“Media accounts are often very graphic, and validate their claims by including statements ascribed to eye-witnesses and descriptions of the reactions of community leaders, security commanders or government officials. The problem is that the character of such ‘media speech’ is usually inflammatory, freely dispensing hate messages in the guise of information and analysis. The stories are often followed by threats and counter-threats, accusations and counter-accusations. In that way the media becomes the conduit through which the perceived plight and grievances of actors are broadcast. By amplifying the negative conversations between aggrieved parties, the media may be serving to deepen existing conflicts and inciting further violence. Clearly, hate speech in the media may play a substantial role in promoting popular narratives about…social conflicts in mass social discourse, thereby influencing how the issue is generally viewed by society. Hate speech is not only inflammatory; it can often be downright dangerous…” JIBRIN IBRAHIM & KOP’EP DABUGAT in “RURAL BANDITRY AND HATE SPEECH IN NORTHERN NIGERIA: FERTILE GROUND FOR THE CONSTRUCTION OF DANGEROUS NARRATIVES IN THE MEDIA.”
On Thursday, April 21, 2016, VANGUARD newspaper carried a front-page story titled: “FULANI HERDSMEN, HOODLUMS INVADE FARM SETTLEMENT IN IBADAN”. I sent a text to the Editor on the absurdity of placing FULANI herdsmen side-by-side with HOODLUMS, and the association that was likely to create in readers’ minds. I reminded that FulBe nomads’ profiling had become common fare in the media. I did not receive a reply from him. I was not surprised that the story appeared on the cover of a Nigerian newspaper because in recent years, the FulBe people in general, and FulBe NOMADS in particular, have been regularly profiled within a pattern of hate speech that endangers national cohesion in our country. Most of the reportage and analyses have centered on the increasingly violent conflicts in North Central Nigerian communities and more recently, in Southern Nigeria. These have led to deaths and destruction, with FulBe nomads alleged perpetrators of the violence. Consequently, the media image of the FulBe has increasingly become more negative and the trends towards hate speech have also taken very crudely strident tones. They have recently spiked with the tragic killings in Ukpabi Nimbo of Enugu state. Because these recurrent conflicts between FulBe nomads and sedentary agricultural communities also convey problems associated with history and identities, such as religion, ethnicity and even opposing patterns of land use, they tend to stoke very base emotions on all sides. It is also a fact that most of the reportage and analyses in the media, have been done by journalists and commentators, often from farming or sedentary agricultural backgrounds, or who in many cases, are non-Muslim, they have brought to bear the prejudices of their background. Leading Nigerian newspapers like THE PUNCH; THE SUN; THE NATION; VANGUARD amongst others, are caught up in this narrative. This seems poignant in my view, and is brought up, not pejoratively, but in order to assist understanding that the values of journalism, in respect of reportage, analysis and profiling of FulBe nomads, have never been value-free. On the contrary, these media profiles have reflected in an ongoing manner, the attitudes that for long have been deployed in the context of the inter-elite struggle for power in Nigeria. In that struggle, the FulBe people have never been the darling of the Southern Nigerian media. There is a persistent pattern of reporting that emphasizes the ETHNICITY of FulBe nomads in the media that is not employed for other ethnicities. For example, we don’t read of “IGBO kidnappers”; “YORUBA cocaine pushers”; “BENIN/EDO prostitutes” or “IJAW petrol thieves, etc. Even when the media reported the killing of 20 Fulbe nomads and over 80 cattle in Nasarawa state this week, the killers did not have their ethnicity reported; they were only “GUNMEN”!
Maybe all is fair in politics, including the negative reportage of the FulBe elements of the Nigerian ruling class by media outlets owned by their ruling class adversaries from other ethnic groups. But the barefaced distortion that has accompanied reportage of the ongoing violence is unprofessional and unacceptable. There have been persistent reports of Kalashnikov-wielding nomads, as part of the on-going narrative, yet on April 30, 2016, SATURDAY SUN carried a montage of cows and a nomad with a gun; except that the picture was sourced online. It was a nomad, but certainly NOT a Nigerian nomad. It seemed the purpose was to convince gullible readers, and they probably would have succeeded. But why would a newspaper at that level do something that irresponsible? It was part of a trend. Amanze Obi’s column of Thursday, April 28, 2016, was titled “INSURGENCY BY OTHER MEANS”. He was convinced that: “… the Fulani herdsmen have undertaken to accomplish a task which Boko Haram, for logistical reasons, could not broach. The recent activities of Fulani herdsmen in Southern Nigeria is [SIC] suggestive of insurgency. It is Boko Haram in a different form and shape. And the target is to infiltrate the South of the country, which the conventional Boko Haram could not penetrate”. It is incredible that a leading opinion influencer like Obi actually believed and said such on the pages of a Nigerian newspaper! But on the same day, inside VANGUARD newspaper, Ochereome Nnana’s piece titled “THIS COULD LEAD TO WAR”, said of the tragic killing in Enugu state, that: “…It would seem that, having ‘conquered’ Agatu, the FULANI MILITIA deployed to take over the South East…there were RUMOURS (my emphasis) that 500 heavily-armed Fulani militiamen were camped in the bushes ready to attack”. The clinchers were several: “The Directorate of State Service (DSS) under Director-General, Alhaji Lawal Daura did nothing about it”. But more importantly, the columnist added that: “These ‘herdsmen’ are just the grunt workers; the foot soldiers of highly-placed individuals, such as emirs, titled men, retired generals, retired police chiefs, retired security chiefs, big politicians and businessmen in the North who are not ready to upgrade their animal farming practices…” Consequently, “sophisticated weapons are purchased and given to hired hands from all over the West African sub-region to move hungry cattle to greener Southern pastures”. These are thoughts of a columnist who has very close contacts with leading members of the Northern elite!
Sam Omatseye was more nuanced on April 25, 2015, in his “COWBOYS AND HERDSMEN” piece, yet, there was still that attitude of condescension about the FulBe nomad: “Our herdsmen ought to come to the 21st Century”, he wrote; adding that: “They still walk about in the expired glory of a lost era…To live in the past and kill to retain that past is no more than barbarism. That is what the herdsman represent today…Like Boko Haram, they now have access to sophisticated weapons…” But even the nuance was lost when THE NATION of Saturday, April 30, 2016, led with a kicker: “KILLINGS BY HERDSMEN: NORTHERN GOVERNORS DEFEND FULANI”. Just a cursory glance of that lead would never have conveyed the perspective of the Northern Governors’ Forum, which was actually cautioning against the “ethnicization” of the whole crisis…” And it is part of the hysteria of the moment, that even Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, added his considerably influential thought to the anti-FulBe nomad narrative. His recent piece on the subject was titled: “THE KILLING CULTURE OF THE NEO-NOMADIC” and he narrated that: “Recently…I returned from a trip outside the country about to find that my home ground had been invaded…In over two decades of living in that ecological preserve, no such intrusion had ever occurred. I have no idea whether they were Fulani or Futa Jalon herdsmen, but they were cattle herders, and they had cut a crude swathe through my private grounds…There has been no repeat, and hopefully, it will remain the first and last such invasion”. But note the words “INVASION”, “FULANI” or “FUTA JALON” herdsmen! The most chauvinistic, most crude and most emblematic of hate speech came from the drug-laced, lunatic fringe of decent society. It was the piece by Femi Fani-Kayode, which he titled: “THE ROAD TO KIGALI”. It was deliberately couched to recall the genocide of the Tutsi people, which took place in Rwanda. It is no coincidence, which the late Chief Bola Ige had long ago described the FulBe as “the Tutsis of Nigeria”!
Well, Femi Fani-Kayode quoted approvingly a certain Babatunde O. Gbadamosi: “Those of you Yoruba APC members…when they finish with the MiddleBelt, the South-South, you will be next…” Gbadamosi said a lot more and Fani-Kayode said his “insight and understanding of the situation is second to none”. He similarly described one Charles Ogbu as “an obviously intelligent and gifted young man”, after Ogbu said “the Fulani vampires are at it again…”; “...this murderous group..”; “…these vultures…”; And Fani-Kayode summed it all up by adding that: “The Fulanis are not invincible (undefeatable) because they possess some kind of special fighting prowess. No! Not at all. These Fulanis are invincible because they are enjoying government support/cover/protection in their murderous activities. The impunity with which these guys operate is state-sponsored”. President Buhari, he said “has chosen to place the interest of his Fulani people above the lives of innocent Nigerians. Buhari believes that his Fulani people are superior to other Nigerians. This is no different from the mindset displayed by Hitler which led to the world war. We know how it ended”. Femi Fani-Kayode was not done: “The Fulani herdsmen have become purveyors of violence, rape, kidnap, robbery, arson and murder…Little wonder they have metamorphosed into the 4th most vicious terrorist group in the world”. He proudly reminded that he recently wrote an article titled “THE HERDSMEN FROM HELL” in which he described FulBe herdsmen as “vampires, cockroaches and tsetse flies”! The same way ethnic communities slated for genocide, have historically been described! And such rabidly genocidal thoughts come from a character that continues to describe himself as a former minister of aviation of Nigeria! These are the narratives of negative profiling and hate speech directed at the FulBe nomad in the Nigerian media today. Unfortunately, what has also been lost in the media, is reportage or analyses of patterns of killing of FulBe nomads in different communities; the rustling of cattle and sundry violence that nomads face in their precarious existence. They are not entitled to sympathy or even basic knowledge of their difficulties in these media narratives. That cannot be the way to build an inclusive country. No! In the next piece, I will try to place in context the factors that have conditioned the lives of the FulBe nomads and why knowledge of these phenomena are important to solving problems of nomad-sedentary farmer conflicts in our country. FulBe nomads are citizens too and deserve to be understood and appreciated in the context of building our country!