IS IT ABOUT TIME WE WENT OUR SEPARATE WAYS?
In a multi-ethnic society like Nigeria, coexistence, and not conquest, is a sacred code of social cohesion. The ongoing resource and environmental tension represented by the clash between herders and crop farmers has embedded religious significance.
With the Fulani herdsmen continuing to kill southerners (their fellow citizens) in order to protect their cattle – killing human beings to preserve the lives of animals – and the conflict not appearing to go away anytime soon, we ask:
Are we all just going to sit back and watch without doing anything about this problem?
From Nigeria’s Guardian newspaper:
Rachel Amida*, a 52-year-old farmer in Adamawa state, north-eastern Nigeria, points to a small heap of maize laid on the ground just outside her home. “If it wasn’t for the herdsmen we would have had much more,” she says. “It is making it harder to survive when we are harvesting only a portion of what we sowed.”
On both sides of the Yola-Gombe road that runs through Adamawa’s vast countryside, small groups of herdsmen lead scores of cattle through the fields to feed.
The herders, mostly northern Fulani, are sometimes young children. Tiny figures beneath their large, wide-brimmed hats, they carry bows and arrows as they shuttle their cattle south in the heat. Yet their novel appearance belies a deadly crisis that, in the past few years, has spiralled out of control.
On 3 November, near Amida’s home in a village in Demsa district, two people were killed by Fulani herdsmen. “I now have to send my son to my plot to till the land,” she says. “Before we thrashed the crops outside, but now we do them in here. It’s more dangerous there now.”
Farmers have accused the herdsmen of trespassing on their farmland to graze their cattle, destroying their crops.
The Fulani herdsmen have always ventured in search of land on which to feed their cattle; some are semi-nomadic, rooted in communities across Nigeria, while others travel along courses leading from Niger and Chad to Nigeria. But the combined effect of competition for land and droughts has made their search increasingly desperate.
Reprisal attacks and provocations exist on both sides. Cattle are sometimes stolen from herdsmen by criminal groups and communities often attack the herdsmen, assuming them to be a threat. But the conflict has been deadly for farming communities.
In August, more than 30 people were killed when herdsmen attacked villages in Demsa. In the three months prior to this, another 50 people were killed in escalating attacks that led to crisis meetings involving the governor of the state and local rulers.
The perennial conflict, for years confined mainly to “middle-belt” states, has now spread around the country, with mass killings increasingly reported in southern states over the past year.
In Plateau state, where such conflict has a long history, some locals feel the attacks are part of an effort to get farming communities to leave their land, allowing the herdsmen to settle without competition for resources.
“That’s why they attack villages – they don’t just attack because of quarrels with villagers,” said a farmer who did not want to be named. “They burn homes and farms so that we will have to start again somewhere else. But we can’t, and will not leave because this is our land.”
The federal government’s response to the crisis has been widely criticised by the Nigerian press as inadequate. Increasingly, the killings have been viewed as motivated along religious and ethnic lines. President Muhammadu Buhari’s ethnicity – he is a Fulani Muslim – has fed accusations that the government is reluctant to confront a group it has sympathies with.
But according to Sola Tayo, a Nigerian specialist at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, the crisis is more complicated. “I think this series of conflicts is multifaceted,” she explains. “The mistake is to reduce it to a simple clash of ethnicities or religions.
“There seems to be little appetite to address some of these historic grievances concerning grazing at a national level in government. Most of the discussion seems to be taking place at state level with some governors more keen to engage with farmers and herders to try and seek some sort of workable solution, while others are adopting a more hostile approach through tightening restrictions on nomadic herding practices.”
A plan by the federal government to allocate grazing reserves was rejected by Nigeria’s parliament. In opposition to the government’s position, some states such as Ekiti and Abia are passing legislation to allow them to limit the herdsmen’s activities, and prosecute those who graze on private land. In Kaduna, the state government has admitted to having paid compensation to aggrieved herdsmen to stop further killings.
* Name changed to protect identity
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