The media has been awash with a new found theory propounded by Professor Muhammed Umar Labdo, which asserts that Benue State belongs to the Fulani herdsmen by right of conquest.
In this interview, erudite professor of History, Prof Stephen Adebanji Akintoye debunks the claim and traces the origin of the Fulani to the Futa Jalon and Futa Toro highlands.He further warns of the dire consequences of distortion of history for selfish purpose.
What is your own perspective on the theory propounded by Professor Muhammed Umar Labdo, that the Benue people are the products of marriage between a Fulani man and a Jukun woman?
That theory is very different from what we know about the history of the Tiv, the black African people generally and the people who now live in Nigeria. What we know about the Fulani is that they originated in the far West of West Africa, in the areas of the Futa Jalon and Futa Toro and then migrated slowly eastward. By the time of the Empires of Mali and Songhai, they had reached the centre of West Africa in what is now known as the Republic of Mali. Subsequently, they split into two groups known as town Fulani and nomadic cattle rearers. A few of them who lived in the towns of Mali and Songhai Empires became known as town Fulani, while the overwhelming majority lived in the wild as nomadic cattle rearers. Neither of the groups has been known to have founded a town, a village or kingdom anywhere. They may come and live in your town, if you have town, which is what happened with the Hausa people.They came in about 18th century and began to live in the towns of the Hausa people. But majority still continued their nomadic life in the grassland of the Hausaland. It is among these people who lived in the towns that you have Muslims. The nomadic ones were not Muslims. So, they could not have propagated any Islam. However, there is a biological connection between them such that when one has some trouble, the other one comes to help.
When the Fulani in the town began the Jihad in the Hausa kingdom, some of the Fulani in the grassland came and helped. But contrary to the wrong notion that the Fulani conquered the Hausa people, it was the Hausa people themselves who destroyed their kingdom because the new version of Islam which condemned the imposition of certain taxes which Islam prohibits appealed to them. That was what won the minds of the Hausa people to fight their own kings for the Fulani. The Hausa were not a primitive people; they were not a weak people. They just warmed up to the message of their religion and destroyed their own government in order to make way for these foreigners. The end result is that the Fulani became the rulers even though they were very few compared with the Hausa. The Hausa are the largest single nation north of the Middle Niger and they were civilized people. They had great towns like Sokoto, Katsina, Kano, Gobir which were among the greatest trading centres in the interior of Africa. So, there is no way a handful of Fulani could have conquered the Hausa people. It is after they had established themselves in Hausaland that they began to bring pressure on the large number of small nationalities south of the Niger territory. That was about the second decade of the 19th century. The Tiv nation had been in existence for thousands of years before the Fulani migrated to Nigeria.
Until the 18th century, they were not part of the country called Nigeria. Until this time, there were no Fulani in the area called Nigeria. They migrated into Nigeria and established themselves in Hausaland.They can claim right over Hausaland because they became the rulers of the Hausa people. When they began to bring pressure to bear on the people of the Middle Belt, destroying their farms and villages like what they are doing now, a few of the ethnic nationalities there tried to make peace with them, but they soon discovered that the peace didn’t pacify them. This forced many of them to move away from their homes to part of the grassland where the Fulani could not easily reach them. But for the large nationality like the Tiv, nobody conquered them.
They were too strong to be conquered. They are one of the most warlike people ever in black Africa. Nobody ever conquered them. Though the Fulani raided the fringes of the Tiv territory, they could not conquer the Tiv people. When the Tiv march out with their poisoned arrows, nobody can stand in their way. Even when the British came in 1900 to invade the Tiv land and they marched out with their poisoned arrows and faced the British, the British had to withdraw. They couldn’t face the Tiv. The Tiv are one of the most developed people in Northern Nigeria. Nobody should insult the Tiv by saying that they are conquered people.The theory of a Jukun woman marrying a Fulani man is also not true. Archeologists, scholars of historical linguistics, anthropologists, historians and DNA scientists are all agreed that the people who occupy the central part of Nigeria, the South-west and South-east are very ancient people. The first human beings in the Niger area were already there 40, 000 years ago. So, for anybody to say that the Tiv resulted from marriage between a Fulani and a Jukun woman is absurd. It is not true. I don’t think it is right for us to distort our history for whatever purpose.
In other words, Professor Labdo is distorting history to push the agenda of the Fulani.
That exactly is what he is doing. He is distorting our history in order to justify the agenda of the Fulani. He even went to the extent of saying that the Fulani were merciful not to have wiped them out. Is that what you want to do? Why should anyone of us be talking like that? Is that the end point of Nigerian history? Is that how to unite the country?
Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, has made a declaration that people should defend themselves if they are attacked. Is this not a danger signal?
Governor Ortom is becoming the hero of our time. He has said things that are surprising to those of us from the South. There has always been a feeling that one cannot be sure of what the Middle Belt people would do. We now know that they will stand up to defend themselves. Ortom is becoming the great hero of the moment. The Tiv are brave people. I sat in an audience in Makurdi and I heard him say, “for me, this is no longer a matter of politics. For now, all talks about political membership, I put them aside and I will defend my people.” Those are brave words, especially in a country where every governor is afraid to say the truth. How many governors will dare say that even in the South? So, he is becoming the hero of the moment. And that is the right message. It has come to that. If that is the way we handle Nigeria, is there a country left? Can anyone say we still have a country left? If all the states that are in danger take a cue from that and there is a whole lot of self defence in our land, can we still say that we are in a country then? Some people say we have been hash on Buhari. We are not being hash on him. But it is impossible to avoid certain conclusion. This man is destroying our country.
Some people are saying that we may not have Nigeria again after Buhari. Is that the way you see it too?
A lot of young men are saying it now on the social media. Every day, you see people saying Buhari may be the last president of Nigeria. The young people are saying it, it is their country. It is wrong to have all these killings in our land. It is terrible to have all the news of Fulani herdsmen being in control of some territories. Isn’t that chaos? The order in Nigeria now is that the Fulani have the right to be in control of where they like.
So, now it is the Fulani versus other Nigerians?
Yes, it is Fulani versus the rest of us. Why should it be so?
When the recent incident happened, Buhari directed the Inspector-General of Police to relocate to Benue. But then, killings are still ongoing in some communities. Is this not a failure of government?
It is a failure of government. It seems to me that the Fulani are following a plan. You see it in their statements. How can someone be talking of conquering the people of his own country in the 21st century?
Is the establishment of cattle colony a solution to the killer herdsmen menace?
People must be very careful about the issue of cattle colony. Fortunately, Nigerians are getting the message. The proposal to set up cattle colonies across Nigeria is a deliberate plan to destroy as many of the people of Nigeria as possible. Already, the killer herdmen are armed with sophisticated weapons which the ordinary citizen does not have and can never have. Even highly educated people cannot have Ak47 rifle. So, they have advantage over the rest of us. You allow them to establish cattle colony, the cattle colony becomes a militarized zone, which will bring pressure to bear on all the territories around it. All this is a panacea for total chaos. It will take Nigeria to the Stone Age. Nigerians must speak out. That is not what we want. It is not that we hate any particular president; it is that we are being oppressed.
Can Nigerians now trust the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) with its restructuring agenda?
If Nigeria were a proper federation, what is now happening could not have happened because in a proper federation there will be state governments controlling the police, the DSS and what have you, and they will be able to control it using the state apparatus. Buhari should now agree to do a restructuring of the country. He owes us a duty to do that. If he is not going to do it, we Nigerians should find a way to ensure that our country is restructured. Election or no election, there has to be a way where majority of the people can have their way through against a government that is reluctant to do the needful. Buhari’s resistance to restructuring is a problem that faces Nigeria. And Nigerians must find a way to get it done. This is not about party; this is about the need to do what we want to do without breaking the law. We are for the peace of the country. Restructuring is something that demands the energy of all of us. If there is any party against it, all of us must delete that party from our political life.
Obasanjo is now leading the Coalition for Nigeria. Is he the right person to direct Nigerians where to go?
The message is good. Nigerians need to hear some of the things that Obasanjo said and to take the kind of action that he suggested, which is Coalition for Nigeria. We need that type of Coalition. So, it is good that Obasanjo suggested it. What is wrong, however, is that Obasanjo is trying to do it. Even though he has said a good thing, he must recognize that Nigerians don’t want him to continue to behave as if he must be in charge, he must dictate who, he must choose the persons. That looks like what he wants to do now. If that is what he wants to do, it will not get off the ground.No Nigerian is going to agree again to an Obasanjo-dominated governance of Nigeria. It is too late for him to do that. It is inappropriate for him to lead the coalition and it is not going to get off the ground. It is right for him to suggest a coalition, but it is wrong for him to lead it. We don’t want that in Nigeria any more. It is still part of military dictatorship. And we don’t want it any more. Those who are close to General Obasanjo should advise him.