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The Fulani herdsmen conflict takes a deadlier turn

Hassana Abdullahu was three days old. She was killed at Shefaran village, Numan Local Government Area, Adamawa State on Tuesday, 21 November, 2017.

Shikaan Junior Kende was a year old. He was killed, alongside his father, Shikaan Senior, in Saghev, Guma Local Government Area, Benue State, on Tuesday, 2 January, 2018.

Hassana never knew that her ethnicity was Fulani. Shikaan Junior never knew that his ethnicity was Tiv. Neither had ever heard of Nigeria, but their parents had, and Nigeria failed all of them when they were murdered.

The escalation in the Pastoral Conflict between nomadic cattle rearers, who are mainly of the Fulani ethnic group, and farmers from various ethnic groups indigenous to Nigeria’s Middle-Belt has led to the large scale destruction of lives and property in various parts of the country.

The proliferation, and spread of these incidents, coupled with a lackadaisical attitude, and in many cases, inaction of the government security agencies has led to the perpetrators of these crimes going unpunished, and many communities believing that they are left with little choice than to resort to self-help.

There has been an escalation in the number of attacks by herdsmen from the early days of December 2017. These followed the massacres of four mainly Fulani communities in Adamawa state. While clashes have been reported in almost all of the states that comprise the traditional Middle-Belt region, a disproportionate portion of the violence in this new wave of attacks has centred on three states, Adamawa, Benue and Taraba.

The situation of the Pastoral Conflict in Nigeria as at the end of 2017.
Source: SBM Intel

It is noteworthy that in a December incident, the Air Force refused to engage herdsmen despite being fired upon. This has had important consequences. The new attacks in Benue have led to large street protests in towns and cities across the state, and the capital, Makurdi, and calls for President Muhammadu Buhari to “act now or resign.” The Nigerian Police in an attempt to control the aggrieved protesters fired live bullets at them, causing injuries to protesters. Following this action by the police, many in the Middle Belt referred to the December 21 incident involving the Air Force as evidence that the Federal Government has taken sides with the Fulani in this conflict.

As part of enquiries for this report, the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association and Sesôr provided SBM Intelligence with lists of casualties on both sides of the conflict. The list provided by Miyetti Allah is of people who were killed in and around Numan in Adamawa state in November 2017, while the list provided by Sesôr was collected from victims at the Benue State University Teaching Hospital following the attacks of early January 2018.

Names of people killed in the attacks on Fulani villages in Numan LGA, Adamawa in November, 2017

Names of people killed in the attacks on Fulani villages in Guma LGA, Benue in January 2018


In the search for suitable pastures and water for their cattle, herdsmen, usually, but not solely of the Fulani stock from the far northern parts of the country move their herds, mostly on foot, through different states across the country often stopping at designated points to drop off some of their stock at cattle markets, to fulfil the beef supply needs of local consumers.

Resistance from many local communities and farm owners to these movements led to the Nigerian Grazing Reserve Act of 1964 which provided for grazing areas and paths for the passage of livestock. Following the collapse of Nigeria’s First Republic, the paths set out in 1964’s Act slowly went into disuse and “development” set in. Areas previously designated as grazing routes were given out for real estate development, road construction, and industries, forcing the herdsmen deeper into farmland. In some cases, accommodation was reached after incidents of encroachment, but as Nigeria’s border controls have gotten more lax, there has been a proliferation of weapons, making it easier for people to resort to violence to settle disputes.

In previous reports, we have talked about various groups, notably ethnic-based groups like the Fulani militia, and the Tarok militia having access to military grade weaponry. As happened in Agatu and Ukpabi-Nimbo in 2016, the ongoing action in Benue state again confirms the possession of military grade weapons at least by militia that are aligned with organisations such as the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association. It is vital that the federal government makes efforts to disarm these groups as a matter of urgency.

The Fulani militia are not the only militia in Nigeria that are in possession of such weapons, other groups, most notably Boko Haram, and various group in the Niger Delta have such weapons. Disarming them will be challenging, but must be done. The Nigerian state cannot afford to cede the control of violence within its borders to various, incompatible groups.

In the midst of this, the discussion of pastoralism in Nigeria has taken on a security colouration while the potential positive economic effects are neglected, in part because of the lack of an effective governing framework. The groups of people that are actively involved in pastoral activities in Nigeria are the Kanembu, Kwoya, Manga, Fulbe (Fulani) and the Shuwa Arabs.

The Fulbe are the largest owners of livestock accounting for about 90 percent of the country’s stock, which contributes 1.58 percent of the national GDP according to the National Bureau of Statistics’s 2017 Q3 GDP report. According to a 2014 analysis, the Nigerian cattle market generates only US$6.8 billion of a potential US$20 billion per year due to local strife and the inability of the government to fully recognise the industry. In an economy in need of diversification, ramping up national agricultural production will necessarily require a resolution to this conflict.

The contribution of various sectors of Nigeria’s economy to GDP as at Q3, 2017.
Source: National Bureau of Statistics.

The economic impact of the strife is multi-faceted. First, the cattle industry is underperforming. Commerce always provides an incentive for all involved to improve the value provided. If farmers knew some of their produce could be traded with the herdsmen for acceptable payment, there would be the incentive to provide quality feeds to the herders’ cattle, improving the meat and milk yields.

A second level of this is the fact that the violence decimates communities that would have been potential markets for the herders. Many communities in the affected regions have emptied out, creating a refugee situation that has increased the strain on government coffers.

Perhaps an even bigger threat is to Nigeria’s food security. Cattle is a source of beef and the security threatens the ability to get them to their markets in the south. Most of the communities in the Middle-Belt where the attacks have taken place are in the much vaunted ‘food basket’ of the country. The Middle-Belt has traditionally been one of Nigeria’s most agriculturally productive regions. It is not an exaggeration to note that the current pastoral conflict raging across key Middle-Belt states probably has more economic implications to the country than the Boko Haram conflict.

This is a summary of a report published today by SBM Intelligence.

Download the report (14 pages)

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