Fear and insecurity are at the roots of most problems and most failures. Over the past decade, criminal herdsmen actively evangelize fear and insecurity across the country. Their warmly clutched favourite weapons of war, the AK-47 rifles, swords, and daggers, testify to their compelling reputation for violence. The stories of women they mercilessly raped reverberate in every corner of Nigeria. The same goes for the countless numbers of kidnapped and murdered persons. Agricultural production has also grievously suffered. In many places, herdsmen maliciously lead their flock into people’s farmlands to feed. Accordingly, based on unofficial data, over 55% of subsistence crop farmers have abandoned their farms out of fear of encountering and clashing with them. In some northern Nigerian states and markets, the decline in the quantity of produced crops exceeds 80%. The immediate implications, aside from the numerous cases of death, rape, and kidnapping, are skyrocketing prices of food and agriculture-dependent manufactures. Regrettably, shrinking food production negatively affects virtually every economic price.
Driven away from the crop farms, many youths hitherto engaged in these activities become jobless. In part, the crop farmer and pastoralists’ conflicts are substantially to blame for the country’s current unemployment levels. Displaced unemployed people migrate to urban areas searching for non-existing white-collar jobs, adding to urbanization challenges. Some of those who could not migrate eventually found themselves in gangs of bandits. Lots of evidence shows that many of the kidnappers in forests across the country are not mainly the villainous nomadic cattle herders but young men displaced from their farming employment.
Beef supply is also affected as crop farmers again retaliate by making some grazing fields unsafe by poisoning the grass and water sources on which flock feed. Sometimes too, the hostility meted out against pastoralists cause them to abandon their flock for their lives. With the fear of kidnapping and unwarranted attacks everywhere in the country, private investors find it inconvenient to part with their money.
Incidentally, the narrative on the evangelization of fear is lopsided against the herdsmen. Rarely are crop farmers brought explicitly into the picture these days as part of the problem. Yet, the country’s insecurity implicating the herdsmen has its roots in the contest for resource control with crop farmers. These resources are primarily land and water resources such as lakes and streams. Crop farmers need the water as much as the pastoralists do. Historically, most farmers individually or communally own their farms and are resident there. Then, conflicts between crop farmers and herdsmen resident in a community were easily resolvable through traditional dispute resolution mechanisms. Such resident pastoralists rarely destroy farmlands. The problem is with the itinerant pastoralists whose loyalty is not to the community’s administrative structure. These nomadic pastoralists also do not own farmlands but want to share in the land and water resources for their cattle. Such infringement on legitimately owned natural resources usually sparks off conflicts. Worse still, the tension heightens with either the damaging of crops or cattle-killing. Crop destruction is also a usual occurrence, mainly when farmlands are close to water or greener vegetation sources. The provocation also accentuates when farmers beat up pastoralists.
Again, herders are also known to block transhuman corridors occasionally. Many conflicts between crop farmers and pastoralists are essentially because of this factor. We are also witnessing pastoralists’ constant embarrassing encroachments into urban roads and highways with their cattle. The reverse is also the case as farmers are sometimes even accused of farming on cattle pathways. By blocking the paths for the movement of livestock, the destruction of farmland becomes inevitable. Outside the northern states, where most pastoralists and farmers can communicate in one language, a significant trigger for violence is both parties’ inability to speak and understand each other. Because of the perception and profile of criminality hanging on most herdsmen’s neck, many farmers rarely allow them to get close to them or their farmlands to communicate or graze their cattle. But the current dangerous dimension took form with the growth in cattle rustling.
Cattle rustlers, like other criminals, use dangerous weapons to dispossess genuine herders of their animals. In self-defence, true pastoralists also arm themselves with weapons such as AK-47 rifles to ward-off these rustlers. About thirty years ago, it was bizarre to see herdsmen wielding guns and other dangerous munitions. The rate of cattle rustling, however, worsened and became a massive menace to pastoralism. Its intensity substantially justifies the use of arms in self-defence by nomadic cattle herders. However, this dangerous equipment has also become useful to pastoralists in intimidating crop farmers and consequently taking possession and control of land and water resources for their cattle. Second, it has become helpful for the criminally minded ones to utilize them in harvesting their kidnapping and rape preys. The growing demand for arms and other munitions spiked through unchecked pastoralists from neighbouring countries. Our porous borders facilitate the easy passage of herdsmen, mainly of the same Fulbe tribe, to wander into Nigerian territories unhindered. Through this medium, a substantial number of weapons and ammunition find their way into the country. Some big farmers also hire mercenaries who can handle weapons to protect them against herdsmen’s constant harassments.
Today, almost every part of the country feels the heat of the rampaging Fulani herdsmen. They have become the signposts and evangelists of fear and terror. But this was not the case some decades ago. The current nationwide coverage pattern is because of the heightening menace of cattle rustling and mercenaries’ use in the conflicts between crop farmers and pastoralists. These conflicts have lasted for close to 100 years, unfelt in the country’s southern parts. However, with the ease of immigration of herdsmen from other West African countries following the increasing relaxation of nationals’ movement restrictions within the subregion, a more ferocious brand of Fulani cattle rustlers found their way into the country. This specie of Fulbe pastoralists is more vicious, more prominent in stature, and has more difficulties communicating with the locals. They appear to have driven the genuine pastoralists down to the country’s southern parts in their rustling bids. Increasingly, as genuine pastoralists acquired guns to defend themselves, the locals found it difficult to differentiate between the attacker and the prey as both seem to have the same physiological profile.
The evolving dimensions of the crop farmer and pastoralists conflicts have four distinct but interrelated pathways. The first is the well-established disagreements between farmers and non-resident pastoralists. These non-resident pastoralists trying to lay claim to traditionally owned resources such as land and water resources create unwarranted conflicts. However, in some isolated circumstances, the resident farmers initiate the provocation because of the pastoralists’ criminal profile. The second dimension flows from that. It is the consequent ethnicization of the conflict. Today, many people rarely see the dispute as arising from the competition for resource use. Most times, there is an underlining ethnic hatred and profiling. Many ethnic groups are not comfortable seeing Fulani cattle pastoralists settling in their forests. Several decades ago, many ethnic groups never raised eyebrows about this. Today such settlements are regarded as sleeper cells for prospective insurgency and attack. To a considerable extent, these suspicions appear justified because of the many atrocities such as rape, kidnapping and murder that are successfully traceable to those herdsmen.
It is mostly because of these ethnic dimensions that some government initiatives such as the RUGA policy suffered rejection in the country’s southern parts. RUGA, an abbreviation for Rural Grazing Area, is also an ethnic Hausa term which means ‘a settlement for cows”. The interpretation was that RUGA was merely a ploy for freely acquiring lands for settlement in the southern parts of the country. The rejection of the policy was primarily because of that suspicion. Three, the conflict has assumed a national dimension as virtually every part of the country is affected. Although the crisis is still much more pronounced in the northern parts of the country, it is quite intensive in several southern Nigeria states. Recently, the Southwest geopolitical zone signalled that they no longer want Fulani men in their forests. The fourth dimension is the growing internationalization of the conflict. The nomadic Fulbe pastoralists are quite spread out in many parts of the West African region. The nature and enormity of the crime they orchestrate in Nigeria appear to be the same in several other countries where they are present. For that reason, the global terrorism index considers it the fourth most ferocious terrorist group globally as of 2018.
Unlike the ruga that was a stillbirth, many believe that the National Livestock Transformation Plan [NLTP], if adequately implemented, can substantially address the perennial crisis between pastoralists and crop farmers. The conceptualization of the NLTP was to transform grazing reserves into ranches. The National Economic Council initiated it with a take-off fund of N100 billion to permanently address the farmer and herdsmen’s conflict. The NLTP will also provide state-of-the-art grazing resources for livestock herders in the country. The plan is to collaboratively implement the program with all state governments over a 10-year timeframe. A few days ago, the federal government announced that it had secured €400,000 to kickstart the plan in four states of the country, comprising Nasarawa, Adamawa, Plateau and Gombe. Under the NLTP arrangement, land and other matching contributions are either by the state government or private investors. These counterpart funding will only amount to 20%, while the federal government will provide the other 80%. Many insist that the NLTP project is the ruga rebaptized. As the dominant contributor of 80%, the reasoning is that the federal government will always control decisions concerning access to and use the facilities regardless of location.
Finally, even if the NLTP becomes exceptionally successful, the conflicts are unlikely to stop because of the sheer size of light weapons in the hands of criminal herder and crop farmer elements. An ECOWAS subregional plan for retrieving these weapons in the hands of many of these criminal elements would go a long way in ensuring that the conflicts subside considerably. Tied to this is also the management of cross-country movement, partly responsible for the trafficking in those weapons. Advocacy groups also should play a role in regularly engaging with conflict stakeholders such as the traditional rulers in affected communities, law enforcement agencies, and the conflicting farmer and herder groups’ leaders.