In Nigeria, conflict between farmers and herders has become the country’s gravest security challenge, claiming six times more lives than the Boko Haram insurgency, the International Crisis Group (ICG) says in a report published yesterday.
The report, ‘Stopping Nigeria’s Spiralling Farmer-Herder Conflict’, says that more than 1,300 people were killed in the conflict between January and June.
President Muhammadu Buhari, who is seeking a second term in the upcoming February 2019 elections, has been criticised by many, including human rights groups, clerics and analysts, for his perceived lukewarm attitude towards the herdsmen responsible for the deadly attacks in the Middle Belt and north-eastern states.
In 2015, he was elected with the promise to silence Boko Haram, whose nine-year-old insurgency had claimed more than 20,000 lives, particularly in the north-eastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. So far, Buhari has failed to curb the Islamist insurgency.
In 2015, the Global Terrorism Index described the herdsmen as the fourth-deadliest known terrorist group in the world. The 2017 Global Terrorism Index stated that Fulani herdsmen had undertaken more attacks and were responsible for more deaths in Nigeria in 2016 than Boko Haram. In 2016, it was claimed that the herdsmen had been responsible for 60,000 deaths since 2001.
The violence, which has built up over decades, is the result of a combination of factors including the degradation of land, climate change and also the insecurity due to Boko Haram in the north-east, notes ICG. But it says the conflict has so far evolved “from spontaneous reactions to provocations to become premeditated scorched-earth campaigns in which marauders often take villages by surprise at night”.
Moreover the conflict has also taken on a religious dimension, which has been exploited by politicians and religious leaders, and risks overshadowing the original causes, the ICG’s Nnamdi Obasi told the BBC.
A month ago, clashes between predominantly Christian farmers and mainly Muslim Fulani herdsmen reached another peak in Plateau state, as suspected herdsmen went on a killing spree in a dozen villages, leaving more than 230 killed, a figure almost three times what was stated in early news reports.
It’s not the first time the ICG has raised the alarm over the ongoing violence in Nigeria: its report in September 2017 analysed the roots of the conflict, and warned that if the government didn’t sanction perpetrators, it could escalate.
The new report says the government should “prosecute perpetrators of violence, disarm ethnic militias and local vigilantes, and begin executing long-term plans for comprehensive livestock sector reform”.