Nigeria’s central Middle Belt region has been rocked this year by an upsurge in violence between farmers and pastoralists. Climate change and desertification are intensifying tensions, pushing pastoralists in the north to move further south, into the territory of farmers. The conflict, one of the deadliest in the world, has in some years claimed more lives than the Boko Haram insurgency.
These clashes, for access to land and resources, turned into interfaith clash, the majority of pastoralists being Muslims, and farmers for many Christians.
“Many farmers are losing their sources of income because their crops are burnt by pastoralists”
Abeni (pseudonym) is a Christian farmer. He was forced to flee his land after violence in July 2020. Since mid-March, he has witnessed three separate attacks in which dozens of people have been killed. On March 18, ten farmers were murdered and three people shot and wounded in the village of Kizachi, Kaduna state. Abeni says:
More than 100 Fulani activists arrived in the village around 11 p.m. [le 18 mars, NDLR]. The attack lasted for over an hour. The Nigerian army arrived at 12:45 pm the next day, but it was too late. The massacres had already taken place. More than 70 houses and places of worship, as well as several grain barns and motorcycles were set on fire.
Abeni sent our newsroom extremely shocking photos showing three burnt bodies, including that of an infant. He pursues :
The attacks here have killed more people than the Covid-19 pandemic. The government is trying to find a vaccine to fight the virus, but why has it not tried to find a cure for this crisis, which is getting out of hand? It is so much more dangerous than the pandemic. Many farmers lose their sources of income as their crops are burnt by pastoralists, or eaten by livestock. For others, it is even worse: it is their family and friends who are dying.
In the surrounding villages of Ancha, Hukke, Kperie, and in hundreds of others across the fertile Middle Belt region of Nigeria, similar testimonies are repeated.
“Pastoralists are killed daily by peasant communities”
Salihu Musa Umar, is a member of MACBAN, one of the main breeders associations in Africa, founder of theFarmers and Pastoralists Initiative for Peace and Development.
Pastoralists are often portrayed negatively by farmers. It arouses suspicion when they arrive. But in reality, they are just as often victims of this conflict. Pastoralists are killed daily by peasant communities.
Pastoralists need to move from point A to point B in search of greener pastures. But their route is often blocked by angry farmers who attack them. After this violence, justice is not served. The breeders, who feel aggrieved, then carry out reprisal attacks. It is an endless spiral.
The livelihoods of pastoralists make them very vulnerable. They are predominantly poor, poorly educated, and they are rarely heard in public debate. This makes it easy to make them scapegoats.
Video of an attack on Fulani herders in Ebonyi state, southeastern Nigeria, in February 2021.
Climate change, an aggravating factor
For decades, farmers and herders have crossed paths as the Fulani of northern Nigeria traditionally migrate south during the dry season, in search of water and pasture for their livestock. The two communities used to find agreements in order to live together peacefully.
But in recent years, climate change has changed that. Drought and desertification have forced pastoralists to move further south, ending up on the land of farmers, whose numbers have increased in line with Nigeria’s population growth.
Contacted by our editorial staff, Isaac Olawale Albert, director of the Institute for Peace and Strategic Studies at the University of Ibadan, 130 kilometers northeast of Lagos, believes that “climate change is the most important variable. important in the analysis [du conflit]”.
“Droughts and desertification are causing increased movements of pastoralists. It has become more difficult to find fertile land, so competition has intensified. The Middle Belt region is also often referred to as the ‘food basket. ‘of the country – it is a very fertile land, prized by farmers for their crops, and by ranchers for livestock, ”says Isaac Olawale Albert.
The fear of “another Rwanda”
The growing number of victims in these clashes is fueling already present religious tensions. The majority of Fulani herders are Muslims, and most of the farmers are Christians. With the 2015 coming to power of President Muhammadu Buhari, himself a Fulani and Muslim, the situation went from “bad to worse”, according to Salihu Musa Umar. Many farmers accused the government of bias in the conflict, and even of fueling violence for political ends.
On both sides, accusations and counter-charges of ethnic cleansing, and even genocide, have escalated.
According to a local conflict analyst who preferred to remain anonymous, it is now essential that the government take control of the matter to appease these destructive conspiratorial theories which are spreading rapidly: “The government must be very careful because if it does not ‘is not, and if it appears to support a particular group, it could turn into another Rwanda and escalate into a full-scale civil war. “
A challenge for food security
Finding a way out of the crisis is also an issue for the economy and food security of the country. According to Salihu Musa Umar, nearly 60% of Nigeria’s protein comes from the herds of Fulani shepherds. Meanwhile, around 90% of farmers are smallholders who produce most of the country’s agricultural production, representing 27% of GDP.
“Food is getting very expensive because farmers no longer have access to their farms,” says Isaac Olawale Albert. “If we fail to bring peace to the rural areas, we will no longer be able to grow food. The conflict has become an existential problem in Nigeria. Either we find a solution to the conflict or we will not have enough. food to feed us, ”he concludes.
Clashes between farmers and herders have claimed more than 10,000 lives over the past decade and forced the displacement of 300,000 people, according to the International Crisis Group. In 2018, according to the organization, 2,000 people were killed, six times more than the number of victims of Boko Haram that year, according to the International Crisis Group.