Cattle file through still green savanna
on their way to Lagos
, in 1960, by Dr Mary Gillham
Herder-famer conflicts in Nigeria have mainly involved disputes over land resources between mostly Muslim Fulani herders and mostly Christian farmers across Nigeria but more devastating in the Middle Belt (North Central) since the return of democracy in 1999. Attacks have also taken place in the northwest Nigeria against farmers who are mainly Hausa people. While the conflict has underlying economic and environmental reasons, it has also acquired religious and ethnic dimensions. Thousands of people have died since the conflict began. Sedentary farming rural communities are often target of attacks because of their vulnerability. There are fears that this conflict will spread to other West African countries but this has often been downplayed by governments in the region. Attacks on herders have also led them to retaliating by attacking other communities.
Causes of the conflict
Since the Fourth Nigerian Republic’s founding in 1999, farmer-herder violence has killed more than 19,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands more. It followed a trend in the increase of farmer-herder conflicts throughout much of the western Sahel, due to an expansion of agriculturist population and cultivated land at the expense of pasturelands; deteriorating environmental conditions, desertification and soil degradation; population growth; breakdown in traditional conflict resolution mechanisms of land and water disputes; and proliferation of small arms and crime in rural areas. Insecurity and violence have led many populations to create self-defence forces and ethnic and tribal militias, which have engaged in further violence. The majority of farmer-herder clashes have occurred between Muslim Fulani herdsmen and Christian farmers, exacerbating ethnoreligious hostilities.
Conflicts between farmers and herders can be understood as a problem of access to land. The beginning of the 21st century witnessed an expansion of the agriculturist population and its cultivated land at the expense of pasturelands in the Middle Belt. In an already politically unstable region, it has never always been possible to ascertain a legal title to land for every farmer. As a result, transhumance routes of herders were no longer available, especially in a context of global warming.
Deteriorating environmental conditions, desertification and soil degradation have led Fulani herdsmen from Northern Nigeria to change their transhumance routes. Access to pastureland and watering points in the Middle Belt became essential for herdsmen travelling from the North of the country. It is often assumed that climate change is the driver of the conflict but recent study suggest that climate change does not automatically cause the conflict, but it has however changed the herders' migration pattern. Regions vulnerable to climate change (Northern Regions) experience less farmer-herder conflict and less intense farmer-herder fighting. It is argued that identity differentials between farming and herding groups need to be considered in the explanation of the mechanism of the climate change-farmer-herder conflict nexus.
Regional conflicts in Jos and Kaduna
The farmer/herder conflicts have been taking place in regions which have been unstable since the 2000s. Urban conflicts in Jos and Kaduna have been particularly violent and, despite violent clashes with the authorities, their causes have never been addressed politically. Conflicts might not have been addressed adequately because traditional authorities have not been fulfilling their role in colonial-era settlements.
Solving the crisis
The Nigerian government has been unwilling to address the causes of the crisis. Fighting Boko Haram in the North-East and facing rising levels of violence in different regions of the country, the government has nonetheless tried to implement a few measures.
Since 2012, there have been projects to create transhumance corridors through the Middle Belt. Mostly supported by Northern lawmakers and opposed by their Southern counterparts, these endeavours have been rarely successful.
In 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari tried to create Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) settlements. His proposal was met with fierce criticism.
List of attacks
Nigerian and foreign newspapers are often unable to provide exact numbers of casualties. Despite the high number of attacks, Nigerian and foreign journalists have rarely access to first-hand testimonies and tend to report inaccurate figures.
- According to the Global Terrorism Index, these conflicts resulted in over 800 deaths by 2015.
- The year 2016 saw further incidents in Agatu, Benue and Nimbo, Enugu State.
- In April 2018 Fulani gunmen allegedly killed 19 people during an attack on the church, afterwards they burnt dozens of nearby homes.
- In June 2018, over 200 people were killed and 50 houses were burnt in clashes between farmers and Fulani cattle herders in Plateau State.
- In October 2018, Fulani herdsmen killed at least 19 people in Bassa.
- On 16 December 2018, militants believed to be Fulani herdsmen attacked a village in Jena'a, killing 15 people and injuring at least 24 others, the attack occurred at a wedding ceremony.
- On 11 February 2019, an attack on an Adara settlement named Ungwar Bardi by suspected Fulani gunmen killed 11. Reprisal attack by Adara targeted settlements of the Fulani killing at least 141 people with 65 missing. The attacks took place in Kajuru LGA of Kaduna State. According to a governor the motive was to destroy specific communities.
- The Coalition Against Kajuru killings stated on 18 March 2019 that 130 people have been killed in a series of revenge attacks since the massacre announced by El-Rufai.
- In January 2018 about 10 persons were killed in an attack and reprisal involving herders and local farmers in Numan local council of Adamawa State.
- In May 2018 over 400 herdsmen attacked four villages of Lamurde, Bang, Bolk, Zumoso and Gon in Numan and Lamurde local councils of Adamawa State killing 15 people.
- 21 people were killed by herdsmen in a village in Demsa local government area of Adamawa State.
- 32 Christians were murdered by Muslim Fulani herdsmen
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- Amnesty International, Harvest of Death: Three Years of Bloody Clashes between Farmers and Herders in Nigeria, 2018 <>
- Bearak, Max, Jane Hahn, Mia Torres, and Olivier Laurent, ‘The Ordinary People Keeping the Peace in Nigeria’s Farmer-Herder Conflict’, The Washington Post, 10 December 2018 <The ordinary people keeping the peace in Nigeria's deadly land feuds> [accessed 25 December 2019]
- Higazi, Adam, ‘Farmer-Pastoralist Conflicts on the Jos Plateau, Central Nigeria: Security Responses of Local Vigilantes and the Nigerian State’, Conflict, Security and Development, 16.4 (2016), 365–85
- Last, Murray, ‘Muslims and Christians in Nigeria: An Economy of Political Panic’, The Round Table : The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs, 96.392 (2007), 605–16
- Last, Murray, ‘The Search for Security in Muslim Northern Nigeria’, Africa, 78.1 (2008), 41–63
- Mustapha, Abdul Raufu, and David Ehrhardt, eds., Creed & Grievance: Muslim-Christian Relations & Conflict Resolution in Northern Nigeria (Oxford: James Currey, 2018)
- Ochonu, Moses E, ‘Fulani Expansion and Subcolonial Rule in Early Colonial Adamawa Province’, in Colonialism by Proxy Hausa Imperial Agents and Middle Belt Consciousness in Nigeria (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2014), pp. 129–56
- Reynolds, Jonathan, The Time of Politics: Islam and the Politics of Legitimacy in Northern Nigeria 1950-1966 (San Francisco: International Scholar Publications, 1999)
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