On January 17th, five persons were killed in attacks by herdsmen in Guma, Logo and Okpokwu local government areas of Benue State, Nigeria. This was in addition to the previous killings and mass burial of 73 persons, in which more than 60,000 people were also displaced.
Governor Samuel Ortom, in his reaction, stated that despite the presence of the Inspector General of Police and 663 armed mobile policemen deployed to the state, killings were being perpetrated without the arrest of the attackers. State governments across the country have begun putting measures to avert similar occurrences in their domain. Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti had previously labelled them as terrorists. However, President Muhammadu Buhari had on Monday at a meeting in Abuja appealed to the government and people of Benue State to “in the name of God” accommodate their countrymen. He assured them that all the perpetrators of violence in the state would be made to face the wrath of the law. Some religious leaders have condemned the lukewarm attitude of the government in reacting to the situation and also faulted its approach, saying that it deserves more than police intervention. Human rights group Amnesty International stated that the violence “is reaching a boiling point of total anarchy.” Civil society groups have largely been critical of the slow response by the Nigerian government.
The threat posed by Fulani herdsmen in different communities across the country they migrate to for the purposes of grazing their cattle is very alarming. The reaction from the Federal Government, so far, has been wanting. The security and law enforcement agencies of the country have established neither early-warning nor quick response mechanism. As a result, both herders and farmers are taking things into their own hands, further aggravating conflicts. The menace of violent herdsmen is not new in Nigeria; in 2016, pastoral conflicts accounted for more deaths in Nigeria than Boko Haram. The escalation of pastoral conflicts in recent years has been triggered by the effects of climate change in the Northern part of the country, with lower rainfall and increased desertification of grazing land forcing herdsmen to look further South to farmlands in a region often described as Nigeria’s food basket. But the recent violence has been markedly brazen and seemingly unprovoked, with villages and communities being attacked and razed at night, leading some to describe the attacks as genocide.
The herdsmen attacks are becoming as potentially dangerous as the Boko Haram in the North East. There is an urgent need for the Buhari administration and affected state governments need to work together in strengthening conflict resolution mechanisms, reforming livestock management practices and improving border security borders so as to curtail cross-border movements of both cattle rustlers and armed herders. Also, the government should address environmental factors that are causing herders to migrate to the South. The Buhari administration must also address the urgent need of strengthening the security arrangements for herders and farming communities. Failure to respond may provoke many communities to resolve to self-help. This will also avoid the involvement of non-state actors such as vigilante groups, who may claim not to be bound by legal obligations, thereby becoming a threat to human rights. Finally, Nigeria should work with Cameroon, Chad and Niger to regulate movements across borders, particularly of cattle rustlers, armed herders and others who may not possess any documents, valid international passport or permit for them to stay in Nigeria.