Nigeria’s Herder-Farmer Crisis Has Surpassed Boko Haram in Casualties This Year

According to a report from the International Crisis Group (ICG), Nigeria is experiencing its “greatest security challenge” provoked through increased violence between herders and farmers over scarce resources in the fertile region named the Middle Belt. Since January this year, more than 1300 people have been killed and a further 300,000 have become displaced. This is almost six times the amount of deaths from the Boko Haram insurgency in the country, which has been recorded as a humanitarian crisis since 2009.

The conflict’s main issue is based around a lack of resources. Herders in the North are being pushed further south, due to pressures from Boko Haram, social instability and likewise desertification of the region. This is causing them to seek land which is already in use by farmers in the South.

Additionally, the conflict has been heightened by ethno-religious tensions, as the northern herders are generally Muslims of the Fulani sect, and farmers in the south are generally Christians. The conflict initially was on a small scale, however, recent increases in access to arms and the increased presence of militant groups have caused increased casualties from the conflict. For example, in the last month alone, eleven villages in the Barakin Ladi area were attacked resulting in 200 deaths. These attacks are becoming more and more calculated, with the growing trend of ‘scorched earth’ policies, which subsequently contributes to the lack of resources, and encourages further tensions.

Political tensions have also been heightened from the conflict. In 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari was elected on the promise of increased stabilisation within the nation, which had been diminished due to the growing presence of Boko Haram. However, with the herder-farmer conflict now surpassing conflict caused by Boko Haram, Buhari’s promises have been left unfulfilled and worsened. Moreover, public dissatisfaction with Buhari’s lack of success has prompted anti-Fulani and anti-Muslim sentiment (due to the president’s personal affiliation), thus again furthering tensions.

The conditions of life for Nigerians is likewise worsening with the promotion of the conflict. Firstly, in a country already living well below the poverty line, food prices are gradually increasing, as farmers are working less with fear of being attacked by herders. Additionally, survivors of such attacks are often living in hardship, with hundreds of thousands left homeless, women and children being left without male providers, and many suffering psychological trauma from witnessing murder, rape, and violence associated with these attacks. Amongst this conflict, little resources for aid are available, as most humanitarian organisations have been minimised due to their nine yearlong efforts aiding victims of Boko Haram. And likewise, the increased instability of the region minimises the ability of aid organisations intervening.

The current threat of the herder-farmer conflict to security in Nigeria is continually worsening. And due to minimal humanitarian aid resources, an unstable government, the ethno-religious roots of conflict, and an absence of a viable solution, the conflict is likely to worsen. Additionally, tensions are likely to increase towards the end of the year when elections occur, as the ethno-religious tensions amalgamate with frustrations regarding the unstable social climate.