Herder–farmer conflicts in Nigeria

Cattle file through still green savanna in Bosso on their way to Lagos, in 1960, by Dr Mary Gillham

Herdsmen attacks on unprotected villages in Nigeria have mainly involved disputes over land resources between herders and farmers across Nigeria but more devastating in the Middle Belt (North Central) since the return of democracy in 1999. Often misrepresented as ethnic and/or religious conflicts, they are the result of economic, political and environmental tensions in the country. Thousands of people have died since the conflict began. Sedentary farming rural communities are often target of attacks because of their vulnerability. There are fears that this conflict would spread to other West African countries but this has often been down played by governments in the region.[1][2]

Causes of the conflictEdit

Land conflictsEdit

Conflicts between farmers and herders can be understood as a problem of access to land. The beginning of the 21st century witnessed an expansion of agriculturist population and cultivated land at the expense of pasturelands in the Middle Belt. In an already politically unstable region, it has never always been possible to ascertain a legal title to land for every farmer. As a result, transhumance routes of herders were no longer available especially in a context of global warming.[3]

Climatic crisisEdit

Deteriorating environmental conditions, desertification and soil degradation[4][5][6] have led Fulani herdsmen from Northern Nigeria to change their transhumance routes. Access to pastureland and watering points in the Middle Belt became essential for herdsmen travelling from the North of the country. It is often assumed that climate change is the driver of the conflict but recent study suggest that climate change does not automatically causes the conflict but it has changed herders' migration pattern [7]. Regions vulnerable to climate change (Northern Regions) experience less farmer-herder conflict and less intense farmer-herder fighting.[7] It is argued that identity differentials between farming and herding groups need to be considered in the explanation of the mechanism of the climate change-farmer-herder conflict nexus. [7]

Regional conflicts in Jos and KadunaEdit

The farmer/herder conflicts have been taking place in regions which have been unstable since the 2000s. Urban conflicts in Jos and Kaduna have been particularly violent and, despite violent clashes with the authorities, their causes have never been addressed politically. Conflicts might not have been addressed adequately because traditional authorities have not been fulfilling their role in colonial-era settlements.[8]

Solving the crisisEdit

The Nigerian government has been unwilling to address the causes of the crisis. Fighting Boko Haram in the North-East and facing rising levels of violence in different regions of the country, the government has nonetheless tried to implement a few measures.
Since 2012, there have been projects to create transhumance corridors through the Middle Belt. Mostly supported by Northern lawmakers and opposed by their Southern counterparts, these endeavours have been rarely successful.[9]
In 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari tried to create Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) settlements. His decision was met with fierce criticism.[10]

Accusations of genocideEdit

The majority of farmer-herder clashes have occurred between Muslim Fulani herdsmen and Christian farmers, exacerbating ethnoreligious hostilities.[11] Insecurity and violence have led many populations to create self-defence forces and ethnic militias, which have engaged in further violence.[12] Critics and media have accused Fulanis of trying to Islamize the Middle Belt. In 2014, many Nigerian and foreign newspapers widely reported the Global Terrorism Index which ranked a "little known" Fulani militant group as the fourth deadliest terrorist group on the planet.[13] In 2019, journalist Tunji Ajibade accused the media of promoting ethnic hatred, by often attributing killings to Fulani herdsmen without any confirmation from the police. In contrast, ethnic and/or identities of attackers targeting Muslim or Fulani communities are often unidentified by the media.[14]
Blaming the herders and the Fulanis in particular for an alleged genocide must be understood in a context of intense rivalry between different communities in the country.[15] In general, the accusation of genocide has been commonly used in Nigeria since the Biafran War. Even if it has been never been proven that the Nigerian government planned the mass killing of Biafrans or Igbos (who were then mostly Christian) between 1967 and 1970,[16] the term is still being used today to describe killings of Christians in the country. Some Christian groups consider the presence of Muslims a threat and disseminate fake news about a supposed Muslim plot aiming at Islamising the whole of Nigeria.[17] One of their strategies is to weaponise the term ‘genocide’ (especially on social media) in order to attract the attention of Nigerian and foreign media.[18] Genocide Watch list Nigeria as being at stage 9 of its 10 stages for genocide citing the herder-farmer conflict as one of the reasons for the ranking.[19]

List of attacksEdit

Nigerian and foreign newspapers are often unable to provide exact numbers of casualties. Despite the high number of attacks, Nigerian and foreign journalists have rarely access to first-hand testimonies and tend to report inaccurate figures.[20]

  • According to the Global Terrorism Index, these conflicts resulted in over 800 deaths by 2015.[21]
  • The year 2016 saw further incidents in Agatu, Benue and Nimbo, Enugu State.[22][23]
  • In April 2018 Fulani gunmen allegedly killed 19 people during an attack on the church, afterwards they burnt dozens of nearby homes.[24]
  • In June 2018, over 200 people were killed and 50 houses were burnt in clashes between farmers and Fulani cattle herders in Plateau State.[25][26][27]
  • In October 2018, Fulani herdsmen killed at least 19 people in Bassa.[28]
  • On 16 December 2018, Militants believed to be Fulani Herdsmen attacked a village in Jema'a, killing 15 people and injuring at least 24 others, the attack occurred at a wedding ceremony.[29][30]
  • On 11 February 2019, an attack on an Adara settlement named Ungwar Bardi by suspected Fulani gunmen killed 11. Reprisal attack by Adara targeted settlements of the Fulani killing at least 141 people with 65 missing. The attacks took place in Kajuru LGA of Kaduna State.[31] According to a governor the motive was to destroy specific communities.[32][33]
  • The Coalition Against Kajuru killings stated on 18 March 2019 that 130 people have been killed in a series of revenge attacks since the massacre announced by El-Rufai.[34]
  • In January 2018 about 10 persons were killed in an attack and reprisal involving herders and local farmers in Numan local council of Adamawa State.[35][36][37]
  • In May 2018 over 400 herdsmen attacked four villages of Lamurde, Bang, Bolk, Zumoso and Gon in Numan and Lamurde local councils of Adamawa State killing 15 people.[38]
  • 21 people were killed by herdsmen in a village in Demsa local government area of Adamawa State.[39]
  • 32 Christians were murdered by Muslim Fulani herdsmen[40]

See alsoEdit


  • Adebanwi, Wale, ‘Terror, Territoriality and the Struggle for Indigeneity and Citizenship in Northern Nigeria’, Citizenship Studies, 13.4 (2009), 349–63
  • Amnesty International, Harvest of Death: Three Years of Bloody Clashes between Farmers and Herders in Nigeria, 2018 <[1]>
  • Bearak, Max, Jane Hahn, Mia Torres, and Olivier Laurent, ‘The Ordinary People Keeping the Peace in Nigeria’s Farmer-Herder Conflict’, The Washington Post, 10 December 2018 <The ordinary people keeping the peace in Nigeria's deadly land feuds> [accessed 25 December 2019]
  • Higazi, Adam, ‘Farmer-Pastoralist Conflicts on the Jos Plateau, Central Nigeria: Security Responses of Local Vigilantes and the Nigerian State’, Conflict, Security and Development, 16.4 (2016), 365–85
  • Last, Murray, ‘Muslims and Christians in Nigeria: An Economy of Political Panic’, The Round Table : The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs, 96.392 (2007), 605–16
  • Last, Murray, ‘The Search for Security in Muslim Northern Nigeria’, Africa, 78.1 (2008), 41–63
  • Mustapha, Abdul Raufu, and David Ehrhardt, eds., Creed & Grievance: Muslim-Christian Relations & Conflict Resolution in Northern Nigeria (Oxford: James Currey, 2018)
  • Ochonu, Moses E, ‘Fulani Expansion and Subcolonial Rule in Early Colonial Adamawa Province’, in Colonialism by Proxy Hausa Imperial Agents and Middle Belt Consciousness in Nigeria (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2014), pp. 129–56
  • Reynolds, Jonathan, The Time of Politics: Islam and the Politics of Legitimacy in Northern Nigeria 1950-1966 (San Francisco: International Scholar Publications, 1999)


  1. ^ Ilo, Udo Jude; Jonathan-Ichaver, Ier; Adamolekun, 'Yemi (2019-01-24). "The Deadliest Conflict You've Never Heard of". ISSN 0015-7120. Retrieved 2020-04-18.
  2. ^ "Herdsmen and Farmers Conflict in Nigeria: A Threat to Peacebuilding and Human Security in West Africa | Africa Up Close". Retrieved 2020-04-18.
  3. ^ "Government failures fuel deadly conflict between farmers and herders in Nigeria". www.amnesty.org.
  4. ^ "How Climate Change Is Spurring Land Conflict in Nigeria". Time. 28 June 2018.
  5. ^ "Eduresource World: Causes and Effect of Desertification in Nigeria". Eduresource World. 2013-08-09. Retrieved 2020-01-31.
  6. ^ Simire, Michael (2018-11-18). "Nigeria threatened by desertification, says NCF". EnviroNews Nigeria. Retrieved 2020-01-31.
  7. ^ a b c Madu, Ignatius Ani; Nwankwo, Cletus Famous (20 May 2020). "Spatial pattern of climate change and farmer–herder conflict vulnerabilities in Nigeria". GeoJournal. doi:10.1007/s10708-020-10223-2.
  8. ^ Last, Murray (2007). "Muslims and Christians in Nigeria: An economy of political panic". The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs. 96 (392): 605–616. ISSN 0035-8533.
  9. ^ "Senators fight over grazing land for Fulani herdsmen". The Punch. 21 July 2012.
  10. ^ "Ruga settlement". Sahara Reporters. 28 June 2019.
  11. ^ "Muslim Fulani Herdsmen Massacres Reach Southern Nigeria". Morning Star News. 27 April 2016.
  12. ^ Higazi, Adam (2016). "Farmer-pastoralist conflicts on the Jos Plateau, central Nigeria: security responses of local vigilantes and the Nigerian state". Conflict, Security and Development. 16 (4): 365–385. ISSN 1467-8802.
  13. ^ "The fourth most deadly terror group that you've never heard of". The Independent. 2015-11-18. Retrieved 2019-12-30.
  14. ^ Ajibade, 'Tunji (2019-03-15). "Smart voters, NBC's sanctions, and ethnic bashing". Punch Newspapers. Retrieved 2019-12-30.
  15. ^ Mustapha, Abdul Raufu; Ehrhardt, David (2018). Creed & grievance: Muslim-Christian relations & conflict resolution in northern Nigeria. Woodbridge: James Currey. ISBN 978-1-84701-106-0.
  16. ^ Bartrop, Paul R. (2012). "Getting the Terminology Right". In Chima J. Korieh (ed.). The Nigeria-Biafra War: genocide and the politics of memory. Amherst, NY: Cambria Press. pp. 43–59. ISBN 978-1-60497-811-7.
  17. ^ Adegoke, Yemisi; BBC Africa Eye (2018-11-13). "Nigerian police say "fake news" on Facebook is killing people". BBC News. Retrieved 2019-12-30.
  18. ^ "Stopping Nigeria's Spiralling Farmer-Herder Violence". Crisis Group. 2018-07-26. Retrieved 2019-12-30.
  19. ^ {{Cite web| title = Nigeria| url=https://www.genocidewatch.com/nigeria
  20. ^ Hiribarren, Vincent (2019). Un manguier au Nigeria : Histoires du Borno. Paris: Plon. ISBN 2-259-25086-6.
  21. ^ "Global Terrorism Index 2015" (PDF). Institute for Economics and Peace. pp. 43–44.
  22. ^ Muslim Fulani Herdsmen Massacres Reach Southern Nigeria, Morning Star News. April 27, 2016
  23. ^ Fulani Herdsmen Massacre 40 Farmers in Enugu. Tori.ng; posted by Thandiubani on Tue 26th Apr, 2016
  24. ^ "Fresh bloodbath in Benue, 2 Catholic priests, 17 others killed by herdsmen".
  25. ^ "Plateau attacks: more than 200 killed in herdsmen-farmers clash — Quartz Africa".
  26. ^ "Communal clashes leave 86 dead in Nigeria". 25 June 2018 – via www.bbc.com.
  27. ^ Nigeria, Information (25 June 2018). "86 people killed and 50 houses burnt in fresh Fulani herdsmen attack in Plateau".
  28. ^ "Herdsmen kill 19 in Plateau midnight attack – Punch Newspapers".
  29. ^ "15 killed, 24 injured as gunmen attack Kaduna village". www.dailytrust.com.ng. Retrieved 2018-12-18.
  30. ^ "Gunmen Kill 15, Injure 20 in Southern Kaduna". www.thisdaylive.com. Retrieved 2018-12-18.
  31. ^ "'How 66 people were killed in Kaduna in two days'". Premium Times. Retrieved 2019-02-11.
  32. ^ "Miyetti Allah releases names of 131 victims of Kajuru, Kaduna violence - Premium Times Nigeria".
  33. ^ "'El- Rufai alleges plan to 'wipe out' some Kaduna communities". Premium Times. Retrieved 2019-02-11.
  34. ^ Tauna, Amos (March 19, 2019). "Kajuru killings: Over 130 lives wasted - Group laments".
  35. ^ siteadmin (2018-01-23). "Herdsmen Attack: Reprisal Claims Six Lives In Adamawa". Sahara Reporters. Retrieved 2020-01-31.
  36. ^ Ochetenwu, Jim (2019-11-23). "Suspected herdsmen attack Adamawa village, kill many". Daily Post Nigeria. Retrieved 2020-01-31.
  37. ^ "Herdsmen: Attack, reprisal claim six lives in Adamawa". Vanguard News. 2018-01-23. Retrieved 2020-01-31.
  38. ^ "JUST IN: 400 herdsmen attack Adamawa villages, 15 locals killed". The Sun Nigeria. 2018-05-03. Retrieved 2020-01-31.
  39. ^ "21 feared killed in Adamawa herdsmen attack". Punch Newspapers. Retrieved 2020-01-31.
  40. ^ "Violence in Plateau State, Nigeria Escalates with more Muslim Fulani Herdsmen Attacks". MorningStar News. January 30, 2020.