Almost 4,000 people have been killed and thousands displaced in fighting between herders and farmers in Nigeria’s middle belt in the past three years, Amnesty International says in a new report.
Amnesty, who started documenting clashes in January 2016, said yesterday (17 December) violence was increasing with more than half (57%) of the 3,641 recorded deaths in the past three years occurring in 2018, and that the government’s failure to curb the violence and prosecute the perpetrators, was exacerbating the situation.
“The Nigerian government has displayed what can only be described as gross incompetence and has failed in its duty to protect the lives of its population and end the intensifying conflict between herders and farmers. The authorities’ lethargy has allowed impunity to flourish and the killings to spread to many parts of the country, inflicting greater suffering on communities who already live in constant fear of the next attack,” said Osai Ojigho, Director of Amnesty International Nigeria.
Clashes between predominantly Christian farmers and mainly Fulani herdsmen in Nigeria have a long history, including raids and counter raids, but both groups testify that they mostly lived together in peace.
Since 2017 the conflicts have become increasingly violent and deadly, said Amnesty, attributing it to competition of resources due to climate change and the influx of refugees on the run from the Islamic Boko Haram insurgency. Attackers appear well organised and armed with sophisticated weapons.
“The killings are becoming no longer herder-and-farmer clashes” but a “deliberate attempt to conquer and occupy the land of the people’s ancestral heritage,” said Dr. Soja Bewarang, chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria in Plateau State in June, after suspected Fulani gunmen went on a killing spree in the state leaving scores dead.
As World Watch Monitor has reported, the attacks are concentrated in the states in Nigeria’s “Middle Belt” which straddles the precolonial line dividing the predominantly Muslim north from its Christian south.
Although Ojigho denied the conflict had anything to do with religion or ethnicity, others have said conflicts over land have taken on an ethnic and religious character and that without acknowledging this, politicians will not be able to properly address the conflict.
A report by the International Crisis Group (ICG) in July said the conflict had evolved “from spontaneous reactions to provocations to become premeditated scorched-earth campaigns in which marauders often take villages by surprise at night”, claiming six times more lives than the Boko Haram insurgency.