A new report has shown that competition for resources required for crop farming and grazing is the main cause of the conflict between Hausa farmers and Fulani herders in the northwestern part of Nigeria.
The report titled Violence in Nigeria’s North West: Rolling Back the Mayhem, released this week by the International Crisis Group, highlighted the farmer-herder conflict alongside Jihadi infiltration and a multiplicity of criminal activities. These include kidnapping, robbery, and illicit trade in drugs and solid minerals, causing insecurity and violence within the region.
“Conflict between farmers and herders, sparked by disputes over land and water resources, have long been part of life in northern Nigeria, but have reached critical levels in recent years,” the report reads. The factors that have triggered conflicts in recent years, according to the study, are climatic and environmental changes and demographic pressures as well as government policy.
ICG findings show that diminishing water sources and an increase in desert or semi-desert conditions have reduced both arable land and pasture. “The region’s rapidly growing population has meanwhile increased demand for available land. In the absence of more efficient methods of both crop and livestock production, desertification and population growth have intensified competition for territory suitable for farming and grazing,” the report stated.
In recent times, there have been violent conflicts between nomadic herders and farmers, threatening the country’s security and stability. With an estimated death toll of approximately 2,500 people in 2016, these clashes are becoming as potentially dangerous as the Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast.
From 2011-2019, the violence claimed an estimated 8,000 lives, based on a 2019 joint assessment by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Migrants, and Internally Displaced Persons. More so, a total of 210,354 persons were displaced from 171 towns across the northwestern region.
From the report’s perspective, the crisis is rarely acknowledged in commentaries on Nigeria’s unabated herder-farmer violence. Herders are involved in violence with farming populations in the Middle Belt and further south, as well as Hausa farming groups in the northwest, which is commonly regarded as the core north.
Hence, the perspective may help Nigerians to understand the herder-farmer conflict in the country as one not caused essentially by ethnoreligious expansionist agenda but competition for resources in the context of ecological degradation and unchecked population growth. Ethnicity and religion as well as weak governance may have only drawn out the conflict and made a solution rarely possible.
“The sub-humid Middle Belt, which is dominated by non-Hausa/Fulani groups, many of the Christians, is the main reason for the farmer-herder violence between sedentary, indigenous farming populations and nomadic Fulani herders, who move southwards from the semi-arid core north during the dry season,” the ICG report said.
But because the herders and farmers in the Middle Belt conflict belong to different ethnoreligious groups with a history of tension, the violence is commonly viewed as one driven by ethnoreligious ambitions.
This assumption has made the conflict a threat to Nigeria’s stability and unity. The report which highlights the environmental and demographic factors posits that the fact that Fulani herders are also in conflict with Hausa farmers in the core north, may now strengthen the ecological dimension to the conflict.
In its recommendation, the crisis group urges that the National Livestock Transformation Plan, sustainable peace and threat management, humanitarian support, and livelihood recovery support, among others should be implemented.
By Ahmed Iyanda.