Sunday, 10 April 2022

On being attacked by Fulani Herdsmen surviving and fleeing Nigeria


Fulani Heardsmen


Some months ago, on my way back from school we were attacked by Fulani Herdsmen. I was in the car with my friend. 


I have written about this experience in so many ways. First I tried writing it as an Op-ed, I wanted a notable newspaper or journal to publish it, so the world can see that Nigeria is an incredibly unsafe place to be. But the feedback I got said I highlighted problems without solutions. I tried again, to write it as a personal essay and there was this pressure to sound like a writer and articulate it properly. I have now decided to write it on my blog because it is the only way I can say exactly what happened without being performative or bearing the pressure of being chronological. Also, forgive the typos in advance, I will type this on a spree and I will not go back to edit, writing it is hard enough. 


Nigeria is starting to look like a sequel for 1000 ways to die because as we are trying to survive, the system is having a swell time making sure we don't. 


While in school with my friend, our parents advised us not to use public transport because they didn't want to hear any horror stories about our trip back from school and they wanted us to be comfortable. To avoid the stress and uncertainty of the public transport system, they sent us a private car from Ebonyi. We attend school in Awka. 


We had reached the expressway in Enugu when we saw that a big vehicle had stopped in the middle of the road. As we got closer, we saw that a Cow was in fact chilling in the trunk of the vehicle. This obviously caused a lot of traffic and every sane car including ours was swerving to avoid hitting this Car and the Cow. A few Fulani men were trying to stop the Cow from fleeing, fastening its legs with tight ropes and yelling. They were beating it and trying to keep it in place. It was a very chaotic sight. Whether their car broke down or not, I don't know. All I know is that a Cow was center stage in an expressway in this big 21st century and they thought it was okay.


As we inched closer, a Fulani man, tall and young, charged at us and used his fist to punch down the glass at the driver's side. The shattered glass splashed into our car and while we were still trying to make sense of what was happening, another Fulani man totally unaware of the situation came and slapped our driver three times. I was seated in that back seat, wide-eyed and scared to my bones, there and then I learnt that these people needed no explanation for violence, violence to them is wildfire, they just need someone kind enough to light a match. I have lost count of the number of slaps our driver collected that day because it was sporadic. He was treated like a slave. 


Fulani Heardsmen

Soon, more Fulani men surrounded us with sticks and the man who broke our glass with his fist went to get a cutlass while shouting, "You dey mad, so you people want to kill me and my cow?" He honestly believed that two Nigerian students and a driver drove from Awka to come and play fetch with potential beef in the hotness of the afternoon? 


Anyway, my friend who was in the front seat noticed she was bleeding, the glasses had dug into her skin, the driver was bleeding on all his fingers and I was looking at my legs amid shattered glass wondering how this was going to be my last day on planet earth. I had never begged for my life before, until that day. We were just inside our car begging our fellow Nigerian not to kill us. 


Attack by the Fulani Heardsmen
This was the only photo we could get. Had I really taken photos of our bodies and the interior of the car, I would have had to put up a content warning before posting.

The Fulani man with the cutlass rose it up and before it could come down at us, an elderly Fulani man came out and stopped him. He said "No worry, leave them, leave them, just leave them!" luckily for us the bloodthirsty Fulani man listened and dropped the cutlass. He was still furious, huffing, puffing and looking at us in fuming anger.


I wish this thing happened in a secluded place because then it might justify why we had no help, but no. It happened in broad daylight and cars continued to pass and mind their business. Nobody stopped to help us or shout or call the police or ask if we were okay. They quickly drove past us, some looking at us with pity, others acting like they were not witnessing an attack firsthand. We were just two young girls and a driver - three innocent people who were about to make the headlines because a Fulani man in the middle of the road got emotional over a cow.


The driver got out of the car and went to meet with them. He knelt and was begging. That was when I found out he could speak their language. Maybe he was Hausa or Fulani, I really don't know. He was clearly not from the same place as me. My friend opened the door and asked that we leave everything and run. I remember she looked at me with fear in her eyes and said, "Roseline, there is nothing in this car that is not replaceable, let's get out of here!" 


Now that I think about it, who was to say they would not have stoned or butchered us before we took our first step. We were just irrational because we needed escape. If I was not in the car I would have assumed the driver did something to them, or ask stupid questions like are you sure you people did not hit them? but I was awake and our car did nothing but stop close to a car with a cow in the trunk, in a bid to beat traffic.


When I read the news that Fulani herdsmen go to villages to butcher people or kill people on the road, all I have is sympathy and wonder. Now, I have experienced firsthand what it means to see your life hanging by a thread and it is the worst thing ever.


As we made to come out and run, the driver came back and said, the Fulani men said we could go. We drove past the Fulani herdsmen and made a stop at the corner of a road to remove the glass from our car and bodies before continuing our journey. It didn't even occur to us to take photographs of the damage until we were done cleaning up. 


Fulani heardsmen attack

It made sense that the driver was able to reason with them in the end, he spoke their language. This did not make me feel safe at all. My guard went up immediately.  I became afraid of him too. Anytime he stopped or took a different route, we panicked. 


Language is not supposed to make you feel unsafe, but after what my friend and I experienced, we were beyond afraid. What if they have asked him to drive us into the bush and butcher us? It didn't help that he made a series of phone calls as we kept going and those calls were not in English. I am sure he was probably just informing his people of what happened, but we felt fear and uncertainty. 


It is sad to admit but anytime I go to a place and all I hear is people speaking Hausa or Fulani, I become afraid. Fulani Herdsmen are becoming the single story for all Fulani people and it is heartbreaking, people are starting to see their culture and existence as a statement of war. I am not one to buy into stereotypes but the herdsmen make it hard for people like me. 


This happened in the east, in our car, in broad daylight, now imagine what is happening to people in the North or less favorable conditions. Awka to Ebonyi is just three hours and in minutes I had the scariest experience of my life. In Nigeria a lot can go wrong in split seconds. The life of the average Nigerian is of less value compared to a cow. 


I became emotional when I got home and told my mum everything and she fell on her face and started wailing to God. She could have lost me because of a cow. This post is already longer than I expected. So I am going to end by saying that my patriotism for this country is now in need of CPR. I do not blame anyone who wants to Japa because every day Nigeria gives us a reason to take flight. The system is failing, every day on the news something awful is happening to an innocent Nigerian somewhere because of failed or non-existent structures and systems. This country needs a leadership overhaul and fast. 


I am well and safe. Just always paranoid from road trips and trying to overcome the PTSD from the attack. I am also grateful because again God has shown me that it is not my time to die. My friend is well too, she tells me she has anxiety about road trips and she is now extremely careful around people she is not familiar with. 


I hope one day, Nigeria can be better. I have no suggestions or solutions for our leaders and their immense love for cattle.  I am just thankful to be alive. And praying that things change, because the brain drain this country is about experience would be second to none. 


Thank you for reading. Please share and tell people to be very careful and alert. Nigeria is not built to keep us Alive. 





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