A former Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode, in this interview with GBENRO ADEOYE, comments on a recent interview that Prof. Umar Labdo of the Maitama Sule University granted to Saturday PUNCH in which he described Fulani as destined to lead Nigeria
We heard that you have not been feeling too well of late. I hope you are feeling better.
I feel much better now and thanks for asking. I had a small ‘glitch’ and my wife was worried. The doctor ordered bed rest for a while and I was told that I would need more medical attention at a later stage. Other than that, I am very well and very strong. Thanks be to God.
Saturday PUNCH recently had an interview with Prof. Umar Labdo of the Maitama Sule University, Kano who described the Fulani people as destined to rule Nigeria. He said that Fulani people are saddled with the burden of leadership and that they have to shoulder that responsibility because they are qualified for it. What do you think about that assertion?
Qualified? How? As a matter of fact, some would argue that in terms of history, they are the least qualified and the least deserving to lead and rule. If it was simply about qualifications and not a brutal show of power and the force of arms, they would be nowhere because there are many nationalities in Nigeria that are far more qualified to take the lead than they were or are.
The Fulani are not amongst the most educated in Nigeria and if the truth be told, education came to them very late. They were so uneducated and unenlightened that they were terrified of Nigeria gaining independence from the British in 1953, when the first motion for Nigeria’s independence was moved because they knew that they could not compete with any of the southern ethnic nationalities in a newly independent Nigeria.
That is why they said 1953 was too early for our nation to have independence. Imagine someone saying it was too early to be free and to break the yoke of colonialism.
That is what the North, led by the Fulani, said in 1953. They walked out of Parliament when the motion was moved because they knew that they were not qualified or capable of leading and managing the affairs of a newly independent nation then and they made it clear that they did not want southern leadership or domination and that they would rather have British rule than southern rule. That is why the British loved them so much and favoured them. Because of their attitude and their aggression and hostility to the better educated and more qualified South and because of their morbid fear of southerners, southern rule and domination, they held up our independence for eight years.
And even then, the understanding and deal between them and the British was that the system would be rigged, the census figures would be doctored and the Armed Forces would be skewed, all in their favour so that an independent Nigeria would be led by them and not by the far more qualified and better educated South.
What the British did to us by giving them power and leadership and protecting and favouring them for all these years just to keep the South in bondage and to spite us was cruel and unprecedented and we have been paying the price and suffering the consequences of that cruel act ever since.
Labdo talks about education and I wonder what he and his people know about it. If not for Federal Character and the quota system, where would they, including Labdo, be today? Would he even be a professor? What was his father, his grandfather and his great grandfather in life? Were they educated or were they qualified in any way to lead? I doubt it very much and I don’t want to say the sort of things they may well have been doing. Compare that to the southern experience and their southern counterparts.
The Yoruba, for example, had people in the best universities in the world like Oxford and Cambridge as far back as the early 1800 when Usman Dan Fodio was still learning to ride a horse and planning his Jihad. The Igbo also had many educated and enlightened people then. Do you know how many southern Nigerians were at the great Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone, which was part of Durham University in the late 1800? What do people like Labdo and his progenitors and forefathers know about that? Do you know how many people in the South who were educated by the great Christian missionaries and the Anglican Church, including my great grandfather, Rev. Emmanuel Adebiyi Kayode, who was one of those that first brought Christianity to Ile-Ife (in Osun State) after finishing at Durham University.
Do you know that his son, my grandfather, Justice Adedapo Kayode, was at Cambridge just as his son, my father, Chief Remi Fani-Kayode, was? Where were their forefathers that were so qualified to lead educated and what was the nature of that education?
Does he know of places like CMS Grammar School and the great King’s College of old?
Does he know of great educated men in our history like Bishop Ajayi Crowther, Herbert Macaulay, Sir Adeyemo Alakija, Justice Coker, Justice Ademola, Justice Fatayi-Williams, Chief Frederick Rotimi Williams, Chief Bode Thomas, Chief Sobo Sowemimo, and countless others, who went to Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale, London and many other great universities all over the world?
What about Wole Soyinka, the Ransom-Kutis, the Chinua Achebes, the Christopher Okigbos and so many others that came in the later generation of great minds and that went to the top Nigerian universities, when they were amongst the best in Africa?
How many of such people do the Fulani have? Not one. They knew nothing about western education till many years later. The first northern lawyer was called to the bar in 1955, which was over 100 years after the first Yoruba lawyer, Sapara Williams, was called to the bar.
And even that northerner was a northerner of Yoruba extraction by the name of Alhaji Abdul- Rasaq from Ilorin. Where were the Fulani throughout these years in terms of education? Even the Hausa, who they conquered, the Kanuri and much of the North, were far ahead of them
The earliest and most educated family in the North were the Attas and they were Ibira and not Fulani. The earliest and best educated family in the core North were the Walis of Kano, but even they were well behind the Attas and the Abdul Rasaqs. Most of the northern tribes, like their southern counterparts, had thousands of years of rich history, empires and kingdoms in their present locations long before the Fulani came and when they were still plying the trade routes with their camels to North Africa from Futa Jallon in Guinea and herding cattle. The Fulani did not even appear in northern Nigeria until 1797 and the jihad was launched in 1804. They met us all here. They came from elsewhere and they came with the sword. What they got in northern Nigeria, they got by the power of the sword and through violence, bloodshed and conquest, and not as a consequence of any qualification or education, which they never had.
They conquered parts of the North, toppled old dynasties, destroyed ancient empires and imposed their Emirs by force on their new-found slaves and vassals. It was by force and not by qualification or superior knowledge and education as Labdo would have us believe. And when they talk about education and you point these facts out, they will say “oh, we are talking about Islamic education and not western education”. But yet again, they are wrong there because even in that, they were very far behind most others. I say this because Islam came to the Yoruba tribes primarily through the Turkish traders 400 years before Usman Dan Fodio put his foot in northern Nigeria and attacked the Hausa Habe Kingdom and King Yunfa of Gobir.
The Hausa had already accepted Islam as their faith then just as the Kanuri had done too. However, in the whole of Nigeria, no tribe knew Islam or was better educated in Islamic literature, the Koran and the hadith, than the Yoruba Muslims. So when Labdo talks about the Fulani being better qualified or better educated than anyone else, it is simply a manifestation of his ignorance, his delusion and his arrogance of power.
The professor said that the Fulani people were educated before others in Nigeria and had manuscripts dating as far back as 300 to 500 years. What do you think about that?
The truth is that the opposite is the case. They are the ones that knew nothing whilst others were far ahead of them and well advanced in matters of civilisation and governance. He is wrong and we must set the record straight so that the younger generations are not misled. The Caliphate has only existed for about 220 years and before then, the Fulani were barely educated, they were nothing and they knew nothing.
In terms of qualifications and education, they are very far down the line when compared to the numerous ethnic nationalities that make up Nigeria. As painful as it may be, this is the bitter truth.
What do you think about their leadership qualities?
There is something very interesting that Napoleon Bonaparte once said about the British cavalry. I believe it was at the Battle of Waterloo. He said that the British had the best cavalry in Europe but that it was the worst led. This describes the Fulani very well. They are a wonderful people who are courageous in battle, fearless and disciplined. They are also deeply loyal to their friends and bitterly ruthless and ferocious with their enemies, never forgetting a favour or a slight. Sadly, their traditional institutions and political leadership encourage and sustain a feudal system, which frowns on education for the ordinary people and keeps them in darkness and bondage. Worse still, they have a rigid class system which does not serve them well.
That is why the great Hausa leader from Kano, Mallam Aminu Kano, once said that until all the Fulani Emirs were removed, the ordinary people and masses would remain in servitude and would not be truly free. That is what the Fulani leaders have done to their own working class people. They would rather have them herding cows or walking the streets as almajiris and begging for alms and food than lead them into a place of enlightenment, liberty and prosperity and I think that is a failure on their part. If you cannot lead your own people right and you insist on keeping them in bondage and ignorance, how can you then possibly lay claim to leading others? Outside of that though; I must add this and it is very important. When it comes to furthering and protecting a collective tribal interest or championing the cause and interest of their own ethnic group, there is no tribe that is better at that than the Fulani. And this applies to both their rich and their poor. They are focused, courageous, patient, disciplined, tough, resilient, ruthless and able to take pain without betraying any emotion, all because they think far ahead and they know what they wish to achieve for the greater good of their tribe and kinsmen.
However, when it comes to furthering or protecting the national interest; in my view, they are the weakest and the worst, simply because, generally speaking, they see themselves as overlords and masters of everyone else and this breeds hatred and resentment.
Most of them actually believe that Nigeria was created for their benefit alone and that the country and its people are essentially their footstool. Labdo’s words actually betray the thoughts of most of them, though they would never say it publicly.
They conquer not just by force of arms but by guile, deceit and assimilation. History proves that, particularly the way they conquered Gobir and Ilorin. And of course, President Muhammadu Buhari’s actions and style of governance over the last three years, which is basically Fulani and Muslims first in everything and to hell with everyone else, proves that.
I am very reluctant to judge a whole race of people based on the failings of their present and past leaders but generally speaking, I am not impressed by their leadership abilities because it is always more about promoting a tribal and ethnic interest rather than a national interest. They always pretend otherwise, but that is the reality. Actions speak louder than words. I know the history of our country well and sadly, that has always been their trait and style whenever the Fulani are in power.
To them, everything is about conquest and domination. And it is not just ethnic but also religious and that makes it even more dangerous. Worse still is the fact that they never allow their most civilised and liberal or their brightest and best to get to the top.
They fight and attempt to destroy people like Abubakar Dangiwa Umar, Sambo Dasuki, Kabiru Turaki (SAN), Sule Lamido, Ahmed Makarfi, Abubakar Atiku, Shehu Sani, Rabiu Kwankwaso, Aliyu Gusau, Mohammed Dankwambo, Aminu Tambuwal, and others for being too liberal and for accommodating other tribes and faiths, whilst they encourage and promote those that kill Shiite Muslims and Christians in their states and that attempt to justify and rationalise the barbaric genocide and unconscionable ethnic cleansing of the Fulani terrorists and herdsmen. I will not mention names but you know who I mean.
They prefer the ultra-conservative feudalists, the ethnic supremacists, the religious bigots, the diehard hegemonists and the radical hardliners amongst them to lead.
In terms of former Presidents of Fulani extraction, the one I can say that I have the most respect and affection for is Shehu Shagari, who, in my view, is a good man.
He was a gentle and moderate leader that did not let power go to his head, that was fair to all ethnic nationalities and had no ethnic agenda.
There are many Fulani that would make good leaders but those that have the mindset of total domination of other ethnic groups hardly ever allow those ones to emerge because they know that they will serve a national interest rather than a narrow tribal or religious one. This is my view about Fulani leadership.
Do you agree with Prof. Labdo’s assertion that Fulani people were benevolent by not forcing people to convert to Islam and so on during the invasion that brought them to Nigeria and led to the conquering of some empires in the North?
He was talking absolute rubbish. He is indulging in deceit and falsehood of the worst kind and he is attempting to reverse history. The fact of the matter is that the conquest of parts of the North by the Fulani and the establishment of the Caliphate Empire was justified and propelled by the desire and supposed religious obligation to wipe out all other faiths, including Christianity, and spread Islam by the force of arms.
Consequently, this was done by a series of brutal and genocidal jihads in which hundreds of thousands of people were slaughtered in cold blood.
More Christians and traditional religion practitioners were slaughtered during the jihads and during the establishment and spreading of the Caliphate than at any other time in our history. Usman Dan Fodio offered either the sword or the Koran and he was utterly ruthless about it.
Are you denying the fact that Fulani people indeed have a rich heritage or history dating back to many years?
Certainly not many years! I have told you that the history of the Caliphate dates back to just over 200 years.
That is very young when you compare it to others like the Benin Empire, the Oyo Empire, the Habe Empire, the Borno Empire, the Kalabari Empire, the Ashanti Empire in Ghana, the Kingdom of Dahomey and the numerous kingdoms that were dotted all over the geographical space, which later became Nigeria after the British arrived. The Fulani do have a rich heritage and a noble history but all that came after the establishment of the Caliphate and their invasion of northern Nigeria. Before the establishment of the Caliphate, their history was very dark and there was simply nothing to it. They were just easy-going, nomadic and migrant cattle herdsmen from Futa Jallon, who wandered all over West Africa, rearing cattle and trading primarily with the Malians, Berbers, Arabs and Tuaregs of North Africa.
You said in your essay published during the week that Fulani people were originally not part of us, does that mean you don’t agree with Prof. Labdo that Fulani people should not be called settlers in Nigeria because other tribes had also settled where they are at a point in their history?
Fulani people are best described as settlers because they came here relatively recently compared to everyone else. The rest of us have been here for 500 to 1,000 years and some even more. Secondly, they are the only tribe in Nigeria that wander into other people’s ancestral and tribal lands, reside there for some time and then after some time, claim that land as their own. This always leads to trouble as they try to forcefully impose their will, religion, culture and ways and dominate the indigenous community that unwittingly took them in as guests, years before. When these conflicts start, they always lead to violence and that is why the Fulani are not only regarded as settlers but also, there is always a high level of resentment channeled towards them.
Labdo cannot get away with attempting to label the indigenous communities that have lived on their tribal land for up to 1,000 years as settlers. This is intellectually dishonest, disingenuous and unfair. For many generations, the indigenous people have lived on that land and their right to it cannot be altered by those that have just arrived and that they originally welcomed with open and loving arms.
When you said ‘originally not part of us’ in your essay, who are the people that you meant by ‘us’? Which tribes should be considered as original owners of Nigeria?
Every single tribe in the country apart from the Fulani can be considered as the original owners and I said that only in the context that the Fulani only arrived on our shores 200 years ago. I did not say they are not Nigerians. What I said was that they joined us later than others and unlike the rest of us, they were not originally from here.
It appears that there is Fulani-phobia in Nigeria now. What do you think is responsible for that? Is it because of the attacks by suspected Fulani herdsmen on host communities, villages and farms or what?
It is much deeper than that and it is very real. You need to look at what has been happening to this country over the last 100 years since the amalgamation and over the last 57 years since independence to understand it. Things are about to explode and Buhari, who sees himself as the third Mahdi and the reincarnation of Usman Dan Fodio and Sir Ahmadu Bello, all rolled into one, has made matters worse. I do not hate the Fulani and as a matter of fact, one-eighth of the blood that runs through my veins is Fulani blood, but the truth is that their leaders have not been fair to the rest of Nigeria. We want a nation in which everyone is equal and not one of masters and slaves. We are not interested in a nation where some are more equal than others. They have other ideas and we cannot allow that. This inordinate desire and long term aspiration of conquering the whole of Nigeria and dipping the Koran in the Atlantic Ocean cannot work.
It will be resisted. And those that wish to do it must desist from trying before the whole thing explodes in their faces.
I say again, it will be resisted. And the more they try to impose it, the more resistance they will meet. I predicted conflict a while back. They have obviously reached a decisive stage in a plan long prepared. A plan that has economic and social facets, as much as political.
They are following a script long prepared. Large bodies of armed men cannot be roaming the country freely without the intervention of security agencies if there is no high level complicity. If you ask me why they are doing it, the answer is simple and clear: it is what the Nazis called the quest for “Lebensraum” (meaning living space).
It is an economic programme of inheriting as much land with as few people as possible left on them. The desertification, increasing population, dwindling resources are driving them southward. It was bound to happen with our lack of planning. Even the Rwandan genocide had an economic aspect to it. Rwanda and Burundi are one of the most densely populated places in Africa. Lack of planning over the decades is the cause. Apart from Obafemi Awolowo, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, Habib Bourguiba, Kwame Nkrumah and Julius Nyerere, African leaders, including Nelson Mandela, had neither strategic vision nor a clear plan for resolving the challenges facing us. Awolowo suggested incorporating secession clause into our constitution at the 1954 Constitutional Conference. Sadly it was opposed primarily by the North and it failed. Had it been entrenched in our constitution, we may have avoided the first civil war and any other one, which I am praying will never come.
The professor and the National Chairman of Fulbe Development Association, Alhaji Ahmad Bello, have been quoted as saying that Fulani can never be defeated. What do you think about such claims?
It is historically untrue. The Yoruba defeated the Fulani in Osogbo and sent them back to the North. Though they got Ilorin as a consequence of the rebellion of Aare Ona Kakaanfo Afonja, who colluded with them and fought against his commander and traditional ruler, the Alaafin of Oyo, the Yoruba have never been conquered by the Fulani or anyone else and neither will they ever be. We are slow to anger but irresistible in battle. They say that it is not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of fight in the dog. Nobody wants to fight and neither do we want a war. We must all be restrained, sue for peace and try to talk our differences out like civilised people do rather than exchanging blows and indulging in violence. However, if a full scale war is ever forced upon the people of the South or indeed the Middle Belt by anyone, we will not run or shy away from it. It will be viewed as the final battle for our independence from our internal colonial masters. They say hubris always comes before nemesis. Let this Fulani man and all those that think like him and make these threats keep talking and bragging that his people can never be defeated. If, God forbid, armed conflict ever comes, we shall put his boast to the test and I trust that God shall defend His own.
What are the things the professor said in the interview that you think are untrue?
Other than to say that the Yoruba defeated the Fulani at Osogbo and “sent us packing”, he did not say one thing that was true. Everything else that he said was untrue: he did nothing but tell a series of offensive, perfidious, specious, pernicious and dangerous lies and he told those lies with arrogance and sheer callousness. That man is dangerous and I pray that he does not set our nation on fire.