Com­pe­ti­tion for ac­cess to land has height­ened the vi­o­lence be­tween herders and farm­ers, as crim­i­nal gangs look to profit from the chaos. With elec­tions in 2019, will the politi­cians find a long-term so­lu­tion?

The Africa Report - - CONTENTS - By Eromo Eg­be­jule in Jos and Abuja Ad­di­tional re­port­ing by Ni­cholas Nor­brook and Pa­trick Smith

Clashes and con­flict The bat­tle for land and water will be a key is­sue in 2019’s elec­tions as herder/farmer clashes es­ca­late and crim­i­nal gangs profit from the chaos

Once a promis­ing ath­lete, 43-year-old James Pam Gwom ran the race of his life this year – and lost. On the week­end of 2324 June, dozens of men armed with AK-47S and ma­chetes ran down from the sur­round­ing hills to at­tack Gwom’s home­town of Farin Lamba in Plateau State, cen­tral Nige­ria.

Lo­cals sus­pect the at­tack on Farin Lamba and neigh­bour­ing vil­lages was re­tal­i­a­tion for the mur­der of four Fu­lani cat­tle traders on the road to a mar­ket in the Barkin Ladi area two days ear­lier. It was the one of the blood­i­est episodes in the cy­cle of clashes be­tween farm­ers and herders. This bat­tle over land and water has be­come a key is­sue in na­tional elec­tions due next Fe­bru­ary. In two days, the gangs killed more than 80 peo­ple. An­other 100 per­ished in the area in fur­ther clashes and reprisal at­tacks. Gwom could not es­cape the at­tack­ers, but his wife Amina and their two chil­dren got away and are liv­ing in a camp set up by the state gov­ern­ment’s emer­gency agency. At least 38,000 peo­ple have been chased from their homes in Plateau State alone, say of­fi­cials. It is a sim­i­lar story in Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba states. Most of those in the camps are farm­ers, like Amina; their at­tack­ers were mainly herders. In other ar­eas, the farm­ers have gone on the of­fen­sive against the herders. Vig­i­lante groups and crim­i­nal gangs, some with po­lit­i­cal con­nec­tions, are join­ing in, cap­i­tal­is­ing on griev­ances. Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari’s gov­ern­ment is on the back foot, ac­cused of in­ac­tion. That is why he high­lighted the is­sue in his In­de­pen­dence Day speech on 1 Oc­to­ber : “The age-old con­flict be­tween herders and farm­ers that was be­ing ex­ploited by those seek­ing to plant the seeds of dis­cord and dis­unity among our peo­ple is be­ing ad­dressed de­ci­sively.” Af­ter com­mend­ing at­tempts by state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments, com­mu­nity and re­li­gious lead­ers to con­tain the clashes, Buhari urged “all peace-lov­ing Nige­ri­ans to re­ject any sim­plis­tic por­trayal, at home or abroad, of this con­flict as ei­ther re­li­gious or eth­nic-based.”


For Buhari’s crit­ics, the herder-farmer clashes fit the stark cat­e­gories of iden­tity pol­i­tics. They de­fine the con­flict as pit­ting herders from Buhari’s Fu­lani peo­ple, mainly Mus­lims, against farm­ers who are mainly Chris­tians from mi­nor­ity eth­nic groups. Sev­eral Chris­tian groups, from the main­stream Catholic and Protes­tant churches to more colour­ful evan­gel­i­cal move­ments, ac­cuse Buhari’s All Pro­gres­sives Congress (APC) of in­dif­fer­ence or worse, even pro­vid­ing mil­i­tary sup­port for the herders. Vice-pres­i­dent Yemi Os­in­bajo, a de­vout mem­ber of the Re­deemed Chris­tian Church of God, and other top Chris­tian fig­ures in the APC gov­ern­ment, push back against such ac­cu­sa­tions. They en­cour­age com­mu­ni­ties to set­tle dis­putes lo­cally. In some states, vil­lage chiefs hear com­plaints be­tween herders and farm­ers over land be­cause the of­fi­cial le­gal sys­tem is not trusted. Ac­tivists on both sides of the herder­farmer di­vide are po­lar­is­ing com­mu­ni­ties, cast­ing a shadow over the 2019 elec­tions. Buhari’s APC won con­trol of most of the states in the north-cen­tral re­gion in the 2015 polls.

Now the re­gion is in play again. Two state gov­er­nors, in Benue and Kwara, have quit the gov­ern­ing party for the Peo­ple’s Demo­cratic Party. Per­sonal and pol­icy griev­ances are fu­elling po­lit­i­cal dis­sent in other states, and cam­paign­ers are us­ing anger over the clashes to win more sup­port for the op­po­si­tion. Agri­cul­ture min­is­ter Audu Og­beh ar­gues the mat­ter goes way be­yond pol­i­tics. He tells The Africa Re­port: “We had what we called graz­ing re­serves in Nige­ria, across the coun­try cov­er­ing a land­mass of 5m hectares.” Og­beh con­tin­ues: “We for­got this cul­ture, peo­ple en­croached, the water sys­tems in the graz­ing re­serves went to naught, the grass­ing up of the graz­ing re­serves was aban­doned. [...] And as cli­mate change started af­fect­ing the veg­e­ta­tion, the cat­tle had nowhere to stay on these re­serves.”


These shifts have speeded up as more peo­ple, en­cour­aged by gov­ern­ment loans and grants, have gone into farm­ing across the cen­tral and north­ern re­gions. This farm­ing boom in crops such as rice, maize, sorghum and soya beans is driv­ing eco­nomic growth out­side of oil and gas pro­duc­tion. But shar­ing out land be­tween farm­ers and pas­toral­ists means com­plex ne­go­ti­a­tions with statu­tory and tra­di­tional au­thor­i­ties, says Og­beh. “We still have about 45m hectares of land un­cul­ti­vated, ly­ing wild, usu­ally owned by com­mu­ni­ties, not in­di­vid­u­als. So you have to ap­proach the gov­er­nor of a state […] who then has to help you talk to the tra­di­tional chief, who will talk to the com­mu­nity lead­ers and then they will even­tu­ally al­low you en­trance.” Al­though there is less un­cul­ti­vated land in the south, the worst dis­putes over land use are in the north and are part of a grow­ing crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion in the re­gion. Many herders from the far north have been chased from their homes by armed gangs mak­ing bil­lions of naira from cat­tle rustling. Some of those ill-got­ten gains are fi­nanc­ing mili­tias such as Boko Haram and the Is­lamic State in West Africa. Se­cu­rity forces have been slow to act. The vac­uum has been filled by eth­nic mili­tia among the Bachama, Tarok and Berom peo­ple who claim to pro­tect the farm­ers. At the same time, herder mili­tias have joined the fray, rais­ing the stakes and ca­su­al­ties. For­mer de­fence min­is­ter and army chief Gen­eral Theophilus Dan­juma led the charge for gov­ern­ment crit­ics: “The armed forces are not neu­tral. They col­lude with the armed ban­dits. They fa­cil­i­tate their move­ments, they cover them.” Speak­ing at a univer­sity con­vo­ca­tion cer­e­mony in his home state of Taraba in March, Dan­juma warned: “If you de­pend on the armed forces to stop the killings, you will all die one by one. The eth­nic cleans­ing must stop. I ask ev­ery­one one of you to be alert and de­fend your ter­ri­tory, your state.” Muham­mad Nura Ab­dul­lahi, chair­man of the Miyetti Al­lah Cat­tle Breed­ers As­so­ci­a­tion of Nige­ria, in Plateau State, dis­misses re­ports of Fu­lani herders as ag­gres­sors, in­stead talk­ing of pogroms against them by vig­i­lantes work­ing with the farm­ers. He ex­plains: “They start ram­pag­ing into the hin­ter­lands, look­ing for Fu­lani vil­lages, their cows, their chil­dren, burn­ing houses, start killing cows, start killing peo­ple.”


He agrees with Dan­juma that there is a cover-up. “The real killers are there, they know them­selves, the se­cu­rity know them. They [at­tack­ers] are cov­er­ing them­selves with black cloths so that you will not see them and iden­tify who they are.” Rev­erend James Davou of St John Vian­ney sem­i­nar y at Barkin Ladi, who looks af­ter peo­ple hit by herder­farmer clashes, sees a mix­ture of peo­ple caught up in the cri­sis. “There’s for­eign herdsmen and also homegrown ones. […] Some are not Nige­ri­ans,” he says. “Buhari’s gov­ern­ment has banned the im­por­ta­tion of for­eign rice but can­not ban im­por­ta­tion of for­eign herdsmen? Does that make any sense?” Devou tells The Africa Re­port that one of the sus­pects rounded up by mo­bile po­lice de­ployed to Barkin Ladi had con­fessed to be­ing from the neigh­bour­ing coun­try of Niger and part of a 17-man cell re­cruited on a three-month con­tract. En­vi­ron­men­tal pres­sures are driv­ing peo­ple south­wards from Nige­ria’s neigh­bours, ac­cord­ing to agri­cul­ture min­is­ter Og­beh: “Nige­ria has about 20m cows and Niger prob­a­bly 10m. The rest of West Africa has an­other 30m. So once the dry sea­son sets in […] cows from Niger and Chad and Burk­ina Faso,

The worst dis­putes are in the north and are part of a grow­ing crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion in the re­gion

for lack of grass, move into Nige­ria in search of fod­der and water.” There is no easy way to ac­com­mo­date that. Calls for the na­tional as­sem­bly to es­tab­lish new graz­ing re­serves were re­jected be­cause they would usurp the pow­ers of state gov­ern­ments. But some state gov­er­nors refuse to con­cede land, or any­thing else, to the herders. Gov­er­nors in Benue and Taraba say that herders should pay to es­tab­lish ranches. In­te­rior min­is­ter Ab­dul­rah­man Dam­bazau pro­poses set­ting up cat­tle colonies, set­ting aside land for herders to be pro­tected by rangers. It’s not clear who would pay for that scheme. Po­lit­i­cal con­di­tions make these so­lu­tions more dif­fi­cult, ac­cord­ing to Cheta Nwanze, head of re­search at Lagos­based SBM In­tel­li­gence. “First thing is the estab­lish­ment of trust be­fore you talk about graz­ing colonies. You can’t have a so­lu­tion if com­mu­ni­ties don’t trust the um­pire.”


Any long-term so­lu­tion would need a na­tional re­sponse and hefty gov­ern­ment in­vest­ment, says An­drew Osogbo, an in­vest­ment an­a­lyst in La­gos. “Gov­ern­ment might be right when it says we need to al­lo­cate land for ranch­ing. But look­ing at the North Cen­tral [re­gion] – that land isn’t avail­able. The most prob­a­ble an­swer might be rear­ing cat­tle in farms, then trans­port­ing feed grown else­where us­ing rail.” For that to work, the gov­ern­ment should pro­vide ba­sic ve­teri­nary care and water, adds Osogbo. “The herder cri­sis can be pre­vented with proper lo­gis­tics. You can grow grass in the south and trans­port up north dur­ing the dry sea­son.” Miyetti Al­lah’s Ab­dul­lahi and other cat­tle breed­ers want the gov­ern­ment to give start-up cap­i­tal and loans to herders to build ranches in phases. “In Plateau State, let them al­lo­cate, say, 10 graz­ing ranches for this year. And we will se­lect 10 peo­ple and train them on how to man­age the ranch and then sup­port them,” he sug­gests. Most of the herders will be scep­ti­cal at first, he says, but “af­ter some time when they see you get more beef, more milk and healthy an­i­mals, they will join.” That could work, says Osogbo. “Money can be re­couped from the graz­ing fees. Herders are very or­gan­ised in Nige­ria, so give the funds to the Miyetti Al­lah and hold the or­gan­i­sa­tion [re­spon­si­ble] for any de­fault.” The dan­ger is that the clashes and crim­i­nal­ity spread be­fore these so­lu­tions are set in train. In Zam­fara State to the north-west, cat­tle rustlers and ban­dits have been at­tack­ing com­mu­ni­ties, ab­duct­ing peo­ple and de­mand­ing ran­soms. Amnesty In­ter­na­tional re­ports more than 350 peo­ple killed there this year. Al­most ev­ery ma­jor agrar­ian econ­omy has seen farm­ers and herders vy­ing for land as the so­cial or­der changes. But few are as com­plex and di­verse as Nige­ria, or have faced the dev­as­tat­ing droughts and ex­treme weather that come with cli­mate change. Hold­ing back the cri­sis will stretch com­mu­ni­ties to the limit.

On In­de­pen­dence Day Pres­i­dent Buhari said the con­flict was “be­ing ad­dressed de­ci­sively”

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