There is no doubt that the constant farmers-herdsmen clashes is a major national crisis. Previously regarded as a “middle-belt crisis” with states like Benue, Kaduna, Plateau and Taraba widely affected, it has now spread as far as Enugu, Ekiti, Abia and Delta states in the south. In the latest attacks in #Dong and #Lawaru villages of #Demsa Local Government Area of Adamawa State, many deaths were recorded and property destroyed.
Already, some farmers perceive the attacks as an attempt to eject them from their lands and give way to the herdsmen and their cattle. This citing of a Fulani expansionist agenda with possible government collusion has led to a Twitter hashtag #MAFO (Movement Against Fulani Occupation). Unfortunately, most of these attacks are perpetuated in village communities and rural areas with little or no military presence. This makes it difficult for security intervention or arrest of perpetrators. Tired of waiting for federal government intervention, some states like Ekiti, Benue and Abia have taken the bull by the horns and passed legislation to limit herdsmen activities.
On the other hand, some of the herdsmen complain of constant attack by cattle rustlers hence the need to bear arms in self-defense. Many of their attacks are also termed reprisal attacks following previous attacks on herdsmen and their cattle. But why then do these attacks often extend to mass killings and butchery? Is the competition for grazing land and water responsible for the ranking of Fulani militants as the fourth deadliest militant group in the world by the 2015 Global Terrorism Index with a record killing of 1,229 people in 2014?
All in all, the federal government’s response to the crisis has been criticized as highly inadequate, slow and reactive. With many of the affected farming communities being minority Christian tribes, the attacks are also increasing perceived to be motivated along ethnic and religious lines. The fact that Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari is a Fulani Muslim (and cattle herdsman of some sort) also fuels allegations that he is reluctant to confront a group and matter that he sympathises with. Or has this menace simply defied this government? Or what explanation can one give for the baffling fact that virtually no successful prosecution or conviction has been secured on any of these incidents of killing and destruction by herdsmen?
These conflicts pose significant threats to the volatile northeast region that is grappling with terrorist attacks by #BokoHaram and internally displaced persons as they now have to contend with decreased crop yield, thereby further threatening food security in the region. These conflicts are a threat to national economic development and to the internally generated revenue of the affected states. The farmers-herdsmen crisis is estimated to cost four states of Benue, Kaduna, Plateau and Nassarawa losses of US$ 14 billion annually.
With regards and respect to the ECOWAS Transhumance Protocol that gives the right of free movement of people among member countries, isn’t it still possible to ensure that all herdsmen who choose to come into the country respect the laws of the land? As a matter of fact, the Protocol does not endorse unregulated or armed grazing, but calls for evolution to ranching.
The brazenness, impunity and sheer audacity with which herdsmen slaughter farming communities and raze down villages raise a lot of questions. Failure of government to successfully prosecute prosecutors and forestall future attacks will only encourage a dangerous arms race on both sides.
While there are genuine concerns on both sides, it is glaring that the current scenario is no longer sustainable. With Climate Change, rapid urbanization and increasing population, we must explore and adapt best practices that allow reasonably peaceful coexistence of both farmers and herdsmen. We urgently require:
- Broad and extensive consultations and #dialogue so as to address and douse fears and concerns of both sides,
- New and coherent national policy that addresses all concerns,
- Effective and unbiased dispute and conflict resolution mechanisms up to local levels,
- Tackle the menace of illegal arms proliferation in the country,
- Enforce proper border security and eliminate the 1,400 illegal border routes,
- Adoption of new technology like livestock tracking.
The sad truth is that until and unless government and other stakeholders at all level embrace timely, appropriate and sustainable solutions, the trend of previous clashes will continue to stoke already simmering fears and distrust between the two groups, setting off further cycles of confrontation and violence.
If you will like to do more about the crisis, please sign the petition below calling on the Federal Government of Nigeria to put an end to the farmers – herdsmen clashes in the country: