Their ordeal is not as documented as that of thousands of people killed or forced from their homes by Boko Haram insurgents. Yet, across the nation, especially in the North, children of migrant folks are finding it increasingly difficult to go to school for fear of being cut down in communal clashes. GRACE OBIKE reports on the challenges of nomadic women and their kids
A calabash of fura de nono, a rich, fresh milk delicacy, is still offered the guest with the same enthusiasm and hospitality of the forebears. The Fulani relish their culture; what is in short supply is peace. Unfortunately, their story is not as documented as the ravages of Boko Haram insurgents, who have carved out large swathes of territory in the region’s eastern flank.
Thousands have been cut down by the sect’s fighters, many more forced to flee their homes and seek refuge wherever they can find it. Survivors’ sources of livelihood have crashed, as has the education of their children.
Crisis is hurting Boko Haram targets. Fulani herders and local farmers, who are often at loggerheads, are also suffering. For both communities, their means of sustenance is dwindling. Their children have difficulties going to school.
Fulani women, who spoke the reporter in Nasarawa State and the Federal Capital Territory, said they found it difficult sending their children to school owing to the frequent crises.
The National Commission for Nomadic Education (NCNE) has offered nomdic folks a great opportunity to educate themselves but insecurity is hurting the plan.
Sixty-year-old Hauwa Usman in Gwako Fulani community in the FCT, said she gave birth to 14 children, 11 of them dead. This has
“Right now,” she said, “all we seek as Fulani women, is peace; the numerous crises that always erupt affect us so much and have put so much fear in us. All we hear these days is that person was killed, that person killed, cows stolen and people driven from their homes. Can anyone live in peace in such a situation?
“The biggest problem we have at the moment is the lack of peace; we are so scared and cannot even send our children to school even if we wanted to because we are afraid of them being killed. All we ask for is that the government assist us in achieving peace and end all the fears in our minds.”
Zulia Abdullahi, 15, who resides in the community should be in school. But she is not. Rather she is already married and had a child, who died a few weeks after birth. At that tender age, she is already bearing the pain of bereaved older mothers. Like most nomadic young mothers, Zulia left her husband’s home five months into her pregnancy and returned to her parent’s home in Tudun Fulani to deliver her first child. She was expected to leave the child with her parents at the age of two.
Like most of her peers, Zulia was practically forced to marry another nomad living in the opposite part of town called Kabusa. She could not refuse the union even though she would have loved to because she wanted an opportunity to go to school like a few of her neighbours. But her parents never allowed her to go to school, wanting her to marry the man they chose for her. She said she felt it was her duty as a good daughter to marry whoever her parents choose for her.
“If something where to happen to my husband or marriage, I will then be free to choose who to marry, whether in the bush or city; it will then be my decision. I had always wanted to go to schoolý, I still do but now I am married and will have to give up the dream because, as a married woman, I am not allowed to leave the house other than to go sell fura or travel. By the grace of God, when I have children again since my baby just died, I will ensure they acquire as much education as their intelligence can take, since I can never be the civil servant that I always wanted to be, not being educated. I will ensure that my husband allow our children to acquire enough education because I know that they will be capable of taking care of me better in my old age.”
Although Zulia would have loved to live her dream of being a civil servant, she is not condemning her early marriage because, according to her, nomadic girls older than 15 are treated differently.
“I’m not unhappy to marry when I did, because in our culture, if a girl at 15 is still in her parents’ house and unmarried, people will call her wicked and say that no one is coming to marry her because of her wicked ways, they will make fun of her wherever she goes and she will always have to hide her face in shame. We marry very early, which is not really good. Even if I had not been willing to marry when I did, the fear of what people will say would force me into marriage. When a girl is 12, the parents will start discussing marriage with her, but at that age, the girl is not yet wise but will be made to marry all the same. The husband is the one that comes and asks your parents for your hand in marriage and as a girl, you have no input in it, which is not a good way to live because it is what a person desires that gives him peace of mind.”
Zulia’s mother, Hajara Yusufu, 45, had always wanted to be a medical doctor. It is a secret she never shared with anyone. She claimed that her older children have never been to school while her youngest child and grandchildren whom she has tried to enroll in a nearby nomadic school are afraid of returning to the school because of the crises between Fulani herdsmen and farmers which has caused so much havoc.
Her greatest wish is the return of peace so that they can return to school and live out her dream. She said she dreamed of telling people that they are her children. However, she was quick to say that the decision of whether they go to school or not is not hers to take but her husband’s.
She said: “I see people in huge cars and nice houses whenever I go into the city all the time to sell my fura de nono and sometimes wish that I were born in a different situation. I would have loved to be a doctor, I admire them anytime I go to the hospital and see them.”
On her part, 70-year-old Halima who resides in Chumanga hamlet, a quiet settlement in Wamba Local Government Area of Nasarawa State, has never been to school even though she would have loved to. Surrounded by several children and grand children, her greatest regret is that she never had the opportunity to be educated.
She told The Nation: “My greatest regret in life is not attaining any form of education because if I had, I would probably be in a big city and beautiful house, relaxing instead of living and dying in this bush.”
She said all has done all her life has been to be ready to gather the children and move from place to place whenever her husband said so. She said that she has walked all over the North Central on foot and alongside her children and presently young grandchildren. Her greatest fear however is the thought of another migration because her feet hurt with arthritis and it will not be an easy journey for her, but with a show of strength, she still said, “Well if the husband today decides that we ought to move, I will simply pack up and obey because it is not my place to question my husband. He decides what happens in the family”.
Bilkisu Musa is not interested in sending her children to school even though she did not attend any school herself. She is not interested in having her children obtain any form of education.
Said she, “I don’t have any interest in going to school neither do I want my children to go. The country is now very dangerous and I prefer knowing that my children are close. I want them to learn the traditional nomadic ways and live our normal life in peace.”
Investigations by The Nation revealed that the most prevalent thing in the Fulani nomadic community is infant mortality. It was gathered that the women have been thought to accept the death of their children as the will of God.
Bilkisu whose two children, out of seven, are dead, said, “When we get pregnant, we don’t go to any hospital, attend ante-natal or take any drug; it is not part of our culture. You stay at home and when the time comes to have your baby, you close your curtain and deliver your child on your own without help from anyone. That is our culture. When you see that any bush Fulani is taken to a hospital, then you must know that the condition is critical.”
Even though the NCNE has been established by a decree to cater for the educational needs of the socially excluded, educationally disadvantaged and migrant groups in Nigeria, available records show that only 519,018 children of nomads are currently in school. It was also discovered that out of 10.4 million migrant groups in the country comprising pastoral, migrant fisher folks and migrant farmers, about 3.6 million are children of school age. The participation of the nomads in existing education programme is very low as the literacy rate ranges between 0.02% to 2.0% at the early age of implementing the Nomadic Education Programme but so far, the number of nomadic schools around the country has risen from 329 at the inception of the programme in 1990 to 3,445 as at December 2013, with pupils enrolment, rising from 18,831 at inception to 519,018 by the above date.
The October 2014 edition of the nomadic education bulletin quoted the Executive secretary NCNE, Prof. Rasheed Aderinoye as saying that “the situation is worst for the nomadic girl-child in northern Nigeria, who is often marginalised and at a disadvantaged position in the family due to cultural factors and religious misinterpretation. The nomadic girl-child in northern Nigeria is doubly disadvantaged, given her sex, age and ethnicity. The girl-child is surrounded with culture and social settings that neither recognizses nor appreciates the value of girl education. The socio-cultural context of her existence not only encourages social exclusion and gender discrimination but brings to bear the effects of institutionalized patriarchal practices hidden under religion and culture to perpetuate injustice and unfair distribution of opportunities.”
State Secretary, Miyyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, (MACBAN) Nasarawa chapter, Alhaji Mohammed Hussaini explained that the major reason for Nomadic Fulani’s slow pace in education is insecurity that has plagued them for years. He said that if peace is restored, the Nomadic Fulani will send his child to school.
“If there is peace today in the whole country, Fulanis will go to school. I am a nomadic Fulani and my father sent me to school since 1976 and today I have attained so many degrees. Yes, our girls drop out of school early to marry but the government cannot put in place any legislation to stop it because our religion permits us to marry our girls early; religion sometimes can overcome the constitution; we have people that send their daughters to school, we have thousands of female nomadic Fulani graduates in Nigeria. Making a girl child stay in school or marry is an individual decision by the parents and they cannot be forced upon by the constitution, how can you force someone to do what he doesn’t want? You cannot force me to do such a thing because I can take you to court because of the democratic system of government that we presently have.”
He also said, “In some parts of Kaduna right now, most of the nomadic Fulani have migrated to the western part of the country, to Ghana and other countries to keep their cows from being stolen…Nomadic schools were closed down or burnt to the ground by the Ombatse group; so were several settlements.”
As The Nation made to leave the Gwako community, after several bows of Fura de Nono, 60-year-old Hauwa, full of excitement, thrust a N20 note into the reporter’s hand, insisting that she take it for fare back to town.