Land dispute violence in Nigeria comparable to Boko Haram insurgency

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A decades-long feud over land by Islamic herders and Christian farmers in Nigeria has turned increasingly violent.

On June 25, 86 people were killed as a part of a grand list of deadly disputes over land and resources between nomadic Fulani herdsman from northern Nigeria and established Berom farming communities in the central and southern regions of the country, according to the Daily Nation.

The attacks have long been fueled by ethno-religious and political allegiances that have killed thousands of Nigerians since the 1950s.

Some reports claim that the subsequent violence is already six times deadlier in 2018 than that of the Boko Haram insurgency that still ensues.

In response to the June 25 attacks, the office of Nigeria president, Muhammadu Buhari, released a statement. It read, “The grievous loss of lives and property arising from the killings in Plateau today is painful and regrettable,” according to reports by News24. They further state that Buhari “appeals for calm,” implying his countrymen to do the same. The administration “assures that no efforts will be spared” to bring those responsible to justice and prevent further attacks.

His message was met with polarizing opinions. Many southerners state that the government is pro-Fulani and thus biased in their lack of response to the mayhem that has occurred between the two groups.


London, UK – 25 January, 2015. Hundreds of people took part in a Anti Terror rally outside Nigerian Embassy. The rally comes following the kidnapping more than 200 school girls in April by Boko Haram

The largest economic industry in Nigeria is agriculture. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN), along with oil, agriculture is the cornerstone of the West African country’s economy.

FAO states, “…the production hurdles have significantly stifled the performance of the sector. Over the past 20 years, value-added per capita in agriculture has risen by less than 1 percent annually. It is estimated that Nigeria has lost USD 10 billion in annual export opportunity from groundnut, palm oil, cocoa and cotton alone due to continuous decline in the production of those commodities.”

With more than two-thirds of the entire labour force being farmers and pastoralists, the country relies heavily on land. Hence, ownership and control are paramount to survival. With fertile land shrinking as a result f desertification and other environmental. Issues, seemingly, there is too much competition over dwindling resources.

According to FAO, crop production stagnancy has been unable to keep up with the exponential growth of the population, causing increased food import costs and declining levels of national food self-sufficiency.

Further, religion, ethnicity and political allegiances have divided and killed thousands of Nigerians since the 1950s.

Reportedly, desertification and drought in the arid northern region of the country; loss of grazing reserves for cattle; changes in pastoralism or traditional farming methods; rural banditry and cattle theft; and escalating social tensions such as the rise of Boko Haram, have resulted in the economic losses and insecurity that led herders to migrate into central and southern Nigeria, according to the International Crisis Group (ICG).

In the South, an escalation of conflict over the last forty years occurred after the country’s petro- boom fizzled. The clashes have resulted in destabilizing the region. This has heightened the overuse of farmland, increasing arguments over crop damage, water pollution and cattle theft.

According to the ICG, “The spread of conflict into southern states is aggravating already fragile relations among the country’s major regional, ethnic and religious groups. As these conflicts increase in frequency, intensity and geographical scope, so does their humanitarian and economic toll. The increasing availability of illicit firearms, both locally-produced and smuggled in from outside, worsens the bloodshed. Over the past five years, thousands have been killed; precise tallies are unavailable.”


Nigeria has the largest population of any country in Africa. Composed of more than 250 ethnic groups, the Hausa-Fulani, making up about 29 percent of the nation’s population. They are the highest numbered and most politically influential demographic in the country.

According to M.B. Ajibefun, “The Fulani unarguably represent a significant part of the economy of Nigeria. They are the major breeders of goats, sheep and cattle as those animals are the major source of meat and affordable source of animal proteins ate by Nigerians. The Fulani own over ninety percent of the livestock population which accounts for one-third of agricultural GDP and 3.2% of the entire GDP in Nigeria.”

In addition, Islam makes up the religious majority at 50%, with Christian rates at 40%, and indigenous beliefs at about 10%. Further, there is a burgeoning youth population, with the majority of citizens being under 54 years old.

“The south’s majority Christian communities voiced opposition of 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, drawing in fighters from neighbouring countries.”

Nigerian Governmental Response

Many Nigerians believe that the governmental response to the violence has been inefficient.

According to a September 2017 report by the ICG, “The reaction from Nigeria’s federal and state authorities, so far, has been wanting…they have done little else to address rural insecurity in the north. Federal 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.”

Yakubu Dogara, the leader of Nigeria’s lower house of parliament, said in a statement to Reuters, “This [violence] further strengthens my constant call for an overhaul of the entire security apparatus of this country..It just isn’t working.” He added that the violence posed a serious threat to Nigeria’s democracy.

Thousands have been forcibly dislodged or killed. Billions of naira (Nigerian currency) worth of properties, crops and livestock worth are destroyed at great cost to local and state economies. The reaction from Nigeria’s federal and state authorities has been seemingly lackluster as far as South residents are concerned.

A community leader from the Nigerian city of Jos tells,“As a result of these acts of violence and terrorism in both broad daylight and at nighttime, we have been denied the right to our economy. The security personnel are very much aware of what we are facing…The Fulani people have killed our women and killed members of our community in front of the security personnel. There is a complicity and a conspiracy.”

Impact and Effects

Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria- May 22, 2018: Children at the farmers market

These conflicts have exacted substantial human rights violations as thousands are displaced and murdered. With estimates upwards of 2,500 fatalities countrywide in 2016, surpassing that of the Boko Haram insurgency over the same period, according. They continue to report that the death toll was higher than that of Benue state, one of the most devasted areas. The governor of Benue, Samuel Ortom, estimates that more than 1,878 people were killed between 2014 and 2016.

Thus far, 430,000 people affected by attacks between 2011 and 2014 in Benue according the Self-Worth Development Initiative, as reported by World Watch Monitor. In 2015 alone, 1.9 million USD of destruction of churches, crops, homes in Jol, according to the ICG.

In video footage, pickup trucks bypass destruction, including unidentified items on fire, a litter of flipped vehicles, and debris accompanied by cheers from crowds with sticks alongside the road in Jos.  

Much like Buhari, governor of Plateau state, Simon Bako Lalong, says, “It is very, very unfortunate that an incident is happening again…What I’m appealing to the people of Plateau state is to please remain calm.” Lalong, also urged residents to observe the dawn to dusk curfew he put in place following the attacks to avert

Yet, Jos residents like many Nigerians, remain traumatized by the mayhem that has torn apart the communal psyche.

A Jos resident explains, “Ten years of violent confrontations and the extreme brutality of 2010’s massacres around Jos left many residents traumatized. Religious identities have become strongly polarized and one-sided conflict narratives internalized. Despite numerous peace efforts, tensions on the Plateau are at their worst today.”

The violence and civil unrest linger.

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Yolanda Aguilera focuses on culture, policy, and Afro-Latinidad.

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