Nigeria, the “Giant of Africa”, as it is usually referred to, is the most populous country in Africa and the seventh most populous in the world. It is a multi-ethnic and culturally diverse State, inhabited by over five hundred ethnic groups, with varying languages, customs, and culture. Nigeria’s diversity also extends to various religious beliefs, schools of thought, and perception of its citizens.
One of the known ethnic groups among the Yoruba people come from Ogbomosho, a city in the South-Western region in Nigeria. Apart from the presence of the elderly tortoise believed to be 330 years old, Ogbomosho is known for its rich agricultural produce. During a visit to Ogbomosho, Nigerian photographer, Yavala Stephen, encounters something not often reported in the news; the settlers in Ogbomosho connected with the Fulani herdsmen crisis in Nigeria.
Over the years, Nigeria has witnessed conflict and disputes arising from its multi-ethnic and cultural diversity. Many have traced this to what is considered a forced amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates in 1914. The amalgamation which was aimed at unifying the protectorates, unfortunately, seemed to result in enmity and hostility among the various ethnic groups within the newly formed colony. With its various underlying factors, economic as well as political, it has repeatedly been argued that this amalgamation is the foundation of the problems this country has faced.
In recent times, there has been news of conflict between Fulani herdsmen and farmers in South-West Nigeria, with the herdsmen violently attacking farmers over issues of land resource. The farmers, on the other hand, are in a rage over the herdsmen’s increased access to grazing lands and water, failing to keep animals in their care under proper control, thus losing crops to the havoc caused by unchecked grazing activities. The herdsmen insist that they are the ones being attacked by gangs of farmers who attempt to steal their cattle and that their response is only a defense. Until now, the cycle of arguments continues.
In Ogbomosho, Stephen meets a little girl named Hauwa, spends a day with her family, and creates a number of photographs which he has titled HAUWA. Born in Ogbomoso ten years ago, this is the only place Hauwa knows as home. Her family settled in the area long before she was born. They are Fulani and their means of livelihood is cattle rearing. Through HAUWA, Stephen attempts to bring faces and experiences to an untold side of the news on clashes and tension in Ogbomosho. Who are the trespassers? Who are the outsiders? Who suffers in ethnic conflicts?
Hauwa’s father, fondly called Alfa, is from the Northern part of Nigeria but lives and work in Ogbomosho. The family has had a peculiar experience, one they would never forget. The former secretary to the government of the federation, Chief Olu Falae, was kidnapped on his farm by suspected Fulani herdsmen. This incidence and the level of insecurity caused by the crisis in that region has raised concerns on the safety of Alfa and his family, but stereotypical thoughts will argue that because he is a Fulani man, he may as well be one of those behind the attacks and thus deserves whatever consequence that brings.
In spite of this tension between the Fulani herdsmen and the Yoruba people in Ogbomosho, Alfa’s four children have both Yoruba and Fulani names and the family communicates fluently in both languages. He experiences the same problems a native Ogbomosho family would. While taking photographs of Hauwa and her siblings, her sister, Fatima, said in Yoruba, E pada wa Lojo ajodun – “Please, return on a festive day.” She says this with so much inflection and character that in that moment, she is Yoruba.
In the series, Hauwa is the main subject, shining through her innocence and purity.
“I could see the joy in her eyes and at the same time sense her fear”, says Stephen. “When I first approached Hauwa with my camera, she was timid and smiled shyly. But, I started a conversation with her and this led to meeting her siblings and her father, a beautiful and positive family.”
Meeting them opened up access for Stephen to meet more people in that neighbourhood, the farmers as well as other Fulani settlers. He recalls that the friendship between them was effortless and honest. It was something he had not seen in a very long time. “I wished more Nigerians were with me at that moment, to witness this unexpected, yet heart-warming reality, in the middle of a tribal and religious upheaval.”
There are facts, but perspective matters more. Stephen believes we are ONE.