A Fulani man, Abass Isa, sat on a mat in front of his rented apartment in the Sabo, Abeokuta, Ogun State, He faced some children who sat on the floor holding slates with Arabic inscriptions as he reeled out instructions to them.
Unbothered about the unkempt environment where flies and dirt compete for attention, Isa called out some Arabic words which the young learners recited in loud voices.
This is the picture in Sabo, when Saturday PUNCH visited the Fulani settlement, where Hausa and Fulani men and women live, mingling with their Yoruba host.
It was observed that the settlement affords Hausa and Fulani to mix freely with the Yoruba. The relationship indicates a blend of cultures and tribes without rancour.
In the settlement, the dwellers who are mostly Hausa and Fulani eke out a living through the driving of commercial cabs and motorcycles. They also sell roasted cow meat popularly called suya. Some of the Fulani women were seen engaging in trading in some things like some of the Yoruba women living near them.
The dwellers ostensibly live together in peace and harmony. In recent times, many people in the South-West have been suspicious of the activities of Fulani in their domain. This is because some killer herders have unleashed terror in some Yoruba communities, maiming, kidnapping and killing.
Many of the settlements located on the outskirts of the villages they reside were not different from the houses built by their Yoruba host. Their homes were built with blocks and appear to be of the same structures as many of the houses built by their host dwellers. Also, few others retained their culture by living in huts close to bushes.
Seriki Fulani, Sabo, Abeokuta, Bashir Musa, said he was born 42 years ago in the state capital by Fulani parents from Kebbi and Katsina states.
Musa said his parents, though, Fulani knew nowhere else as their home apart from Abeokuta after spending 60 years in the gateway state before their death.
In some of the settlements visited which included Sabo, Abeokuta, Eggua in Yewa-North, Papa in Ewekoro, Kara in Rounder, Eggua and Oja-Odan, it was observed that some of the Fulani live in huts. This kind of housing structure was seen at Mawuko Village in the Odeda Local Government Area of the state.
At Papa Village in the Ewekoro Local Government Area of the state, the settlement was built with blocks and the area has many modern buildings. Besides, the Fulani and their host built houses near each other.
The milieu where the buildings were erected was clean with different designs while uncompleted buildings also littered the area. Our correspondent noted that it would be difficult to know the difference between the Yoruba and Fulani buildings because of the similar design despite slight differences.
However, in the Mawuko area, a slight difference was noticed in the Fulani buildings there. It was observed that the settlement was in two folds; while one is of the old structure, the others are modern buildings. The old structures have huts and were surrounded by trees. Only women were at home when Saturday PUNCH visited the place. They claimed that their husbands were away at work in Kara (a place where cows are sold). The huts which were scattered in a circle and surrounded by trees occupy a forest at Mawuko.
The women were seen making milk popularly called ‘wara’ in the expansive compound. They also refused to talk to our correspondent, saying only their husbands could do so and that it’s against their culture to talk to strangers without their husbands’ permission.
They spoke to our correspondent in Yoruba but they were not fluent in the language.
At Kara market, it was gathered that the Fulani have a new site at Abule Agbo, Ajonbo community in Mawuko, and one of them who was not too busy offered to take our correspondent there.
A visit to Abule Agbo showed that the place also has houses built with blocks and concrete.
Speaking with the Seriki Fulani of Abule Agbo, Umaru Abdulaih, he noted that modernisation made them relocate from their former settlement to new places and to build modern houses.
Abdulaih who claimed they migrated to the area about 35 years ago said they were living with their host like one family.
The Seriki Fulani who spoke Yoruba fluently added that they were from Kwara State and known as the indigenous Fulani (Fulani Ibile). He further said Fulani has different tribes.
Similarly, the Seriki Fulani of Kara Paapa, Alhaji Ahmad Adam, said their tribe of Fulani is different from the ones alleged of abducting and killing innocent Nigerians.
He stated that their Fulani tribe had been living peacefully with their Yoruba neighbours without any rancour or crisis.
The two Serikis Fulani noted that their children and that of Yoruba attended the same schools and played together.
On inter-tribal marriage between the Yoruba and Fulani, they said they would allow their children to marry from other tribes so far there was love and understanding between the two families.
Apart from saying they speak Yoruba fluently, they added that they also eat several Yoruba foods such as eba, amala, tuwo and others.
The Seriki Fulani of Kara Paapa added, “Our children attend normal school like many Yoruba children. We are the same and there is no discrimination among us. We speak the same language, eat the same food and for over 30 years we have been living in peace.
“Many of us engage in other business apart from cattle rearing. We have people who work as civil servants. We have lawyers, bank workers, mechanics and other professions among us. It is not that every Fulani rear cows as it is widely believed. We have those that go to school and those in other professions apart from the ones who rear cows.’’
Speaking on the attacks by Fulani herdsmen in some parts of the state, Chief Imam of the Kara Papa, Alhaji Ibrageem Maisaye, said that they also faced a similar situation.
Maisaye further said that some of their members at Kara were also kidnapped by the suspected killer Fulani herders whom he noted were of different origin.
He stated, “We have different Fulani herdsmen. While we are from Kwara, some are from the North and others are from Niger. Though they also speak Fulani, they may not understand Yoruba like us.
“We also suffer losses because of their attacks. The problem is that they live in the bush and they sometimes attack our people. They have kidnapped some of us and we paid ransoms before they were released.
“They always take their cows to feed on grasses in our area. We are not the same. We are from different backgrounds and we don’t even know them.”
The Seriki Fulani of Abule Agbo however said Fulani from other tribes weren’t allowed to reside in their domain. He explained that they always did background checks and also got approval of the Baale of the community where they reside before admitting any stranger into their midst.
The Seriki Fulani added, “We are proactive in our dealings with strangers in the community. We don’t allow people that we don’t know to stay in our community even if the person is Fulani and seen as a strange face, we alert the Baale of the community.
“We are living peacefully with our host. There is no cause for alarm. Our Yoruba neighbours are accommodating and we believe that there cannot be a problem between us.”
He also stated that the business of their wives was to sell milk drawn from the cows they rear.
In Oja-Odan and Eggua, some of the Fulani leaders’ huts were set ablaze during the peak of the farmer-herder crisis. Fulani are in almost all parts of the state and many of them were said to have been born in the state. The Fulani residents in many parts of the state speak Yoruba fluently and mingle with their host.
Some of them come from northern parts of the country and neighbouring Chad, Niger, Benin Republic to graze their cows during the dry season.
It was also observed that their huts were located in isolated places especially bushy areas before such areas became developed. Saturday PUNCH noted that both the Fulani men and women were involved in farming as well as other trading activities.
One of the dwellers who didn’t give his name said Fulani had the potential to speak any language apart from Fulfulde wherever they found themselves.
It was observed that social amenities such as potable water, healthcare facilities, electricity and schools were lacking in the settlements visited by Saturday PUNCH.
Findings showed that there were many Fulani settlements in the state and each settlement is made up of an extended family of an average of 20 people, related by blood or marriage. Some of the settlements are located in remote areas and the roads linking to the nearest host communities are in bad condition.
Many Fulani herders have been accused of grazing their cows on farms thereby destroying crops. This led to the anti-open grazing law across many southern states in the country.
There were also some Fulani leaders in the popular Kara market in Rounder Abeokuta serving as the headquarters of Fulani settlements in the state.
The Kara market located on Ayetoro road close to 35 Brigade Alamala Barracks, Abeokuta, is sandwiched by houses and shops owned by some Yoruba.
The villagers appear to enjoy close relationship. Some Yoruba were seen working at the Kara market serving as interpreters for non-Hausa speakers who come to the place to buy cows and other dairy products.
In his comment, Fifty-two-year-old Seriki of Fulani in Ogun State who is also the Chairman, Miyetti Allah in the state, Alhaji Ibrahim Dende, recalled that when they were old enough to know what was right and wrong, they lived with children of their host.
Dende said, “We went to school together and did everything together. We played together without any problem, without anyone being angry with the other. Whenever they needed cow meat, they would meet us. If their fathers were returning from their farms, they brought yams for us. We celebrate things together.’’
He noted that in each of the 20 Local Government Areas of the state, he had a representative who is also the Seriki Fulani in the area. According to him, there are 48 leaders of Fulani in the state who take instructions from him.
He said, “In the 20 LGAs, I have one representative each. There is no place I don’t have a representative. There are 22 Seriki Fulani in Ogun State and their deputies are also 22. If they come for a meeting, they are usually 48 in number. ‘’
Dende noted that the serikis across the state were capable of resolving any issues within their domains.
He said, “They are not on their own. We are together because some of them are older than me. Some are as old as my father, elder brother and others.’’
The blend of cultures could be seen in the way Yoruba and their Fulani visitors fancy the delicacies of each other and inter-tribal marriages. A Fulani man in Sabo, Bello Adamu, who spoke with our correspondent, said some men in his tribe married Yoruba women.
He said, “I witnessed the ceremony some years ago when one of the men, Jubril Kabiru, married a Yoruba woman in Sabo. The Fulani man is an officer with the Nigerian Immigration Service. After the marriage, he restricts his wife’s movement.’’
A Yoruba man residing at Sabo, Rahman Akole, said he drinks Fura which some Fulani women make. At Sabo, some Yoruba residents who spoke with our correspondent described their relationship with the Fulani in the area as cordial.
Another resident of Sabo, Tajudeen Alaye, said he enjoys business relationships with some of his Fulani friends.
He said, “We relate well and their charges on any things they sell are affordable. They sell quality things and the prices are also reasonable.’’
Also speaking, Kabiru Akinola, also a resident of Sabo, noted that he preferred buying things from Fulani living in the area.
According to him, they hardly deny him his change and anytime he leaves it and returns to use it to purchase new things.
Akinola said, “Their wives and children, especially those who sell dairy products, are also friendly. I have a friend, a Yoruba man, who married one of their children. Their marriage is simple and lovely. They are a happy couple. In fact, my friend makes the Fulani woman his third wife and there is no trouble.”
Attempts to see Akinola’s friend who married a Fulani woman were abortive as he was said to have travelled and couldn’t be reached on his mobile phone.
It’s believed that the largest concentration of Fulani is found in Nigeria, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Mali, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Guinea Bissau, Burkina Faso and Ghana.
The Fulani are traditionally nomadic and traders. They are one of the most culturally diverse groups in Africa, spreading across many countries in West, Central and Eastern Africa. They are typically found across the Sahel and West Africa.
They herd cattle, goats and sheep across the vast dry hinterlands of their domain and beyond. They are also known to be artisans who make handcrafts such as baskets and mats.
It is not uncommon to see Fulani women hawking milk products in decorated calabash on their heads. Fresh milk is termed ‘Kossam’ and yoghurt ‘Pendidan’. Other meals peculiar to them include Nyiri; heavy grease made of flour and eaten with soups (Takai, Haako) made from tomatoes, peppers and vegetables.
Another meal common to the tribe is fermented milk with corn couscous referred to as ‘latchiiri’ or ‘dakkere.’ It can be taken as a fluid called ‘garri,’ made of flour cereals.
On special and specific occasions they eat meat. They also enjoy milk, goat cheese and millet with dates blended to produce a thick beverage.
Other staples they enjoy include porridge; groundnuts (peanuts); starches like sorghum, fonio and corn; popular local rice called “nyiiri” which they eat with leafy soups (“haako”) made from onions, peppers, vegetables, and sun-dried root vegetables dishes.
Speaking on the Fulani foods’, a Fulani man in Mawuko village, Adamu Abdullahi, noted that culture inspired the foods. He said, “We are nomads, so this means many of our foods are influenced by this lifestyle. Our foods are mostly prepared using sun-dried ingredients and can be preserved for months. It is a mixture of dairy, meat, cereals and plant ingredients.
“As nomads, we imbibe cultures of the different communities we settle in or visit like the Yoruba in Ogun State, where we live. We eat the yams and rice prepared by them.’’
History documents that the Fulani are known by different names across the globe such as Fula people in Manding language and can sometimes be spelled as ‘Fulah’ or ‘Fullah.’
In French they are called Peul, in Hausa, they are called Fulani or Hilani; and known as Fula or Wolof in Portuguese.