Ahmad Baba’s thesis by asserting that what was true of Hausa land when Ahmad Baba wrote, “might not necessarily be true at all other times, since every scholar relates what he sees in his own days.” Dan Fodio’s son, Muhammad Bello, also wrote Infaq al-mansur in 1813, exactly 200 years after Ahmad Baba, and contested the notion that Hausa land was ruled by Islamic precepts.

Now, in everyday dialogic engagements on social media, in the marketplace, and in the streets, Hausa and Fulani people are openly talking about the jihad and its decidedly ethnic character. Hausa people are asking why all the emirs that emerged from the jihad, except for that of Bauchi, were Fulani. (Emirs in Borgu in Kwara and Niger states are not the product of the jihad and are not Fulani.)

These questions are especially important because the Fulani emirs who dislodged Hausa Muslim rulers have been doing exactly what the Hausa Muslim rulers were accused of by Fulani jihadists—keeping multiple wives and concubines, oppressing everyday folks called the talakawa, believing and partaking in fortunetelling, etc. Besides, in Islam, leadership isn’t hereditary, so Hausa people are asking why a supposedly Islamic jihad has entrenched Fulani ethnic monarchies to the exclusion of the native Hausa populations.

These debates aren’t new, of course. For example, in a June 30, 2000, article titled “The Fulani Factor in Nigerian Politics” published in the Weekly Trust, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi (who later became the emir of Kano on June 8, 2014, and was dethroned on March 9, 2020) caused a stir among not just other Nigerians but also among Hausa people when he said although the Fulani in northern Nigeria have lost their language and culture to the Hausa, they still cherish the irreproducible cultural and genetic distinctiveness that their ethnic identity imbues them with.

He isolated Nigerian leaders of putative Fulani line of descent—Ahmadu Bello, Shehu Shagari, Murtala Mohammed, and Muhammadu Buhari—whom he said even their “greatest enemies” respect because they supposedly embodied incomparable and uniquely Fulani values (even when they are/were not culturally Fulani).

He pointed out that the same could not be said of “other prominent non-Fulani contemporaries of these great men,” including military Head of State Ibrahim Babangida, who is Hausa, and Sani Abacha, who was Kanuri but born and raised in Kano. Sanusi then said the Fulani are “culturally programmed, generation after generation, to imbibe the best spirits of what makes good leadership, to a far greater extent than competing cultures.”

Garba Shehu, now a spokesperson for President Muhammadu Buhari, who is ethnically Hausa from Jigawa, was incensed. In a response titled “Sanusi’s Racist Rubbish” on July 7, 2000, Shehu wrote: “When I read Sanusi L. Sanusi’s article ‘The Fulani Factor in Nigerian Politics’…I came away with the feeling that the writer wanted to do one of two things: to either be ridiculous or to insult all of us who are not Fulani with some racist crap.”

Shehu invalidated Sanusi’s ethnic supremacist notion of a Fulani culture that makes Fulani people such good, just leaders by calling attention to the atrocities that were perpetuated against Hausa people by Fulani emirs—or what he called the “well-documented acts of brigandage” by the “Fulani oligarchy”— which instigated the emergence of the Northern Elements Progressives Union (NEPU).

“Where was he when the late Sa’adu Zungur, Aminu Kano, and company fought Fulani rulers who forced Hausa peasants to work the emirs’ farms, snatched wives, plundered what was kept in their trust, and appropriated/mismanaged farmlands and other resources belonging to their subjects?” Shehu wrote.

These sorts of emotive brickbats between everyday Hausa and Fulani people are escalating and becoming mainstream in the aftermath of the bloodstained conflict between Hausa farmers and Fulani herders. In fact, there are now calls, from both Hausa and Fulani interlocutors, for the reformation of the emirate system to strip emirship of its exclusivity to people of Fulani ancestry.

I think these are transitory, spur-of-the-moment tensile pushes and pulls that may soon abate, but it’s astonishing that it’s even happening.

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Festus Keyamo, The ever rising star – Dapo Okubanjo



A journalist and public affairs analyst, Dapo Okubanjo, has showered accolades to Festus Egwarewa Adeniyi Keyamo, a social crusader in politics who held two cabinet positions at different times in the Muhammadu Buhari years and now a member of the cabinet of President Bola Tinubu, from Abuja.

According to Okubanjo, “it is not always the case in Nigeria for an individual to be considered worthy of federal cabinet positions in two successive administrations” .

“He has transited from being a Minister of State in the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and later at the Ministry of Labour and Employment in four years to a substantive Minister of Aviation with the added responsibility of overseeing the newly created Aerospace Development arm of the ministry”.

Okubanjo said Keyamo is a man who had been as constant as the Northern star as a social and legal activist with a rich history of activism which dates back to his early years as a lawyer in the chambers of the late legal luminary Chief Gani Fawehinmi at the peak of pro-democracy agitation over the annulment of the June 12 1993 election by the then military administration.

Within one year of joining arguably the most activist law firm of the 1990s, young Festus became one of the lighting rods of legal activism and had an excellent performance in many landmark cases that earned him the award of best lawyer in the Gani Fawehinmi Chambers in March 1994.

But today, his credentials are being questioned by some younger elements because of his decision to take up the position of Director of Strategic Communications/Spokesman for the second term campaign of President Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2019 as well as a similar role for the Tinubu/ Shettima Presidential Campaign Council

What many find amusing is the manner opposition elements especially the younger ones have opted to play politics by downplaying the pedigree of a man, who by a dint of hardwork, emerged as Chief Fawehinmi’s right hand man in legal activism before venturing into the political arena.

While the new minister may have decided to take the misleading narrative in his strides, it won’t be out of place to inform Keyamo’s traducers that sometime in 1997, he formed a group known as Youth Against Misguided Youths as part of efforts to direct thousands of youths against the self-succession bid of the late General Sani Abacha being championed by some youths. This is instructive,if not ironic!

So this is a man with a history and is also part of the nation’s pro-democracy history. He understands what it means to fight for what is right and has been audacious in his face-off with the authorities long before many of those calling him names came on the scene.

His crusade for justice, human rights and fight against corruption has led to several run-ins with security agencies, arrests and court charges which were all later dismissed.

Little wonder many Nigerians who had followed Keyamo’s trajectory since at least 1994 would have been shocked to see millennials been egged on to call his legal prowess to question.

But let me cite just one example of how Festus Keyamo’s legal activism altered governance in the country.

From the Obasanjo years to the Jonathan era, it was normal for Presidents to unilaterally name Service Chiefs who then assume duty immediately but Keyamo felt something was amiss and took the matter before a Federal High Court in 2008.

It however took 5 years for the court to set aside the Armed Forces Modification Order of 2008 (purportedly made under Section 315 [2) of the Constitution) and ruled that the President must seek the confirmation of the two chambers of the National Assembly for newly appointed Service Chiefs.

It is very much likely that online trolls who are encouraged to question Keyamo’s legal prowess have no clue about this immense contribution to governance in Nigeria.

Still in his fifties, he is in his thirtieth year of active legal practice, twenty eight (28) of which have been spent running his own law firm, which has three offices in Lagos, Abuja and Warri as well as liaison offices in many states with over 23 lawyers and more than 30 para-legal staff.

So in local parlance, he effectively has another address where his crusade for social justice continues to gather steam inspite of his foray into public office in the last few years.

Without any notable ‘godfather’, he has risen from the streets of a small town in Delta State and literally lifted himself by his bootlaces to become a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, a Commander of the Order of the Niger, an International Arbitrator and now a two-term Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

He has achieved all these by sheer grit, dint of hardwork and an uncommon doggedness not found amongst his peers.

Now having cut his teeth in previous cabinet positions at a lower level, Festus Keyamo is set to prove that he can excel on a bigger stage and only a few are bigger than the cabinet role President Tinubu has thrust on him.

Bet against him failing at your own peril.

Dapo Okubanjo can be reached via

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Flood Overtakes Taraba Community



Residents of the Gashaka Local Government Area in the central geopolitical zone of Taraba State are counting their losses after heavy rainfall.

The rainfall lasted about six hours on Sunday, submerging several houses and washing away goods worth millions of Naira. Farm produce and domestic animals were also swept away by the flood.

They have urged the state government and the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, to come to their aid. They also called on National Assembly members representing the zone to assist them.

Dauda Ali, who claimed that his farm had been washed away by the flood that ravaged Serti, the administrative headquarters of the council and its environs, said his dreams and that of other farmers experiencing bumper harvest had been cut short by the flood.

He lamented that the money spent on farms was loaned from cooperatives and individuals.

Another resident, Suleiman Abba, said goats and sheep were nowhere to be found since the flood ravaged the community.

Some of the victims, who are taking shelter in public places, said the flood was due to the lack of drainages in the area.

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“As Journalism marches on, in the service of Nigeria” by Dele Alake




The last Biennial Convention of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) was an epochal milestone in the evolution of the journalism profession in Nigeria. An event that witnessed the election of new officers of the Guild to guide the affairs of the organization for the next two years, it is most gratifying that the outcome was successful and rancor-free despite the intensity of the contest for the various positions competed for. On behalf of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu (GCFR), I congratulate the newly elected President of the Guild, Mr Eze Anamba, Editor of the Vanguard newspaper and wish him and other newly elected officials of the guild a most fulfilling and productive tenure in office.

By its peaceful and rancor-free conduct of elections to elect its new officers, the NGE has sent a resounding message to the larger Nigerian polity that elections for desired offices can be intensely competed for without degenerating into bitterness, acrimony and needless malice. In this regard, Mr President commends those who lost out in the elections at various levels such as Mr Bolaji Adebiyi of This Day newspaper for accepting the outcome and pledging support for the winners. This is a light that the NGE is showing that the rest of us may find the way to a mature, tolerant, stable and sustainable democratic culture.

It is of the utmost importance that the various unions in the newspaper industry such as the NGE, Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) and the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) imbibe the ethos of internal democracy in support of professional integrity for the benefit of good governance, stability and sustainability development in Nigeria. The NGE has, in this regard, made a strong statement for the Nigerian media as a worthy exemplar. But then, elections are not held within the unions in our profession just for the sake of holding elections to appoint new officers of associational offices. Rather, the larger picture is to ensure at all times that we place the profession in prime position to continually fulfill its constitutional obligation of serving as a watchdog of the people in checking the excesses of government and promoting the greatest good of the greatest number of our people.

The history of the Nigerian media has, since it’s epochal role in the struggle against colonial imperialism, been intimately intertwined with the fate of the Nigerian state and her peoples. The press was active in the struggle against military dictatorship in post-colonial Nigeria and this opposition to autocracy was particularly exemplified in the fierce opposition of patriotic media practitioners to the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election won by the late Chief MKO Abiola. It is impossible to write the history of the democratic benefits we have enjoyed since the commencement of this dispensation in 1999 without emblazoning the heroic contributions of patriotic sections of the media in gold.

But President Tinubu insists that the challenges ahead of the media in playing its role towards strengthening our democracy, keeping power continually in check as well as promoting good, responsible and accountable governance are greater than the paths traversed before. He pledges the support of his administration in collaboration with the media towards achieving these lofty objectives in the best interest of our country.
Once again, the President congratulates the newly elected officials of the NGE and wishes them a most successful and productive tenure in office.

Special Adviser on Special Duties, Communications and Strategy
June 17, 2023

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