Currently, large parts of the Middle Belt region in central Nigeria– a broad expanse of territory that roughly incorporates the states of Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, Kwara, Kogi, Nasarawa, Niger, Plateau, Taraba, the Federal Capital Territory, as well as the southern parts of Borno, Gombe, Kebbi, Kaduna and Yobe – is experiencing an escalation of the conflict between herders and farmers that has left hundreds of citizens dead, including women and children, and the destruction of property. These bouts of violence have also displaced thousands of people and led to the proliferation of emergency camps for Internally Displaced Persons (refugees) in certain areas. The escalation of violence is indicative of the failure of federal authorities to find a lasting solution to the Pastoral Conflict. A discernible cyclical pattern in the violence also indicates that communities are increasingly resorting to self-help in the wake of the federal government’s failure to guarantee the security of life and property. The resort to vigilantism has had devastating consequences.
The human toll
According to an Amnesty International report of attacks in Central Nigeria, a total of 1,105 people have been killed from 1 January, 2018 to 30 June, 2018. Benue recorded the highest number of killings in the region with 378 fatalities, closely followed by Plateau with 340 victims. Many in the Middle Belt see the conflict as a pogrom of ethnic cleansing designed to dispossess them of their lands. These sentiments found voice in the call on 24 March, 2018, by a former Minister of Defence, Lt. Gen. Theophilus Y. Danjuma who called on Nigerians to rise and defend themselves against ethnic cleansing while speaking at the convocation ceremony of the Taraba State University. He also accused Nigeria’s military of colluding with the killers. He was heavily criticised for his statement and accused of trying to incite violence.
Some states such as Benue and Taraba have sought to tackle the situation by passing laws that prohibit free range grazing. These laws have been criticised by Federal law enforcement chiefs as well as the Minister of Defence. The Inspector General of Police has advised State Governors to establish cattle ranches before the implementation of anti-grazing laws to avert conflict between the farmers and herdsmen.
It is our considered view that the various state governments should not give in to pressure from the Federal Government, heads of security agencies and the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN), a self-styled advocate for herder rights, to halt the full implementation of the anti-grazing Laws and forceful allocation of state land to herdsmen, as this will not address many of the root causes of the crisis in the region. So far most of the state governors that have allocated state land are governors that are members of the All Progressive Congress (APC). These laws were passed by state Houses of Assembly and signed into law by their respective governors and are deserving of observance by residents of the affected states.
The Pastoral Conflict is rooted in a key historical contradiction occasioned in part by the colonial super architecture foisted on the territories that later became an independent Nigeria. In the search for suitable pastures and water for their cattle, herdsmen, usually, but not solely of the Fulani stock from the far northern parts of the country (and in some cases, other parts of West Africa) move their herds, mostly on foot, through different states across the country often stopping at designated points to drop off some of their stock at cattle markets, in a bid to fulfil the beef supply needs of local consumers.
Resistance from many local communities and farm owners to these movements led to the Grazing Reserve Act of 1964 which provided for grazing areas and paths for the passage of livestock. Following the collapse of the First Republic, the paths set out in 1964’s Act slowly went into disuse and development set in. Areas previously designated as grazing routes were given out for real estate development, road construction, and industries, forcing the herdsmen away from these areas and deeper into farmland and homestead communities. In some cases, an accommodation was reached after incidents of encroachment, but as conflict prone areas multiplied in the wider Sahel region of northern and central Africa bordering our northern borders, and controls have gotten laxer, there has been a proliferation of weapons, making it easier for people to resort to violence as a form of dispute resolution.
While the nature of the pastoral conflict is rooted in economic considerations, the discussion around the issues arising from it has been coloured with ethno-religious and security conceptions. Some form of justice through the properly constituted institutions of the state has to be performed on all perpetrators of violence and that is probably the hardest part of solving the whole conflict as political will sufficient to address these concerns has to be brought to bear. The situation has left the Middle Belt devastated on a scale not seen since the Tiv riots of the early 1960s.
The federal government must apprehend and prosecute perpetrators of violence and adequately capacitate the security agencies for the maintenance of law and order in at-risk areas.
Another viable way of mitigating the crisis is creating and revitalising grazing reserves, especially within willing states. The establishment of grazing reserves will provide the opportunity for practising a more limited form of pastoralism and is therefore a pathway towards a more settled form of animal husbandry. It is important for optics however, that since animal rearing is a business, lands to be acquired for such grazing reserves must be purchased from willing sellers. Confiscating lands from unwilling donors under laws such as the Land Use Act will only worsen the feelings of one-sidedness, and may store up more problems for the future. Over the years, the victims of these clashes have been shoved aside, with no form of compensation for the lives and properties lost. It is therefore imperative to create special tribunals to investigate, prosecute and punish offenders, as well as set up effective mechanisms to compensate victims.
The Federal Government should as a matter of urgency review Nigeria’s border security architecture and provide all necessary technical and human capital enhancements. Immigration operatives must be trained to be identify and stop illegal intruders from entering Nigeria. It is worth noting that the human, social and political factors which have come to a violent head in the country’s central states are hardly unique to Nigeria. Thus, all herders must be encouraged to obtain the International Transhumance Certificate as provided by the ECOWAS Protocol on Transhumance, of which Nigeria is a signatory.
One of the immediate impacts of violence of this nature is the drop in number of children who are able to go to school. The Benue government has said that of those who have been displaced by this crisis, 102,000 are children who are now out of school in the state. This number does not capture cases which have gone unreported or unaccounted for. At the height of the Boko Haram crisis, it was reported that over 70 per cent of school age children in Borno state dropped out of school as a result of the violence. Comparing what is happening in the Middle Belt now to that provides an indicator of the impact of this kind of recurring violence on the education of children. While this may not have immediate economic impact, the longer term impact on the country is huge.
A second economic impact of the violence is the loss of agricultural production that would ordinarily come from the region. While the North West geopolitical zone (key parts of which are engulfed in a different variant of recurring violence) is the home of Nigeria’s grain production, the Middle Belt is the primary production centre for roots, tubers, fruits, vegetables and various spices. Much of these have not been farmed since the crisis began to escalate in 2013. A second agricultural loss is that of the cattle which are lost to retaliatory attacks, as well as rustling that the prevailing environment of violence enables. It is ironic that this government which made agriculture a key part of its economic strategy is unable to deal decisively with the insecurity that is affecting a key agricultural production region. In addition, the country’s cattle industry is under-performing.
Commerce always provides an incentive for all involved to improve the value provided. If farmers know some of their products could be traded with the herdsmen for acceptable payment, there would be the incentive to provide quality feeds to the herders’ cattle, improving the meat and milk yields. The second level to this is the fact that the violence decimates communities that would have been potential markets for the herders. Many communities in the affected regions have emptied out, creating a refugee situation that has increased the strain on already stressed government coffers. Perhaps an even bigger threat is to Nigeria’s overall food security. Cattle is the primary source of animal protein for most Nigerians and the security breakdown threatens the ability to get them to their markets in the south. Most of the communities in the Middle Belt where the attacks have taken place are in the much vaunted ‘food basket’ of the country. The Middle Belt has traditionally been one of Nigeria’s most agriculturally productive regions.
Pre-1960, the British maintained a cattle tax across all of Northern Nigeria, which the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa government removed shortly after independence. The Fulani are the largest owners of livestock accounting for about 90 per cent of the country’s stock, which contributes 1.58 per cent of the national GDP according to a 2017 National Bureau of Statistics report. According to a 2014 analysis, the Nigerian cattle market generates only US$6.8 billion of a potential US$20 billion per year due to local strife and the inability of the government to fully recognise the industry and incorporate it into the formal sector. In an economy in need of diversification, encouraging private investors to tap into the opportunities offered by the cattle industry has to be encouraged. Whether they actually do will depend on how well the government addresses the fast spiralling security situation. A third economic impact is the increase in both monetary, as well as lost time travelling through the region. Most trips through the region must be done in daylight and under armed guard. A disturbing tactic of retaliatory attacks by the people indigenous to the region is to stop commercial buses and kill any of the travellers suspected to be Fulani. The result is that travellers and transport companies have become more wary of travelling through the region, stifling supply, and increasing business costs.