Despite resistance by some sects in the northern part of the country for western education, rural Fulani women have expressed regrets about not having the opportunity to go to school. ENE OSANG writes
Thirty-year-old Hajiya Safiya Ardo is the first wife of the Chief of Rugan Ardo, a small Fulani settlement on the outskirts of Idu community; just a few kilometres from the railway station in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
The residents are Fulani cattle rustlers with their ruga tents built around them. They did a good job of taking care of their environment that once you visit, you can eat their food without fear of contamination.
Safiya said: “We are very clean, we use to buy weeding implements so that our children will help us to weed, and we sweep every morning before we cook. Once we wake up we sweep before we cook and after cooking, we clean up the kitchen area before we relax; we cannot relax in a dirty environment, we bathe our children and do laundry before relaxing.
“Anywhere in the bush that you find a Fulani home you will see that the home is clean; this is part of our culture.”
When this visited the settlement with PAGED Initiative, alongside other journalists, the female residents who looked very neat and organised, but lamented that they were not being educated like other citizens.
Each of the families in the settlement has close relationships because cousins marry each other and the circle goes on, little wonder most of them have similar long beautiful faces and glowing skins from regular intake of fresh milk from their cattle.
Safiya, a mother of three, said she got married at the age of 15 and that the only thing she does aside from nurturing her home is to sell milk and processed millet, popularly known as fura da nunu. She spoke so passionately about how she wished she was educated and become a career woman.
“It has been thirty years since God brought me to this world, I have been married for twelve years with three children and I have two co-wives. I feel that we have been denied our right; it is lack of education that breeds ignorance. Since we did not do western education we are ignorant of it and we do don’t know anything as we should.
“My children will not be denied their rights; we were not privileged to get this kind of life so we don’t want the same fate to befall our children. We don’t want our children to be left behind like we were left behind that is why we want them to go to school.
“Though I am enjoying marriage but I don’t want my children to enjoy the marriage now till much later, till they have achieved their dreams, till they have gotten something that will help them, because if we are here today we might not be here tomorrow.
“With the level of understanding I have now honestly I will not agree for such to be done to my children, since me I have experienced it, I will not allow it, my children will have to be educated as long as I have long life.”
The women in this settlement are so interested and committed to seeing their children through school even when they don’t earn much and do not live close to any school. So, they have their children divided into two groups: some for western education, while the others for Islamic school and cattle rustling.
“My children do Islamic school at home in the evenings and then in the mornings they go for western education. Actually, we use to divide them into groups; some go and do western education while some stay back and do Islamic education. Those that went for western education would now come join these ones for the evening lessons, but those that are doing the Islamic education exclusively don’t go to the western school at all.
“We leave them at home to do the Islamic education at home, they close around 10 o’clock and those of them that use to take animals out to graze will go and those that don’t will stay at home, then when the ones that went for western education return they will now open school (Islamic) for all of them in the evening.”
Safiya’s vision for her children is for them to become professionals so they can know more about the society and happenings around them, for her, the norm of usual life of rustling must be upgraded.
She also does not discriminate against any of the gender she has given birth to; it may interest you to know that she understands the gender disparities and stereotypes in the society and is not in support of depriving anybody the right to opportunities.
“As for who goes to western education or Islamic education, I do not have preference; we mix them up – the boys and the girls- like this one standing here (points to a teenage boy), he has done primary and secondary schools and he is about to start going to the university.
“If, for instance, I have two daughters and two sons, two will go to western school and the other two to Islamic school but I will mix them: one boy and one girl for western and one boy and one girl for Islamic education.
She further said her selection is not based on their intellectual capacity or any other reason, but due to lack of financial resources to have all the children in school.
“If we decide to send all of them to school the expenses will be unbearable, that is why I separate them, this ones will stay behind and these other ones will go and do, if we have long life and these ones have gone far, let’s say they have finished primary, they have finished secondary and are about to enter university then these other ones too can be sent to go and do too, that is my own strategy.
“We have seen that without education you will not have any knowledge, both of this world and of the hereafter, and in the past we have been cheated because of things that we don’t know, we Fulani’s don’t know much, that is why we are now putting effort in western education, we have already been left behind but we are praying that our children would not be left behind, we want them to succeed in life.”
“My children do to tell me that they want to work in the hospital; some say they want to become airplane pilots, and I pray that God makes it a reality. By the grace of God, we have now seen that knowledge is important so we can allow them to do what they need to do, it is not like before again that a girl will be married off at a young age and she will not know anything, so we too can now allow them to do what they need to do and get employed before they get married.
In 2018, the federal government pegged marriage age at 18 during the official launch of “Stop Child Marriage” campaign in Abuja.
Safiyar said even though ignorant that such law existed she would not allow her daughter to be married at the age of 15, adding that she would want her girl-child to be well-educated and had her own job to do before getting married.
She said, “Honestly, this law by the federal government is okay; I am in support of it, if the government has brought a law like that then I am in support of the government and I pray it is put in practice.
“Girls are married off and she will just be giving birth when she doesn’t know anything and her children too will not be educated. You don’t have any plans for your children, even school fees you can’t afford, so it is better if you have something doing then your children too will not find it that difficult, But if you don’t have anything planned for them, it is not good like that.”
Continuing, she said: “I am calling on everybody to allow our children to get knowledge, both of this world and of the hereafter, because if you gave birth and have children of your own and you don’t have anything doing how would you be able to bring them up properly, with what will you send them to school, those are the type of children that end up becoming thieves because you have raised children who don’t have anything to do.
“That is why they will start to take drugs and from there they can do anything; but if you were raised and you saw that there is work for you to do or school, you too will go and do it. I am thanking the government for what it has done and I am supporting the government but I am also appealing that schools be provided for us so the children don’t go to distant schools.”