Herdsmen and “farmers” conflict in Nigeria has succeeded in burying the fact that the herdsmen themselves are also farmers. The pastoralists that rear cattle have launched several attacks on crop farmers in Nigeria. These attacks have resulted in the death of several thousands of people especially in Benue, Plateau and Taraba states; not to talk of the injuries, displacements and property worth billions that were destroyed. A report even has it that every state in Nigeria has recorded herdsmen-farmers clash death except Sokoto state. The conflict between the livestock and crop farmers is surprising because right from time, the duo have co-existed symbiotically. The crop farmers had always wanted cow dungs for manure while the livestock farmers had gone to farms allowed to fallow and had their livestock feed on what was remaining after harvest, as well as the after harvest succulent grasses in the farms. Suffice it to say here is that livestock at times destroyed crops in the farms but such cases were settled amicably without any loss of life. Today, the camaraderie and mutual understanding between the herdsmen and crop farmers have disappeared. The two farmers now live like cat and dog. What has gone amiss? What are the reasons for the herdsmen and farmers conflict in Nigeria today?
#1. Destruction of farm crops by herdsmen: This is the foremost reason for the conflict. The destruction of crops is normally done when a herd of cattle is driven into a farm for grazing or in passing. They eat up crops and or trample them underfoot. There were also exceptional cases where a video footage showed herdsmen in a barn cutting tubers of yam into minute sizes for their cattle. The wanton destruction of crops hurts the famers deeply and gets them infuriated. This has resulted in several protests across the country. In a peaceful protest in 2016, Ebonyi women demanded the exit of herdsmen; Ekiti farmers protested destruction of crops valued at some 35 million Naira in 2017; and in Imo State, the State Assembly in March 2018 raised alarm on the herdsmen’s menace in Okigwe area of the State. These peaceful reactions were not always the case. Farmers had launched attacks on the herders and their cattle.
#2 Cattle rustling: This is a criminal act of attacking herdsmen and their cattle in order to steal the livestock. Cattle rustling is to the herdsmen what the destruction of farm crops is to the farmers. In the process of the criminal act, herdsmen are killed. In May, 2007, Fulani herdsmen in Kaduna State cried out over increasing cattle rustling in recent times. They claimed that in less than three months, over 11,571 cattle were stolen by rustlers in 4 local government areas of Chikun, Kajuru, Kachia and Igabi (Daily Post, May 8, 2017). The report has it that the cattle rustlers usually attacked herdsmen with AK-47, ammunitions, and rocket launchers. This criminal act more often than not makes the herdsmen violent, attacking the host community or any other person within reach. Conscious of the security implication of the cattle rustling thing, the 1st Division, Nigerian Army, Kaduna in January 2018 launched a special operation code-named Operation “Karamin Goro” to tackle rising cases of kidnapping, armed robbery and cattle rustling (Vanguard, January 25, 2018). The result of the operation is yet to be felt.
#3 Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranch Establishment Law: This law has gone to effect in States such as Benue and Taraba. It prohibits among other things, open grazing and movement of livestock from one place to another except by train, truck or other means of vehicular conveyance; and mandates the establishment of ranches. The law also protects livestock and ranches as it stipulates severe punishment for any person convicted for rustling cattle or any other animals kept in ranches. This notwithstanding, the law was challenged by herdsmen organisations such as the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) saying that open grazing was their culture; and that they would mobilize against the implementation of the law. Based on this, the Benue State government had accused the organization of masterminding the macabre attacks against communities of farmers in the State.
#4 The nonchalant attitude of the Federal Government: This is another reason for the herders-farmers clashes. The government of the day headed by a Fulani, President Muhammadu Buhari has been nonchalant to the conflict, to the extent that conspiracy theorists had argued that the conflict has ethnic agenda. The government has refused to take decisive action against the suspected herdsmen and the conflict lingered. The best action they could muster was the suggestion for the creation of cattle colonies across the federation, but it was widely criticized. Even the state governors said they won't give up their lands for such a venture. The nonchalance by the federal government was also seen in government’s inaction to take punitive action against the police chief, Ibrahim Idris for refusing to abide by the presidential directive to relocate to Benue State to arrest the breakdown of law and order in the State. This nonchalance was also written all over the words President Muhammadu Buhari in his 2018 visit to Washington where he told President Trump that the problem between “cattle-rearers and herders” was the result of the demobilization of Gaddafi militia. I saw blame game, and confusion rather than determined efforts to resolve the conflict.
#5 Environmental issues: The herdsmen and their cattle are seen by the host communities as nuisance as they mess up the environment with cattle dungs, and obstruct traffic with their cattle. Ojukwu University in Anambra State represents a locus in quo where the environment has been messed up by herdsmen and their cattle. A Vanguard 2017 report said that cattle dungs littered all the asphalted roads that crisscrossed the campus; and that students had wanted to handle the problem their own way but they were called to order by the management. The mess done on the environment by herdsmen infuriates the host the host communities and it often results into conflict between the herders and the communities.
#6 Sexual harassment of the women of the host communities: The herdsmen had severally harassed the women and daughters of the host communities sexually. Women raped by the herdsmen in Enugu were reported to be facing divorce. “If my wife is messed up by the herdsmen, why should I take her in again? This will mean that what is holding her will hold me,” one Mr. Enu queried rhetorically in the report. It is noteworthy that nothing makes a man angrier than finding another man in bed with his wife.