Educating Fulani children in Nigeria despite odds 

Yahuza Bawage 

Abubakar Adamu Muhammad wouldn’t forget the night his family’s cattle were rustled out of their hood in Jimeta, northeastern Nigeria. It was 2008, and Abubakar was just a young boy attending secondary school when this tragedy befell the family. Life has never been the same for them ever since.

Growing up in a clergy family, Abubakar was exposed to the Islamic teachings at a young age. Despite the tragic experience, the family remained resilient, and this later spurred Abubakar to pursue a diploma in Crime Management and Prevention Control. As he studied, Abubakar realized that cattle rustling is a widespread issue. Many families across settlements surrounding Jimeta shared his family’s plight.

Learning how to be creative session

“The hope for a better living among these victims diminished,” Abubakar says. “Some of them couldn’t try new stints as they were used to only rearing cattle.” Determined to find a solution, Abubakar began a research that led him to discover the weaknesses in the criminal justice system that left victims with little recourse. “I tried joining the security forces numerous times, but my efforts were unsuccessful,” he said.

Cattle rustling is a complex issue with deep roots, fueled by a combination of poverty, competition for scarce resources, and historical grievances between herder and farmer communities. A 2019 report by the International Crisis Group highlights that the situation is dire due to the militias attacking people and new laws in some states banning open grazing of cattle. 

The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime (GI TOC) further explores this aspect in their January 2023 publication, ‘Driving destruction: Cattle rustling and instability in Nigeria.’ They mention how cattle rustling led to thousands of deaths, causing large-scale displacement of communities and destruction of livelihoods.

As time went on, Abubakar felt a calling to set up an NGO that would respond to the problems. In 2020, he pooled a team of young people in Jimeta. Together, they registered the Fulani Care and Support Foundation. This foundation, born from the collective efforts of public-spirited individuals from diverse faiths, ethnicities, and regions across Nigeria, aimed to address the root causes of cattle rustling and create a more peaceful future for Fulani communities.

“Our first effort involved debunking the stereotypes painted on the Fulani people across the country which associates them with terrorism and banditry,” Abubakar explained.

This foundation is inclusive of many ethnic groups beyond Fulani. Abubakar believes that fostering understanding between ethnicities carries weight. He stated that by educating others about Fulani culture and traditions, the stereotypes can be minimized, and together, communities can work towards a shared solution. 

Educating Fulani children 

Along with raising awareness and giving opportunities to Fulani communities in Nigeria, the Fulani Care and Support Foundation also started makeshift schools for children. These schools are not fancy buildings, but they provide a place for Fulani children between 7 and 12 years old to learn.

Class session

The foundation believes that education is the best way to stop violence. They reason that children who get an education are more likely to grow up to be good citizens and help their communities.

Finding teachers to volunteer wasn’t easy, but Abubakar worked hard to convince a few people to join him. He explained how important it is to educate the children.

One dedicated volunteer, Luka Yusuf, is a teacher who loves his job. “I’m proud to call myself a teacher. I really enjoy teaching children,” said the 29-year-old.

The learning spaces were set up in Jimeta, Adamawa State, and Jabi in Abuja, Nigeria’s seat of power. The space in Jabi has classes three days a week for about 50 students. Today, Luka and the other teachers are all giving their free time to teach mathematics, English, basic science, and civic education. 

Jibrin Salisu, a parent whose children are enrolled in the makeshift school, emphasized the transformative impact of the initiative, stating, “Prior to this, our children have never received any formal education.”

His words reflect the dire lack of educational opportunities in the settlement, which lacks proper school buildings and relies solely on a tsangaya (Qur’anic learning center) that has stood for decades. Despite this, the introduction of the makeshift school has instilled a hope for a brighter future for the children.

One of the students, Aisha Jibrin, expressed gratitude, saying, “I never thought I’d get the chance to learn like this.” Similarly, another student named Muhammad remarked, “It’s like a dream come true for us. We finally have a chance to learn and build a better future. But there should be lots of improvements.”

The establishment of the makeshift school has had a profound impact on the settlement. Not only has it provided formal education for children who previously had none, but it has also sparked a sense of optimism and possibility within the community.

Replicating the efforts 

A government agency the National Commission for Nomadic Education (NCNE), which started in 2004, has since made a big difference by giving more nomadic children in Nigeria, a chance to go to school.

The number of students enrolled jumped way up, from 590,511 in 2016 to 1,570,983 in 2022. There are also nearly twice as many teachers now, with 26,660 in 2022 compared to 14,936 in 2016. The number of schools for nomadic families who move around with their animals (pastoralists), fish (migrant fisherfolk), or farms (migrant farmers) has also tripled, going from 3,611 to 7,314.

These numbers show that the NCNE is doing a good job of reaching nomadic communities. But it’s not all Fulani communities that have seen this kind of success yet.

However, the Fulani Care and Support Foundation isn’t alone in its efforts. Similar programs are popping up all over Nigeria. For example, a school in Borno State is educating Fulani children who were forced to move because of Boko Haram conflicts. There is also another organization in Taraba State that’s focused on educating Fulani children in rural communities.

Challenges and hope

Abubakar acknowledged that the foundation faces significant hurdles in making a wider reach because the teachers often make personal sacrifices to keep the makeshift schools running. Another challenge is the lack of proper classrooms. For now, the students are divided into groups based on age and ability level.

“With the recent inflation in the country, we are finding it difficult to run classes 3 days a week. These days, we mostly go there once a week because we are far from the settlement,” Abubakar shared.

Abubakar further stated that they are working on building more collaborations to help sustain the learning centers.
Despite the difficulties, there are glimmers of hope. “We appreciate God that some of our pupils are adopting what they are taught in class. That’s the major thing in learning,” Luka said

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