ISSUES | Fulani-Farmers Fracas: Population, Poverty, Policy & Political Will -​ By Murtala Adogi Mohammed

By Murtala Adogi Mohammed

“Our herd is our life because to every nomad life is worthless without his cattle.  What do you expect from us when our source of existence is threatened?  The encroachment of grazing fields and routes by farmers is a call to war”  (Hame Saidu, a Pastoralist, In Wase Plateau State, (IRIN, 2009).

I keep asking why Nigeria’s leaders and policy makers’ response in relation to farmer-Fulani conflicts has been lackadaisical, vacillating, and halfhearted and why state governors are shillyshallying in tackling the rampant bloodsheds resulting from herdsmen-farmers clashes? 

During my expedition, the one I tagged ‘The Journey Across The Sahara’ in February this year, I realized that two major factors attracted Fulani’s attention – availability of water and grasses for their herds…. any other factors are plus.  Spread across the vast dry hinterlands of Northern Nigeria, is a significant proportion of Fulanis (an estimated 13 million) are nomadic, making them the largest pastoral nomadic group in the world, according to wikipedia. The conflicts between Fulani pastoralists and farmers in Nigeria are essentially economic in nature, irrespective of the religious, cultural and political colorations that might be diluted to advance certain objectives.

The pressures on natural resources have caused regular conflicts for survival. Increased in the level of population, poverty, weak political will, lacunae in policies and poor institutional mechanism added flavor to the crises.  Recently in Taraba State suspected herdsmen attacked Dori and Mesuma villages in Gashaka Local Government Area of the State. Residents of Angai and Ndole villages in Gashaka Local Council area of Taraba State have reportedly fled to neighboring communities in the Republic of Cameroon and nearby local council areas after the herdsmen invaded the areas killing scores of persons.

The story of Fulani-famers natural resources conflict is the same from Guyuk and Shelleng communities situated within the Kiri Dam in Adamawa state, that provide fertile land for farming and pastoring to Wanikade and Wanihem communities in Cross River, to the worst hit communities – Riyom, in Barkin Ladi, Plateau state to Ikpanya in neighboring Akwa Ibom  to  Ogbese in Akure North, Ala River in Akure South  of Ondo state to  Agatu communities in Benue and Nasarawa State. The Agatu in Benue and Nasarawa State have suffered endless attacks by the herdsmen

The conflict had been primarily about resource use, damage to crops, blocking of transhumant corridors (Burtali), farming along the valleys and stream/river banks and uncomplimentary agricultural policies by government. However, of the recent the conflict had assumed a dangerous dimension with the infusion of ethnic, religious and political factors into it. Cattle rustling, availability of dangerous weapons, intra-pastoralist conflicts, mercenary elements and dangerous drugs had all added to the combustion.

Rapid growths in our population is a strong factor here, demographically, it has been observed that, as the population grows, more land is being cultivated and less is available for posture; forcing Fulani to migrate and trample on crops cultivated by farmers, which results in confrontations and conflict.

Poverty is also a determinant factor in rural community, and the more the Fulani-farmer crises persist the more the rural dwellers dwells in an ocean of poverty and destitution. The Fulani is in constant struggle over his increased need for access to grazing lands against the expansion of farmland by farmers into corridors traditionally uses by Fulani herders. Farmers accuse the Fulani herders of allowing their animals to feed on still-growing crops and contamination of community’s streams and rivers. The Fulani herders in turn accuse the farmers of denying them access to grazing areas when alternatives cannot be found

On policy ground, The boldest attempt yet at finding a lasting solution to this menace remains the 2014 bill entitled ‘A law to make provisions for the control of nomadic cattle rearing in Enugu State and other matters related thereto’, by the Enugu State House of Assembly that sought to regulate cattle rearing in the state. The bill stipulated that herdsmen who take their cattle to unauthorized areas would be guilty of a criminal offence, and that grazing areas would be marked and any grazing outside the approved areas would amount to breach of the law and punishable under the law.

The grazing crisis is being aggravated by a policy lacunae and absence of enforceable ordinances on grazing land ownership and violations. Central government should know that issues bordering on local community security, safety, development and reduction in agitation for control of resources as well as encroachment of the rights of others are paramount. Also addressing local resistance to state policies is central in resource-use through strengthening of community capacity to manage resources and deal with conflicts.

Speaking in January, on conflicts between farmers and herdsmen, while receiving a delegation from the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, an organization active in the promotion of peace in Nigeria, President Buhari said that a plan to map out grazing areas would soon be presented to the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) as a temporary solution to the frequent conflicts until cattle owners are persuaded to adopt other means of rearing their cattle. I hope this effort would see the light of the day.

On way forward, there is need for mutual agreement backed by legislation on how best to the use community-owned land resources. As a vastly plural society, Nigeria has a potential for conflict. Therefore, interdependent relationships between Fulani and farmers should be promoted through dialogue by state and local government

Secondly, There is capacity (resources) among the locals and all the government need to do is to carefully identify, build and/or improve those capacities and establish networks and coalitions for identifying and mitigating early signals to conflicts at community level. All the affected state should come –up with grazing reserves and land management policies driven by high-level political will and sincere commitment.

Thirdly, in order to prevent re-occurrence or escalation of farmer-fulani conflict and violence, consolidating peace processes and re-establishing trust and confidence among community members is utmost. Federal government through Ministry interior should also initiate, encourage and incentivize community-based mediation at ward level. Community member’s openness and commitment to jointly discuss problems of common interest and develop action plans towards resolving conflicts has been a success in East and Central Africa as a strategy of addressing conflict.

Finally, in facilitating the peaceful co-existence strategy between farmers and Fulani, creation of ‘safe space’ where both fualni and farmers would feel confident enough to acknowledge and take responsibility for their actions and to apologize and ask for forgiveness from their victims is supreme. A strong point worth noting is that, any peace building intervention without a peace dividend component stands less chances of success than one with a peace dividend component. Even if the intervention is delayed to mobilize the necessary resources to include a peace dividend component, the wait is usually worth it.

Murtala Adogi Mohammed can be contacted via [email protected]




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