The Neglected Crisis of Fulani Herdsmen Violence in Nigeria’s Middle Belt Region

26 February 2018

Since the founding of the Nigerian republic farmer-herder conflicts have been a pervasive cause of violence and death in the country. Nowhere is this seen more than in the middle belt areas with localised conflicts between muslim ethnic Fulani herders and various Christian farming communities. The conflict itself is multifaceted and complex, intersecting ethnic and sectarian divides, and it continues to pose a significant threat to those living in Nigeria’s middle belt region. Fulani militant herders have posed particular threat in recent years to these Christian farming communities, indeed in the 2014 ‘Global Terrorism Index’ they were ranked as the fourth deadliest terror group worldwide having killed 1229 individual’s that year. The threat of Fulani militancy has increased in recent years, with the 2014 death rate dwarfing that of the prior 3 years combined, the need for action is therefore imminent.


Whilst the roots of the conflict and factors exacerbating it are not reducible to any single cause, the Nigerian government certainly bears a proportion of responsibility. They have helped create conditions that allowed Fulani herdsmen militancy to flourish, and have failed to adequately respond to the crisis. The Nigerian government’s 1978 ‘Land use act’ placed Fulani herders in a difficult position, whilst giving many communities legal ownership status over their ancestral lands, most Fulani grazing communities failed to make such applications. This led to encroachment onto traditional Fulani grazing areas by farming communities. Combined with issues of desertification leading to shrinking agricultural land, and expanding urban areas encompassing arable farmland, poor government policy has added fuel to conflict in the middle belt. Whilst there have been government responses to the issue, they have been somewhat  lackluster. In his February 2018 article for Al Jazeera, Orji Sunday discusses the government proposal for ‘cattle colonies’, an idea that would designate vast tracts of land in various states to grazers. This law however lacks viable means of imposition, giving no explanation regarding how it would stop herders encroaching on farmland. Moreover state’s are permitted to decline this federal proposal likely meaning more inaction.


The impact of Fulani herdsmen militancy can be considered further dangerous to inhabitants of the Middle Belt region when looking at reactionary violence and misdirected acts of reprisal, as Mark Amaza discusses in his February Quartz Africa article. Amaza refers to this with a Fulani militant attack on the village of Kikan in Adamawa state, which left three dead and herds of cattle stolen. Within hours youth from the affected village had attacked a neighboring community killing three more, the village concerned in this reprisal was not Fulani nor related to the attack, but instead a Muslim ethnically Hausa one. The conflict can be seen through this to have wider humanitarian implications beyond the physical violence enacted by Fulani militants.


Whilst calling for the ‘international community’ to take action may at times seem an empty evocation, state’s and international corporations cooperating with Nigeria hold some responsibility, considering they directly benefit from the state’s resources and assets. With issues like the boko haram insurgency in the north, as well as attacks in the delta region of the country the Nigerian government is obviously in a difficult position to take action. Nevertheless  an effective response to Fulani herdsmen violence and the humanitarian crisis in the middle belt is long overdue, as is awareness of the issue in the global sphere. Whilst the global response to boko haram violence with the ‘Bring back our girls’ campaign briefly appeared strong, it ultimately fell short. The issue of Fulani herdsmen violence has not been afforded anything close to comparable attention. Nevertheless as the initial attention given to boko haram violence in the global sphere shows, there is clout for such causes and possibility for an effective humanitarian response. As the crisis worsens, and regional spillover violence and reactionary attacks pose greater humanitarian risk, it seems clear that this issue needs urgent attention.


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