Fulani resident in Igangan, a town in the Ibarapa North Local Government Area of Oyo state were kicked out of the community on 22nd January. The ethnic purging was led by Chief Sunday Adeyemo, better known as Sunday Igboho, who marched through the town with a crowd of his supporters, chasing any Fulani in sight. At least two persons were killed: one Fulani and one Igangan youth.
Igboho had earlier issued a 7-day ultimatum to the Fulani to vacate Igangan and its environs, due to the high rate of kidnapping, many of which involved Fulani people. Similar ultimatums have been issued to Fulani in other states of the south-west. And Igboho has vowed to push back Fulani from the region. Already he has mobilised and inspired the sacking of Fulani in parts of Ogun state as well, where homes and properties were burnt down.
This development is part of a wave of anti-Fulani sentiments in the region and other parts of the country, stretching across the south to the middle-belt. It is a dangerous response to the heightening state of insecurity, and the apparently pivotal role of Fulani in kidnappings.
Driven by the populist rhetoric of the likes of Igboho and Nnamdi Kanu of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), these “tribalist” sentiments have fed into and strengthened separatist agitations. But they leave several questions unanswered while promising a new dawn of prosperity and security for the peoples of some envisaged Oduduwa, Biafra or Niger Delta republics
Is the worrisome spate of kidnappings and generalised insecurity simply a problem of rampaging Fulani “killer herdsmen”? Why does the Fulani appear to be a central figure? Will secession based on ethnicised politics resolve the crisis shaking Nigeria to its roots, in the interest of the poor masses or even at all?
What are the real interests of the tribalist champions – who are they and what do they represent? What should be the positions of revolutionary activists, poor working-class people, and youths?
There are several factors contributing to the complex problem of insecurity and the more visible place of Fulani in it. A fundamental one is the economic devastation facing poor working people and youth. Kidnapping and robbery are crimes. Many young people have turned to crime in desperation. And these are not only Fulani.
Seriki Salihu Abdulkadir, leader of the Fulani in Ibarapa who has since relocated to his hometown of Ilorin exposed both Fulani and Yoruba kidnappers in the area over the past few years. He informed that the indigenous kidnappers were thugs of “a particular popular politician in that community”.
The widespread involvement of Fulani in communal clashes and associated criminality have historical, demographic, and ecological roots. The nomadic nature of the pastoral Fulani community makes it natural that Fulani presence has been almost everywhere, and noticeably so.
For decades there have been conflicts between these herders and farming communities over access to water and vegetation. These were few and not so serious until this century.
Due to desertification and drying up of water sources for cattle in the far north, the rise of banditry and increasing cattle rustling in the north-west, and the Boko Haram insurgency in the north-east, herders moved more southwards.
Meanwhile, population explosion has increased the land needs in middle belt and southern farming communities. This was a recipe for clashes to become more often. They also became more deadly, as access to purchase automatic rifles expanded.
Resolving the pastoralists versus farming communities’ conflicts requires tackling the issues at their root. This would include promotion of ranching and related measures. Kidnapping by anybody should be treated as a crime and not simply “Fulanised”.
The “Fulanisation” of insecurity reflects a deeper problem; armed “tribalism” on a mass scale. Ethnic mobilisation was a major strategy of different sections of the ruling class in the runup to independence as they struggled for dominance within what would be a federal republic.
The major political parties of the bosses were based on ethnic areas of influence in the first republic and to some extent the second as well. During military rule in the 1990s, social movements which mobilised politically on ethnic and regional bases arose, first in the Niger Delta and after the “June 12” elections annulment, in the Yoruba south-west.
Their initial strategies were non-violent. Mobilising civil disobedience against the state. A good example of this was the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP)’s successful mobilisation of a boycott of the June 12 elections in Ogoniland. The state’s response was rabid repression. And in no time, these resistance movements turned to armed struggle.
Their demands, right from that point ranged from what would later be called resource control, to autonomy and even secession. They have evolved in different regions over the last three decades. Merging around a shared anti-Fulani agenda; in the south-west and south-east, their agitations are now taking on more menacing shape.
Hunger, hopelessness, and fear are conditions in which racism, tribalism and other reactionary ideologies which appeal to ethnic and (micro-)nationalist identities thrive. All these conditions and more ravage the minds and bodies of tens of millions of poor people who are seeking a way out.
“Tribalist” champions who present themselves as “freedom fighters” assure the masses that “all we have to do is kick out people of a different ethnic stock and establish our own nation-state and all will be well.” It is in this context that the likes of Sunday Igboho and Nnamdi Kanu have drawn large followings.
But evidence shows that they are false prophets. First, ethnic identity and conflicts are like onions. There is no major nationality which does not have sub-ethnic groups that have been at each other’s neck sometime or the other.
We must not forget that Sunday Igboho’s first milestone towards notoriety was the 1997/8 Modakeke-Ife war i.e., between two Yoruba communities. He would later become a leading thug of the Ibadan-based politician, Rasheed Ladoja as governor.
The Umuleri and neighbouring Aguleri in Anambra state have also been off-and-on at war over the last twenty-two years. Like the Ife and Modakeke of the Yoruba, they are kith and kin, in the Igbo south-eastern region. The Abia state government also sacked 2,604 working in its civil service in 2011 because the were not “indigenes” despite being Igbo from neighbouring states. They were called back after two years only due to continued mass outcry.
These are just a few examples of bloody conflicts within the same ethnic groups. They will not simply disappear under an Oduduwa or Biafran republic based on the same capitalist competitive model of development. The situation in the Niger Delta and middle belt is even more complicated with arrays of minority ethnic groups.
A second reason that helps us identify these warlords for the false prophets they are is their histories. On 12th February 2021 Premium Times published a special report on Sunday Igboho. It sheds light on the making of this okada repairer turned “businessman and philanthropist”.
He rose to become one of the most fearless fighters of the Modakeke during that conflict with the Ifes, even though he was from Igboho in Oyo state. But he was eventually chased out of the town and his car burnt down by community youths for constituting himself into a nuisance. He had been obtaining poor okada riders, as a road transport union enforcer.
He fled to Ibadan where he continued as a thug with “up national”. Fate smiled on him when he became a political thug for Rasheed Ladoja who dared to lead battle against the feared thugs of Lamidi Adedibu the onetime “garrison commander” of Ibadan politics, who was trying to and eventually forced Ladoja out of power.
While Igboho made money from blood on the street as a certified thug, Nnamdi Kanu used to be an internet fraudster in London. This assertion was made by the older secessionist who discovered and groomed him; Ralph Uwazuruike of the Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB). And though he describes Nigeria as a zoo, he has no problem with being a citizen of Britain, the country whose ruling class created the zoo.
These are the sort of opportunists sowing the seeds of division amongst poor working-class people with ethnic polarization and stoking the embers of war! This sort of people will as well turn their guns on poor people of the same ethnic stock if they believe they stand to benefit from. Probably more poor Yoruba people were killed by the O’odua Peoples Congress when factions emerged led by Frederick Fasehun and Ganiyu Adams, than people of any other ethnic group (apart from the fact that it is not even justifiable to be killing on such “tribalist” basis).
Those who have been killed in the various separatist conflicts and who will be killed in bloody secessionist wars are workers, farmers, artisans, and other poor people. The rich bosses and enrichened lumpen tribal champions are safe and sound.
They and/or their family members are abroad or behind well fenced walls in the cities. After the bloody conflicts, they will end up with chieftaincy titles and more money, while the poor working-class people who succumb to their ideologies are left dead or destitute. We must not allow ourselves to be fooled by them.
We do not parrot “Nigerian unity is not negotiable” as some nationalists and even self-proclaimed socialists do. The point is that the problem is not our ethnic differences. It is our being exploited and oppressed by a few rich people. And this ruling class of oppressors includes bosses from all the different ethnic groups.
As revolutionary working-class and youth activists, we must argue for the unity of poor people in all regions, to fight the bosses. Together we can liberate ourselves, end insecurity and build a better society with our abundant resources and the wealth created by our labour.