The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) says the current deadliest threat to Nigeria is escalating battles between farming and herding communities, and not insurgency by Boko Haram terrorists.
In a piece posted on its website, the institute noted that the battles between farming and herding communities are over scarce land and water.
It said bloodshed has increased since January, as armed groups have attacked and burned villages; more than 1,300 were killed and 300,000 uprooted in the first half of 2018.
The institute however noted that amid the violence, local peace efforts have made progress, stressing that Nigerian government officials and civil society groups are now building on those successes.
“In the face of the warming climate and population growth worldwide, Nigeria’s struggle to manage herder-farmer conflict is relevant for nations from Africa to Asia that face similar violence,” the institute noted.
It further said: “The clashes over land and water have arisen as drought and desertification in the Sahel region have forced nomadic herding communities in the north and central parts of Nigeria to seek grazing lands further south.
“Rapid population growth in much of Nigeria has pushed farmers into unsettled land traditionally used for cattle grazing. The growing use of commercial fertilizers means farmers no longer rely on dung from herders’ animals for fertilizer. Since many farmers and herders live at a subsistence level, changes such as these threaten their ability to survive.”
African nations from Cote d’Ivoire to Sudan, and countries such as Afghanistan and India, also face conflicts among farming and nomadic herding communities.
Worldwide, hundreds of millions of people in more than half the planet’s nations depend on grazing livestock, the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization says.
More than a quarter of Africans – about 268 million people – rely on grazing, and they live across 43 percent of the continent’s land area, the African Union estimated in a 2013 report.
Yet “access to productive rangeland,” is decreasing and few governments have institutions and policies to manage the kind of conflict that has spiked in Nigeria, the report said.
As in many such conflicts, Nigeria’s farmer-herder clash has taken on ethnic and religious overtones. Many of Nigeria’s herders are ethnic Fulani and Muslims, while most farmers are Christians.
The violence has escalated this year – notably in the states of Nigeria’s Middle Belt region – as armed factions have acquired more weapons.
Meanwhile, Benue state governor, Samuel Ortom, has condemned the kidnap of four Catholic priests by unknown gunmen suspected to be armed herdsmen in Umutu/Abraka, Ethiope East local government area of Delta state.
In a statement sent to Legit.ng by his chief press secretary, Terver Akase, Governor Ortom described the abduction of the four Reverend Fathers as barbaric, dehumanizing and shameful.
He wondered why armed herdsmen have chosen to make harmless clergymen targets of attacks, stressing that the motive of the perpetrators is clearly beyond mere grazing of cattle.