The pastoral conflict, which we have talked about in previous reports, is expanding, and deepening. Many communities, Fulani and non-Fulani alike, are beginning to take matters into their own hands. In the final analysis, this conflict is not just a discussion about ethnicity or religion, it is a conversation about the sanctity of economic institutions like property rights. Nigeria cannot build a proper economy if basic property rights can be so casually violated as we have seen repeatedly. The discussion is also a conversation about security and the rights of states. We are seeing some state governors trying to legislate proactively at least. The lack of national leadership on this issue is unfortunate.

Sadly, our worst case scenarios, which we have mentioned in at least two previous reports, are materialising. Non-Fulani communities have set up militias to attack Fulani communities. We are also seeing an increase in the disturbing trend of farmers spraying chemicals on their crops in order to poison grazing cattle. This pattern is repeating itself across the country on both sides of the River Niger. If nothing is done urgently, it is going to get worse.

The principle that one’s liberty ends where the other man’s begins is the essential intellectual bedrock of the concept and practice of modern property rights. With respect to Nigeria’s pastoralist problem, this frame might not be adequate to properly delineate the extent of this growing social problem. In theory, the pastoralists have had ample time to make the adjustment to the realities of modern, contemporary way of life that most Nigerians now live in.

On the one hand, modern property rights, while alien to these itinerant pastoralists, have been enthusiastically adopted by the settler farmers and traders who possess small farm holdings across a vast swath of Nigerian territory. On the other hand, better enforcement of the country’s laws is required so that perpetrators of violence and trespassers on private property are brought to justice. In this regards, the Nigerian security apparatus has failed woefully, thereby creating an environment that emboldens herdsmen to use violence to access private property for grazing purposes, while farmers resort to self-help to defend their land. The result is a vicious cycle which has essentially spiralled into escalating levels of violence from both parties.

Stepping into the gap created by the federal government’s failure, some affected state governments have resorted to banning open grazing within their territory. However, the Secretary-General of Gan Allah Fulani Development Association of Nigeria (GAFDAN), Sale Bayeri, has warned that banning of open grazing in Benue, Ekiti, Plateau and Taraba states
will create more problems than it intends to resolve. Bayeri noted that the Fulani do not know any other method of grazing their cattle, “and any attempt to confine them to a place was a sure invitation to anarchy.”

In both Adamawa and Oyo states, and in other states where there have been farmer and herdsmen clashes, there has been a pattern where accusations and counter-accusations are ignored by the security agencies until various groups take matters into their own hands. In Adamawa, the tension occasioned by the recent reprisal attacks has emptied neighbouring villages such as Imburu, Pullum and Kwapuke appear braced for a reprisal as the villagers have abandoned their homes, seeking safety elsewhere due to rumours of an impending attack by the Fulani. The fleeing residents claimed that some Fulani herdsmen were spotted lurking around their communities after the recent massacres. They alleged that the herdsmen were armed and planning a reprisal attack. We are of the view that it is irresponsible for a government to look the other way while such large scale movements of populations are occurring within its territory, spurred by fear.

Cattle herding is a private owned enterprise, thus encouraging growing calls among some that cattle owners must build and support their own ranches, respect the laws of the land and pay taxes. Pre-1960, the British maintained a cattle tax across all of Northern Nigeria, which the Balewa government removed after independence.

A lifestyle choice is akin to liberty, but when personal or group liberty adversely affects that of others, there are bound to be complications. The herdsmen, almost all of whom are Fulani, cannot claim access to any land they choose in an age of personal property and well defined national and state borders. The question has to be asked of the utility of territorial laws if some groups can claim a right of way anywhere they find themselves to the detriment of others.

What could happen if more ethnic groups make the same claim the Fulani are making?

Like most herdsmen/farmer conflicts, the pastoral conflicts across West Africa are resource conflicts amplified because of the differing ethnicities/religions of the hostile sides. There is a history of animosity and violence between the Bachama/Mbula ethnic groups around
Numan, and the Fulani. It is important to note that this animosity towards the Fulani is spreading. In various parts of Nigeria, the Fulani are increasingly viewed with suspicion, and hostility, by indigenous populations.

The onus, in the end, is on the government, particularly the federal government to address the issue.

The complete report includes details from visits to some affected communities in Adamawa and Oyo states.
Download the complete report

Editor’s note: The PDF report gives the name of the murdered farmer in Adamawa as Pwagrayi Ezekiel. The victim’s name was Pwagrayi Ezra. We apologise for the error.