Over 100 Nigerians have been killed from ongoing feuds between nomadic herdsmen and farmers, in central Nigeria, since the new year. The violence has reportedly intensified recently in three central Nigerian states – Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba. A mass burial was held on the 11th of January 2018, for over 70 people in the Benue state, in which thousands attended, honouring those killed in the conflict. President Muhammadu Buhari has taken to twitter addressing concerns of safety and security. In a tweet from his official account, the President confirmed the deployment of special forces in to the affected region and has also ordered the head of police to relocate to Benue, as to better manage the unchecked situation.
The violence is primarily over land disputes. The nomadic herders, Fulani, are spread across all of west Africa, bringing their herds down south to graze, but as the climate of west Africa is changing, so is the land for grazing. As a result, the Fulani are pushing further south, encroaching on the farmers’ lands. One attendee of the funeral commented on the recent clashes, “Fulani herders have been a law unto themselves. We want them to adopt ranching.” This following the recent ban on ‘open grazing’ implemented in November, which the Fulani have not upheld, feeling the pressures of the law unfairly against their way of life. The Nigerian government has stepped in to prevent further attacks in the region, but the UN is worried about, “[the] complete impunity enjoyed so far by perpetrators of previous attacks.” They are calling for the government to do more in the way of protection as well as justice for past crimes.
Benue state will most certainly benefit from a stronger presence of military and police in the region, and hopefully their mere presence will be enough to deter future Fulani-farmer clashes. But some have criticized the move as it will apparently ‘overstretch’ the already strained military. The downside of this is that military assistance will be limited and overall security will be diminished. Soldiers are currently fighting Boko Haram in the north-east and militants in the south. These conflicts may be more important for the safety of Nigerian civilians than the Fulani-farmer clashes. Regardless of where the military is most needed, Nigerians should benefit from government assistance against militant groups, and thus President Muhammadu Buhari’s move is the right one. A speedy and direct approach to the conflict is needed, and the law must be enforced immediately. Maybe further down the line revisions can be made to accommodate the concerns of the Fulani herdsmen, but for now strict measures should be taken.
According to the newest Global Terrorism Index (2014), the Fulanis are the worlds fourth deadliest militant group, as well as being the largest semi-nomadic group in the world. The conflict between the Fulanis and farmers has been ongoing for decades, it is nothing new. Over the past, the clashes have displaced close to 80,000 people, and according to one study cost the African economy more than $14bn from 2012 to 2015. It seems that little progress has been made, and this is possibly because the Nigerian government lacks the means to enforce law or foster integration with the nomadic herdsmen.
One factor that impedes the government is that the Fulanis are well armed with weapons acquired from Libya and Mali, and are not shy with using those weapons to retaliate or cause trouble with the locals. There have been multiple reports of Fulanis involved in armed robbery, rape, and violence. Yet they say that in most cases they are only retaliating and are often the victims of the crime not the other way around. This is quite hard to believe as similar reports have come from Ghana and the Ivory Coast.
Fulanis herdsmen have been causing problems in south central Nigeria for decades, with little changing in terms of behaviour and integration. While some have taken to cities and given up on the nomadic lifestyle, including the current president, the whole integration between herdsmen and farmers has barely progressed. I think that the president may have a special platform to really encourage integration and compatibility with the Fulani, being one himself. The mixed reports do not help, with accusations on all sides, it is hard to discern fact from fiction. A stronger police presence may in fact help clear the air, providing a more accurate account of what is really happening between farmers and Fulani. Now is really the time to solve this problem head on. It has been out of control for far too long, and in order for Nigeria to progress as a nation assimilation and integration are key.