In central Nigeria, peace eluding farmers, herders
MAKURDI: Madu Maji sits on a bench at the cattle market in Makurdi, central Nigeria, dragging his bare feet through the dust to stave off boredom. In the pens, the few cows that remain are little more than skin and bone. “Our cows can’t go grazing in the bush, they are dying now. Herdsmen don’t come here anymore,” said the elderly Maji, who operates the biggest cattle market in Benue state. Because of violence in recent months, only about a dozen animals are sold every day, compared to hundreds earlier.
Nomadic cattle herders have all but left Benue state, driven away by fighting over access to resources and a new law banning migratory herding, an age-old practice necessary for the survival of the livestock. The fertile lands of Benue, veined with a vast network of rivers, attract thousands of herders migrating with their animals in the dry season from desert zones of West Africa. More are coming as a result of desertification but tension is rising in a country where space is becoming increasingly scarce because of a population explosion.
Nigeria, already home to almost 200 million people, is predicted to become the world’s third most populous country by 2050, according to the UN. The central region has become the scene of almost daily clashes between settled farmers such as the ethnic Christian Tiv and herders, who are mainly Fulani and Muslim. More than 100 people have been killed since early January, with 100,000 fleeing their homes to safety, according to the local emergency management agency. After months of inaction, the Nigerian army announced the planned deployment of troops to several states, including Benue, to end the violence.
Food basket Adams Nicholas lost everything when “Fulani killers” armed with assault rifles, pistols and sticks descended on his village of Ancha on the evening of January 4. “A big number of people came with their cattle and they started to shoot sporadically.” “Two people were killed, our houses were burnt down. They destroyed everything,” said the 30-year-old teacher, one of 10,000 displaced people staying at Gbajimba primary school, some 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the state capital. For miles around, dozens of dusty villages with burnt-out homes have been emptied of their inhabitants. Others live under a night-time curfew. “We’ve always been allowing their cows to graze around our farms. But we can’t live together anymore. They’re animals,” Adams said. In Benue, nicknamed “Food Basket of the Nation”, the crisis has morphed into a ethnic and religious crisis, with more and more Tiv openly expressing hatred towards the Fulani, whom they accuse of launching raids from neighbouring states and looting their crops.
GBAJIMBA, Nigeria: A policeman stands guard as he speaks on the phone at the internally displaced people camp occupied largely by women and children affected by herders and farmer’s violent clashes in Benue State.