The Hausa-Fulanis have become the Nigerian scapegoats — Umar Bello

Apr. 3, 2013

‘Every established order tends to produce the naturalization of its own arbitrariness’ – Pierre Bourdeau

Recent happenings in Nigeria have again necessitated the need to look into our peculiar circumstances and see the factors that may hinder the emergence of a strong united Nigeria built on the ideals of humanity and democracy. Part of the problem is the deliberate promotion of stereotypes against certain people which robs us of essential truth and leads to the gradual erosion of harmony and mutual coexistence. As usual with stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination against the stereotyped group gradually sets in. The target group is ‘externalized’ as out-group and tagged negatively in all representations. This is done with a simultaneous creation of a very positive in-group and the establishment of superiority complex. Van Dijik in his theory of ideological square maintains that in prejudicial and discriminatory discourse, two groupings are formulated, the in-group (‘us’) and the out-group (‘them’). The in-group, in their discoursal practice, essentially constructs a representative schema in four square moves:

1. Express/emphasize information that is ‘positive’ about us
2. Express/ emphasize information that is ‘negative’ about them
3. Suppress/deemphasize information that is ‘positive’ about them
4. Suppress/ deemphasize information that is ‘negative’ about us.

This article is aimed at viewing how this Dijik’s square operates in our national discourse and how the ‘Hausa-Fulani’ is made to be the ‘externalized’ negative entity that bears all the blame and brunt. First, the construction of the term, in itself, is a sociological aberration for no tribal entity in Nigeria has been merged like this even where neighborly and interactive circumstances that exist between the two groups i.e. Hausa and Fulani exist a lot elsewhere in Nigeria but without the tribes being lumped mischievously together. The fusion of the tribes and the use of a hyphen, innocuous as it may appear, show a complex ideological manipulation. That little hyphen instead of an ‘and’ (to show distinctiveness) has chiseled out history and sawed smooth two distinctive cultures to create a single uniform ethnic identity that could be easy for blanket attacks. Late Dr Yusuf Bala Usman, in his seminal book ‘the misrepresentation of Nigeria’, queries this ‘Hausa-Fulani’ tag:

“This name cannot meaningfully define an ethnic group, or a nationality, because Hausa is a language with its associated cultures and identities, distinct from Fulbe, and its associated cultures and identities. Is this Hausa-Fulani a new group with a new language? Or does it mean that people of Fulbe, or, semi-Fulbe origin who now only speak Hausa and have taken on Hausa cultures and identities are the Hausa-Fulani? Or does it mean people of Hausa origin, who now only speak Fulfulde and have taken on Fulbe cultures and identities? The Hausa and Fulfulde languages do not even have the same origin. Fulbe is closely related genetically to Ibo and Yoruba and to Ijaw and the Bantu languages. It belongs to the West Atlantic branch of the Niger-Congo family of languages; the family to which all these languages belong. But Hausa is a member of the completely different Chadic family of languages and is much closer to Sayawa, Angas, Margi, and Bachama for example, than it is to Fulfulde and its Niger-Congo relations.”

The use of this terminology may have started erroneously in the colonial era, but has chiefly been given wide currency and nuance by the southern media for political and ideological reasons. When you lump two groups together, it is easy to visit the crime of one onto another or to refer to one as another or just to serve as a nebulous general reference of people who happen to share a geographical space. Politics of identity and ethnic reference carries serious freight in third world countries like Nigeria where ethnicity can be important for electoral victory. We have seen, for instance, how presidents from the North that have ruled Nigeria in the past are all ubiquitously referred to as ‘Hausa-Fulani’ denying them their distinctive ethnic identities and subtly indicting the Hausa and Fulani for their collective iniquities while in office. Based on this wrong notion, the ‘middle belt’, another highly arbitrary political creation, cries of political marginalization from the ‘Hausa-Fulani’ even though a sizeable number of presidents coming from the Northern part of Nigeria are from there. That’s if the ‘middle-belt’ is at all a purely geographical expression! This Hausa-Fulani aberrationist term has spurred many more distortions of realities and wrongful accusations in Nigeria. The term is again promoted (under another political context) to refer holistically to the overall Northern Nigeria, seaming hundreds of ethnic groups into one ethnic monolith. Southern youth corpers only recently began to write in surprise that the north is multi-ethic, multi-cultural and multi-religious. Early last year, people were killed in Onitsha because a ‘Hausa’ policeman had killed a bus driver over some minor misunderstanding. But the ‘Hausa’ man turned out to be no other person than Corporal Samuel Ajana, an Idoma, from Benue state. The Vanguard newspaper of February 9th, 2012 referred to the policeman as ‘a Hausa man’ for which the Hausa residents suffered the violent consequences.

While the South-South, South-East and South-West have gained currency as geopolitical entities in their own rights, the North which divides constitutionally into North-West, North-East and North-Central has always been treated as one people or two (core north and the middle belt) depending on which context the analyzer wishes to exploit or manipulate. When politics of divide and rule is the context, the middle belt is separated from the north or the ‘Hausa-Fulani’. When it is that of jostling for economic advantages by the south all are lumped together as one. Senator Ita Enang recently announced to the senate chambers that the ‘North’ possesses over eighty percent of the oil wells in the South-South. Though this blatant misrepresentation of realities was quickly rebutted and clarified by people like Femi Falana, the truth remains that the North is treated as one whole in this context; while the same Itas and Enangs (under climes of divide-and-rule) may speak about a distinctive Middle-Belt with Southern political and even ancestral ties.

In the media, the Fulanis suffer a lot of alienation much more than their ‘twin’ brothers, the Hausas. Apart from being always in the news for the wrong reasons, they are always treated in collectives. Headlines always modify them by their ethnicity and profession. In a random Google sample, such headlines appear: ‘Fulani herdsmen, farmers clash in Delta’ , ‘Tension as Fulani herdsmen kill two in Delta’, ‘Fulani herdsmen rob on Lagos-Ibadan highway’, ‘Fulani herdsmen, menace in Idomaland’ etc. By using their tribe and profession as their permanent modifiers, you are bringing their livelihood and ethnic affiliation into trial by the actions of a few individuals. In essence, you don’t only focus on their crime but on their ethnic identity and livelihood as if those are also faulty. This can be gauged if we ask (for instance) why are we yet to have such expressions in our headlines like, ‘Igbo kidnappers…, ‘Yoruba armed robbers’… or ‘Igbo Cultists’….Other ethnic groups have the fortunes of having their members treated based on their individual actions or crimes rather than overall ethnic indictment. A recent example also comes to mind. When the NSCDC Area Commandant of Lagos, Obafaiye Shem, went into Channels TV and messed himself up with his now popular ‘Oga at the top website’, everybody bemoaned the sheer mediocrity of an individual or a system. What is curious is that the person’s ethnic identity or religion is not brought into the issue obviously because he doesn’t belong to the out-group. Could that have been the same if it was a Hausa or Fulani Muslim that misfired? Could their tribes or religions have been left out of the fray? See also the depiction of Hausa or Fulani people in the so-called Nigerian movies, they are the ‘Alhajis’, comical money-miss-roads, debauched loudmouths or ‘maigads’ who necessarily speak English with a funny accent while all the remaining cast are essentially the default, the unmarked usuals.

The ‘Boko Haram’ is yet another case of clear misrepresentation and blanket accusation. The ‘Hausa-Fulani’ is blamed even when in the overall top hierarchy of the group, right from the late Muhammad Yusuf down to Shekau and others, there is neither Hausa nor Fulani. This group is a combination of different ethnic groups drawn from all the corners of Northern Nigeria and even the South West.. They are also the only ‘terrorists’ because the term ‘terrorism’ is only used for Muslims and not used for other terrorist activities that take place in the Southern part of Nigeria and even in the North involving other faiths. The violent activities of others are even rationalized and seen on their individual or positive group basis. The Niger Delta ‘militancy’ is an example. Parenti (1995) speaks of the ‘demonization of a whole by proxy’ in cases where the crimes of a few is visited on a whole religion, people or race as in this case. Issues that should merit deeper investigation of psychological, social and economic factors that may breed such attitudes are all brushed under the carpet in a prejudicial pursuit of only Islamic culprits. When you close all other potential leads to the real causes of crises like this, you simply make them defy viable solutions.

Moreover, many terrorist activities from Christians like the Gombe Deeper life massacre, the arrest of COCIN members with explosive devices in Miya Barkatai, the arrest of women like Lydia Joseph and Madam Ruth on attempted arson on churches etc all are treated and classified individually without charges of terrorism. Our use of terrorism exclusively for Muslims is copied from the so-called fight against terrorism in the western world (without regard to our peculiar society ). In his book TALKING TERRORISM, Phillip Herbst considers the term ‘terrorism’ as a word of protean meanings with far reaching political implications and semantic manipulations because groups that do real terrorist acts may be seen as freedom fighters and others, less dangerous and politically inconvenient, are called terrorist. Terrorists act by the favored group are seen as legitimate militancy (as the one we have in the Niger-Delta), war, self defense, security (just like the terror unleashed by the JTF) etc. Deaths in this sense are ‘collateral damage’ of ‘surgical strikes’ even where the most precise weapons miss by almost half the cases. A Washington Post commentator likens such surgical strikes to performing a hernia surgery with a machete! But for those people tagged ‘terrorists’, theirs is mass massacre or murder.

In conclusion, Nigeria can go a lot forward if we try to shed mutual stereotypes and open our minds to view people as individuals who should be responsible for their individual actions. Many a time grave security factors are simply sacrificed on the altar of blanket assumptions. When you create easy scapegoats and sacrificial lambs you naively overlook your own human faults and live in feelings of false superiority that can be self-destructive.


Umar Bello is a PhD student based in Jubail, Saudi Arabia. Article