The Hausa-Fulani are an ethnic designation that includes the Hausa and the Fulani, ethnic groups that are spread throughout West Africa with smaller populations in other African regions. The combined Hausa-Fulani category refers to Hausa and Fulani living in northern Nigeria. The Hausa-Fulani make up 29% of Nigeria’s total population.
In the context of Nigeria, the groups are frequently combined as a reflection of their intertwined histories beginning in the 19th century, when the Fulani Muslim scholar and leader Usman Dan Fodio launched a jihad which assumed control over Hausa city-states and established the Sokoto Caliphate. However, Hausa remained the language of administration and, alongside Arabic, of scholarship and literature. Intermarriage between the Hausa and Fulani was frequent.
With the onset of British colonialism, the Hausa-Fulani identity deepened in contradistinction to southern Nigerian ethnic identities. Following Nigerian independence, this intensified as regional cultural and religious identities acted as prominent mobilizing forces used by politicians advocating for greater regional representation in the central government. Ahmadu Bello’s “One North, One Islam” policy, intended to unify northern Muslims, also resulted in smaller tribes’ and communities’ decision to identify with Hausa-Fulani, often by assuming Hausa as the predominant language of the village. As such, depending on the context, Hausa-Fulani is an ethnic, a religious, a cultural, and/or a linguistic marker.
It is important to note that there are communities outside of northern Nigeria that ascribe solely to either Hausa or Fulani identities, most which practice traditional religions. This indicates that Islam has been—and continues to be—the primary centrifugal force that brings together the Hausa-Fulani identity.
CIA World Factbook, “Nigeria,” CIA World Factbook, last updated August 22, 2013, accessed September 9, 2013.
E.C. Ejiogu, The Roots of Political Instability in Nigeria: Political Evolution and Development in the Niger Basin (Burlington: Ashgate, 2011).
Crawford Young, The Politics of Cultural Pluralism (Madison, University of Wisconsin Press, 1976).
"Four Hausa Gun Carriers of the South Nigerian Regiment by Sir (John) Benjamin Stone," Sir Benjamin Stone (d. 1914), National Portrait Gallery, from Wikimedia Commons.