Ethnic profiling and the quest for ethnic insularity, by Abdulrazak Iliyasu Sansani

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Abdulrazak Iliyasu Sansani
Abdulrazak Iliyasu Sansani.

My name is Abdulrazak Iliyasu Sansani. I am Fulani by tribe. By this simple fact, I have admitted to being a criminal or rather I am a criminal in the mind of those who seek to profit from such an unjust generalisation. They are never right, anyway. But I must be condemned for the crime I never committed because I am Fulani.

Nothing could be more wrong, further from the truth, and unfair than this. But this is what ethnic profiling entails. The categorisation of an entire ethnicity based on the crimes of a minute fraction of the ethnic group in order to unacceptably pass sweeping judgement on them is horrible.

According to the elders of my family and records available, my paternal great-great-grandfather, Modibbo Muhammadu migrated with his nuclear family from Gombe precisely the area of Dukku about two centuries ago.

One of his sons Modibbo Abdullahi Hammanadama was my great grandfather. They stayed for some time in Jibu before they proceeded to Kufai, then finally to what is now called Sansani in Taraba State, Sangere in Fulfulde, which means a war camp. Together with the other inhabitants, they were some of the pioneers to inhabit that place.

Thus, my great grandfather was one of the first traditional titleholders in the village, he was later made a ward head, and was first made the Wakili. And therefore, my family has since kept this title. Until, the dismiss of our late district head, Muhammadu Nuhu Bello, Jankada the 1.

I am not here to brag about anything. There is nothing in our family’s humble history that warrants such. All I seek is to state some facts for the purpose of this topical discourse.

My great grandfather married from many tribes mainly of Jukun ethnicity. My great grandmother, Adama was a Jibu woman from the family of Kur-Jibu Bali, a 2nd class Chief in Taraba State, now.

My grandfather, Mai unguwa Salihu, Wakilin Sansani married my grandmother, Rabi Mai damisa, a Hausa woman from Zaria, whose maternal family are from Karim Lamido in Taraba State. My dad married my mum, a jibu woman from Bali, whose mum was from Jalingo, where my mum was also born.

This is how it is with almost all my family members for so many scores: they have married and intermarried with other tribes that so many of my family members’ ethnic identity is difficult to be ascertained based on appearance or physique. This is also true in most Fulbe and other tribes’ homes in Muri, especially where there are so many tribes cohabitating.

However, for people like me even if I were not Fulani, my physical appearance might have suggested that I was. It is an arduous task to convince anyone to believe otherwise. Ergo, I write as a Nigerian proud of our common heritage, lineage, and above all, interested in bringing an end to the impasse which has seen Nigeria sitting on a keg of gun powder.

I am directly or indirectly affected in all that is the source of these ceaseless conflicts. I can never support the wanton destruction of a property let alone the elimination of people even if my kinsmen or kinswomen are involved.

In fact, I won’t pay lip service even if it were my siblings, or children if I had any. But the bottom line still remains sincerity. We must be frank if we truly want to solve this issue of the farmers/herders crisis.

I am a Fulani man but I have never herded cattle, mind you, I don’t mean it is a crime to do so. I recall once following my cousin to a nearby bush, where a few of my uncle’s cattle grazed. That was the only time in my entire life that I could have said to have herded cattle.

But I have farmed right from when I used to plant things with my siblings, cousins, and friends, as children as some sort of play. Fact that we are blessed with fertile land in Taraba State, the little maize and groundnut seedlings we planted always ended up with good yield. As little children, the farm was located just a stone throw away from our residence then, in Mutum biyu, headquarters of Gassol local government of Taraba state.

I recount with great delight how we savoured those pocketfuls of groundnuts. And of course, the sizeable corns. It was one of those lovely childhood memories that I would continue to cherish until my last breath.

As I grew up, despite the drudgery associated with Agriculture I graciously started farming in commercial quantity, with my friend and confidant, Abdussamad Adam Usman, a  Patriot and a gentleman to the core.

Abdussamad and I engaged in farming for three good years. In all these three years, we encountered numerous problems, chief among them the destruction of our farm by cattle. First in Didango, Karim Lamido Local government, second, in Agure, a village in Namnai ward of Gassol local government. And finally, in Bantaje, Wukari local government, all in Taraba state, Nigeria.

However, I will dwell on the last one in Bantaje, as that was a farm I managed. It was my brother’s friend’s farm. I had difficulty in accepting to manage it. There were numerous reasons. But the central logic was based on my ordeal at the hands of herders and some other farmers.

My friend and I had lost a lot of money as a result of that. As we are both poor, it was hard for us. But we accepted in good fate in the two instances. Although, we learnt from the twain experiences. We didn’t know how it would be received by others if it occurred again and they were affected. I asserted all of my fears. And told my brother and his friend point-blank that I won’t manage his farm. My brother together with his friend persuaded me to. So, I acceded.

After expending a lot of money, invested my time, energy, and took the great risk of going to the farm which was a considerable distance from the town: we had a lot of obstacles which would take books possibly to fully account it. Nevertheless, for the sake of this piece, I will relate only where it affects this discussion.

To put it succinctly, the farm turned out to be a bad yield. Thus, we were hoping to recoup the cost or at best get a little profit, when the sesame which had been raised and tied to fully dry in the process of harvesting, was further destroyed by some cattle who stayed overnight.

It was a hard pill for us to swallow, though we had anticipated that when the Sesame wasn’t due for harvesting. But not when it was ready for harvesting. We expected there would be destructive activities of cattle not properly herded and with a few people to supervise the farm before the harvest-time.

Thus, we were quite vigilant, especially those that supervised the farm. When it was harvest-time we tightened up, by adding more people in order not to be caught off-guard. All these ended up being an exercise in futility, as, on the day our farm was destroyed, the people were not around to watch over the farm. Hence, they finally caught us off-guard. Unfortunately, they were not caught.

After a series of investigation, we found out that the people that destroyed our farm came from somewhere and left. These things occur. But ours is just a minor case. There are those farmers and herders who have faced worse things than us. There are criminals who unleash mayhem on people hiding behind their trade. Any unfeigned stakeholder won’t support this. However, there are cases of farmers’ and herders’  clashes which have escalated to the dangerous state it is now.

I don’t have cattle, though some of my family members have had cattle and have also had their fair share of security challenges associated with that. There were many cases. I will discuss just a single one. My sisters’ and some of my relatives’ cattle were rustled. They were quite many. They had strived to find them without success.

After an exhausting search by the security personnel, they left everything to fate, though the finger of suspicion was pointed at the herder. Some years after that some of the cattle were found and the herdsman confirmed in the rustling. By then one of my sisters’ who had some cattle there had died. They received a paltry some from what they lost, a kind of compensation.

This is what both farmers and herdsmen passed through in the cause of trying to get their legal means of livelihood. It cannot be accepted in the 21st century, we must adopt modern animal husbandry and of course, modern crop husbandry or whatever we call it.

This is not rocket science. Certainly, we are confronting a severe security problem that can and must be solved. For both, the farmers and pastoralists are both victims in a lot of ways caught in the hazardous web of scheming by hardened criminals, political desperados, economic saboteurs, and clever by half proponents of an island or rather nation where things won’t go wrong because of the magic wand of those who have failed to prove such in series of leadership opportunities presented to them, sometimes even on a platter of gold, in different capacities.

Make no mistake, I am under no illusion about how serious these security challenges are. This is not a cheap avenue to settle age-long ethnic scores, it is not the time for us to allow do or die politicians to score easy political goals, and for crisis entrepreneurs to cash in on this.

The war merchants must not be given a free ride. Already, our country is on the verge of collapsing. We have to win these wars against those who don’t mean well for anyone. Those cunning people who hide behind our fault lines to achieve what they fail to get through legal means.

Criminals must first be treated as criminals if we truly want to win these complicated wars: terrorism, kidnapping, banditry, and all forms of criminalities. We will not win these wars by ethnic insularity, growing polarization of this country. In a country that wants to progress, things must be done the right way.

Let us for example say, a certain tribe in Nigeria has 99 per cent of all the criminals in Nigeria, is it justifiable to criminalise the whole tribe? I don’t know how you view things. As for me, I wouldn’t criminalise a whole tribe, ethnic group, region, or religion based on the criminality of a certain percentage of its members, if just a single person does not engage in that let alone a lion’s share of its millions of people.

“I am neither Fulani nor are my in-laws. Therefore, there is nothing personal here. But I find it highly insensitive to profile an entire ethnic group with a crime. Your ‘Fulani kidnappers’, whenever they sporadically shoot at oncoming vehicles, they don’t usually think whether they are Fulanis inside or not.

“Therefore, this inhumanity has nothing to do with Fulanity. If you are the most famous Fulani since Shehu Usman Danfodio, on the day you’re caught on the wrong side, you’ll know that Fulanity has no space in the equation,” Ibrahim El Caleel wrote on his Facebook page.

How then is it justifiable to criminalise, demonise, and castigate an entire ethnic group, faith, or region as the case may be when the vast majority of their men and women are law-abiding citizens? We must be mindful and decerning in what we do. Yes, there are challenges. There will always be. We all need to establish a common front to holistically address these and defeat the enemies of Nigeria.

I have never thought any tribe is superior to any. I believe anyone that thinks any tribe is superior to any is doing nothing but a blatant display of inferiority complex. You could say I am being politically correct by stating this fact. You could be politically incorrect if you want to. But those that know me from the length and breadth of this country know what I have stood for over the years, with all sense of modesty. This is my stand and I daresay that of many.

Nevertheless, have you ever sat down and ask yourself about our increasingly demanding problems as a country? What can we do to transform the country? Is it by celebrating ethnic champions? Can the ethnic insularity push by these people lead us to the most craved prosperous society? I surmise that is where the most envisioned eldorado is, as assumed by some Nigerians that are easily manipulated.

I have no iota of love, respect, or support in whatever guise to anyone who revels in seeing others suffer. I absolutely support the complete addressing of Nigeria’s security challenges. Bandits, kidnappers, terrorists etc, should not be treated as any other thing but who truly they are: criminals. They are not responsible citizens and we should not make the mistake of thinking they will honour any agreement.

The situation we have found ourselves in today is akin to cleaning the Augean stables, to say the least. One that requires all hands on deck to amicably proffer lasting solutions. Scholars, policymakers, security experts, and what have you espoused ways to go about it. We must accept with an open mind the best solutions for all to address this. But I insist that we be honest in our approach.

The glaringly growing smaller list of patriots’ in a country seriously in need of patriots is horrible, the elevation of ethnic champions is beyond the pale, and will not augur well for the overall benefits of the country.

It is high time we brought back Nigeria to the path of sanity, sincerity, and prosperity. God bless Nigeria. And may He help our security personnel to succeed.

Abdulrazak Iliyasu Sansani writes from Turaki B, Jalingo, Taraba State.

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