By Chris O.O. Biose
One of the ethnographic wonders in recent Nigerian political history is the seeming discovery of a new ethnic group in the country, known as “Hausa-Fulani”. This group is presented as an unassailable political Leviathan in Nigeria. Before every national election since the onset of the Fourth Republic in May 1999, the political space of the country is awash with the gargantuan stature of this demographic categorization.
The Hausa-Fulani enjoys a larger-than-life image in Nigeria. This image is effectively deployed in electoral campaign tactic of bluffing and bullying the electorate for the political gain of some leaders. In the popular mind, the Hausa-Fulani is perceived as the ruling class in the country. On the reverse side, the group is also believed to be largely accountable for the woeful failure of the Nigerian experiment since the country gained independence from Britain in October 1960.
More ominously, the overbearing image of Hausa-Fulani is also invoked in threats to vanquish other Nigerian tribes. Late Dr. Umaru Dikko put such threats in perspective shortly after former President Olusegun Obasanjo declared State of Emergency in Plateau State on May 18, 2004. The former President removed Governor Jushua Dariye and the state legislature. He accused the former Governor of being indecisive and failure to take firm action in the face of ethno-religious conflicts that led to killings and reprisal killings in the state.
In an interview on wide-ranging issues which he granted Chidi Obineche of THE SUN newspaper at his Kaduna home in May 2004, late Dr Umaru Dikko, who claimed to be a direct descendant (sixth in line) of legendary Uthman Dan Fodio, stated, among other things:
“There are some misguided people in Plateau state. These are the people who think they are aborigines but they are not… they don’t know their history…The Hausa/Fulani were in Plateau before many of the other tribes arrived. So, if it is in the spirit of first come, first served, the Fulani should have a first place before most of the tribes there…”
He then declared with gusto:
“Let everybody know that if any tribe in Nigeria, and I make no limit, any tribe in Nigeria, thinks it can fight the Hausa/Fulani, it is wasting its time because our tribe is not only in Nigeria, we extend right from the Sudan, Cameroon, up to Gambia. If we blow our horns and call on our tribesmen, they will descend on Nigeria and take it over. I can’t see the tribe that can fight us. (Chidi Obineche, UMARU DIKKO’S BLUFF: You’ll beg me to rule this country, DAILY SUN, Monday, May 31, 2004).
Dr Umaru Dikko was the powerful Minister of Transport during the Presidency of late Alhaji Shehu Shagari from 1979 to 1983.
The purpose of this brief discourse is two-fold: (a) to throw light on the origin and truth value of this designation and (b) to seek clarification from social observers and scholars as to the current ethnographic status of this group. Such clarity of perception will save the younger generation of Nigerians from one more mystification about the country. Nigerian youths need factual information to prepare them to contribute meaningfully to the building of a strong and prosperous nation-state.
Credible Demographic Information
The first census survey (there was no actual head count) of the Protectorate of Nigeria conducted by the British colonial administration in 1931 recorded the following major nationalities: (i) Hausa (ii) Ibo (iii) Yoruba (iv) Fulani (v) Kanuri (vi) Ibibio (vii) Tiv or Munshi (viii) Edo (ix) Nupe and (x) Ijaw. The colonial masters did not record the existence of an ethnic group by the name “Hausa-Fulani”.
Under the heading “Ethnic groups”, the 2020 World Factbook published by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the USA, presents estimated population of ethnic groups in Nigeria as follows “Hausa 30%, Yoruba 15.5%, Igbo 15.2%, Fulani 6%, Tiv 2.4%, Kanuri/Beriberi 2.4%, Ibibio 1.8%. Ijaw 1.8%, other 24.7% (2018 est.)”
On its part, Wikipedia online under the heading “Demographics of Nigeria” states as follows: “The three main ethnic groups are the Hausa 27.4% of the population, along with the Yoruba 21% and Igbo 22.1%.”
Source of the Ethnological Confusion
Easily the largest ethnic group indigenous to Nigeria is Hausa. History records that by 1,000 AD, the Hausa had established city states of Daura, Katsina, Zazzau, Gobir, Kano, Rano and Biram which are collectively regarded as Hausa Bokwoi (True Hausa). Seven sons of the founding father of the ethnic group, Bayajida, founded seven other satellite states that make up the Hausa Banza, namely, Zamfara, Kebbi, Kwararafa, Gwari, Yoruba, Yawuri and Nupe. These city states were administered as independent political entities.
The Hausa states were however conquered in a string of attacks by Fulani jihadists led by Uthman Dan Fodio between 1804 and 1808. The jihadist leader established his capital at Sokoto. He took firm control of the city states and imposed a new set of rulers known as Emirs throughout Hausa land. Unlike erstwhile kingdoms in Hausa land, the Emirs ruled mainly by Islamic law. This also became the foundation of Indirect Rule adopted by British colonial ists who conquered the Emirates in the opening years of the 20th century.
From this brief account, the nomenclature “Hausa-Fulani” as an ethnic group in Nigeria appears to be founded on an attempt to lump the population of Hausa Muslims as belonging to the Fulani ethnic group. In its Report published on August 18, 1958, the Minorities Commission set up by the British Government on September 25, 1957, to look into fears of ethnic domination of minorities in Nigeria, the Chairman of the Commission, Sir Henry Willink, observed, among other things:
“Many witnesses have referred to their fear of Fulani-Hausa domination, and though this phrase was not always expressed in terms or even consciously analysed by those who use it, it clearly implies a system of rule of society of which an important ingredient is the operation of Muslim Law.”
Distinction between Fulani and Hausa Ethnic Groups
In his widely publicized essay entitled The Misrepresentation of Nigeria: The Facts and the Figures, made available to the Nigerian public in 2000, eminent historian, Dr Yusuf Bala Usman (1945-2005) explains, among other things, why adoption of Islamic religion by most Hausa people cannot change them to become Fulani. Under the sub-heading, “The Notion of Hausa-Fulani”, Dr Usman describes the classification as an “illusion”.
The Northern radical intellectual, who is the founder of Centre for Democratic Development, Research and Training, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, explains in some detail:
“This name (Hausa-Fulani) 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-Fulani 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 Fulfude and its Niger-Congo relations.
“A Pullo, that is a Fulani individual, is a Pullo, precisely because he is not a Kado, that is a non-Pullo, then how could someone be a Pullo and a Kado at the same time? This is a contradiction in terms. It is meaningless.
“In any case, the migration of the Fulani during the second millennium AD, from the River Senegal area, right across West and Central Africa to the Red Sea, led to a great deal of variation in the Fulbe population, not only on the basis of six main dialects namely: Futa Toro, Futu Jallon, Massina, Sokoto, Central Northern Nigerian and Adamawa, but also on the basis of origin, occupation, religion and social status.
“The issue of whether the clan of the Shehu Usman Dan Fodio, the Toronkawa, or Torodbe, were Fulani, or only relations of the Fulani, was the subject of a debate in the writings of some of the jihad leaders. Torodbe or Toronkawa just means people of the area of Futa Toro in the Republic of Senegal.
“The name Hausa itself seems to have come from the Songhai people of the area to the west of the Sokoto-Rima basin and it was applied to the people east of the Songhai speaking people of that area. Until recently in Sokoto Province, “Hausa” meant the Sokoto area to the exclusion of Kano, Katsina and other areas, usually called Hausaland, nowadays. It is argued, however, that the notion of Hausa-Fulani has basis in a common Islamic identity. But as has been pointed out, again and again, Islam was not and is not a monolithic religion, without any division and conflict among its adherents, here and elsewhere. In any case, there are people who are called Hausa-Fulani who are not Muslims.”
The clamour for transparency in public affairs in Nigeria should not be limited to financial transactions of the government, allocation of oil blocks in the Niger Delta to a class of privileged individuals and criteria for political appointments. The identity of every Nigerian citizen is quite significant and indeed fundamental. Each adult should be able to declare without equivocation, his or her ethnic identity. Nobody has right to choose or create an ethnic identity for another individual or group.
Political manipulation apart, it is indisputable that ethnic origin is a vital ingredient of identity in Nigeria. It is deeply embedded in the Nigerian psyche. It provides primeval roots for the recreation of group culture and it is delusionary to try to trivialize it or wish it away.
One hopes that in conducting the long overdue population census in the country, the National Population Commission will not repeat the mistake which it made during the 2006 Census when it failed to include key questions of ethnic origin and religious affiliation of enumerated persons in the National Population Census Questionnaire.
The Nigerian elite need to cultivate moral courage to start telling truth on basic issues. The country cannot thrive on ambiguities, half-truths, lies and denial.