Report from the International Crisis Group has revealed that the farmers-herders clashes, especially in the Middle Belt, has claimed about six times more lives than the Boko Haram insurgency.
The transnational NGO that carries out field research on violent conflicts around the world said more than 1,300 Nigerians were claimed by the farmers-herders clash in just the first half of 2018.
According to the ICG report, the clash is “Now claiming about six times more civilian lives than the Boko Haram insurgency, the conflict poses a grave threat to the country’s stability and unity, and it could affect the 2019 general elections”.
Since January 2018, records have it that an estimated 300,000 people have fled their homes as a result of the attacks.
Large-scale displacement and insecurity in parts of Adamawa, Benue, Nasarawa, Plateau, and Taraba states hinder farming as well as herding, and drive up food prices.”, the report noted
“What was once spontaneous attacks have become premeditated scorched-earth campaigns in which marauders often take villages by surprise at night,” it said.
The ugly development has also witnessed an escalation because it had assumed the nature of an ethnoreligious conflict, coupled with the fact that the Federal Government had failed to take sufficient steps to bring the killings to a halt, the group observed.
“The conflict has taken on dangerous religious and ethnic dimensions, because most of the herders are from the traditionally nomadic and Muslim Fulani who make up about 90 percent of Nigeria’s pastoralists; while most of the farmers are Christians of various ethnicities,” the group said.
While maintaining that the federal government had tried in its capacity to stem the carnage, the report noted that decisive steps have to be taken to halt the killings.
It also maintained that failure on the part of the government to bring the full weight of the law on the perpetrators of the killings could also be blamed for the intensification of the conflict.
The Nigerian Government has taken welcome but insufficient steps to halt the killings.
Its immediate priorities should be to deploy more security units to vulnerable areas; prosecute perpetrators of violence; disarm ethnic militias and local vigilantes, and begin executing long-term plans for comprehensive livestock sector reform.
But three immediate factors explain the 2018 escalation:
First is the rapid growth of ethnic militias, such as those of the Bachama and Fulani in Adamawa State, bearing illegally-acquired weapons.
Second is the failure of the Federal Government to prosecute past perpetrators or heed early warnings of impending attacks.
The third is the introduction in November 2017, of anti-grazing laws vehemently opposed by herders in Benue and Taraba states, and the resultant exodus of herders and cattle, largely into neighbouring Nasarawa and, to a lesser degree, Adamawa, sparking clashes with farmers in those states.
The report also identified what the federal government has done so far, while urging it to do more. It said, “The Federal Government has taken measures to stop the bloodshed.
It has deployed additional police and army units, and launched two military operations to curb violence in six states ‘Exercise Cat Race’, which ran from 15 February to 31 March, and subsequently ‘Operation Whirl Stroke’, which is still ongoing. Even with these deployments, however, killings continue.
As a long-term solution, the government has proposed establishing “cattle colonies,” which would set aside land for herders across the country, and more recently unveiled a National Livestock Transformation Plan (2018-2027).
These measures signal greater commitment on the government’s part, but they are yet to be implemented and the violence continues.
The group, therefore, warned that the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government should take more decisive steps to halt the killings, or it will halt his chances of re-election in 2019.
“Widespread disenchantment with President Muhammadu Buhari – who is viewed outside the north as soft on the herders – could hurt him, and the ruling party’s, chances in the February 2019 elections,” the group said.