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Farmers and herders in Nigeria fight over land

21.12.2018
The Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria has been making waves over the last few years so much so that it has overshadowed some really pertinent issues that are affecting the highly populated West African state. One will agree that the Islamist insurgency has led to the loss of many lives. However, there are other very alarming matters that take more lives on the daily basis than the Boko Haram insurgency, such as the fight over land between farmers and herdsmen in the country’s central region.

Farmer–herder conflicts in Nigeria are usually centered on disagreements over land and/or cattle between herders, mostly the Fulani and Hausa and farmers. Benue, Taraba and Plateau states have been the most affected since the fighting over land erupted in the late 90s.

A new report from Amnesty International reveals that these deadly conflicts between farmers and cattle herders in central Nigeria over land and natural resources reached its peak in 2018. According to the report, more than 2000 lives have been lost in such conflicts in 2018. This number alone doubles and even surpasses the number of people that were killed in the last two years and hundreds more than were killed in the Boko Haram insurgency. The Amnesty report went further to indicate that this alarming death toll in 2018 was aggravated by the government’s failure to handle the situation properly and investigate and prosecute the attackers.

The conflicts took a turn for the worse in 2015 and have over the last few years become increasingly common. Dozens of clashes occurred throughout the country this year. In some cases, the conflicts degenerate into ethnic and religious clashes, since the farmers are largely Christians from the majority Berom ethnic group while the pastoralists are mainly Muslims of the minority Fulani. The most recent fatalities recorded this year happened on December 16, when militants believed to be Fulani Herdsmen attacked a village in Jema’a, killing 15 people and injuring at least 24 others. The attack is said to have taken place at a wedding ceremony. In April Fulani gunmen killed 19 people during an attack on a church, after which, they burnt dozens of nearby homes. In June, over 200 people died 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 a general basis, the report by Amnesty that details three years of fighting portrays a picture of a conflict in which both farmers and herdsmen across Nigeria’s Middle Belt region have lost confidence in the rule of law and taken matters into their own hands to retaliate against their neighbours with impunity.

It is worth noting that over the past few years, Nigeria’s rural population has grown and climate change has dried up traditional grazing areas, thereby causing farmers and cattle herders to slowly live in close quarters. This closeness has made little disputes over maybe a wandering cow, or a new crop patch appearing on a grazing path, escalate into violence and over months and years further deteriorate, leaving whole families dead, hundreds of thousands of people displaced and villages in charred ruins.

This conflict has been seen as a major political issue in Nigeria, with critics of President Muhammadu Buhari saying he has not done enough to address the underlying grievances and prosecute murderers on both sides. The Amnesty report also mentions several incidents in which security forces, including local police and Army soldiers, either ignored credible advance warnings of attacks or abandoned their posts just before or during attacks.

AFRIC Editorial Article.

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