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 escalaton of the confict between herders and farmers that has lef hundreds of citiens dead, including women and children, and the destructon of property. These bouts of violence have also displaced thousands of people and led to the proliferaton of emergency camps for Internally Displaced Persons (refugees) in certain areas.
The escalaton of violence is indicatve of the failure of federal authorites to fnd a lastng soluton to the Pastoral Confict. A discernible cyclical patern in the violence also indicates that communites are increasingly resortng to self-help in the wake of the federal government’s failure to guarantee the security of life and property. The resort to vigilantsm has had devastatng consequences.
The Human Toll
According to an Amnesty Internatonal report of atacks 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 fatalites, closely followed by Plateau with 340 victms. Many in the Middle Belt see the confict as a pogrom of ethnic cleansing designed to dispossess them of their lands. These sentments 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 convocaton ceremony of the Taraba State University. He also accused Nigeria’s military of colluding with the killers. He was heavily critcised for his statement and accused of trying to incite violence.1
Some states such as Benue and Taraba have sought to tackle the situaton by passing laws that prohibit free range graiing. These laws have been critcised by Federal law enforcement chiefs as well as the Minister of Defence. The Inspector General of Police has advised State Governors to establish catle ranches before the implementaton of ant-graiing laws to avert confict 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 Miyet Allah Catle Breeders Associaton (MACBAN), a self- styled advocate for herder rights, to halt the full implementaton of the ant-graiing Laws and forceful allocaton 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 respectve governors and are deserving of observance by residents of the afected states.
The Pastoral Confict is rooted in a key historical contradicton 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 catle, 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 diferent states across the country ofen stopping at designated points to drop of some of their stock at catle markets, in a bid to fulfl the beef supply needs of local consumers.
Resistance from many local communites and farm owners to these movements led to the Graiing Reserve Act of 1964 which provided for graiing 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 graiing routes were given out for real estate development, road constructon, and industries, forcing the herdsmen away from these areas and deeper into farmland and homestead communites. In some cases, an accommodaton was reached afer incidents of encroachment, but as confict prone areas multplied in the wider Sahel region of northern and central Africa bordering our northern borders, and controls have goten laxer, there has been a proliferaton of weapons, making it easier for people to resort to violence as a form of dispute resoluton.
While the nature of the pastoral confict is rooted in economic consideratons, the discussion around the issues arising from it has been coloured with ethno-religious and security conceptons. Some form of justce through the properly consttuted insttutons of the state has to be performed on all perpetrators of violence and that is probably the hardest part of solving the whole confict as politcal will sufcient to address these concerns has to be brought to bear. The situaton has lef 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 mitgatng the crisis is creatng and revitalising graiing reserves, especially within willing states. The establishment of graiing reserves will provide the opportunity for practsing a more limited form of pastoralism and is therefore a pathway towards a more setled form of animal husbandry. It is important for optcs however, that since animal rearing is a business, lands to be acquired for such graiing reserves must be purchased from willing sellers. Confscatng 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 victms of these clashes have been shoved aside, with no form of compensaton for the lives and propertes lost. It is therefore imperatve to create special tribunals to investgate, prosecute and punish ofenders, as well as set up efectve mechanisms to compensate victms.
The Federal Government should as a mater of urgency review Nigeria’s border security architecture and provide all necessary technical and human capital enhancements. Immigraton operatves must be trained to be identfy and stop illegal intruders from entering Nigeria. It is worth notng that the human, social and politcal 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 Internatonal Transhumance Certfcate 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 educaton 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 producton that would ordinarily come from the region. While the North West geopolitcal ione (key parts of which are engulfed in a diferent variant of recurring violence) is the home of Nigeria’s grain producton, the Middle Belt is the primary producton 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 catle which are lost to retaliatory atacks, 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 afectng a key agricultural producton region. In additon, the country’s catle industry is underperforming. Commerce always provides an incentve for all involved to improve the value provided. If farmers know some of theirproducts could be traded with the herdsmen for acceptable payment, there would be the incentve to provide quality feeds to the herders’ catle, improving the meat and milk yields. The second level to this is the fact that the violence decimates communites that would have been potental markets for the herders. Many communites in the afected regions have empted out, creatng a refugee situaton that has increased the strain on already stressed government cofers. Perhaps an even bigger threat is to Nigeria’s overall food security. Catle 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 communites in the Middle Belt where the atacks have taken place are in the much vaunted ‘food basket’ of the country. The Middle Belt has traditonally been one of Nigeria’s most agriculturally productve regions.
Pre-1960, the Britsh maintained a catle tax across all of Northern Nigeria, which the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa government removed shortly afer independence. The Fulani are the largest owners of livestock accountng for about 90 per cent of the country’s stock, which contributes 1.58 per cent of the natonal GDP according to a 2017 Natonal Bureau of Statstcs report. According to a 2014 analysis, the Nigerian catle market generates only US$6.8 billion of a potental 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 diversifcaton, encouraging private investors to tap into the opportunites ofered by the catle industry has to be encouraged. Whether they actually do will depend on how well the government addresses the fast spiralling security situaton.
A third economic impact is the increase in both monetary, as well as lost tme travelling through the region. Most trips through the region must be done in daylight and under armed guard. A disturbing tactc of retaliatory atacks 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, stfing supply, and increasing business costs.
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