Olanrewaju Lawal, Birnin-Kebbi
For decades, Fulani herdsmen have continued to shelter in settlements located in bushes or what is locally known as Ruga. In these settlements, sometimes impermanent in nature as they move from place to place, they house their herds as well as their family members.
Despite their early exposure to Islamic education, many of them still hold on to these traditional settlements as they pursue their nomadic lifestyle from one part of the country to another and even to settlements situated outside Nigeria.
One of the consequences of the way they live their lives is that they are cut off from both Western and sometimes Islamic education. Literally speaking, they are lost in these bushes as the world moves on, through the instrumentality of education, to a digital world of multiple possibilities.
Kebbi State, historically a territory of Sheikh Abdullahi Bn Fodio, is the second headquarters of the Fulani dynasty and about the second largest settlement of the tribe in Nigeria. The state, therefore, harbours a large number of the out-of-school children, sired by Fulani herdsmen.
Statistics available in the state Ministry of Education estimates that about 398,000 out of 498,000 children are not in school, many of them Fulani. “This statistics is worrisome and unacceptable to any serious leadership class,” says Alhaji Bello Umaru, an educationist.
Against this background, wife of the governor, Hajia Aisha Bagudu, embarked on an advocacy to these herdsmen and their communities on the need to expose their children to western education, through her Mass Literacy Programme and Almajiri Initiative (MALLPAI).
The foundation interfaced with over 44 Fulani settlements in the 21 local government areas of the state where, they reiterated the need for Fulani families to embrace western education. It took time to train some Fulani women on a number of skills such as yogurt making, soap making and tailoring.
She explained: “We went to about 44 Fulani communities in the four emirates in the state. We trained women on how to be self- reliant, vaccinated their cattle against diseases and gave them support, which we believe would help them encourage their spouses and let them send their wards to schools.
“We have also created an enabling environment at our literacy centres in the state to make education accessible to children of school age. We want to see the less privileged children competing favourably with the children of the well -to-do in the tertiary institutions. We also want them to become productive citizens in the society after graduation.”
Mallam Mohammed Bello Sodangi, a Fulani community leader in Karu Gaje village in Kalgo Local Government Area, spoke in English and Fulfude: “I have the privilege to go to school because of this kind of awareness. Today, I can communicate in English very well. Just imagine if President Muhammadu Buhari did not go school? How would he become Nigeria’s President? He and his wife are Fulani. So, let us allow our children go to school and acquire skills from MALLPAI Skill Acquisition Centres.”
Leader of Fulani in Gesse Bayero settlement, Birnin-Kebbi, Alhaji Dikko Umar, described the advocacy as a humanitarian gesture, stressing that his people are ready to enrol their children in schools. Responding on behalf of the Fulani community in Yauri, he noted that the advocacy has started yielding positive outcomes as their children are already going to school: “They go school in the morning and engage in nomadic activities in the evening.”