Nigeria: Can Conflict between Farmers and Herders be Resolved?

By Mohammed Ibrahim

Conflict in Nigeria between farmers and nomadic herders has claimed more than 2,000 lives in the past 4 four years and left over 60,000 people displaced. The prolonged crisis between the two groups, due to shortage of grazing reserves, escalated earlier this year with attacks and counter-attacks occurring in Benue State, where 72 people were killed in violent clashes on New Years Day.

The conflict has left a deep divide in Nigerian society, but people on the ground still have hope for peacebuilding, and are looking for solutions. Recently we spoke to communities involved to find out what is driving the conflict.

"First, is the migration of herders from the norther parts of Nigeria to the southern part, which is caused by the desertification that is taking place in the northern region - it's becoming more arid - and the herders need greener pastures to graze their cows," said farmer Mohammed Bello. "Secondly, the issue of grazing routes, over time these grazing routes have been taken over by farmers."

"There is a problem of herders going into the farmlands of farmers - it's a real issue, but to resolve it in the method of killing each other, it is uncalled for and it is unreasonable."

Observers warn that without peacebuidling efforts, violence could escalate.

"It's the politician, or those local leaders, more especially the farmers' rulers who are instigating their youth to chase our herdsman from the land," said Fulani youth leader Ali Musa Mohammed.

So what could help resolve the conflict? A recent report from the International Crisis Group suggests five steps to address the problems.

1. Improved Security

Firstly, they suggest improved security for herders and farmers. This means strengthening police capacity, improving livestock tracking, and preventing attacks on communities.

2. Community-based resolution

The next step? Supporting community-based conflict resolution. Many peacebuilders recognize the importance of small-group discussions and resolutions. One Fulani elder reminds his community that farmers and herdsman have lived side-by-side for hundreds of years, and shouldn't let distrust divide them.

3. Grazing Reserves

Establishing grazing reserves and encouraging ranching has also been suggested to improve the situation.

"The need for policies on grazing is highly needed in the Nigerian communities, most especially the northern part of Nigeria," said farmer Abdulrahman Ali Musa. "There is the need for the establishment of ranches - which are, with the presence of current development, government are trying to introduce a colony, which would bring the Fulani herdsman together in a single location."

4. Addressing Desertification

Another approach involves tackling the resource issue. Many of Nigeria's northern states face the prospect of becoming desert regions, which would drive more pastoralists south and risk further conflict.

5. Strengthening Regional Co-operation

And finally strengthening regional co-operation, as the issue of desertification affects many nations in the region. The UN predicts over 50 million people will be forced to leave their homes by 2020 because their land has turned to desert. Peacebuilders know that regional co-operation is vital for the peacekeeping mission in the future.