Halting the growing violence between farmers and pastoralists in Nigeria (2023)

what's newViolence between Nigerian herdsmen and farmers has escalated, killing more than 1,300 people since January 2018. The conflict has evolved from spontaneous responses to provocations to more deadly planned attacks, particularly in Benue, Plateau, Adamawa, Nasarawa and Taraba states.

Why did it happen?Three factors have exacerbated this decades-long conflict, fueled by environmental degradation in the Far North and encroachments on grazing lands in the Middle Belt: militia attacks; the government's poor response to emergency calls and failure to punish past offenders; and new laws banning open grazing in Benue and Taraba states.

Why does it matter?The farmer-herder conflict has become Nigeria's greatest security challenge, now claiming far more lives than the Boko Haram insurgency. It has displaced hundreds of thousands and exacerbated ethnic, regional and religious polarization. It threatens to become even deadlier and could disrupt upcoming elections and undermine national stability.

what should be doneThe federal government should better protect both herders and farmers, prosecute attackers, and implement their National Livestock Transformation Plan. State governments should gradually introduce grazing bans. Local politicians should rein in inflammatory rhetoric and encourage compromise. International partners should promote accountability and support livestock sector reform.

Violence involving pastoralists and farmers killed more than 1,300 Nigerians in the first half of 2018. What were once spontaneous attacks have become premeditated scorched-earth campaigns, with looters often surprising villages at night. The conflict, which has now claimed around six times more civilian lives than the Boko Haram insurgency, poses a serious threat to the country's stability and unity and could affect the 2019 parliamentary elections. The federal government has taken welcome but insufficient steps to stop the killings. His immediate priorities should be deploying more security units in vulnerable areas; criminal prosecution of violent offenders; disarm ethnic militias and local vigilante groups; and begin implementing long-term plans for comprehensive reform of the livestock sector. The Benue state government should freeze enforcement of its open grazing ban law, review the provisions of that law, and encourage a gradual transition to ranching.

The conflict is essentially a land use competition between farmers and pastoralists in the country's middle belt. However, it has taken on dangerous religious and ethnic dimensions, as most pastoralists are from the traditionally nomadic and Muslim Fulani, who make up about 90 percent of Nigeria's pastoralists, while most farmers are Christians of various ethnicities. An estimated 300,000 people have fled their homes since the escalation of violence in January 2018. Widespread displacement and insecurity in parts of Adamawa, Benue, Nasarawa, Plateau and Taraba states are hampering agriculture and animal husbandry and driving up food prices. The violence places a heavy burden on the military, police and other security services, distracting them from other important tasks, such as fighting the Boko Haram insurgency.

The roots of the conflict lie in the climate-related degradation of pastureland and increasing violence in the far north of the country.

The roots of the conflict lie in the climate-related degradation of pastures and increasing violence in the far north of the country, which has driven pastoralists south; the expansion of farms and settlements that eat up grazing reserves and block traditional migration routes; and the damage to farmers' crops caused by the shepherds' indiscriminate grazing. But three immediate factors explain the escalation of 2018. First, the rapid growth of ethnic militias, like those of the Bachama and Fulani in Adamawa state, who carry illegally acquired weapons. Second, the federal government's failure to prosecute past perpetrators or heed early warnings of impending attacks. Third, the introduction of anti-grazing laws in November 2017, which were vehemently opposed by herders in Benue and Taraba states, and the resulting exodus of herders and cattle, largely to neighboring Nasarawa and to a lesser extent Adamawa, is leading to Clashes with farmers in these states resulted in states.

As the killings continue, Nigerians weave destructive conspiracy theories to explain the conflict. Accusations and counter-accusations of ethnic cleansing and even genocide - of both farmers and pastoralists. In Benue state, once part of Nigeria's northern region, herdsmen's attacks have deepened anger, particularly but not only among farmers, against the Fulani population of the north. Widespread disenchantment with President Muhammadu Buhari – known outside the North as soft on herdsmen – could hurt his chances and those of the ruling party in the February 2019 elections.

The federal government has taken measures to stop the bloodshed. It has deployed additional police and army units and launched two military operations to stem the violence in six states -- Exercise Cat Race, which ran from February 15 to March 31, and then the ongoing Operation Whirl Stroke. But even with these operations, the murders continue. President Buhari and other senior officials have been consulting with pastoral and farming leaders and relevant state governments to discuss ways to end the attacks. As a long-term solution, the government has proposed the establishment of "livestock colonies" that would provide land for herders nationwide and recently unveiled a National Livestock Transformation Plan (2018-2027). These measures signal greater government commitment, but they have yet to be implemented and the violence continues.

President Buhari's government needs to do more. The September 2017 Crisis Group report, which analyzed the roots of the conflict, provided detailed recommendations for its resolution. These largely remain valid. This report focuses on immediate priorities – tasks that Nigeria's federal, state and community leaders and international partners urgently need to take on to prevent the escalation from spiraling out of control. With this in mind, the Nigerian government should:

  • More safety for farmers and ranchers:The federal government should deploy more police in affected areas; make sure they are better equipped; Improving local relationships to gather better information; and respond quickly to early warnings and emergency calls. In addition, it should begin disarming armed groups, including ethnic militias and vigilante groups, in affected states and closely monitor land borders to stem the flow of firearms.
  • End impunity:The federal government should also order investigations into all recent major incidents of violence between farmers and herders. There may be a need to expedite court proceedings against individuals or organizations found to have participated in, sponsored, or engaged in violence.
  • Prepare and begin implementation of the new National Livestock Transformation Plan:The federal government should release details of its National Livestock Transformation Plan, encourage endorsement from herdsmen and state governments, and act quickly to implement the plan in consenting states.
  • Freeze and reform enforcement of state anti-grazing laws:The Benue state government should freeze enforcement of its open grazing ban law, as Taraba state has already done, and amend the objectionable provisions within it. It should also help herders become cattle breeders, including by developing pilot or demonstration farms and running educational programs for herders uncomfortable with the transition.
  • Encourage herder-farmer dialogue and support local peace initiatives:The federal and state governments should promote dialogue between cattle breeders and farmers by strengthening existing mechanisms at state and municipal level and, in particular, by supporting peace initiatives at local level.

For their part, pastoral leaders, many of whom recognize that pastoralists must move toward ranching, albeit gradually, should exercise restraint. They should challenge laws they don't like in court; in the meantime, calls on members to comply with laws and court decisions; and encourage herders to seize opportunities to transition from open pasture to raising livestock. All community leaders - religious, regional and ethnic - should speak out unequivocally against violence and increase support for local dialogue. Nigeria's international partners should push Buhari to act faster to end the killings. Human rights groups should speak out louder against atrocities. Aid agencies should allocate resources to internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Benue, Nasarawa and Plateau states, with a particular focus on women and children, who make up the majority of displaced people. International development agencies should work with the Nigerian authorities to offer technical assistance for livestock sector reform.

Abuja/Dakar/Brussels, July 26, 2018

Halting the growing violence between farmers and pastoralists in Nigeria (1)

The pastoralist-peasant conflict in Nigeria, centered in the Middle Belt but spreading south, has escalated sharply.[fn]For background see Crisis Group Africa Report N°252,Shepherds vs. Peasants: Nigeria's Widening Deadly Conflict, September 19, 2017. The Middle Belt is a loosely defined area between the Muslim and Hausa dominated north and the predominantly Christian Igbo and Yoruba areas in the south and broadly includes the states of Niger, Kwara, Kogi, Benue, Nasarawa and Plateau. Many of the region's numerous ethnic groups share a common history of resistance to the Sokoto Caliphate, which ruled much of it from 1804 to 1903. Aliyu A Idrees and Yakubu A Ochefu,Studies in the history of the central Nigeria region, Vol. 1 (Lagos, 2002). Hide footnote At least 1,500 people have been killed since September 2017, including over 1,300 from January to June 2018, about six times the number of civilians killed by Boko Haram over the same period.[fn]Exact figures on the Boko Haram toll are not available, but on June 18, 2018, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Myrta Kaulard, reported civilian casualties from insurgent attacks since the beginning of the year as "over 200". “UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Aid a.i. in Nigeria Condemns Deadly Suicide Bombings in Damboa, Northeast Nigeria,” Press Statement, United Nations, Abuja, June 18, 2018. Hide footnote The first half of 2018 saw more than 100 incidents of violence and more deaths than any other half since the conflict began to escalate in 2014. The wave of violence is concentrated in Plateau, Benue and Nasarawa states in the North Geopolitical Zone Central and in the contiguous states of Adamawa and Taraba in the Northeast Zone.[fn]Nigeria is officially divided into six geopolitical zones created during the regime of General Sani Abacha in 1996, which form the basis for the sharing of federal political offices, public sector appointments and economic development projects. These are North Central (consisting of the states of Benue, Kogi, Kwara, Nasarawa, Niger and Plateau); Northeast (Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba, and Yobe states); Northwest (Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto, and Zamfara states); Southeast (Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, and Imo states); Southwest (Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Osun and Oyo states); and South South (Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo and Rivers states). The North Central Zone is sometimes referred to as the Middle Belt. The states are administered by powerful governors and are divided into local government branches, each of which reports to an elected council. Kaduna and Zamfara states also suffered many incidents of deadly violence between January and June 2018, but these fit more closely under the headings of long-running indigenous settler and ethno-religious disputes in the former and rising rural banditry in the latter, rather than strictly speaking in the Herder Farmer Category.Hide Footnote

Plateau state, which was relatively peaceful for about two years, has seen renewed confrontations, with herdsmen and farmers swapping blame for who sparked the resurgence. According to one report, between September 8 and October 17, 2017, at least 75 people were killed, around 13,726 displaced and 489 houses burned, mostly in Bassa governorate.[fn]"Shepherd Attacks: '75 Killed, 13,726 Displaced in Plateau'",The punch, October 27, 2018. The Irigwe are a small ethnic group (about 70,000) living in Bassa and Barkin Ladi governorates in Plateau state and Saminaka governorate in Kaduna state.Hide footnote The violence continued into 2018: Since January, more than 300 people have been killed in attacks on villages in Bassa, Bokkos, Barkin Ladi, Riyom, Mangu and Jos South governorates.[fn]Crisis Group, CrisisWatch Nigeria entries, January-April 2018. For major incidents, see “Again, gunmen attack Plateau, killing 11 youths”,Neuer Telegraph, November 9, 2017; "11 Confirmed Killed in New Plateau Attack",The guard(Lagos), March 10, 2018; "Again shepherds kill 25, tear down houses in Plateau,"Neuer Telegraph, March 14, 2018. Hide footnote The deadliest sequence of events was the attack on 11 villages in Barkin Ladi on June 23-24 and the subsequent reprisals on a highway that killed a total of more than 200 people.[fn]The Nigerian police spokesman initially reported 86 "recovered bodies," but various local sources reported significantly higher numbers, including the state's governor, who said the toll was about 200. A fact-finding mission by Christian relief and advocacy group Stefanos Foundation, which visited the affected communities, reported 233 deaths. "Police: 86 people killed in plateau",Die Nation, June 24, 2018; "Plateau imposes curfew as Fulani herdsmen attack 11 villages,"Hit, June 24, 2018; "Plateau Attacks: IDP Count Reaches 11,515, Death Number 233 - Report",The punch, July 9, 2018. Hide footnote

Tensions rose sharply in Benue state after November 1, 2017, when a state government law against open grazing came into effect, ending the long-standing practice by herders of allowing their livestock to forage freely. From January 1 to 7, gunmen widely believed to be herders angry at the law raided six farming villages in Logo and Guma governorates, killing over 80 people.[fn]The villages of Ayilamo, Gaambe-Tiev and Turan were attacked on the morning of January 1st and Umenger, Tse-Akor and Tomatar on January 2nd. Crisis Group Interviews, IDPs in Benue State IDP camps, 16-18 January 2018. Hide footnote The attacks have since continued with over 300 other deaths in the state.[fn]Some sources report higher death tolls. For example, the chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in Benue state said on June 7 that from January to that date over 500 tribal people had been killed. "Hold the secretary of defense responsible for Wednesday's killings - Benue,"The punch, June 8, 2018. Hide footnote Logo and Guma, mostly inhabited by farmers of the Tiv ethnic group, suffered the highest casualties. Because these areas border Nasarawa and Taraba states, locals say attackers typically strike and retreat across borders.[fn]Interviews by Crisis Group, displaced people in IDP camps, civil society leaders and senior government officials in Benue State, 16-18 January 2018. Hide footnote

Most of the killings followed the influx of herders driven south by Benue State's anti-grazing law.

Nasarawa state has also suffered from an increase in violence involving both pastoralist and peasant militias. From January to June 2018, over 260 people were killed in multiple incidents, mainly in the southern zone, which includes Doma, Awe, Obi and Keana counties.[fn]Crisis Group, CrisisWatch Nigeria Entries, November 2017-April 2018. For some of the larger incidents see also 17 killed in Nasarawa, government cracks down on perpetrators,The guard, January 5, 2018; and "Nasarawa: Shepherds Kill Seven in Midnight Attack",Neuer Telegraph, January 31, 2018. Hide footnote Most of these killings followed the influx of herders driven there by Benue state's anti-grazing law.

Clashes between Fulani herdsmen and farmers of the Bachama ethnic group have erupted in north-eastern Adamawa state.[fn]The Bachama, also known as the Bwatiyes, are one of more than 70 ethnic groups in the state of Adamawa. The approximately 280,000 Bachama are mostly Christian and live in the administrative areas of Numan and Lamurde. Hide footnote Tensions rose sharply after November 20, 2017, when Bachama youth militias attacked three Fulani herder settlements — Shaforon, Kikem and Kodemti — in the Numan local government area, killing at least 55 people, including 48 children.[fn]Nigeria's pastoralists range from fully nomadic tribes to seasonal migrant and almost sedentary communities. Some of the communities consist of small clusters of households in makeshift camps (our), non-established villages such as those inhabited by farmers. Many pastoral families therefore have permanent residences, even if they do not live there year-round.Hide footnote This incident sparked Fulani reprisals in five Bachama villages in nearby Demsa County in the first week of December.[fn]Interview with Crisis Group, Bachama Youth Leader, Abuja, January 22, 2018. Hide footnote Bachama leaders say over 100 people were killed, some allegedly by two Nigerian Air Force aircraft - an Alpha Jet and an EC135 attack helicopter - used to disperse Fulani fighters advancing on the town of Numan. The Air Force denied the charge, insisting it was their job to fire "warning shots" at "rogues' hideouts." It insisted that its intervention caused no casualties and prevented the Fulani raiders from destroying the city of Numan.[fn]"Air Force Sends Warplanes To Adamawa, Bombs Villages"The punch, December 6, 2017; "On NAF Human Rights Violations in Numan",Daily trust, February 2, 2018. Hide footnote Vigorous police and military intervention in Adamawa prevented further major attacks, but killings continue on a smaller scale.[fn]In early January, leaders of a Fulani herder group, Mobgal Kautal Hore Fulbe, said some of the 4,000 herder families displaced by the fighting were killed returning. "MACBAN claims to have secretly killed shepherds in Numan",Daily trust, January 3, 2018. (The title of this article incorrectly attributes the claim to another pastoral organization.)Hide footnote

The conflict in Adamawa state exacerbated long-standing tensions between pastoralists and farmers in neighboring Taraba state, where the state government also enacted a plan to ban open grazing, which was due to take effect in January. From January 4 to 17, Fulani and Bachama fighters (and also Yandang, another peasant group) exchanged attacks on each other's settlements, killing at least 124 people and burning many houses, stealing or slaughtering hundreds of cattle and large ones Farms were destroyed in four local government districts – Wukari, Gassol, Lau and Ibi.[fn]"Arms Kill Seven in Taraba"Saturday punch, January 6, 2018; "Taraba Killings: Tears as 65 Victims of Pastoral Attack Buried",guide, January 13, 2018; and "Shepherds kill monarch of Taraba, 28 others in fresh attacks,"Die Nation, January 20, 2018. Hide footnote Since then, dozens more have been killed in incidents, including more than 70 killed in July 5-8 violence between Fulani herdsmen and Yandang farmers in Lau county.[fn]Police reported seventeen deaths, but Fulani and Yandang leaders said more than 70 people (23 herdsmen and more than 50 farmers) died and more than 50 homes were destroyed, displacing thousands of people.Hide footnote Many farming and pastoral villages remain on the outskirts.

This report explores the causes of the outbreak of violence and the reactions of the federal and state governments so far, and outlines measures that all parties involved can take to stop the bloodshed. It is based on interviews with government and security officials, representatives of pastoralists, farmers, religious and other civil society groups in Makurdi, Benue State; Lafia, Nasarawa State; and the federal capital Abuja between January and June 2018. It updates the September 2017 Crisis Group report,Shepherds vs. Peasants: Nigeria's Widening Deadly Conflict.

Disputes between shepherds and farmers are often triggered by differences of opinion about the use of land and water, cattle theft or the obstruction of traditional migration routes. But the roots of the conflict lie in the – often forced – migration of pastoralists from their traditional grazing lands in northern Nigeria to the south. As drought and desertification dried up springs and streams in Nigeria's far northern Sahel, many pastoralists have had to seek alternative pastures and water sources for their livestock. Insecurity in many northern states due to the Boko Haram insurgency in the Northeast and underreported land grabbing and cattle rustling in other areas has also pushed pastoralists south. The same is true of the encroachment of settlements, farms, and ranches on lands designated as pastoral reserves by the post-independence government of the former Northern Region (now divided into nineteen states).

As herders migrate to the savannas and rainforests of the central and southern states, they enter regions where rapid population growth over the past four decades has increased pressure on the country.[fn]Nigeria's population has quadrupled in the last 50 years. According to official census figures, the country's population was 56.6 million in 1963, 88.9 million in 1991 and 140 million in 2006. The latest estimate from the National Population Commission puts the population at 198 million in 2018.Hide footnote Not surprisingly, disputes over crop damage, water pollution and cattle rustling have become more common. With the decline of traditional mediation mechanisms and the absence of mutually accepted alternatives, such disputes are becoming increasingly violent.

Two other factors exacerbated the conflict. While the jihadist Boko Haram indiscriminately killed both Christians and Muslims, it also fueled religious sensitivities, leading most Christian Southerners to resent the influx of predominantly Muslim herders that some Southern and Middle Belt Christian leaders portray as an Islamizing force . The increasing availability of illegal firearms – locally produced, circulating from other Nigerian conflict zones in the northeast and Niger Delta, or smuggled in from other countries – has also made the slaughter possible.

(Video) Nigeria sees solution to conflict between farmers

Against this backdrop, the escalation of 2018 is the result of three other immediate developments: the rise of militias, continued impunity, and the passage of grazing bans anathema to herders.

No group - whether Bachama, Berom, Fulani, Tiv or any other - publicly admits to having an organized militia, but all complain of inadequate government protection and insist on a right to self-defense. Most militias are backed by ethnic and community leaders, including politicians, traditional rulers, and even holy men, who justify their actions and protect them from arrest and prosecution.

Militias and vigilantes are not new phenomena in the Middle Belt. Some of the region's so-called indigenous groups -- including the Berom and Tarok of Plateau state, the Eggon of Nasarawa state, and the Jukun of Taraba state, all predominantly agricultural communities -- have reportedly formed militias and vigilante groups over the past decade to ward off Fulani - Shepherds whose cattle grazed in their fields. These groups sometimes worked hand-in-hand with traditional government agencies and security forces, but others attacked pastoralists in retaliation for alleged damage to farms or to drive the "foreigners" out of their domains. Over time, some of these groups have evolved into more deadly organizations. One of the best known is the Ombatse, a so-called spiritual organization among the Eggon, which ambushed police and other security forces in May 2013, killing more than 100 people.[fn]The Eggon are a small agrarian ethnic group in Nasarawa state in central Nigeria. They are mainly found in Lafia, Akwanga, Keffi and Nasarawa Eggon administrative areas. They are estimated at 250,000; about 20 percent of them are Christians. For more on the Ombatse see J.M. Ayuba,Ombatse: An Invention of the Tradition and Understanding of Communal Conflict in Nasarawa State,Nigeria(Raleigh, 2014). The group still exists, but little has been heard of them since a November 2014 Fulani attack that killed their leader.Hide footnote Similarly, as disputes over grazing resources increased, some pastoralists, who originally acquired arms to ward off cattle rustlers, have organized or hired militants to avenge real or perceived wrongs committed by farmers or to gain access to fresh grazing land.

The nature of the attacks has also changed, increasingly taking the form of scorched-earth campaigns, killing dozens, razing villages and burning farms.

More recently, militias - both ranchers and farmers - operate in larger numbers than in the past, from tens to hundreds.[fn]Residents of Kikan, Adamawa state, said their attackers were well over 60 on January 21, 2018, and were singing war songs in Fulbe (the Fulani language). Phone interview by Crisis Group, Kikan resident, February 26, 2018. When an armed group attacked a Fulani community in Kadarko, Nasarawa state on January 28, 2018, Muhammed was the head of the state branch of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria ( MACBAN). Hussaini said the attackers were Tiv militiamen numbering in the hundreds; "2 missing, 73 cows killed as militia attack Nasarawa township,"Daily trust, January 29, 2018. In December 2017, when the Air Force was called to disperse attackers from Bachama, Adamawa state, the pilots reported seeing "a large number of crooks...dressed mostly in black." "Fulani herdsmen shoot down NAF fighter plane in Adamawa",daily mail, December 21, 2017. When gunmen attacked villages in Dekina and Omala governorates in Kogi state on March 14, witnesses said the number of attackers was "about 500". "Fulani herdsmen kill 32 in attack in Kogi state,"The guard, March 16, 2018. On February 3, 2018, when gunmen attacked police in Yogbo, Benue State, police reported that the attackers were "about 200 heavily armed militia". "Press Statement from Public Relations Officer, Benue State Police Command, Assistant Superintendent of Police, Moses Yamu, Makurdi," February 4, 2018. Hide footnote In addition to mobilizing larger numbers, their operations are no longer spontaneous but increasingly premeditated. The attackers are also now better armed, including AK-47s and other assault rifles, and sometimes dressed in military uniforms. In December 2017, the army commander in Yola, Adamawa state, Brigadier General Muhammed Bello said that herdsmen planning to attack Bachama villages were so well armed that troops had to use bazookas to disperse them.[fn]"Shepherds Kill Four Police Officers as Army Repels Attacks on Numan,"This day, December 12, 2017. Hide footnote The quality of the weapons suggests that the militias have well-heeled patrons. Yahaya Abdullahi, the senator for the northern Senate district of Kebbi, claims "some people pay for this violence, so they sponsor it".[fn]"Killings: Our security structures are archaic and collapsing - Sen Abdullahi",guide, February 2, 2018. Hide footnote

The nature of the attacks has also changed, increasingly taking the form of scorched-earth campaigns, killing dozens, razing villages and burning farms. The more daring militias are now obstructing and attacking security forces sent to stop the violence, in some cases killing police officers and troops. On January 25, Bello reported that militias in Adamawa had killed seven police officers and two soldiers since the previous month.[fn]"Seven Police Officers, Two Soldiers Die in Adamawa Crisis"This day, January 26, 2018. Hide footnote They have since killed many more cops.

Gunmen, essentially criminal groups, operating along the border between Benue and Taraba states are adding to insecurity. One such group is led by Terwase Akwaza (also known as Ghana or Gana). He once claimed to lead a municipal defense brigade, but his gang is known to have committed multiple massacres to protect their cattle rustling.[fn]Akwaza's gang has clashed with a state-sponsored vigilante group, the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), later renamed the Livestock Guards, led by Alhaji Aliyu Tashaku. In an incident in January 2017, gunmen suspected of belonging to Akwaza's group killed 10 CJTF members in Katsina-Ala, Benue State. The Benue state government initially offered 5 million naira for any information that could lead to Akwaza's arrest, then increased the reward to 10 million naira and later to 50 million. He remains at large.Hide footnote On January 23, Akwaza's men killed two riot police officers and set fire to two vehicles belonging to the Benue Governor's special adviser on security.[fn]"Wanted militia boss kills 2 police officers in Benue",Daily trust, January 26, 2018. Hide footnote Fulani and other pastoralist groups say Akwaza's gang is responsible for attacks on farmers in the area, which have been falsely blamed on pastoralists.[fn]Interview with Crisis Group, Fulani Shepherd Group Official, Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore (MAKH), ​​Abuja, February 10, 2018. Hide footnote It's not clear how much bandits are contributing to the rising death toll. What is certain is that their activities, including attacks on security guards, hamper efforts to quell violence between farmers and herders.

Both farmers and herdsmen complain that their calls for justice for past crimes and warnings of impending attacks receive little or no response from federal authorities. For example, the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN), a prominent herders' association, claims that the government has not arrested anyone in the killing of what it says by its own statistics about 1,000 Fulani herders, including women and children, or the slaughter or theft of two million cattle during the period June 2017 to January 2018.[fn]MACBAN published a list of its casualties: 700 people were killed on the Mambila Plateau in Taraba State; 24 Fulani killed in Lau, Taraba State; 82 women and children killed by Bachama militias in Numan, Adamawa state; and 96 were killed in Kajuru, Kaduna state. "Mambilla Genocide of the Fulani: Who is the Real Liar?",Daily trust, January 20, 2018. The Taraba state government disagreed, citing the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other international organizations who visited Mambila and recorded a maximum of eighteen deaths on both sides. The newspaperDaily trust, which reported on the incident, reported about 200 deaths. "Genocide in Mambila"Daily trust, July 3, 2017. Hide footnote In another case, Fulani were unhappy with an investigative body established by the Adamawa state government after the November 2017 killing of over 55 Fulani in attacks by Bachama youth militias in Numan. They said the panel fell short because it lacked judicial authority. A Fulani youth group, Jonde Jam Fulani Youth Association of Nigeria (JAFUYAN), promised reprisals "unless the federal government acts quickly," saying swift justice for the victims was "the only path to peace."[fn]“Press Release by Nigerian Fulani Youth Association National President Alhaji Saidu Maikano,” November 24, 2017. Hide footnote The offended Fulani soon attacked nearby Bachama villages.[fn]Interview with Crisis Group, MACBAN official, Abuja, February 9, 2018. Hide footnote

Similarly, Benue Governor Samuel Ortom reported that he sent several letters to President Buhari and federal security chiefs in the late months of 2017, alerting them to the threat of pastoral militia strikes against farmers in his state make. He said he received no reply.[fn]"We saw the attacks coming from Benue - Ortom",guide, January 10, 2018; "Blame Buhari, Osinbajo, NSA, IG for Benue Killings, Ortom Tells Senate,"The punch, January 14, 2018; "Ortom Publishes Letters Sent to VP and Others Before Benue Murders,"The guard, February 15, 2018. Hide footnote The inspector general of police claimed the governor's warnings had not reached him.[fn]Ibid. Hide footnote The presidency said the letter it received "did not mention a threat to any specific one of the 23 local governments... so the best law enforcement could do... was await information or intelligence of an imminent attack." Nobody came.[fn]"Yemi Osinbajo denies Governor Ortom's warning about Benue's chaos,"The guard, January 16, 2018. Hide footnote Organizations representing the Tiv, Idoma and Igede people have also issued warnings of imminent attacks by herders, according to a news report.[fn]For example, on November 9, 2017, the Tiv, Idoma, and Igede socio-cultural umbrella organizations (Mdzough U Tiv Forum, Idoma National Forum, and Omi Ny Igede Forum) addressed an open petition to President Buhari, claiming that armed Fulani were coming together the Nigeria-Cameroon border and in the Agatu area near the Benue border with Nasarawa state. They placed full-page advertisements in national daily newspapers to warn of impending attacks on farming villages. And on November 7, Logo's ward chair Richard Nyajo sounded the alarm that Fulani herdsmen were forming a ring around the ward to launch an attack. "Benue defends anti-pasture law",The punch, November 8, 2017. Hide footnote

The warnings may not have provided precise actionable information, but they appear to have been clear enough to have prevented some of the January attacks if vigorous police action had been taken. Even without these clues, the question remains whether the police and other security agencies could have gathered their own information about the pastoral militias' plans.

Until violence escalated dramatically in January, the government's response to most incidents had long been condemnations, condolences and vows to stop further killings, but no effective preventive measures.[fn]Remarkably, Buhari had remained silent in key statements on the conflict: when he presented his 2018 budget proposals to the National Assembly in November 2017, he listed the government's spending priorities for peace, security and development, focusing on the Niger Delta, the Northeast and "violent" concentrated crime across the country”, specifically “the growing scourges of cattle rustling and banditry that have plagued our communities in the states of Kaduna, Niger, Kebbi, Katsina and Zamfara … armed robberies, kidnappings and cybercrime”, but not the conflict between farmers and shepherds . “Budget Speech 2018: Budget Consolidation, Delivered by: His Excellency President Muhammadu Buhari, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, at the Joint Session of the National Assembly, Abuja, Tuesday 7 November 2017”. In his January 1 New Year's address, Buhari said the government had "beaten Boko Haram" and was working to "protect all Nigerians." - Pastoral conflict. Hide footnote This apathy stands in stark contrast to the Buhari government's vigorous response to other real or perceived security threats such as the Shia group, the Islamic movement in Nigeria, cattle rustlers in Zamfara state and secessionist agitators in the southeast.[fn]In 2015, army forces clashed with members of the Nigerian Islamic Movement, killing more than 300 people, an action strongly supported, if not directly ordered, by Buhari. Crisis Group Commentary, “New Risks on Nigeria's Shiite Fault Line”, 16 December 2015. Buhari ordered a military operation in response to cattle rustling and other banditry in Zamfara state. "Beef rustle: Buhari launches task force on Wednesday,"Daily trust, 10 July 2016. In response to Biafra's separatist agitation in the southeast, the government deployed troops and declared the group leading the agitation, the so-called Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, a terrorist organization.Hide footnote In the Middle Belt and South, many believe that Buhari disregards the killings because he himself is a Fulani and complicit in the herdsmen's attacks, a charge the President and his aides completely deny.[fn]"Murders have nothing to do with Buhari being Fulani - Femi Adesina",vanguard, January 14, 2018; "To claim that as a Fulani I must encourage satanic acts is evil - Buhari,"vanguard, July 6, 2018. Hide footnote Given the government's failure to stem the parallel escalation of armed banditry and killings in the predominantly Muslim state of Zamfara, the charge of pro-Fulani bias is untenable. However, the government's failure to punish perpetrators of past violence or to respond to emergency calls has encouraged militias involved in pastoral violence.

The third immediate cause of heightened tensions between herdsmen and farmers is the introduction of grazing bans in Benue and Taraba states. Most people in Benue reject any link between the new state law banning herdsmen from grazing their cattle where they choose and the escalating violence. They argue, with some justification, that killings preceded the law and took place in states far from Benue where there is no such prohibition. But the introduction of the law further strained relations between farmers and pastoralists.

Governor Ortom signed the Benue state law into law in May 2017, which went into effect on November 1. The law only allows cattle to graze on ranches; requires people who raise cattle to buy land and set up ranches; bans the transportation of animals within the state except by rail or road; and provides penalties including five years in prison or a fine of 1 million naira (about US$3,000) for anyone whose cattle graze outside of a ranch.[fn]Section 19(4) and (5), “Benue State Government Open Grazing and Ranch Establishment Prohibition Act 2017”, Nigeria. The law also provides compensation for victims whose farms or property are damaged by cattle, and two years' imprisonment for anyone whose cattle injure a person. It also provides penalties for stealing cattle.Hide footnote In other words, it prohibits the pastoralism practiced by many Fulani for generations. The Taraba State law, whose provisions are largely identical, officially went into effect on January 24, 2018. However, acknowledging the herdsmen's concerns and trying to avoid the deadly consequences in Benue state, the Taraba government first said it would phase out the transition from open grazing to ranching and then on February 20 agreed to enforcement of the law altogether.[fn]"Taraba government agrees to reconsider anti-grazing law,"Daily trust, February 21, 2018. Hide footnote

Shepherds protested against the [pasture] law because it was detrimental to their centuries-old pastoral culture.

According to state governors, legislatures, and other state leaders, the primary rationale for the Benue and Taraba laws is to contain conflict, since open grazing and the destruction of crops by unauthorized livestock are important factors in farmer-herder violence.[fn][1] The state also argued that open pastures deprive the state of tax revenue because census agencies do not have systems to track, rate, and tax ranchers. Ranching, it was argued, would formalize animal husbandry and contribute to government revenue. Proponents add that ranching would allow more full use of opportunities in the agricultural value chain: making livestock owners pay for grass and other forage would create more jobs and reduce rural poverty. In addition, raising cattle on ranches would result in healthier and more productive herds with higher yields of meat, milk, and other animal by-products.
Hide footnote
In Benue State, from 2012 to 2017, there were 49 violent incidents in fourteen of the 23 local governments.[fn]Figures from Tiv Professional Group chairman Professor Zacharys Anger Gundu at a news conference in Makurdi, Benue state, January 20, 2018. The state government reports that between 2013 and 2016 about 1,878 people were killed and 750 seriously injured and 200 are still missing . A total of 99,427 households were affected, with property damage running into billions. Data presented by Governor Samuel Ortom at a meeting with UN country representative Edward Kallon, Makurdi, July 5, 2017. The governor claimed that in 2014 alone, violence between farmers and pastoralists destroyed property worth over 95 billion naira (about US$264 million US dollars) was destroyed. Hide footnote The state government argues that the only solution is to force cattle owners to confine their herds to ranches.

The farmers of Tiv, Idoma and Igede, who together make up over 90 percent of Benue's population and consider themselves indigenous people, strongly supported the Benue state law.[fn]In Nigeria, “Indigenous People” are people who, as opposed to “Settlers”, are recognized in a state as Aboriginal people and are accorded priority in education, land ownership, political participation and employment in the state government. Pastoral groups are generally not recognized as Aboriginal in the Middle Belt and Southern States.Hide Footnote Many organized rallies are calling for or supporting their enforcement from November 1st.[fn]Interview with Crisis Group, Legal Counsel for Movement Against Fulani Occupation (MAFO), February 23, 2018. During the last week of October, Chief Edward Ujege, president general of the pan-Tiv socio-cultural organization Mdzough U Tiv, threatened that his people would enforce the law even if the governor has pushed back the start after November 1st. On October 31 and November 1, several indigenous groups, notably the MAFO, the Strict Movement Against Ravages in Tiv Land (Strict-Land) and the Vanguard Against Tiv Massacre (VATIM), organized massive pro-grazing rallies in the state capital , Makurdi. Leaders of other major ethnic groups in the state, including the Yoruba, Igbo, Ijaw and Hausa, spread messages of solidarity during the rallies. On November 2, thousands of women from across the state marched through Makurdi to demand full implementation of the law.
Hide footnote
But Fulani and other pastoral organizations, notably MACBAN and Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore (MAKH), ​​oppose the law, and MAKH is taking legal action in court.[fn]"Miyetti Allah Sues Benue Government Over Grazing Law",Daily trust, August 8, 2017. Statements by MACBAN officials indicated that they did not oppose the law outright, but instead protested several provisions they felt unfavorable and the state government's failure to support the establishment of ranches.Footnote hide Her opposition is based on at least five charges.[fn]Interview with Crisis Group, Official, MACBAN Benue State Branch, Makurdi, January 17, 2018; Telephone interview, Chairman, MACBAN Taraba State Branch, February 18, 2018. Hide footnote

First, pastoral and Fulani groups have insisted that the state government did not consult them before passing the law and that the law therefore does not serve the interests of its members. The state government denies this allegation, pointing out that all groups have been invited to relevant deliberations, that the State House has held four public hearings (one each in Otukpo, Gboko and Katsina-Ala for the three Senate zones and a final session in the state capital Makurdi) on the law and that a majority of the legislatures representing all constituencies of the state passed the law. Since constituencies are demarcated by geography and population rather than ethnicity, and Fulani herders are small minorities in all districts, this last claim is misleading.

Second, pastoralist groups have argued, with some justification, that the law does not allow time for cattle owners and herders to buy land, set up ranches, and imprison their cattle. The state government countered that the six months from May 2017 (when the law was signed) to November 1 (when enforcement began) was enough time for shepherds to adjust. Any request for an extension, it was said, was probably just “a clever way of evading the law”.[fn]"Anti-Open Pasture Law, Solution to Pastoral Attacks - Benue",Sunday punch, November 5, 2017. Hide footnote

Third, shepherds protested against the law because it was detrimental to their centuries-old pastoral culture. Saleh Alhassan, national secretary of the Fulani socio-cultural association MAKH, said: “Anti-grazing laws are nothing more than populist schemes devised by unimaginative and desperate politicians to destroy our livelihoods. These laws are repressive and negative and are fundamentally against our culture as Fulani herders."[fn]Statement at a press conference in Abuja, May 30, 2017. Hide footnote The government responded that culture is dynamic and that practices that violate the rights and damage the livelihoods of other groups sharing the same geographic space need to be changed.

Fourth, the shepherds said the law denied them their constitutional rights to move and reside anywhere in the country. The state government took the view on this point that fundamental rights belong to citizens, not animals, and that the state has the right to regulate economic activities, especially when they affect the livelihoods of others.[fn]"Benue defends anti-grazing law",The punch, November 8, 2017. Hide footnote

Eventually, pastoralists argued that certain legal provisions, such as requiring pastoralists to lease land but not buy it and that they must renew their permits annually, are designed not to encourage pastoralism but to drive pastoralists out of Benue. In fact, this claim is arguably their fundamental objection to the law.[fn]For more information on the anti-grazing law, see Chris MA Kwaja and Bukola I Ademola-Adelehin, The Implications of Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranch Establishment Laws for Farmer-Herder Relations in the Middle Belt of Nigeria, Search for Common Ground , Wash., December 17, 2017.
Hide footnote

Prohibition kept herds of cattle off farms and prevented crops from being eaten or trampled on. But it posed great challenges for the shepherds.

Regardless, the Benue state government made progress. It established a cattle task force headed by the governor's special security adviser (retired Colonel Edwin Jando), with security agents, traditional rulers, and technocrats as members. It created six "pilot farms" that actually held pens for confiscated livestock, and it transformed a 2,500-member nationwide vigilante group known as the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) into a law enforcement agency officially known as the Benue Livestock Guards.[fn]The name comes from the Civilian Joint Task Force, which helps the Borno State military fight Boko Haram insurgents. The Benue State CJTF is a grassroots Hausa-Fulani Tiv Idoma organization that fights cattle rustling and banditry under the direct supervision of the federal police and the Benue and Nasarawa state governments. Its members are not authorized to bear arms, but some have acquired weapons, which they use to "terrorize both Fulani herders and Tiv farmers." Interview with the crisis group, former police commissioner, Makurdi, January 18, 2018. Hide footnote

Prohibition kept herds of cattle off farms and prevented crops from being eaten or trampled on.[fn]Interview with the Crisis Group, Special Assistant to the Governor for Pastoral Affairs, Alhaji Shehu Tambaya, Makurdi, January 18, 2018. Hide footnote But it posed great challenges for the shepherds. Some herders said livestock guards confiscated stray cattle, arbitrarily fined their owners and extorted fines before releasing the animals.[fn]Interview with the Crisis Group, Herder, Makurdi, January 17, 2018. Hide footnote In remote locations, others said, bandits unrelated to the guards arbitrarily seized livestock on the pretense of enforcing the law.[fn]Interview with Crisis Group, Leader of Vigilantes, Makurdi, January 17, 2018. Hide footnote Compliance with the law meant confining livestock in pens, but with no provision for the production and supply of forage, herdsmen had to start buying grass, rice chaff and water for their livestock, costs they had never borne before.[fn]“3,000 Shepherds have moved from Benue – National Shepherd Coordinator”,Sunday grandstand, November 5, 2017. Hide footnote A pastoral leader said: "The livestock business cannot be profitable if we have to bear these costs".[fn]Interview with the crisis group, representatives of the Shepherds' Association, Makurdi, January 17, 2018. Hide footnote Benue State MACBAN coordinator Garus Gololo said the situation was "unfortunate and unacceptable" and blamed the law for the escalation of violence in January 2018.[fn]Statement issued in Abuja, January 6, 2018. See also “We warned Ortom – MACBAN”draft, January 9, 2018. Hide footnote

The act led to an exodus of herders from Benue State to Nasarawa, Taraba, and Cross River States. In Nasarawa, MACBAN leader Alhaji Musa Muahhed-Mati claims that as of November 3, 2017, two million cows from Benue state had migrated to Awe local government territory. This number is probably exaggerated: On the same November 3, Benue's MACBAN leader said "approximately 3,000 herders have moved to the neighboring states of Nasarawa and Taraba," and on November 7, Alhaji Shehu Tambaya, special assistant to the governor of Benue state for pastoral affairs, said that about 3,600 of the 6,000 herders had departed along with about 10,000 of the 16,000 Fulani-owned cattle in the state.[fn]“3,000 Shepherds have moved from Benue – National Shepherd Coordinator”,Sunday grandstand, November 5, 2017. Hide footnote Regardless of these discrepancies, the sudden influx of thousands of cattle into Nasarawa state created new tensions between the predominantly Fulani herders and the predominantly Tiv farmers. Despite all the efforts of the state government, mistrust soon degenerated into deadly violence.

The spate of attacks and counterattacks has taken a heavy humanitarian and economic toll, with potentially grave political and security ramifications. The humanitarian implications are particularly serious. From September 2017 to June 2018, violence between farmers and herdsmen left at least 1,500 dead, many more wounded and about 300,000 displaced - an estimated 176,000 in Benue, about 100,000 in Nasarawa, over 100,000 in Plateau, about 19,000 in Taraba and an unknown number in Adamawa .[fn]Interview with Crisis Group, Coordinator of Jalingo Refugee Camp, Taraba State, Abuja, February 9, 2018; "Taraba plans to relocate 19,000 victims of Katibu herdsmen attacks,"The punch, January 22, 2018. In January 2018, MAKH said that over 4,000 herders and their families were displaced by the clashes with the Bachama in November 2017.Hide footnote Two-thirds of these people have fled since January.

Some of the displaced stay with relatives in safer parts of their home states, but many seek refuge in IDP camps, many of which are on school and church campuses and run by state emergency management agencies. The Crisis Group visited two of the ten camps in Benue State and found appalling conditions: internally displaced people, mostly women and children, had severely inadequate shelter and food and were at risk of communicable diseases.[fn]Crisis group observations during visits to two camps, RCM Primary School in Daudu and LGEA Central Primary School in Gbajimba, Benue State, January 17, 2018. Hide footnote The camps are overcrowded and there is a lack of clean drinking water; poor hygiene is aggravated by open defecation. Six of the camps are housed in elementary schools; In some cases, up to 100 people are crammed into a classroom while others sleep in the fields, at the mercy of rain and mosquitoes. In early April, at least seven children died in a measles outbreak in the sprawling Abagena camp on the outskirts of the Benue state capital, Makurdi, which is home to an estimated 35,000 people. Others have died of malaria and diarrhea.[fn]"Measles outbreak in refugee camp kills seven children,"The guard, April 6, 2018. Hide footnote

Girls and women are at risk of sexual harassment, assault and rape, both by outsiders and other internally displaced persons.

(Video) Nigeria community leaders try to quell farmer-herder conflict

Women and children have been particularly hard hit, with many having lost the male head of household, a major loss in a largely patriarchal society. Some were raped by attackers.[fn]Interview with Crisis Group, Sewuese Bumkengs, activist, February 2018. Hide footnote Thousands of pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers in refugee camps have little or no health and sanitation facilities. Because most camps are unfenced and dormitories are not segregated by gender, girls and women are at risk of sexual harassment, assault and rape, both from outsiders and other IDPs, and vulnerable to desperate survival mechanisms involving sexual exploitation. Many women and children are traumatized by the killings, raising concerns about their mental health, with possible long-term consequences.[fn]Interview with Crisis Group, Torhile Tsavbee, Camp Manager, IDP Camp at LGEA Central Primary School, Gbajimba, Benue State, 17 January 2018. Hide footnote

Children's education has also been hit hard: in April Wilfred Uji, executive secretary of the Benue State Education Service, reported that ongoing attacks had displaced 300,000 children from school; and twelve of the state's 24 nomadic schools (special schools for herder children) were closed.[fn]"Shepherd attacks force 300,000 Benue students out of school,"The punch, April 18, 2018; "The invasion of shepherds destroyed our school system,"Daily sun, July 10, 2018; Interview with Crisis Group, National Commission for Nomadic Education Officer, Makurdi, January 18, 2018. Hide footnote In Nasarawa state, armed attacks and the establishment of camps for IDPs have forced the closure of over 35 primary schools, disrupting the education of thousands of children.[fn]"Herders Attacks: 35 Elementary Schools Closed in Nasarawa,"Daily sun, June 8, 2018. Hide footnote

The growing humanitarian challenge has almost overwhelmed the capacities of state civil protection authorities. In Benue and Plateau in particular, state governments are severely stretched on resources, undermining their ability to provide medical care, food, clothing and infrastructure in the camps. Dickson Tarkighir, Member of the House of Representatives for the Makurdi/Guma constituency, said: "Our people are starving in their own land and the irony is that we are farmers."[fn]Interview with Crisis Group, Member of Benue State House of Representatives, Abuja, January 24, 2018. Hide footnote On July 18, the World Health Organization announced plans to build makeshift clinics and routinely vaccinate children under five in the Plateau state camps. But much more needs to be done to meet the food, health, water and sanitation needs of the internally displaced, particularly in Benue and Plateau states. Without increased aid, the prolonged rainy season (May to September) is likely to aggravate the situation of the IDPs, limiting access to remote areas and increasing health risks.

While the escalating violence has had a high human cost, its impact on the local economy is also significant. Displacements and ongoing insecurity have disrupted agriculture in parts of Adamawa, Benue, Nasarawa, Plateau and Taraba states. Thousands of herders displaced from Benue state are unable to find enough forage for their flocks in Nasarawa state as livestock multiply and all pastures become bare. Thousands of farmers are unable to work on their farms for fear of attack. In the states of Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba, food production will fall by 33 to 65 percent in 2018 as a result of attacks and displacements in farming villages, according to different estimates.[fn]Interview with Crisis Group, Member of Nasarawa State Parliament, Abuja, 21 January 2018. See also “Herdsmen: Anxiety in states over food short”,The punch, February 4, 2018; "There is a risk of food shortages"sunday sun, June 3, 2018; "Shepherd murders: hunger, hunger threatens in Taraba",Daily sun, 20 July 2018. Hide footnote This predicament in states that make up much of Nigeria's breadbasket could hurt nationwide food production, drive up already high food prices and jeopardize agricultural businesses. It may also deepen already widespread rural poverty in the north-central geopolitical zone.

The violence has solidified conspiracy theories surrounding the farmer-herdsman conflict, leading to charges and counter-charges of pogroms and worse. Fulani youth group JAFUYAN said the killings in Numan were "the latest in a coordinated agenda to systematically obliterate our people through ethnic cleansing."[fn]"Numan killings: Fulani youth breathe fire, demand justice"Daily sun, November 25, 2017. Hide footnote Many Fulani believe other groups across the country have hatched a major conspiracy against them. Parallel allegations are floating around among agrarian groups. After the attacks in Benue state in early January, the preeminent traditional ruler of the Tiv, His Royal Majesty James Ortese Ayatse, said they were "well planned...nothing short of ethnic cleansing and genocide of the Tiv nation."[fn]"Benue killings: It's ethnic cleansing, genocide of Tiv nation, says Tor Tiv,"The guard, January 13, 2018. Hide footnote Many people, not just farmers, in the Middle Belt and Southern states believe that shepherds are plotting to confiscate their lands.[fn]Interviews with the crisis group, Benue, representatives of civil society, legislators, journalists, Makurdi, 17-18. January 2018; Abuja, 5th-9th February 2018. Hide footnote The flood of allegations is undermining national cohesion and making it difficult to resolve the conflicts.

The escalation continues to polarize Nigerians along ethnic, religious and regional lines. In the state of Benue in particular, more and more people are saying they have lost confidence in the country's unity.[fn]Interviews of the crisis group with representatives of ethnic and other civil society groups, Makurdi 17-18. January, Abuja June 25, 2018. Hide footnote In the Southeast, secessionist agitators point to the killings as justification for their claims that the country is "a fraudulent arrangement to extend Fulani dominance to all other groups."[fn]Telephone interview of the Crisis Group, senior member of the movement to update the sovereign state of Biafra, April 17, 2018. Hide footnote

Increased violence, particularly increasing attacks on peasants, has hardened anti-Fulani sentiment. In Kogi state, for example, lawmakers have asked the executive branch to establish a program to collect the biometrics of all herders in the state for security planning and other purposes.[fn]The call was made in a resolution adopted on February 27, 2018. The Governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose, summoned the leaders of the Fulani community and told the Sarkin Fulani, Muhammed Abashe, that he would hold him personally responsible for any pastoral-related violence and ordered that all Fulani in the state " register with the government for a nominal fee of 5,000 naira”. "Killing Shepherds: Fayose Blames Fulani Leaders for Retaliatory Attack,"This day, January 22, 2018. Ondo State Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu vowed to "defend our people's right to engage in agriculture freely and freely," and threatened to "sanction with impassioned severity any acts committed to it." aiming to tip the balance of harmonious coexistence in the state towards anarchy". "Akeredolu to Fulani Shepherds: Stay away from Ondo",Neuer Telegraph, January 15, 2018. Hide footnote The animosity is deepened by the claims of some Fulani elites, such as Professor Umar Mohammed Labdo, that "much of what is now north-central, or what some people now prefer to call the Middle Belt, was actually areas belonging to the Sokoto - belonged to the Caliphate".[fn]“Herders can graze anywhere in Nigeria,”Saturday Sun, 21 July 2018. Hide footnote Such claims only fuel fears of Fulani territorial expansion.

The ongoing bloodshed is damaging interfaith relations.

Anti-Fulani sentiment has led to ethnically motivated killings. For example, on February 1, a mob lynched seven Fulani men at a public transportation terminal in Gboko, Benue state.[fn]"Benue: How 7 were killed, burned in Gboko",Daily trust, February 3, 2018. Hide footnote The incident came at the height of local outrage over the shepherds' attacks in early January. The victims have not been charged with a crime, nor have they been involved in an altercation with local Tiv youth. They were confiscated from a vehicle they were driving to another city. After the June 23-24 attacks on Berom farming villages in Barkin Ladi Governorate, Plateau state, Berom youths blocked highways and murdered an unknown number of Fulani — or suspected Fulani — travelers. Such killings could provoke further revenge attacks and wider violence.

The ongoing bloodshed is damaging interfaith relations. The Nigerian Christian Association (CAN) denounced the Benue attacks, claiming that prominent Muslims incited herdsmen to conduct a camouflaged jihadist campaign.[fn]"Massacre, a jihad against Christians, claims CAN",The guard, January 12, 2018; "Benue Kills Jihad, Genocide - CAN",Neuer Telegraph, January 14, 2018. Hide footnote In response, the leading Islamic group, the Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), accused CAN of "spreading poison, hatred, slander and unimaginable malice that smacks of intolerance and political robbery".[fn]"NSCIA attacks CAN, accusing it of hate speech"vanguard, January 31, 2018. Hide footnote

The recent killings could also change the political dynamics in the north. Historically, the Hausa and Fulani dominants in the north have fostered unity with the Middle Belt, which has worked to the advantage of both regions in Nigerian politics. The murders have sent ripples through this relationship. Many Middle Belt residents believe that the Fulani and Hausa elites are lenient, if not outright supportive, of the herdsmen's attacks.

For example, although the Chair of the Forum of Northern Governors and Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima and a delegation of Northern Governors paid a visit to Governor Ortom to express their sympathy for the killings, many in Benue believe the gesture was an afterthought and only after that delegations from the south came to visit.[fn]Delegations from the Pan-Yoruba group, Afenifere, the Pan-Igbo group, Ohaneze Ndi'Igbo, and others from the Niger Delta and Middle Belt had previously visited.Hide footnote Others accused the Northern governors of complicity in the killings because they never convicted the killers. Her visit was dismissed as a mockery, "dancing on the graves of the victims".[fn]Professor David Iornem, Chair of the Benue Advancement Forum, at a press conference in Makurdi, Benue state, January 20, 2018.Hide footnote Advocacy groups in Benue state have called on Ortom to withdraw from the Northern Governors' Forum and for the state's traditional rulers to leave the Northern Traditional Rulers Council.[fn]"Benue can break north alignment for kills,"vanguard, January 23, 2018. Hide footnote Such developments could weaken the North's longstanding political solidarity.

The wave of violence has also eroded trust in the federal government. There is a growing sense among farmers that the government is insensitive and even complicit in their plight. Herders, meanwhile, expresses frustration that the government has failed to challenge Benue and Taraba states' anti-grazing laws, despite their overall loyalty to Buhari.

The violence could have a direct impact on the February 2019 elections. For one thing, insecurity in parts of Benue, Nasarawa, Taraba and Adamawa states could hamper election preparations. The eviction has already disrupted voter registration in several cities in Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba states.[fn]Interview with Crisis Group, Independent National Electoral Commission official, Abuja, February 12, 2018. Hide footnote Tensions between farmers and pastoralists and ethnic differences could hamper campaigns in certain locations.

The killings have seriously undermined one of President Buhari's key campaign promises of 2015 - to bring security and stability to the country.

The killings have seriously undermined one of President Buhari's key campaign promises of 2015 - to bring security and stability to the country. His inability to contain the escalating violence, and in particular his long delay before visiting the hardest-hit states, has been harshly condemned in the Middle Belt and South, but also by some northern leaders who accuse him of a lack of empathy for the groups that are fighting bear the brunt of the conflict.[fn]"Refining Northern Geopolitics: Perspectives on Buhari's Rejection",The guard, April 1, 2018. Hide footnote The opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP) has already tried to exploit Buhari's perceived weakness. Following the January killings in Benue state, key PDP officials, including leader Prince Uche Secondus, visited the state to offer their condolences and persuade voters that the party is more sensitive to the region's problems.

The violence could affect the fate of Buhari and his ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) in the 2019 election. In 2015, Buhari and his party narrowly won Benue state. Widespread disenchantment with its handling of the conflict could erode that advantage.[fn]Interviews with crisis groups, several political and civil society leaders, Makurdi, Lafia and Abuja, 15-24. January 2018. Josephine Habba, a Benue-based civil society activist and coordinator of the national network of non-governmental organizations, said: “If the President cannot come here to sympathize with the Benue people, neither should he come here to speak up for to campaign for the 2019 elections". On April 9, Buhari said he would seek another term. His candidacy has yet to be approved by the party in the primaries, but as there is no internal challenger this is seen as a formality.
Hide footnote
A young Tiv activist said: "In 2019 there will be zero votes for the APC in Benue."[fn]Crisis Group phone interview, young Tiv activist, February 15, 2018. Hide footnote Currently, most APC leaders in the state deny they will leave the ruling party, but there is no certainty that they will stand firm.[fn]On February 7, Cross River State Governor Nyesom Wike visited Makurdi and donated 200 million naira (about US$550,000). "Gov Wike donates N200m to internally displaced people in Benue and condemns killings",guide, February 8, 2018. He was followed by Ekiti State Governor Ayodele Fayose, chair of the PDP Governors Forum and harsh Buhari critic, who visited on February 8 and donated 10 million naira (about US$27,000). "Fayose Visits Benue, Repeats Demands for Restructuring,"The guard, February 9, 2018. On January 16, Prince Secondus visited and donated millions of naira in relief supplies. "PDP donates items to internally displaced people in Benue",guide, January 17, 2018. Hide footnote On July 25, Governor Ortom himself defected from the APC to the PDP.[fn]"Benue Governor, Ortom, Flaws in PDP",premium times, 25 July 2018. Hide footnote

Beyond Benue, the killings, along with the never-ending Boko Haram insurgency and rising bandit violence in the northwest, have also reduced Buhari's support across the country. Massive protest rallies, held by Catholics in Abuja and other major cities on May 22 and by civil society coalitions in Abuja on May 28 and July 4, underscored public disenchantment with his reactions to the insecurity. On July 18, a summit of Nigerian national elders and leaders convened by the Northern Elders Forum, the Southwest Yoruba Afenifere group, the South East Igbo Ohaneze Ndigbo group and the Pan-Niger Delta Forum condemned the "unprecedented" and " incessant killings". With seven months to go before the presidential election, leaders decided to "insist on the emergence of a visionary and dynamic leadership that will effectively address our security and economic challenges."[fn]“Wanted: Visionary and Dynamic Leadership – Communiqué from the National Summit on Insecurity and Killings in Nigeria,” Abuja, July 18, 2018. The Presidency dismissed the communiqué as “the shedding of crocodile tears by selfish leaders” calling for a transparent and Alienated accountable system "stopped their disproportionate survival on the state's resources". Statement by the President's Senior Special Assistant to the Media, Aso Rock Villa, Abuja, July 20, 2018. Hide footnote

On the other hand, Buhari's handling of the conflict has strengthened his support among the Fulani and some other northern groups. Bello Abdullahi Bodejo (Lamido Fulbe), President of MAKH, said Fulani across the country will oppose any attempt to prevent Buhari from a second term.[fn]Badejo said: "Nobody should try to remove Buhari in 2019. All Fulani in Nigeria today, our eyes are open. We all stand behind Buhari…. We will not allow anyone to intimidate the federal government or take over Buhari's mandate; We will be ready to follow and fight against it. We are willing to do whatever it takes to ensure Buhari comes back to finish his good work. The people who criticize him are few and nothing would affect his chances of returning.” “Politicians buy guns for shepherds – Bodejo, President of Miyetti Allah”,Saturday Sun, February 3, 2018. In early January, the MAKH branch in the state of Bauchi Buhari – and the state governor, Mohammed Abdullahi, confirmed Abubakar for a second term in office due to their “good performance” over the past three years. "2019: Miyetti Allah supports PMB"guide, January 26, 2018. Hide footnote These sharply opposed positions on the Buhari presidency could fuel bipartisan, interregional and interfaith tensions around the elections.

The increasing violence encourages the formation of armed defense groups and ethnic militias. In the Middle Belt and Southern Zones, several youth, peasant and other groups have said they will oppose any further influx of herders and have asked governors for logistical support.[fn]These include the National Council of Tiv Youths, the Middle Belt Youth Council and Middle Belt Forum (youth wing), as well as the Odua'a People's Congress (OPC) and Agbekoya Farmers Association in the South West and the Movement to Update the Sovereign State of Biafra in the South East . "Regional militias, young people prepare to fight against the shepherds"The punch, January 21, 2018; "Herders OPC, Agbekoya mobilize fighters in Southwest"The punch, February 4, 2018; "M'Belt leaders urge youth to defend themselves and their property,"The guard, February 1, 2018. Hide footnote The prevailing insecurity could exacerbate arms proliferation, which is already a major national concern.

The conflict is putting further pressure on already stressed police, military and other security forces. The army, which is deployed in internal security operations in virtually all 36 states of the Nigerian Federation, does not have enough men to repel Boko Haram insurgents, particularly in Borno state.[fn]In his presentation to the Senate Committee on the Army, Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai said the army "is currently engaged in the war against Boko Haram and other internal security operations -- in virtually all 36 states of the federation". "Poor funding, security operations paralyze army - Buratai",The punch, February 2, 2018. Hide footnote Deploying more police and soldiers to states affected by escalating farmer-herderage violence, which is admittedly a necessity, further strains and potentially prolongs resources that could have been focused on fighting the Northeast insurgency insecurity in this region.

The spiral of violence has eroded public confidence in the military and other government security agencies, leading to calls for Buhari to sack his military and security chiefs. On January 24, the Situation Room, a coalition of over 70 civil society organizations, released a statement in which it lamented that the ''Nigerian nation appears to be descending into chaos'' and that security agencies have ''displayed an unprecedented ineptitude and incompetence have to deal with the problem''.[fn]''Situation Room'sconcerns on the state of the nation'' statement issued in Abuja, Nigeria, January 24, 2018. Earlier on January 20, Tiv Professional Group asked Buhari to call Police Chief Ibrahim Idris over it dismissed what they termed his incompetence, complacency, and open bias against shepherds.Hide footnote It called on Buhari to hold his security chiefs accountable for failing to protect citizens, punish incompetence and urgently overhaul the nation's security apparatus.[fn]Several senators also called on Buhari to fire the service chiefs. "Killings: Service chiefs fired now, say Senators Buhari,"Die Nation, April 18, 2018. Hide footnote Since then, many others, including senior retired military officers, have joined the call for new security chiefs who may be more effective in responding to the violence.[fn]"Killings: Service chiefs fired now, say Senators Buhari,"Die Nation,April 18, 2018; "Release service chiefs now within 2 weeks, groups ask Buhari,"vanguard, May 4, 2018; "Incessant Killings: Fire Non-Working Service Chiefs, Col. Bako, Ex-Military Administrator, Buhari Says",sunday sun, 15 July 2018. Hide footnote However, a pastoral group resisted these calls, saying, "People who are calling for the removal of service chiefs are either the corrupt politicians or those who work for them."[fn]"Killings: Miyetti Allah rejects calls for sacking of service chiefs,"The punch, July 3, 2018. Hide footnote So far, Buhari has not complied with the calls.

The public image of the army - or at least the local units - is being damaged by the conflict.

Since most military and other security agencies are run by officers from the Northeast and Northwest, many in the Central and Southern states believe the security establishment is biased.[fn]One of the largest Christian denominations in the north, the Fellowship of Churches of Christ in Nigeria — better known in Hausa as Tarayyar Ekklesiyoyin Kristi a Nijeriya — said the “distorted appointments are responsible for the increasing levels of Fulani herder terrorism in the country and calls to a conscious balancing of these appointments''. Communiqué issued at the end of the 63rd General Assembly in Akwanga, Nasarawa state, January 2018. The pan-Yoruba group, Afenifere, said the retention of security chiefs suggests "there is a script to decimate some parts of the country." by concentrating its safety on the hands of a few people from one part of the country". "Chiefs of sack services now - Afenifere, Ohaneze tell Buhari,"Sunday Telegraph, January 21, 2018. Hide footnote That perception may not be accurate, but it has increased calls from the Middle Belt and the South for greater regional balance and inclusion in the National Security Council, which they believe would allow it to respond more effectively to the farmer-herder conflict.

The increasing involvement of the military in conflict management could also damage its image. For example, in Adamawa state, where the Air Force was based in December 2017, the Bachama and Bwatiye, who have been embroiled in conflicts with Fulani herdsmen, claim that warplanes were sent to deter Fulani attacks on their villages rather than rockets on villagers to fire.[fn]"Shepherd Attacks in Adamawa: Esau's Hands, Jacob's Voice?",Saturday Sun, February 3, 2018. Hide footnote The Air Force firmly denied the charge, although some security sources told Crisis Group that the villages had been hit by mistake.[fn]Interview with Crisis Group, retired air force officer from Adamawa State, Abuja, July 17, 2018. In March 2018, six Bachama communities announced that they would take the Nigerian Air Force to the International Criminal Court for their bombings. "Air Strike - Adamawa Communities Vow To Tow Nigerian Air Force To ICC Over Alleged Killings,"premium times, March 11, 2018. See also “About NAF Human Rights Violations in Numan State,”Daily trust, February 2, 2018. Hide footnote On March 24, 2018, Theophilus Danjuma, a retired lieutenant general and one of the army's most revered former chiefs, accused the armed forces of complicity in "ethnic cleansing" and urged citizens to stand up and defend themselves.[fn]Danjuma was army chief from 1976 to 1979 and defense minister from 1999 to 2003. He is Jukun, one of the ethnic groups in conflict with the Fulani in Taraba State. In a speech at Taraba State University, Jalingo on March 24, 2018, he said: “The armed forces are not neutral. they conspire. they conspire. They work with the gunmen who kill people, kill Nigerians. They facilitate their movement, they cover them. If you rely on the armed forces to stop the killings, you will all die, one by one. The ethnic cleansing must stop in Taraba state, must stop in all states of Nigeria. Otherwise Somalia will be child's play. I urge each of you to be vigilant and defend your country, defend your territory, defend your state. You can't go anywhere else." "Military collusion with gunmen - TY Danjuma",Daily trust, March 25, 2018. Hide footnote The army denied the allegation and launched an internal investigation which found it found no evidence of collusion or other wrongdoing.[fn]"Call to Arms: Army, Defense Ministers Take on TY Danjuma,"vanguard, March 26, 2018; “Army sets up committee to investigate Gen Danjuma's allegation,” Nigeria News Agency, April 9, 2018. Hide footnote A senior Adamawa state government official claimed the report was not credible because "the army has made itself the judge in its own case."[fn]Interview with Crisis Group, Senior Adamawa State Government Official, Abuja, July 19, 2018. Hide footnote In fact, the army's public image – or at least that of the local units – is being tarnished by the conflict.

The federal government has decided to take measures in response to the escalation of violence. These range from consultations between senior federal and government officials and residents of affected states on deploying additional police and military forces, prosecuting those responsible for violence, plans for “cattle colonies” or ranch aggregations with herder services, and, most recently, a National Livestock Transformation Plan .

Federal government officials -- including Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Interior Minister Abdulrahman Dambazau and, belatedly, President Buhari -- have made information and comfort visits to conflict zones, but these trips have yielded little effective preventive or deterrent action. Buhari and other senior federal officials have called several consultations to end the violence.[fn]Since December 2017, the consultations have mainly been convened by President Buhari, Vice President Osinbajo, Interior Minister Dambazau, Agriculture Minister Audu Inncoent Ogbeh and Inspector General of Police Idris. In response to the Adamawa state killings, Osinbajo met with prominent Fulani leaders in Abuja on December 11, 2017 and with traditional Bachama and Batta rulers on January 30, 2018. Fulani leaders included the Lamido of Adamawa, Muhammadu Barkindo Aliyu Musdafa; the Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II, and an influential former Permanent Federal Secretary, Ahmed Joda. The traditional rulers of Bachama and Batta included His Royal Highness Hama Bachama Homun Honest Irmiya Stephen and His Royal Highness Hama Batta Homun Alhamdu Teneke. Following the killings in Benue state, Buhari met with Governor Ortom on January 9 and vowed to protect farmers and herdsmen alike. During the second week of January, Dambazau and Idris also consulted with federal and state agriculture and security officials, as well as community and religious leaders from the affected states. On January 15, Buhari received Benue state political and ethnic leaders and urged them to hold back their people and accommodate their countrymen "in the name of God." "Buhari: Perpetrators of Benue violence will not escape justice,"Daily trust, January 16, 2018. Hide footnote On Jan. 18, the National Economic Council set up a ten-member working committee headed by Osinbajo. Her mandate includes ending the killings, fighting impunity and supporting the government's long-term plan to resolve the herder-farmer conflict.[fn]The governors of the states of Kaduna, Zamfara, Taraba, Benue, Adamawa, Edo, Plateau, Oyo and Ebonyi are members. It is not clear why the initiative came from the National Economic Council and not from the State Council, which has the mandate "to advise the President, upon request, on the maintenance of public order in the Federation or any part of it". Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, Third Schedule, Parts 1B and 1H. Hide Footnote

(Video) Nigeria violence: Attacks devastate farms in northwest Nigeria

The committee has recommended increased military operations in the worst-affected states and full dialogue with all parties to the conflict. In February and March, a Subcommittee on Dialogue, headed by Ebonyi State Governor David Umahi, comprising the governors of Adamawa, Benue, Plateau and Taraba States as members, visited Adamawa, Benue, Taraba and Zamfara States, consulting with various Parties and submitted a request a report to the National Economic Council.[fn]"Killings: Osinbajo Panel on Stakeholder Engagement",Daily trust, February 2, 2018. Hide footnote In response to public pressure, Buhari has also traveled to some of the hardest-hit states to call for an end to the violence.[fn]Buhari visited Taraba State on March 5, Plateau State on March 8-9, and Benue State on March 12, 2018.Hide footnote

These gestures are an improvement on the apparent aloofness of the past, but their outcome is unclear. It remains to be seen whether the Osinbajo Committee's submissions will make a difference. The government's failure to stop the killings is widely seen not so much as lacking in ideas as as lacking in determination to carry them out. Furthermore, consultations, welcome as they may be, cannot substitute for concrete steps to end impunity.

The government has also increased its security measures. It has sent more police and military units to the problem states. In November 2017, Inspector General of Police Ibrahim Idris deployed five mobile police (counterinsurgency) units to Adamawa State to prevent further clashes.[fn]"Adamawa Killings: Force HQ to Deploy 5 Mobile Police Units - IGP",guide, November 26, 2017. Hide footnote He also deployed 663 additional personnel to support existing units in the affected areas following the January 1 attacks in Benue State.[fn]He then assigned five more mobile police units to Nasarawa State.[fn]An9On January 12, President Buhari ordered Idris to move to Benue state and stay there until the killings stopped - the police chief spent two days in the state and left.[fn]"Pastoral Crisis: Buhari Orders IGP Idris Move to Benue",Die Nation, January 9, 2018. The police chief spent January 10-12 in the state, then delegated powers to Joshak Habila, the assistant inspector general (operations), and left the country. During his state visit, Buhari said he never knew that the police chief disobeyed his order.Hide footnote

The army has also deployed more troops. On February 7, it announced what it called a "training exercise" called the Cat Race, which would be "interlocked with real-time operations" to curb conflict and crime in the states of Benue, Taraba, Kogi, Nasarawa, Niger and Kaduna. The exercise ran from February 15 to March 31 and was followed by Operation Whirl Stroke 1, which was deployed in Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba states and continues today.[fn]A similar operation called Whirl Stroke 2 is used to fight bandits in the states of Zamfara and Kaduna.Hide footnote The Air Force has also established new stations and deployed more resources, including 1,300 personnel and two Mi-35 attack helicopters, to the region. On June 19, Whirl Stroke 1 Forces Commander Major General Adeyemi Yekini reported that troops supported by the Air Force's attack helicopters launched two major operations (codenamed Deadly Strike and Dark Down) against armed militias in Benue states and Nasarawa, including a raid on about 40 "herders", some armed with AK-47 rifles, encamped at Kwantan Gyemi on the border between the two states.[fn]"Operation Whirl Stroke sees success in Benue,"Daily trust, June 20, 2018. Hide footnote

These deployments signal, at least in principle, a more robust response to the conflict.[fn]Some argue that it was overdue compared to the military's involvement in other trouble spots.Hide footnote But they have produced mixed results at best. They have contained violence and repelled invading militias in certain areas, allowing some of the displaced in Benue state to return to their villages.[fn]Telephone interview with Crisis Group, Benue State Department of Information and Guidance official, July 24, 2018. On July 24, the Plateau State government set up a committee to work out modalities for the repatriation of some displaced people to their home communities. "Plateau sets up committee to return IDPs to their homes",The guard, July 25, 2018. It is uncertain how soon this process will begin as many of those displaced still consider their home communities to be unsafe.Hide footnote Still, the killings continue; Many looted communities remain abandoned and thousands of displaced people are being prevented from returning to their homes as security forces say they cannot yet guarantee the safety of the villages. Several factors account for the limited effectiveness of advanced deployments. Personnel are still insufficient to secure many areas and units are ill-equipped to respond quickly to distress calls from remote villages.[fn]Interviews with the crisis group, police officer, Makurdi, January 17, 2018; Military Officer, June 20, 2018. Officer said certain units still had fewer than 10 police officers who would be easily overwhelmed by dozens of attackers.Hide footnote Some police units stationed in rural areas are operating cautiously, aware that officers have been ambushed and killed.[fn]At least fifteen police officers were killed in ambushes in Benue State from January to April 2018.Hide footnote In many areas, the forces deployed are insufficient to deter heavily armed militias who attack villages at night and retreat to their forest camps before dawn.

Failure to convict and punish the perpetrators of these and other notable murders is likely to feed the cycle of violence.

Police have made efforts to collect or confiscate illegal weapons. On February 21, Idris ordered the public to turn over all illegal firearms during the 21 days from February 22 to March 15.[fn]Because the original March 14 deadline for handing over the weapons had expired, the police chief extended the operation until April 30, 2018.Hide footnote The police reported about 4,000 surrendered or seized firearms nationwide.[fn]"Police seize 2,753 illegal firearms from 13 states,"Die Nation, April 10, 2018. Hide footnote However, that total included only 453 firearms from the six states hardest hit by the farmer-herder violence.[fn]ibid. The official police breakdown is: 46 from Benue, 70 from Kaduna, 35 from Nasarawa, 56 from Taraba, 67 from Kogi, 14 from Adamawa and 171 from Plateau. Hide footnote Additionally, the exercise did not disarm the groups responsible for the killings.[fn]Crisis Group phone interview, Civil Society Leader, Jalingo, Taraba State, April 14, 2018. Hide footnote

The government arrested some of the attackers and began prosecuting them. In early February, police reported the arrest of 145 people suspected of involvement in murders, 120 of whom would be brought to justice. Many others have since been arrested in connection with various attacks, most notably Benue Livestock Guards chief Aliyu Teshaku, who was arrested by the army on April 27.[fn]Some Benue activists denounced the arrest as persecution by federal agencies irritated by his role in enforcing the state's anti-grazing law, but Fulani herder group MACBAN had long accused Teshaku of planning attacks on herders and other Fulani and Hausa people in Benue state to have. The army arrested him, claiming he was a member of Boko Haram involved in the April 3, 2018 attack on a Catholic church in Benue state that killed two priests and some seventeen worshipers. "Governor Ortom speaks as aide for the arrest of the Army for 'directing' the Benue killings,"premium times, April 28, 2018. Hide footnote These are welcome, albeit small, steps towards combating impunity. However, given the snail's pace at which investigations and prosecutions are typically conducted, it is not clear how quickly those responsible can be sanctioned. Failure to convict and punish the perpetrators of these and other notable murders is likely to fuel the cycle of violence, deepening both the anger of affected communities and the sense that people can get away with murder.

The government's security response appears to be constrained or even hampered by conflicting diagnoses of the challenge. For example, after killing more than 80 people in attacks in Benue state in early January, Defense Minister Mansur Dan-Ali said the attacks were linked to blocking long-standing herd routes and passing anti-grazing laws.[fn]"Anti-Open Pasture Law behind Farmers, Herders clashes - FG"Daily trust, January 26, 2018. Hide footnote In contrast, the domestic intelligence agency, the Department of State Services, reportedly assessed - erroneously and unhelpfully - that the attacks could be the work of Islamic State fighters in West Africa province, who had infiltrated central and southern parts of the country.[fn]"Islamic State Terrorists Behind Benue Killings - Security Chiefs",Daily trust, January 22, 2018. Hide footnote Police Chief Idris has said a number of times that Benue's killers were "crooks" and "scoundrels" but sometimes that the escalated killings were prompted by anti-pasture laws.[fn]"The Move of the IGP to Benue: The Problems, Arguments and Harvests",guide, January 17, 2018. Hide footnote

During Buhari's January 16 meeting with Benue leaders, he urged them to accommodate their pastoral compatriots, implying that the conflict was escalated by the exclusionary grazing bans; He then said the killers were fighters trained by the late Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi who were now pouring into West Africa via the Sahel; and recently accused of the killings being sponsored by opposition politicians trying to blackmail him and discredit his government ahead of the 2019 elections.[fn]"Gaddafi trained men behind clashes between herdsmen and peasants,"Nigerian tribune, April 12, 2018; "Desperate Politicians Behind Plateau Murders - Buhari",Daily trust, June 25, 2018; "Opposition blackmails me with clashes between herdsmen and peasants - Buhari",vanguard, 11 July 2018. Hide footnote At best, these conflicting theories suggest incoherence within the security system.

As a long-term solution, in January 2018 the government announced a new plan to establish "cattle colonies" across the country. According to Agriculture Minister Audu Innocent Ogbeh, each colony was to be 5,000 hectares (about 25 km x 20 km) and be a collection of ranches with resources and facilities such as grass, water, veterinary services, mills to convert agricultural waste into animal feed, schools, hospitals and markets, all secured by agro rangers.[fn]"Ogbeh defines cattle colonies, ranches as a panacea for the farmers' and herders' crisis",Daily trust, January 14, 2018; "Cattle Colonies: How FG Plans to End Farmer-Herder Conflict",Daily trust, January 28, 2018. Hide footnote States were expected to provide land, and the federal government would bear the cost of development and maintenance — possibly with support from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, and others. Ranchers and shepherds were to pay "a small fee."[fn]"Cattle Colonies: How FG Plans to End Farmer-Herder Conflict",Daily trust, January 28, 2018. Hide footnote The government argued that the benefits would include protection from cattle rustlers, fewer farmer-herder disputes, healthier stocks, higher meat and dairy production, and more revenue for state governments.[fn]Ibid. Hide footnote

The "cattle colonies" proposal has drawn criticism or outright opposition from state governments.

The reactions varied. According to Ogbeh, sixteen states, mostly from the Northwest and Northeast, have backed the plan and promised to allocate land.[fn]"States establish cattle colonies next week - FG"Daily trust, January 20, 2018. Katsina State, for example, said it had already offered 5,300 hectares for its cattle colony. "Katsina makes 5,300 hectares available for cattle colonies",vanguard, January 26, 2018. Hide footnote These are states with large landmasses, low population densities, and well-established pastoral populations. In some northern central states such as Kogi, Kaduna and Kwara, the governors' acceptance of the proposal met with opposition from the so-called indigenous ethnic groups, mainly peasants.[fn]In Kogi State, for example, a majority of the Igala and Okun said they would not cede land for the project in any of the eight local government districts occupied by their people. "Igala Nation and Others Attack Gov Bello Over Proposed Cattle Colony,"Independently, January 21, 2018. Southern Kaduna Senator Danjuma Lar said the 32,000 hectares that the northern region government allocated decades ago for the Laguda Pasture Reserve, which has been expanded to 72,000 hectares by the current state administration, are already there far more than the 5,000 hectares required for the cattle colonies. "Southern Kaduna opposes cattle colonies, says it will create problems,"Nigerian pilot, January 25, 2018. In Kwara State, the Kwara South Consultative Forum rejected the idea and vowed that no land in the Yoruba-speaking Senate district of Kwara South would be available for a cattle colony. "Kwara South leaders reject cattle colony,"Neuer Telegraph, February 5, 2018. Hide footnote Elsewhere in the Middle Belt and much of the South, the "cattle colonies" proposal has drawn criticism or outright opposition from state governments, ethnic advocacy groups, and other civil society organizations on at least five counts.[fn]"Cattle Colonies: Southern States Avoid FG Application for Land",The punch, January 23, 2018. Hide footnote

First, many considered the name provocative. In the ears of many Nigerians, the term "colony" means an administrative space acquired not through negotiation and with the consent of the indigenous people, but through force, evoking memories of British imperial conquest. With narratives of "Fulani colonization" already exacerbating the farmer-herder problem and passion for the Benue killings still running high, government adoption of the term was inadvisable.

A second objection concerned government subsidies for animal husbandry. Critics argued that some cattle owners were millionaires who should be able to set up ranches without such subsidies. They claimed that the government has not introduced special regulations for arable farmers and should not do the same for cattle owners and shepherds. This argument was inaccurate: over the years, successive governments have instituted programs to help farmers.[fn]These include the agricultural settlement programs of the 1960s, the agricultural development programs of the 1970s and the current government's anchor program.Hide footnote Basically, there is nothing new or wrong with a plan by the federal government to support pet owners. A related objection focused on the type of support to be offered. Opponents of the proposal argued that most of the government's support to farmers has come in the form of movable capital and services, rather than land, which is a fixed asset. They urged that if the government should support cattle traders and herders, it should offer interest-free loans, free veterinary services, or herd improvement programs, but let herders acquire land only with the permission of local people.[fn]Interview with the Crisis Group, Member of the Niger State House of Representatives, Abuja, February 5, 2018. Hide footnote

A third concern centered on land availability. Some state governments, including those of Benue, Taraba, Ekiti and Abia, stressed that they have no land left. Given already high population densities and pressure on farmland from the widespread practice of leaving land fallow to improve yield, it was doubtful, practical or practical, that a Southern state could afford to allocate 5,000 hectares for a cattle colony politically. Establishing the colonies amidst farms that lacked sufficient land for their crops risked further trouble.

Establishing the colonies amidst farms that lacked sufficient land for their crops risked further trouble.

Fourth, many farmers in the Middle Belt and Southern Zones viewed the proposal as an indirect attempt by the federal government to take their ancestral lands and turn them over to the Fulani herdsmen at their expense. The government denied the accusation, insisting that Nigerians of all ethnic groups are welcome to set up ranches. But many opponents of cattle colonies remained undecided. Some argued that colonies would eventually become "mini-states within states," with demographic and local culture implications.[fn]Interview with Crisis Group, human rights activist, Abuja, January 21, 2018. Hide footnote

The final objection was that the cattle colonies would not solve the problem of open pasture since it would be voluntary for herders to enter them and, more importantly, many herders are foreign migrant migrants. Many are citizens of other West and Central African countries; They come to Nigeria during the dry season in search of grazing land and leave when the rains begin. They may have little interest in settling in Nigeria where they would have to pay for cattle feed, water and use of amenities. So while the colonies could reduce indiscriminate grazing, they would not eliminate it.

While the colonies' critics waited for the government to address their concerns, Agriculture Minister Ogbeh on June 19 announced another policy initiative, a National Livestock Transformation Plan, which aims to encourage a more gradual transition from open grazing to livestock farming .[fn]“Fed govt to build 94 ranches in 10 states”Die Nation, June 20, 2018. Hide footnote “Open grazing is no longer viable; So we're transitioning to ranching," he said. Thatplan, running from 2018 to 2027, is a multi-faceted intervention aimed at modernizing livestock farming, improving productivity and increasing safety.

Under the new plan, ten states — Adamawa, Benue, Ebonyi, Edo, Kaduna, Nasarawa, Oyo, Plateau, Taraba, and Zamfara — have been selected as pilot states, with 94 ranches to be built in clusters of four in 24 locations across those states. To participate in the plan, cattle herders are expected to organize and register as cooperatives, which can then lease land from state governments and also benefit from loans, grants and subsidies. The federal and state governments are expected to provide a total of 70 billion nairas (about US$195 million) for the pilot phase, which will span three years, while private interests are expected to provide over 100 billion nairas (about US$278 million) between the fourth Investing phase will be and tenth year.

The plan is a laudable attempt to resolve the conflict between farmers and pastoralists, but like previous initiatives, it has drawn mixed reactions. The major herdsmen's and farmers' associations MACBAN and the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) welcomed it cautiously.[fn]"Farmers, Herders Hail FG Over Ranches in 10 States,"Daily trust, June 21, 2018. Hide footnote Saleh Alhassan, the national secretary of MAKH, said: "We fully support this policy," but added, "If we are to completely convert from open grazing to a highly mechanized form of livestock farming, livestock farming, we need for a period of at least 25 years”.[fn]"Nigerians will not be able to afford beef if we stop open grazing now,"Saturday punch, July 7, 2018 Hide footnote However, a number of start-up states, including Ebonyi and Edo in the south and Benue in the Middle Belt, have again declined to be included in the project.[fn]"Ebonyi takes on FG's ranching program,"Daily trust, June 22, 2018; "We have no land for the ranches of FG - Benue-Stakeholders",vanguard, June 23, 2018; "Benue tribal leaders oppose FG's N179 billion cattle ranch project,"vanguard, June 22, 2018; "We will resist the cession of land for cattle breeding - BNC",vanguard, 12 July 2018. Hide footnote They argue that they do not have enough land for ranches, but more fundamentally their opposition is driven by fears that allowing Fulani groups to settle in their midst could risk further conflict in the future. The federal government will have to face these fears in order to overcome resistance in the opposing states.

To end the killings of farmers and herders, the federal government must demonstrate more determined leadership, particularly by continuing to improve security, tackling impunity head-on, and urging states to suspend enforcement of grazing bans until herders' objections are adequately addressed. It should also accelerate the rollout of the National Livestock Transformation Plan.

Four actions are critical to rapidly improving security. First, the number of security forces needs to be increased, particularly in the most vulnerable areas of Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba states. In the short term, some of the soldiers currently deployed in police service in the south-east and south-west are to be relocated to the crisis states; The large numbers of police forces still guarding politicians and other privileged elites in Abuja and state capitals should also be moved to these areas.

The federal government should provide army and police units stationed in these states with additional logistical support, including more patrol vehicles and especially more motorcycles to move through difficult terrain and reach remote communities. Security services also need to improve their ability to gather intelligence and predict attacks, including through closer engagement and communication with local residents. In addition, police should make better use of information obtained from interrogations of arrested armed group members to arrest and disarm militias camped deep in the forests.

The government must ensure that both herders and farmers responsible for violence are held accountable.

Second are steps to hold violent criminals accountable. President Buhari has repeatedly promised that those responsible for the killings will be arrested and prosecuted. But as Crisis Group argued last year, the government must ensure that both herders and farmers responsible for violence are held accountable transparently and fairly.

The government should set up an independent high-level commission to investigate all major cases of violence between farmers and pastoralists since taking office in 2015 - including those in the Mambila Plateau, Numan, Kajuru, Nimbo, Agatu and the South Kaduna. This commission should make recommendations on how to hold accountable not only the killers, but also any individual or group believed to be a sponsor or accomplice in the atrocities. Investigators should also deal with allegations of military complacency and connivance, and recommend sanctions for any officer or enlisted man who acted unprofessionally.

(Video) Violent conflicts between Nomadic herders and farmers in North-central Nigeria escalate

For those already arrested and others who may be charged by the commission, the government should make special arrangements to expedite trials, bring justice to victims and send a strong signal against impunity. Leaving cases in the cumbersome judiciary without specific steps to speed up the process means long delays, mounting complaints and the risk of further violence.

The third priority is the disarmament of militias and vigilante groups. Security agencies need a comprehensive disarmament program. On February 22, police ordered all illegal guns nationwide to be turned in by March 15. Since most armed groups do not comply with this policy, police and other security agencies should increase their efforts to identify and arrest illegal arms producers and dealers. With the help of informants, they are also supposed to track down and confiscate illegal stockpiles in remote areas. Customs and immigration authorities should step up surveillance of Nigeria's land borders to stem the flow of illegal firearms and mercenaries. Security services should also work more closely with local people to persuade militias to disarm. However, such advocacy will only produce results if the government puts in place policies that reassure the armed groups and communities that support them that their interests are being considered and their safety protected.

The Benue state government should freeze and review its grazing ban, as Taraba state has done. By banning it, it acted in accordance with its constitutional prerogatives and in the interests of the majority of its population. However, in the face of objections from cattle owners and herders, it should apply such laws in a way that does not exacerbate existing tensions or create new problems.

Following Taraba's example, the Benue state government should suspend enforcement of its anti-grazing law, amend regulations to accommodate herders' interests, and encourage a gradual transition to ranching. In reviewing provisions of the law that pastoralists find harmful, she should pay particular attention to those relating to land acquisition that allow longer leases, rather than requiring annual lease renewals. It should clarify administrative procedures for obtaining credit, ranch management training, and entering into public-private partnerships to encourage investors to establish ranches. It should also set up pilot farms in at least three zones to show herders how such projects would work to their benefit. It should conduct awareness campaigns for herders, explaining the new law and the incentives for switching to livestock. If possible, it should give more support to the dialogue between herdsmen and farmers at the local or community level.

Dialogue between herdsmen and farmers, especially at the local level, is crucial to ending the violence. In some states, governments have created structures that could facilitate such a dialogue. These include the Committee on Reconciliation and Development of Gazetted Weideing Reserves in Adamawa state, the Peace Agency in Plateau state, and the multi-level conflict resolution committees in Nasarawa state, the establishment of which was formalized on June 27.[fn]Nasarawa State Committees are established at the state, local government, development area, district and village levels.Hide footnote State governments should strengthen these structures to ensure sustained engagement and effective mediation between conflicting parties.

There are also hopeful new initiatives. On July 12, AFAN and MACBAN leaders met in Abuja and agreed to work together to ensure peaceful coexistence of their members across the country.[fn]"Farmers, Miyetti Allah issue joint resolution on crisis,"Daily trust, 13 July 2018. Hide footnote To promote the agreement, they formed a fourteen-person joint committee to recommend strategies for ending the violence and building peace between the two groups. On July 21, leaders of the Yandang and four other ethnic groups in Lau County, Taraba state, signed a peace agreement with the Fulani, agreeing to immediately withdraw all militias, jointly comb troubled areas and found anyone with weapons (n) to arrest person(s) and set up a Peace and Reconciliation Committee.[fn]"5 Taraba Ethnic Groups Sign Fulani Peace Agreement"Daily trust, 23 July 2018. Hide footnote These initiatives are still very fragile and endangered by mutual distrust. They must be supported by federal, state, and local governments and security agencies, as well as non-governmental organizations with expertise in conflict resolution and grassroots peacebuilding.

The National Livestock Transformation Plan is the first step on a long road full of obstacles. The report of the National Conference on Nigerian Livestock Industry, held in Abuja in September 2017 and presented to the Minister of Agriculture in January 2018, describes the challenges: access to land; encouraging livestock owners to form cooperatives and clusters; Ensuring the availability of forage through commercial pasture and forage production; development of a program to rear more profitable livestock breeds; providing credit to ranchers at single digit interest rates; and development of infrastructures such as advisory services, disease control and management, and ranch-to-market transportation. The new plan already reflects some of these concerns, but the government should ensure that the proposed transformation takes into account all components of the livestock sector.

The federal government must ensure the purchase of cattle farmers and shepherds nationwide.

In addressing these challenges, the federal government must ensure the consent of cattle owners and herders nationwide. While pastoralist leaders recognize the need for a gradual transition from open pasture to ranching, many cattle owners find the necessary investments daunting and pastoralists are concerned about their future livelihoods when open pasture is phased out.

The federal and state governments should formulate realistic options both for the cattle farmers and for the many cattle farmers who will become unemployed as a result of the changeover. Such options should include easy access to low-interest loans for setting up ranches, as well as training for alternative employment in the livestock farming and management value chain, including in areas such as growing grass and marketing it to ranchers, or bagging and selling offcuts Rice Mills Forage. The recent initiative by the Niger state government to establish skills programs for Fulani youth as part of efforts to reduce farm-herder clashes and juvenile delinquency should be of interest.[fn]"70 shepherds get a job in Niger",Daily trust, August 21, 2017. Hide footnote The government should also increase its commitment to the nomadic education program, now over three decades old, which aimed, among other things, to provide pastoral youth with the basic training needed for alternative employment.[fn]The Nomadic Education Program, established by the federal government in 1986 and operational in 1989, was designed to encourage the education of herder children and facilitate their integration into mainstream development. It has been poorly implemented over the years: in 2014, the National Commission on Nomadic Education reported that out of about four million children of herders, only about 500,000, or 13 percent, were enrolled in the program. Hide footnote

Additionally, since some of the 10 states designated under the plan to establish ranches have backed down, the federal government should begin allowing only those states that consent, while addressing the concerns of others and convincing them to voice their objections to reconsider. Establishing ranches in any state without obtaining local approval could sow the seeds of future conflict. The government should also seek expertise from international development agencies and countries with more developed livestock sectors.

As the Crisis Group has recommended in the past, the federal government must also step up efforts to address the root causes of livestock disruptions. Most important are measures to combat desertification and environmental degradation in the arid and semi-arid north and to better regulate transhumance migration in accordance with international protocols signed by Nigeria.[fn]See crisis group report,Shepherds versus Peasants, op. hide footnote

The need for action by Nigeria's international partners is growing. As early as October 2017, the Benue State House of Assembly drew international attention to the deteriorating security in the state. Since then, the violence has escalated significantly. Nigeria's international friends, particularly the United States, United Kingdom, European Union and Canadian diplomatic missions in Abuja, should persuade President Buhari to act more decisively and transparently to end the killings. International human rights groups, some of which have already raised concerns about the nature and scale of the atrocities, should support calls for better community protection and an end to impunity.[fn]Some farmers repeatedly say they feel abandoned by Western governments and international human rights groups because they don't have oil like the Niger Delta and the conflict doesn't pose a jihadist threat like the Boko Haram crisis. Interviews with Crisis Group, community and civil society leaders, Makurdi, Benue State, January 2018 and Abuja, June 2018. Hide footnote Humanitarian agencies, primarily focused on the Northeast, should provide resources to IDPs in camps and communities in Benue and Nasarawa states. Most importantly, international development organizations including the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, the World Bank and the African Development Bank are providing advice and technical assistance to the Nigerian authorities to ensure smooth and sustainable reform of the livestock sector.

The farmer-herder conflict has become arguably the greatest threat to Nigeria's peace and security. It is taking an increasingly deadly toll and, with elections approaching in 2019, could destabilize the country if the government and other actors fail to contain it. Without action, ranging from immediate dialogue between affected communities to long-term reform of the livestock sector, the conflict threatens to escalate. President Buhari and the federal government must redouble their efforts to stem the violence, the drift of many young men into ethnic militancy, the proliferation of offensive weapons and the entrenchment of impunity. Those states that have policies against open pastures should not consider pastoralists as unwanted invaders, but as a critical link in the food security chain.

Today's agrarian-pastoral conflict in Nigeria is rooted in ecological and political changes that are long in the making.

For their part, pastoralist organizations must accept that the old framework of farmer-herderman relations and conflict resolution is no longer workable and that a transition to pastoralism is likely to be inevitable over time. They should discourage members from taking the law into their own hands and instead encourage them to take their grievances to the relevant authorities or seek redress in court. They should work closely with security agencies to identify groups responsible for attacks and killings. The transition from open grazing to livestock farming, abandoning traditions developed over many centuries of pastoralism, will not be easy. But it's not impossible - and not without benefit. Pastoral leaders should endeavor to persuade their members to take up cattle breeding or related alternative occupations.

As religious and ethnic divisions complicate the conflict, community leaders need to engage more constructively. In particular, they should take firm action against retaliatory violence and promote peaceful solutions. Civil society organizations must also step up their efforts, in particular by promoting dialogue, to break the cycle of reprisals.

Today's agrarian-pastoral conflict in Nigeria is rooted in ecological and political changes that are long in the making. The emergency measures recommended above would help the federal government and others prevent clashes between herdsmen and farmers from spiraling out of control. But the socioeconomic development needed to cope with these changes — including the gradual abandonment of traditional pastoralism and the conversion of ranchers to ranching — is likely to take many years. With careful management and sensitivity to the interests of all those affected by the conflict on the part of Nigerian authorities and community leaders, this transition need not endanger national stability or cost Nigerians, whether pastoralists or farmers, their lives.

Abuja/Dakar/Brussels, July 26, 2018

Halting the growing violence between farmers and pastoralists in Nigeria (2)


LANGUAGE :All Farmers Association of Nigeria

APC:Congress of All Progressives

CAN :Christian Association of Nigeria

CJTF:Civil Joint Task Force

JAFUYAN:Jonde Jam Fulani Youth Association of Nigeria

MACBAN:Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria

HOW ONE:Movement against the Fulani occupation

Mach:God bless you

(Video) 🇳🇬 Nigeria's ethnic conflict leaves hundreds dead | Al Jazeera English

NSCIA:National Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs

PDP:People's Democratic Party


1. Nigeria: New scheme aims to end violence over grazing land
(Al Jazeera English)
2. 🇳🇬 Nigeria: Communal violence leaves 86 dead in Plateau State | Al Jazeera English
(Al Jazeera English)
3. Nigeria: farmers, nomads fight over land
4. Conflict between herders and farmers intensifies in Central Nigeria
5. UN: 110 civilians killed in Nigeria attack
(Al Jazeera English)
6. Herders and Farmers Violence in Nigeria by Victor O. Fakoya
(International Center for Ethno-Religious Mediation)
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