In Nigeria, the name Abdullahi Bello Bodejo, is a household name, some even call him Lamido Fulbe Nigeria, even though he cannot be called lamido, in the Fulfulde real sense of the word, to be a lamido (a ruler) you must have a lamida (a territory in your control). There are many Fulani kings, princesses, and chieftains in Nigeria, but Bello Bodejo is not one of them. But, regarding Alhaji Abdullahi Bello Bodejo the title of Lamido Fulbe, means only a leader (ardiido or hooreejo) of the Fulani pastoralist. He is the charismatic leader of a Fulani herders’ socio-cultural association, Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore. His organization is not the only one representing the cattle breeders in Nigeria. For instance, there is another organization called Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), an umbrella of cattle breeder’s organizations in Nigeria. Anybody can be a member of MACBAN, but the membership of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore Fulbe is open only to Fulani People. This is because Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore Fulbe, is not only a professional organization, but most importantly a socio-cultural organization, created to defend the interest of the Fulani herders, to fight for their rights, dignity, and against all forms of stigmatization of the Fulani nomad pastoralist; and to preserve the Fulfulde language and Fulbe culture. Bello Abdullahi Bodejo has made a name for himself, not only in Nigeria but also in every African country where the Fulani population is present, thanks to his tireless work to find lasting solutions to the situation of the Fulbe pastoralist, his outspoken and fireless fight to protect and defend the interest of the pastoralist in Nigeria.
Fear of the Fulani, Put into historical perspective
Abdullahi Bello Bodejo’s fight to preserve the Fulbe culture including the herdsman way of life, that is the freedom of moving around and leading their livestock to any territory where they can find space favorable for grazing, is a very challenging one, if not impossible.
For millennia the Fulani were roaming around the African savanna following the green pasture for their cattle. Now that planetary heating causes water sources to vanish, pastures to wither, conflicts between farmers and Fulani herders over dwindling resources are multiplying all over sub-Saharan Africa. From Mali to Darfur and almost every country in between, the Fulbe cattle herders are being subjected to violent treatments resulting sometime to complete destruction of their villages, loss of lives, and or a heavy loss of their livestock. The situation of the Fulbe in Nigeria, however, is more than just a conflict between farmers and herders for the control of natural resources. It has a political, and even a psychological dimension to it.
After converting to Islam in the eleventh century, many Fulani have done away with their nomadic way of life and settled in towns and villages where they mixed with other ethnic groups living a settled life, even though most of them have maintained their nomadic or seminomadic way of life.
In the eighteenth century, the Islamized Fulani set to reform many West African traditional kingdoms into Islamic theocracies. The most successful among them was the Fulani Empire of Sokoto, in what is today northern Nigeria. The Sokoto Empire was founded by Shehu Usman Dan Fodio, a Fulani Muslim clerical who defeated the federation of Hausa states in 1804, with the help of an army of Muslim faithful, composed of both, Fulani, and Hausa followers, but also a large number of Fulani herders. Although the Fulbe and The Hausa have ever since converged into a single entity (Hausa-Fulani) because of their shared Islamic identity, in other parts of Nigeria, especially the non-Muslim areas, the Fulani people are looked at with suspicious eyes. Some see the entering of the Fulani herders into their territories looking for green pasture as the first step of a well-planned strategy to take over their ancestral farmlands and turn them into permanent grazing land. These sentiments of distrust have been seized upon by the politicians to install in the minds of their people a climate of fear and prejudice toward the Fulani, which resulted in more confrontations and some very violent clashes between the herders and farmers.
Bello Bodejo is a great fit for his role
A very charismatic leader and a fierce fighter, Bello Bodejo’s character fits well his role, and the mission set by his organization. He is very vocal against abuses committed against the Fulani, especially by officials of certain states. But he does not hesitate to negotiate with the hostile adversaries to get a good outcome for his members and apologize for their actions when he thinks an apology is due.
In 2017 Benue state passed a law termed “Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law”, which prohibits cattle from roaming freely in the state, but for the leader of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, Bello Bodejo, this law was aimed particularly at curtailing the movement of the Fulani herders in the state which he thinks is illegal and must be fought. This opened a lengthy period of stalemate between MAKH and the Governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom, who later accuses Miyetti Allah Kawtal Hore of plotting to assassinate him. Bello Bodejo, however, rejected such allegation, and in his turn, accuses the governor of subjecting the Fulani to persecution. In a long interview published by Sunnewsonline, he says: “We are living in a country with law and order. Our people are being persecuted across the country through unfriendly legislation, physical, and verbal attacks, and you can’t expect them to keep quiet. For instance, the Benue governor has taken pleasure in inciting his people against us as can be seen in the kind of treatment we get from the Benue people. Ortom has become a thorn in our flesh. He follows us everywhere and ensures that we are not found around Benue. He has championed propaganda against us, and we will ensure he never succeeds. We will use all peaceful means to ensure we achieve the best possible outcome.”
Where Fulani are not facing life-threatening and corporal attacks, they are subjected to heavy fines for doing just what their ancestors have been doing for millennia. That is, peacefully following the green pasture to feed their cattle. In the same interview, published on April 04, 2021, he added:
“In the last three months, our people have spent N87 million as fine for open grazing and we have the receipts; N5, 000 fine is placed on each cattle arrested for open grazing. Our people are forced to sell cattle to bail out the arrested ones. We are custodians of Fulani tradition, and we are to ensure that our people are living peacefully with their host communities. Our reason for going to court was to demand a reversal of the anti-open grazing law in the state. “
Connecting the Fulani Beyond Nigerian’s Boarders
The problem facing the Fulani herders is not particular to Nigeria, conflict between herders and farmers is widespread in Sub-Sharan Africa. The leader of the Fulani herders, Abdullahi Bello Bodejo knows well that the Fulani herders cannot claim to be victims all the time and everywhere, therefore his organization needs to work to the best of its ability to help in building mutual trust between its members and the farmers with whom they share the same space. The organization holds regular meetings in different states focused on how to change the bad image and perception that people have about Fulani cattle pastoralists. “As leaders of the association,” he said, “we seriously sensitized our people on the need to be law abiding irrespective of the provocations. We want to make other tribes and ethnic groups know our importance and know that we are not troublemakers, and some bad ones among us are being corrected.” For the leader of the Nigerian Fulani herders, this message shouldn’t be limited only to Nigeria but should be shared with all the Fulani pastoralists everywhere. After all, they all share the same issues. This is why at the beginning of the month, (from June 2 to June 5, 2022) the Association organized a five-day festival to highlight Fulbe culture “Finaatawaa” and discuss the insecurity involving the Fulani pastoralists in all of West Africa. The event had Fulani delegates from 16 West African countries. The first two days were exclusively dedicated to discussing the issues of insecurity, peaceful cohabitation between the pastoralist and farmers, but also the role that the government should play to help bring peace and mutual trust between the two parties. The meeting had impressive representation from the government, security agencies, traditional institutions, and other stakeholders. The two days insecurity meeting was followed by a three-day festival with a colorful display of several aspects of the Fulani culture.