Violent conflicts between nomadic herders from northern Nigeria and sedentary agrarian communities in the central and southern zones have escalated in recent years and are spreading southward, threatening the country’s security and stability.
With an estimated death toll of approximately 2,500 people in 2016, these clashes are becoming as potentially dangerous as the Boko Haram insurgency in the north-east.
Oddly enough the response to the crises by Nigeria’s president is poor beyond belief. Nigeria was quicker in responding to the Gambian crises, a move that entailed the deployment of troops and over $300 million was spent by the Nigerian government to bring a quick end to the Gambian crises.
The President of Nigeria need to start acting like a president and bring an end to this crises with the same vigor it did with the Gambian crises. The tolerance and patience of Southerners is what has stopped this conflict to devolve into a full-blown crises, a precursor to civil war. The President should shore up security for the affected farmers, and initiate longer-term efforts to reform livestock management practices, address and curb cross-border movements of both cattle rustlers and armed herders into Southern Nigeria.
Granted there is an environmental element to it. Drought and desertification have degraded pastures, dried up many natural water sources across Nigeria’s far-northern Sahelian belt and forced large numbers of herders to migrate south in search of grassland and water for their herds. This still does not justify the increasing numbers of herdsmen armed with AK-47 and other assault rife to migrate south with a clearly defined purpose of encroaching on farmlands and murdering the inhabitants of the land they are encroaching upon.
Herders migrating into the savannah and rain forests of the central and southern states are moving into regions where high population growth over the last four decades has heightened pressure on farmland, increasing the frequency of disputes over crop damage, water pollution and cattle theft. In the absence of mutually accepted mediation mechanisms, these disagreement increasingly turn violent.
The spread of conflict into southern states is aggravating already fragile relations among the country’s major regional, ethnic and religious groups. The south’s majority Christian communities resent the influx of predominantly Muslim herders, portrayed in some narratives as an ‘‘Islamisation force’.
Herders are mostly Fulani, lending an ethnic dimension to strife. Insofar as the Fulani spread across many West and Central African countries, any major confrontation between them and other Nigerian groups could have regional repercussions, It will be seen as an ethno-religious conflict, drawing in fighters from Chad on the side of the Fulani’s. This will set the region on fire.
The question the President should be asking the Nigerian Intelligence Agency and other security agencies is the increasing availability of illicit firearms in northern Nigeria. Where are these weapons coming from? Heavy weapons are being smuggled into Nigeria from the outside in what is supposed to be the region with the most surveillance infrastructure in place in all of Africa. The increasing availability of illicit firearms, smuggled in from outside, worsens the bloodshed.
Over the last year fatalities from herdsmen attacks have reached around 2,000 to 3,000 killed, and this is a nation that is not at war? The death toll from herdesmen attacks have exceeded the toll from Boko Haram in recent years. Tens of thousands have been forcibly displaced, with billions of naira in damages.
No northern state will tolerate this kind of massacre on its soil. The reaction from President Buhari and state authorities is disturbing. Almost treasonous. The Nigerian government has done nothing to address the growing insecurity in the north. The border is basically porous, making it easy to smuggle arms into the country so Nigerians can butcher themselves to death, making it super easy for the enemy to come in and pick up the pieces thereafter.
During the Ebola scare in 2014 the Nigerian government basically went into War Mode. The government kicked out the CDC and closed the borders. Law enforcement agencies, and health practitioners establish mechanisms to ensure the disease does not spread. What followed next was the most comprehensive and effective containment strategy the world has ever seen. So effective was the government’s response that President Obama sent a team of CDC specialists to Nigeria to learn about Nigeria’s unique contact tracing method.
Today the enthusiasm is lacking. Security and law enforcement agencies have established neither early warning nor rapid response mechanisms; they have not arrested and prosecuted perpetrators of violence or offered redress to victims. The country is on the precipes of another civil war yet the governments’ responses overall have been short-sighted; most have failed to encourage community-level dialogue. As a result, both herders and farmers are taking matters into their own hands, further aggravating conflicts.
With a population of 200 million people, with militants and terrorists alike armed to the teeth, and countries that will benefit from a Nigeria breakup encamped around Nigeria’s periphery, a 2nd Nigerian civil war will be a war of apocalyptic proportion. It will dwarf anything the world has ever seen.
President Buhari’s should make it a priority to take firm and transparent steps to ensure better protection for both herders and farmers. Affected state governments also should better coordinate with federal authorities to reduce risks of violence. The federal government’s failure to define a clear and coherent political approach to resolving the crisis, or even acknowledge its scope, is putting Nigerian the lives of 200 million people already traumatized with 10 years of conflict with Boko Haram at risk.
We already have Boko Haram and the Shia Islamic sect headed by Iranian backed Zakzaki in the north. Niger Delta militants in the South, IPOB (Biafra) agitators in the east. Communities in the middle belt and south have formed self-defence vigilante groups, some of which have threatened organised reprisals.
The country is basically sitting on a keg of gun powder and the only reason it has not degenerate is because of the tolerance of those affected in the south.
Leonard Karshima Shilgba, an ethnic Tiv academic and thought leader, warned that if the federal government could not stop the attacks, “the Tiv people would also demonstrate that they equally have the right and also the capacity to raise a standing army of thousands from each ward and kindred.
In the east, in Enugu state, the separatist Movement for Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) ordered ”Fulani herdsmen to leave Biafra land or … face our wrath”.
Ekiti state Governor Ayodele Fayose warned of possible attacks on Fulani herders if their alleged predatory behaviour vis-à-vis locals continued. And the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Reverend Olasupo Ayokunle, warned: “If the government fails to stop the provocation by the Fulani (herdsmen), they should be prepared for war. No ethnic group has a monopoly of violence and no ethnic group should be a monster to others”.
To date, these reprisals against northern herders have not materialised, because of the patience and tolerance of affected southerners. But signs are ominous. There are external powers hell bent on overstretching the Nigerian army to breaking point, and the government is either ignorant or complicit in this endeavour.
As more weapons pour in across the border into Nigeria so we can butcher ourselves, the interplay of herders’ attacks on farming communities has continued and inflammatory rhetoric by ethnic and Christian leaders in the south is beginning to gain steam. Never in the history of Africa has such a country been bedeviled by relentless ethnic and religious conflict. It is not natural, makes no sense and has the hallmark of a well designed strategy.
The geographic spread or escalation of the conflicts could put Sub Sahara Africa’s largest land army and other security forces under greater stress, diverting the resources they need for operations against Boko Haram in the north-east, militants in the Niger Delta and other security challenges. The enemy meanwhile is out there, monitoring developments in the country with glee.
It is by the grace of God this country has not devolved into full blown civil war. These conflicts have a regional undertone to it. It’s the external powers and her islamic allies on one hand, and oil rich, industrious and developed Southern Nigeria. The Powers have always felt more at ease with majority muslim countries.
The assertiveness and independence of the south, brought about by education have always been a stumbling block to the powers that be. The British unpon granting Nigeria independence handed over power to the illiterate north. Southern agitations for independence have always irritated the British.
Nigeria finds itself in the unique position of having the largest christian and muslim population in Africa. 80 million muslims and 80 million christians. The best way to break up the country will no doubt have to be along ethno-religious lines. That is about to happen.
A major confrontation involving Fulani herders will draw in their brethren from beyond Nigeria, mostly Chad, Niger and perhaps Mali. The Fulanis could mobilise support, including fighters, from several West and Central African countries, which would worsen the security situation. A very divided Southern Nigeria will fall to its knees. it will be over in months.
The time to act is now. Nigeria is nearing the point of no return. If we cannot put pressure on the government to stop these senseless attacks then its time we all start preparing for war, or leave the country, cos there will be no winning it. Not a chance in hell.