Herder–farmer conflicts in Nigeria

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

Also called Fulani Herdsmen terrorism, Herder-farmer conflicts in Nigeria have mainly involved disputes over land resources between mostly Muslim Fulani herders and mostly Christian farmers across Nigeria but more devastating in the Middle Belt (North Central) since the return of democracy in 1999. But most recently, it has deteriorated into terror attacks on farmers by Fulani Herdsmen - the fourth most deadly terrorist group in the world by the Global Terrorism Index.

Attacks have also taken place in the northwest Nigeria against farmers who are mainly Hausa people. While the conflict has underlying economic and environmental reasons, it has also acquired religious and ethnic dimensions. Thousands of people have died since these attacks began. Sedentary farming rural communities are often target of attacks because of their vulnerability. There are fears that this conflict will spread to other West African countries but this has often been downplayed by governments in the region. Attacks on herders have also led them to retaliating by attacking other communities.[1][2][3][4]

Causes of the conflict[edit]


Since the Fourth Nigerian Republic’s founding in 1999, farmer-herder violence has killed more than 19,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands more.[5][6] It followed a trend in the increase of farmer-herder conflicts throughout much of the western Sahel, due to an expansion of agriculturist population and cultivated land at the expense of pasturelands; deteriorating environmental conditions, desertification and soil degradation;[7] population growth;[2] breakdown in traditional conflict resolution mechanisms of land and water disputes; and proliferation of small arms and crime in rural areas.[8] Insecurity and violence have led many populations to create self-defence forces and ethnic and tribal militias, which have engaged in further violence. The majority of farmer-herder clashes have occurred between Muslim Fulani herdsmen and Christian farmers, exacerbating ethnoreligious hostilities.[9]

Land conflicts[edit]

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 the agriculturist population and its 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.[10]

Climatic crisis[edit]

Deteriorating environmental conditions, desertification and soil degradation[7][11][12] 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 cause the conflict, but it has however changed the herders' migration pattern.[13] Regions vulnerable to climate change (Northern Regions) experience less farmer-herder conflict and less intense farmer-herder fighting.[13] 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.[13]

Regional conflicts in Jos and Kaduna[edit]

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.[14]

Solving the crisis[edit]

The Nigerian government has been unwilling to address the causes of the crisis.[15] 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.[16]
In 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari tried to create Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) settlements. His proposal was met with fierce criticism.[17] On 17 May 2021, the 17 Southern governors in Nigeria issued Asaba Declaration aimed at solving the crisis.[18]

List of attacks[edit]

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.[19]

  • According to the Global Terrorism Index, these conflicts resulted in over 800 deaths by 2015.[20]
  • The year 2016 saw further incidents in Agatu, Benue and Nimbo, Enugu State.[21][22]
  • In April 2018 Fulani gunmen allegedly killed 19 people during an attack on the church, afterwards they burnt dozens of nearby homes.[23]
  • 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.[24][25][26]
  • 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.[27]
  • In June 2018, over 200 people were killed and 50 houses were burnt in clashes between farmers and Fulani cattle herders in Plateau State, including one devastating attack from the night of the 22nd to the morning of the 23rd which killed 21 villagers in the village of Dowaya, Adamawa state. The casualties were reported to only consist of women and children.[28][29][30][31]
  • In July 2018, a clash erupted between the Fulani settlers and the Yandang community in Lau Local Government Area of Taraba State. About 73 people were killed and 50 villages were razed.[32]
  • In October 2018, Fulani herdsmen killed at least 19 people in Bassa.[33]
  • 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.[34][35]
  • 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.[36] According to a governor the motive was to destroy specific communities.[37][38]
  • 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.[39]
  • On January 26th and 27th of 2020, 32 villagers were murdered in two different attacks by Muslim Fulani herdsmen in Plateau state.[40]

See also[edit]


  • 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)


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  2. ^ a b Ilo, Udo Jude; Jonathan-Ichaver, Ier; Adamolekun, 'Yemi (2019-01-24). "The Deadliest Conflict You've Never Heard of". Foreign Affairs : America and the World. ISSN 0015-7120. Retrieved 2020-04-18.
  3. ^ "Herdsmen and Farmers Conflict in Nigeria: A Threat to Peacebuilding and Human Security in West Africa | Africa Up Close". Retrieved 2020-04-18.
  4. ^ "Nigeria school abductions sparked by cattle feuds, not extremism, officials say". Reuters. 24 December 2020. Retrieved 24 December 2020.
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  7. ^ a b "How Climate Change Is Spurring Land Conflict in Nigeria". Time. 28 June 2018.
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  11. ^ "Eduresource World: Causes and Effect of Desertification in Nigeria". Eduresource World. 2013-08-09. Retrieved 2020-01-31.
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  14. ^ 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. doi:10.1080/00358530701626057. ISSN 0035-8533. S2CID 219627153.
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  16. ^ "Senators fight over grazing land for Fulani herdsmen". The Punch. 21 July 2012. Archived from the original on 1 February 2014.
  17. ^ "Ruga settlement". Sahara Reporters. 28 June 2019.
  18. ^ "FULL COMMUNIQUE: Southern Governors Call For National Dialogue, Ban Open Grazing". Channels TV. 12 May 2021. Retrieved 6 July 2021.
  19. ^ Hiribarren, Vincent (2019). Un manguier au Nigeria : Histoires du Borno. Paris: Plon. ISBN 978-2-259-25086-3.
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  21. ^ Muslim Fulani Herdsmen Massacres Reach Southern Nigeria, Morning Star News. April 27, 2016
  22. ^ Fulani Herdsmen Massacre 40 Farmers in Enugu. Tori.ng; posted by Thandiubani on Tue 26th Apr, 2016
  23. ^ "Fresh bloodbath in Benue, 2 Catholic priests, 17 others killed by herdsmen". Vanguard News. April 25, 2018.
  24. ^ "Herdsmen Attack: Reprisal Claims Six Lives In Adamawa". Sahara Reporters. 2018-01-23. Retrieved 2020-01-31.
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  27. ^ "JUST IN: 400 herdsmen attack Adamawa villages, 15 locals killed". The Sun Nigeria. 2018-05-03. Retrieved 2020-01-31.
  28. ^ Kazeem, Yomi. "The latest clash between herdsmen and farmers in Nigeria has left more than 200 dead". Quartz.
  29. ^ "Communal clashes leave 86 dead in Nigeria". BBC News. 25 June 2018 – via www.bbc.com.
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  32. ^ "Clashes in northern Nigeria's Taraba leave 73 dead - Xinhua | English.news.cn".
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  35. ^ "Gunmen Kill 15, Injure 20 in Southern Kaduna". www.thisdaylive.com. Retrieved 2018-12-18.
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  37. ^ "Miyetti Allah releases names of 131 victims of Kajuru, Kaduna violence | Premium Times Nigeria". February 22, 2019.
  38. ^ "'El- Rufai alleges plan to 'wipe out' some Kaduna communities". Premium Times. Retrieved 2019-02-11.
  39. ^ Tauna, Amos (March 19, 2019). "Kajuru killings: Over 130 lives wasted - Group laments".
  40. ^ "Violence in Plateau State, Nigeria Escalates with more Muslim Fulani Herdsmen Attacks". MorningStar News. January 30, 2020.