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AfricaThe Fulani, Neopastoralism and Jihadism in Nigeria

The Fulani, Neopastoralism and Jihadism in Nigeria

The relationship between the Fulani, corruption and neo-pastoralism, i.e. the purchase of large herds of cattle by wealthy city dwellers to hide ill-gotten money.

By Teodor Detchev

The previous two parts of this analysis, titled “The Sahel – Conflicts, Coups and Migration Bombs” and “The Fulani and Jihadism in West Africa”, discussed the rise of terrorist activity in West Africa and the inability to end the guerrilla warfare waged by Islamic radicals against government troops in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad and Nigeria. The issue of the ongoing civil war in the Central African Republic was also discussed.

One of the important conclusions is that the intensification of the conflict is fraught with the high risk of a “migration bomb” that would lead to unprecedented migration pressure along the entire southern border of the European Union. An important circumstance is also the possibilities of Russian foreign policy to manipulate the intensity of conflicts in countries such as Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad and the Central African Republic. With its hand on the “counter” of a potential migration explosion, Moscow could easily be tempted to use induced migration pressure against EU states that are generally already designated as hostile.

In this risky situation, a special role is played by the Fulani people – an ethnic group of semi-nomads, migratory livestock breeders who inhabit the strip from the Gulf of Guinea to the Red Sea and number 30 to 35 million people according to various data. Being a people who have historically played a very important role in the penetration of Islam into Africa, especially West Africa, the Fulani are a huge temptation for Islamic radicals, despite the fact that they profess the Sufi school of Islam, which is undoubtedly the most tolerant, as and the most mystical.

Unfortunately, as will be seen from the analysis below, the issue is not just about religious opposition. The conflict is not only ethno-religious. It is socio-ethno-religious, and in recent years, the effects of the wealth accumulated through corruption, converted into livestock ownership – the so-called “neopastorism” – have begun to exert an additional strong influence. This phenomenon is particularly characteristic of Nigeria and is the subject of the present third part of the analysis.

The Fulani in Nigeria

Being the most populous country in West Africa with 190 million inhabitants, Nigeria, like many countries in the region, is characterized by a kind of dichotomy between the South, populated mainly by Yoruba Christians, and the North, whose population is mainly Muslim, with a large part of it is the Fulani who, as everywhere, are migratory animal breeders. Overall, the country is 53% Muslim and 47% Christian.

The “central belt” of Nigeria, crossing the country from east to west, including in particular the states of Kaduna (north of Abuja), Bunue-Plateau (east of Abuja) and Taraba (southeast of Abuja), is a meeting point between these two worlds , the scene of frequent incidents in a never-ending cycle of vendettas between farmers, usually Christian (who accuse Fulani herdsmen of allowing their herds to damage their crops) and nomadic Fulani pastoralists (who complain of cattle theft and the increasing establishment of farms in areas traditionally accessible to their animal migration routes).

These conflicts have intensified in recent times, as the Fulani also seek to expand the migration and grazing routes of their herds to the south, and the northern grasslands suffer from increasingly severe drought, while the farmers of the south, in the conditions of particularly high dynamics of population growth, seek to establish farms further north.

After 2019, this antagonism took a dangerous turn in the direction of identity and religious affiliation between the two communities, which became irreconcilable and governed by different legal systems, especially since Islamic law (Sharia) was reintroduced in 2000 in twelve northern states. (Islamic law was in force until 1960, after which it was abolished with Nigeria’s independence). From the Christians’ point of view, the Fulani want to “Islamize” them – if necessary by force.

This view is fueled by the fact that Boko Haram, which targets mostly Christians, seeks to use the armed militias used by the Fulani against their opponents, and that indeed a number of these fighters have joined the ranks of the Islamist group. Christians believe that the Fulani (along with the Hausa, who are related to them) provide the core of Boko Haram’s forces. This is an exaggerated perception given the fact that a number of Fulani militias remain autonomous. But the fact is that by 2019 the antagonism had worsened. [38]

Thus, on June 23, 2018, in a village inhabited mostly by Christians (of the Lugere ethnic group), an attack attributed to the Fulani led to heavy casualties – 200 killed.

The election of Muhammadu Buhari, who is a Fulani and former leader of the largest Fulani cultural association, Tabital Pulaakou International, as President of the Republic did not help to reduce tensions. The president is often accused of surreptitiously supporting his Fulani parents instead of instructing security forces to crack down on their criminal activities.

The situation of the Fulani in Nigeria is also indicative of some new trends in the relationship between migratory pastoralists and settled farmers. Sometime in the year 2020, researchers have already established indisputably a noticeable increase in the number of conflicts and clashes between pastoralists and farmers.[5]

Neaopastoralims and Fulani

Issues and facts such as climate change, expanding deserts, regional conflicts, population growth, human trafficking and terrorism have been invoked in attempts to explain this phenomenon. The problem is that none of these questions fully explain the sharp increase in the use of small arms and light weapons by several groups of pastoralists and sedentary farmers. [5]

Olayinka Ajala dwells on this question in particular, who examines the changes in the ownership of livestock over the years, which he calls “neopastoralism”, as a possible explanation for the increase in the number of armed clashes between these groups.

The term neopastoralism was first used by Matthew Luizza of the American Association for the Advancement of Science to describe the subversion of the traditional form of pastoral (migratory) animal husbandry by wealthy urban elites who venture to invest and engage in such animal husbandry to conceal stolen or ill-gotten assets. (Luizza, Matthew, African herders have been pushed into destitution and crime, November 9th, 2017, The Economist). [8]

For his part, Olayinka Ajala defines neo-pastoralism as a new form of livestock ownership characterized by the ownership of large herds of livestock by people who are not pastoralists themselves. These flocks were accordingly served by hired shepherds. Working around these herds often necessitates the use of sophisticated weapons and ammunition, stemming from the need to hide stolen wealth, proceeds of trafficking, or income obtained through terrorist activity, with the express purpose of making a profit for investors. It is important to note that Ajala Olayinka’s definition of non-pastoralism does not include investments in cattle financed by legal means. Such exist, but they are few in number and therefore they do not fall within the scope of the author’s research interest.[5]

Grazing migratory livestock farming is traditionally small-scale, herds are family-owned and usually associated with particular ethnic groups. This farming activity is associated with various risks, as well as with the considerable effort required to move livestock hundreds of kilometers in search of pasture. All this makes this profession not so popular and it is engaged in by several ethnic groups, among which the Fulani stand out, for whom it has been a main occupation for many decades. Besides being one of the largest ethnic groups in the Sahel and Sub-Saharan Africa, some sources put the Fulani in Nigeria at about 17 million people. In addition, cattle are often seen as a source of security and an indicator of wealth, and for this reason traditional pastoralists engage in cattle sales on a very limited scale.

Traditional Pastoralism

Neopastoralism differs from traditional pastoralism in terms of the form of livestock ownership, the average size of herds, and the use of weapons. While the traditional average herd size varies between 16 and 69 head of cattle, the size of non-pastoral herds usually ranges between 50 and 1,000 head of cattle, and the engagements around them often involve the use of firearms by hired herdsmen. [8], [5]

Although it was previously common in the Sahel for such larger herds to be accompanied by armed soldiers, nowadays livestock ownership is increasingly seen as a means of concealing ill-gotten wealth from corrupt politicians. Furthermore, while traditional pastoralists strive for good relations with farmers to maintain their symbiotic interaction with them, mercenary herders have no incentive to invest in their social relationships with farmers because they possess weapons that can be used to intimidate the farmers. [5], [8]

In Nigeria in particular, there are three main reasons for the emergence of neo-pastoralism. The first is that livestock ownership seems a tempting investment because of the ever-increasing prices. A sexually mature cow in Nigeria can costs US$1,000 and this makes cattle breeding an attractive field for potential investors. [5]

Secondly, there is a direct link between neo-pastoralism and corrupt practices in Nigeria. A number of researchers have argued that corruption is at the root of most of the insurgencies and armed insurgencies in the country. In 2014, one of the measures taken by the government to curb corruption, especially money laundering, was introduced. This is the Bank Verification Number (BVN) entry. The purpose of BVN is to monitor bank transactions and reduce or eliminate money laundering. [5]

The Bank Verification Number (BVN) uses biometric technology to register each customer with all Nigerian banks. Each customer is then issued a unique identification code that links all their accounts so that they can easily monitor transactions between multiple banks. The aim is to ensure that suspicious transactions are easily identified as the system captures the images and fingerprints of all bank customers, making it difficult for illegal funds to be deposited into different accounts by the same person. Data from in-depth interviews revealed that the BVN made it harder for political office-holders to hide illicit wealth, and a number of accounts linked to politicians and their cronies, fed with allegedly stolen funds, were frozen after its introduction.

The Central Bank of Nigeria reported that “several billions of naira (Nigeria’s currency) and millions in other foreign currencies were trapped in accounts at a number of banks, with the owners of these accounts suddenly ceasing to do business with them. Eventually, over 30 million “passive” and unused accounts have been identified since the introduction of BVN in Nigeria by 2020. [5]

In-depth interviews conducted by the author revealed that many people who had deposited large sums of money in Nigerian banks immediately before the introduction of the Bank Verification Number (BVN) rushed to withdraw it. A few weeks before the deadline for anyone using banking services to obtain a BVN, bank officials in Nigeria are witnessing a veritable river of cash being cashed en masse from various branches in the country. Of course, it cannot be said that all this money was stolen or the result of abuses of power, but it is an established fact that many politicians in Nigeria are switching to paid cash because they do not want to be subject to bank monitoring. [5]

At this very moment, flows of ill-gotten funds have been diverted into the agricultural sector, with an impressive number of livestock being purchased. Financial security experts agree that since the introduction of BVN, there has been a sharp rise in the number of people using ill-gotten wealth to buy livestock. Considering the fact that in 2019 an adult cow costs 200,000 – 400,000 Naira (600 to 110 USD) and that there is no mechanism to establish the ownership of cattle, it is easy for the corrupt to buy hundreds of cattle for millions of Naira. This leads to an increase in livestock prices, with a number of large herds now being owned by people who have nothing to do with cattle breeding as a job and a daily life, with some of the owners even from regions that are too far from grazing areas. [5]

As discussed above, this creates another major security risk in the rangeland area, as mercenary herdsmen are very often well-armed.

Thirdly, neopastoralists explain the new pattern of neopatrimonial relationships between owners and pastoralists with the increased level of poverty among those engaged in the industry. Despite the increase in livestock prices over the past few decades and despite the expansion of livestock farming in the export market, poverty among migrant livestock farmers has not decreased. On the contrary, according to data from Nigerian researchers, in the last 30-40 years, the number of poor herdsmen has increased sharply. (Catley, Andy and Alula Iyasu, Moving up or moving out? A Rapid Livelihoods and Conflict Analysis in Mieso-Mulu Woreda, Shinile Zone, Somali Region, Ethiopia, April 2010, Feinstein International Center).

For those at the bottom of the social ladder in the pastoral community, working for owners of large herds becomes the only option for survival. In the neo-pastoral setting, increasing poverty among the pastoralist community, which drives traditional migratory herders out of business, makes them easy prey for “absentee owners” as cheap labour. In some places where members of the political cabinet own the cattle, members of the pastoral communities or herders of the specific ethnic groups who have been involved in this activity for centuries, often receive their remuneration in the form of funding presented as “support for local communities”. In this way, illegally obtained wealth is legitimized. This patron-client relationship is particularly prevalent in northern Nigeria (home to the largest number of traditional migratory herders, including the Fulani), who are perceived as being assisted by the authorities in this way. [5]

In this case, Ajala Olayinka uses the case of Nigeria as a case study to explore in depth these new patterns of conflict given that it has the largest concentration of livestock in the West African region and the Sub – Saharan Africa – about 20 million head of cattle. Accordingly, the number of pastoralists is also very high compared to other regions, and the scale of conflicts in the country is very serious. [5]

It must be emphasized here that it is also about a geographical shift of the center of gravity and of pastoral migration agriculture and the conflicts related to it from the countries of the Horn of Africa, where in the past it was most advocated to West Africa and in particular – to Nigeria. Both the amount of livestock raised and the scale of the conflicts are gradually being transferred from the countries of the Horn of Africa to the west, and currently the focus of these problems is now in Nigeria, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Mauritania, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal. The correctness of this statement is fully confirmed by the data of the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED). Again according to the same source, Nigeria’s clashes and subsequent deaths are ahead of other countries with similar problems.

Olayinka’s findings are based on field research and the use of qualitative methods such as in-depth interviews conducted in Nigeria between 2013 and 2019. [5]

Broadly speaking, the study explains that traditional pastoralism and migratory pastoralism are gradually giving way to neopastoralism, a form of pastoralism that is characterized by much larger herds and increased use of weapons and ammunition to protect them. [5]

One of the key consequences of non-pastoralism in Nigeria is the serious increase in the number of incidents and consequently the dynamics of livestock theft and kidnapping in rural areas. This in itself is not a new phenomenon and has been observed for a long time. According to researchers such as Aziz Olanian and Yahaya Aliyu, for decades, cattle rustling was “localized, seasonal, and carried out with more traditional weapons with a low level of violence.” (Olaniyan, Azeez and Yahaya Aliyu, Cows, Bandits and Violent Conflicts: Understanding Cattle Rustling in Northern Nigeria, In: Africa Spectrum, Vol. 51, Issue 3, 2016, pp. 93 – 105).

According to them, during this long (but seemingly long-gone) period, cattle rustling and the well-being of migratory herders went hand in hand, and cattle rustling was even seen as “a tool for resource redistribution and territorial expansion by pastoralist communities”. .

To prevent anarchy from occurring, the leaders of the pastoral communities had created rules for cattle rustling (!) that did not allow violence against women and children. Killings during cattle theft were also prohibited.

These rules have been in place not only in West Africa, as reported by Olanian and Aliyu, but also in East Africa, south of the Horn of Africa, for example in Kenya, where Ryan Trichet reports a similar approach. (Triche, Ryan, Pastoral conflict in Kenya: transforming mimetic violence to mimetic blessings between Turkana and Pokot communities, African journal on Conflict Resolution, Vol. 14, No. 2, pp. 81-101).

At that time, migratory animal husbandry and pastoralism were practiced by specific ethnic groups (the Fulani prominent among them) who lived in highly connected and interwoven communities, sharing a common culture, values and religion, which helped to resolve the disputes and conflicts that arose. resolve without escalating into extreme forms of violence. [5]

One of the main differences between cattle stealing in the distant past, a few decades ago, and today is the logic behind the act of stealing. In the past, the motive for stealing cattle was either to restore some losses in the family herd, or to pay the bride price at a wedding, or to equalize some differences in wealth between individual families, but figuratively speaking “it was not marketable oriented and the main motive for the theft is not the pursuit of any economic goal”. And here this situation has been in effect in both West and East Africa. (Fleisher, Michael L., “War is good for Thieving!”: the Symbiosis of Crime and Warfare among the Kuria of Tanzania, Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, Vol. 72, No. 1, 2002, pp. 131 -149).

Quite the opposite has been the case in the last decade, during which we have witnessed livestock thefts motivated mostly by considerations of economic prosperity, which are figuratively speaking “market oriented”. It is mostly stolen for profit, not out of envy or extreme necessity. To some extent, the spread of these approaches and practices can also be attributed to circumstances such as the rising cost of livestock, the increased demand for meat due to population growth, and the ease with which weapons can be obtained. [5]

Aziz Olanian and Yahaya Aliyu’s research establishes and proves indisputably the existence of a direct link between neo-pastoralism and the increased volume of livestock theft in Nigeria. Events in several African countries have increased arms proliferation (proliferation) in the region, with mercenary neo-herdsmen being supplied with “herd protection” weapons, which are also used in cattle theft.

Arms proliferation

This phenomenon took on a whole new dimension after 2011, when tens of thousands of small arms spread from Libya to a number of countries in the Sahel Sahara, as well as to Sub-Saharan Africa as a whole. These observations have been fully confirmed by the “expert panel” established by the UN Security Council, which, among other things, also examines the conflict in Libya. Experts note that the uprising in Libya and the subsequent fighting have led to an unprecedented proliferation of weapons not only in Libya’s neighboring countries, but also across the continent.

According to UN Security Council experts who have collected detailed data from 14 African countries, Nigeria is one of the most affected by the rampant proliferation of arms originating in Libya. Arms are smuggled into Nigeria and other countries through the Central African Republic (CAR), with these shipments fueling conflict, insecurity and terrorism in several African countries. (Strazzari, Francesco, Libyan Arms and Regional Instability, The International Spectator. Italian Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 49, Issue 3, 2014, pp. 54-68).

Although the Libyan conflict has long been and continues to be the main source of arms proliferation in Africa, there are other active conflicts that are also fueling the flow of arms to various groups, including the neo-pastoralists in Nigeria and the Sahel. The list of these conflicts includes South Sudan, Somalia, Mali, Central African Republic, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is estimated that in the month of March 2017 there were over 100 million small arms and light weapons (SALW) in crisis zones around the world, with a significant number of them being used in Africa.

The illegal arms trade industry thrives in Africa, where “porous” borders are common around most countries, with weapons moving freely across them. While most of the smuggled weapons end up in the hands of insurgent and terrorist groups, migratory herders are also increasingly using small arms and light weapons (SALW). For example, pastoralists in Sudan and South Sudan have been openly displaying their small arms and light weapons (SALW) for more than 10 years. Although many traditional herders can still be seen in Nigeria herding cattle with sticks in hand, a number of migrant herders have been spotted with small arms and light weapons (SALW) and some have been accused of being involved in cattle rustling. Over the past decade, there has been a significant increase in the number of cattle thefts, resulting in the deaths of not only traditional herders, but also farmers, security agents and other citizens. (Adeniyi, Adesoji, The Human Cost of Uncontrolled Arms in Africa, Cross-national research on seven African countries, March 2017, Oxfam Research Reports).

Apart from hired herdsmen who use the weapons at their disposal to engage in cattle rustling, there are also professional bandits who mainly engage in armed cattle rustling in some parts of Nigeria. Neo-herdsmen often claim that they need protection from these bandits when explaining the arming of herdsmen. Some of the livestock breeders interviewed stated that they carry weapons to protect themselves from bandits who attack them with the intention of stealing their cattle. (Kuna, Mohammad J. and Jibrin Ibrahim (eds.), Rural banditry and conflicts in northern Nigeria, Center for Democracy and Development, Abuja, 2015, ISBN: 9789789521685, 9789521685).

The National Secretary of the Miyetti Allah Livestock Breeders Association of Nigeria (one of the largest livestock breeders’ associations in the country) states: “If you see a Fulani man carrying an AK-47, it is because cattle rustling has become so rampant that one he wonders if there is any security in the country at all”. (Fulani national leader: Why our herdsmen carry AK47s., May 2, 2016, 1;58 pm, The News).

The complication comes from the fact that weapons acquired to prevent cattle rustling are also freely used when there is conflict between herdsmen and farmers. This clash of interests around migratory livestock has led to an arms race and created a battlefield-like environment as a growing number of traditional herders have also resorted to carrying weapons to defend themselves along with their livestock. The changing dynamics are leading to new waves of violence and are often collectively referred to as “pastoral conflict”. [5]

An increase in the number and intensity of severe clashes and violence between farmers and herders is also believed to be a consequence of the growth of neo-pastoralism. Excluding deaths resulting from terrorist attacks, clashes between farmers and herdsmen accounted for the largest number of conflict-related deaths in 2017. (Kazeem, Yomi, Nigeria now has a bigger internal security threat than Boko Haram, January 19, 2017, Quarz).

Although clashes and feuds between farmers and migratory herders are centuries old, that is, they date back to before the colonial era, the dynamics of these conflicts have changed dramatically. (Ajala, Olayinka, Why clashes are on the rise between farmers and herdsmen in the Sahel, May 2nd, 2018, 2.56 pm CEST, The Conversation).

In the pre-colonial period, pastoralists and farmers often lived side by side in a symbiosis due to the form of agriculture and the size of the herds. Livestock grazed on the stubble left by farmers after harvest, most often during the dry season when migratory herders moved their livestock further south to graze there. In exchange for the assured grazing and right of access granted by the farmers, the cattle excrement was used by the farmers as a natural fertilizer for their farmlands. These were times of smallholder farms and family ownership of herds, and both farmers and ranchers benefited from their understanding. From time to time, when grazing livestock destroyed farm produce and conflicts arose, local conflict resolution mechanisms were implemented and differences between farmers and pastoralists were ironed out, usually without resorting to violence. [5] In addition, farmers and migratory herders often created grain-for-milk exchange schemes that strengthened their relationships.

However, this model of agriculture has undergone several changes. Issues such as changes in the pattern of agricultural production, the population explosion, the development of market and capitalist relations, climate change, the shrinking of the area of Lake Chad, competition for land and water, the right to use migratory pastoral routes, drought and the expansion of the desert ( desertification), increased ethnic differentiation and political manipulations have been cited as reasons for the changes in the dynamics of the farmer-migratory livestock breeder relationship. Davidheiser and Luna identify the combination of colonization and the introduction of market-capitalist relations in Africa as one of the main causes of conflict between pastoralists and farmers on the continent. (Davidheiser, Mark and Aniuska Luna, From Complementarity to Conflict: A Historical Analysis of Farmet – Fulbe Relations in West Africa, African Journal on Conflict Resolution, Vol. 8, No. 1, 2008, pp. 77 – 104).

They argue that changes in land ownership laws that occurred during the colonial era, combined with changes in farming techniques following the adoption of modern farming methods such as irrigated agriculture and the introduction of “schemes to accustom migratory pastoralists to a settled life”, violate the former symbiotic relationship between farmers and pastoralists, increasing the likelihood of conflict between these two social groups.

The analysis that Davidheiser and Luna offer argues that the integration between market relations and modern modes of production has led to a shift from “exchange-based relations” between farmers and migratory herders to “marketization and commodification” and commoditization of production), which increases the demand pressure for natural resources between the two countries and destabilizes the previously symbiotic relationship.

Climate change has also been cited as one of the main causes of conflict between farmers and herders in West Africa. In a quantitative study conducted in Kano State, Nigeria in 2010, Haliru identified the encroachment of desert into agricultural land as a major source of resource struggle leading to conflicts between pastoralists and farmers in northern Nigeria. (Halliru, Salisu Lawal, Security Implication of Climate Change Between Farmers and Cattle Rearers in Northern Nigeria: A Case Study of Three Communities in Kura Local Government of Kano State. In: Leal Filho, W. (eds) Handbook of Climate Change Adaptation, Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg, 2015).

Changes in rainfall levels have altered pastoralist migration patterns, with pastoralists moving further south into areas where their herds would not normally have grazed in previous decades. An example of this is the effect of prolonged droughts in the Sudan-Sahel desert region, which have become severe since 1970. (Fasona, Mayowa J. and A.S. Omojola, Climate Change, Human Security and Communal Clashes in Nigeria, 22 – 23 June 2005, Proceedings of International Workshop on Human Security and Climate Change, Holmen Fjord Hotel, Asker near Oslo, Global Environmental Change and Human Security (GECHS), Oslo).

This new pattern of migration increases the pressure on land and soil resources, leading to conflicts between farmers and pastoralists. In other cases, the increase in population of farming and herding communities has also contributed to the pressure on the environment.

Although the issues listed here have contributed to the deepening of the conflict, there has been a noticeable difference in the past few years in terms of intensity, types of weapons used, methods of attack and the number of deaths recorded in the conflict. The number of attacks has also increased significantly over the past decade, most notably in Nigeria.

Data from the ACLED database shows that the conflict has become more severe since 2011, highlighting a possible link to the Libyan civil war and the resulting arms proliferation. Although the number of attacks and the number of casualties have increased in most of the countries affected by the Libyan conflict, the numbers for Nigeria confirm the scale of the increase and the importance of the problem, highlighting the need for a much deeper understanding of the key elements of the conflict.

According to Olayinka Ajala, two main relationships stand out between the manner and intensity of attacks and non-pastoralism. Firstly, the type of weapons and ammunition used by the herdsmen and secondly, the people involved in the attacks. [5] A key finding in his research is that weapons purchased by pastoralists to protect their livestock are also used to attack farmers when there are disagreements over grazing routes or the destruction of farmland by itinerant pastoralists. [5]

According to Olayinka Ajala, in many cases the types of weapons used by the attackers give the impression that the migrant herders have outside support. Taraba State in North-Eastern Nigeria is cited as such an example. After long-running attacks by herdsmen in the state, the federal government has deployed soldiers near the affected communities to prevent further attacks. Despite the deployment of troops in the affected communities, several attacks were still carried out with lethal weapons, including machine guns.

The Chairman of Takum Area Local Government, Taraba State, Mr. Shiban Tikari in an interview with “Daily Post Nigeria” stated, “The herdsmen who are now coming to our community with machine guns are not the traditional herdsmen we know and deal with lived years in a row; I suspect they may have been released members of Boko Haram. [5]

There is very strong evidence that parts of the herding communities are fully armed and are now acting as militias. For example, one of the leaders of the herding community boasted in an interview that his group had successfully carried out attacks on several farming communities in northern Nigeria. He claimed that his group was no longer afraid of the military and stated: “We have over 800 [semi-automatic] rifles, machine guns; the Fulani now have bombs and military uniforms.” (Salkida, Ahmad, Exclusive on Fulani herdsmen: “We have machine guns, bombs and military uniforms”, Jauro Buba; 07/09/2018). This statement was also confirmed by many others interviewed by Olayinka Ajala.

The types of weapons and ammunition used in herdsmen’s attacks on farmers are not available to traditional herdsmen and this rightly casts suspicion on the neo-herdsmen. In an interview with an army officer, he claimed that poor pastoralists with small herds could not afford automatic rifles and the types of weapons used by the attackers. He said: “on reflection, I wonder how a poor herdsman can afford a machine gun or hand grenades used by these attackers?

Every enterprise has its own cost-benefit analysis, and local shepherds could not invest in such weapons to protect their small flocks. For someone to spend huge sums of money to buy these weapons, they must either have invested heavily in these herds or intend to steal as many cattle as possible to recoup their investment. This further points to the fact that organized crime syndicates or cartels are now involved in migratory livestock”. [5]

Another respondent stated that traditional herders cannot afford the price of the AK47, which sells for US$1,200 – US$1,500 on the black market in Nigeria. Also, in 2017, the Member of Parliament representing Delta State (South-South Region) in the House of Assembly, Evans Ivuri, stated that an unidentified helicopter regularly makes deliveries to some herdsmen in the Owre-Abraka Wilderness in the state, where they reside with their cattle. According to the legislator, more than 5,000 cattle and about 2,000 shepherds reside in the forest. These claims further indicate that the ownership of these cattle is highly questionable.

According to Olayinka Ajala, the second link between the mode and intensity of attacks and non-pastoralism is the identity of the people involved in the attacks. There are several arguments about the identity of the herdsmen involved in the attacks on farmers, with many of the attackers being herdsmen.

In many areas where farmers and ranchers have coexisted for decades, farmers know the ranchers whose herds graze around their farms, the periods they bring their livestock, and the average size of the herds. Nowadays, there are complaints that herd sizes are larger, herdsmen are strangers to farmers and are armed with dangerous weapons. These changes make the traditional management of conflicts between farmers and pastoralists more difficult and sometimes impossible. [5]

The Chairman of Ussa Local Government Council – Taraba State, Mr. Rimamsikwe Karma, has stated that the herdsmen who have carried out a series of attacks on farmers are not the ordinary herdsmen that local people know, saying they are “strangers”. The head of the Council stated that “the shepherds who came after the army to the territory governed by our council are not friendly to our people, for us they are unknown persons and they kill people”. [5]

This claim has been confirmed by the Nigerian military, which has said that the migrant herdsmen who have been involved in violence and attacks on farmers were “sponsored” and not traditional herdsmen. (Fabiyi, Olusola, Olaleye Aluko and John Charles, Benue: Killer herdsmen are sponsored, says military, April 27-th, 2018, Punch).

The Kano State Police Commissioner explained in an interview that many of the arrested armed herdsmen are from countries such as Senegal, Mali and Chad. [5] This is further evidence that increasingly mercenary herders are replacing traditional herders.

It is important to note that not all conflicts between pastoralists and farmers in these regions are due to neo-pastoralism. Recent events show that many traditional migratory herders are already carrying weapons. Also, some of the attacks on farmers are reprisals and reprisals for killing livestock by farmers. Although many mainstream media in Nigeria claim that herdsmen are the aggressors in most of the conflicts, in-depth interviews reveal that some of the attacks on settled farmers are in retaliation for killings of herdsmen’s livestock by farmers.

For example, the Berom ethnic group in Plateau State (one of the largest ethnic groups in the region) has never hidden its disdain for pastoralists and has sometimes resorted to slaughtering their livestock to prevent grazing on their lands. This led to retaliation and violence by the herdsmen, resulting in the slaughter of hundreds of people from the Berom ethnic community. (Idowu, Aluko Opeyemi, Urban Violance Dimension in Nigeria: Farmers and Herders Onslaught, AGATHOS, Vol. 8, Issue 1 (14), 2017, p. 187-206); (Akov, Emmanuel Terkimbi, The resource-conflict debate revisited: Untangling the case of farmer-herdsmen clashes in the North Central region of Nigeria, Vol. 26, 2017, Issue 3, African Security Review, pp. 288 – 307).

In response to increasing attacks on farmers, several farming communities have formed patrols to prevent attacks on their communities or launched counter-attacks on herding communities, further increasing animosity between the groups.

Ultimately, although the ruling elite generally understand the dynamics of this conflict, politicians often play a significant role in either reflecting or obscuring this conflict, potential solutions, and the response of the Nigerian state. Although potential solutions such as pasture expansion have been discussed at length; disarming the armed herdsmen; benefits for farmers; securitization of farming communities; addressing climate change issues; and fighting cattle rustling, the conflict was filled with political calculations, which naturally made its resolution very difficult.

Regarding the political accounts, there are several questions. First, linking this conflict to ethnicity and religion often diverts attention from the underlying issues and creates division between previously integrated communities. While almost all herders are of Fulani origin, most of the attacks are directed against other ethnic groups. Instead of addressing the issues identified as underlying the conflict, politicians often emphasize the ethnic motivations for it to increase their own popularity and create “patronage” as in other conflicts in Nigeria. (Berman, Bruce J., Ethnicity, Patronage and the African State: The Politics of Uncivil Nationalism, Vol. 97, Issue 388, African Affairs, July 1998, pp. 305 – 341); (Arriola, Leonardo R., Patronage and Political Stability in Africa, Vol. 42, Issue 10, Comparative Political Studies, October 2009).

In addition, powerful religious, ethnic and political leaders often engage in political and ethnic manipulations while vehemently addressing the problem, often fueling rather than defusing tensions. (Princewill, Tabia, The politics of the poor man’s pain: Herdsmen, farmers and elite manipulation, January 17, 2018, Vanguard).

Second, the grazing and ranching debate is often politicized and painted in a way that tends toward either the marginalization of the Fulani or the preferential treatment of the Fulani, depending on who is involved in the debates. In June 2018, after several states affected by the conflict decided individually to introduce anti-grazing laws in their territories, the Federal Government of Nigeria, in an attempt to end the conflict and offer some adequate solution, announced plans to spend 179 billion naira (about 600 million US dollars) for the construction of livestock farms of the “ranch” type in ten states of the country. (Obogo, Chinelo, Uproar over proposed cattle ranches in 10 states. Igbo, Middle Belt, Yoruba groups reject FG’s plan, June 21st, 2018, The Sun).

While several groups outside pastoralist communities argued that pastoralism was a private business and should not incur public expenditure, the migratory pastoralist community also rejected the idea on the grounds that it was designed to oppress the Fulani community, affecting the freedom of movement of the Fulani. Several members of the livestock community claimed that the proposed livestock laws “are being used by some people as a campaign to win votes in the 2019 elections”. [5]

The politicization of the issue, combined with the government’s casual approach, makes any step towards resolving the conflict unattractive to the parties involved.

Thirdly, the Nigerian government’s reluctance to outlaw groups that have claimed responsibility for attacks on farming communities in retaliation for killing livestock is linked to the fear of a breakdown in the patron-client relationship. Although the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) justified the killing of dozens of people in Plateau State in 2018 as revenge for the killing of 300 cows by farming communities, the government refused to take any action against the group claiming that it is a socio-cultural group representing the interests of the Fulani. (Umoru, Henry, Marie-Therese Nanlong, Johnbosco Agbakwuru, Joseph Erunke and Dirisu Yakubu, Plateau massacre, retaliation for lost 300 cows – Miyetti Allah, June 26, 2018, Vanguard).This has led many Nigerians to think that the group was deliberately taken under the protection of the government because the incumbent president at the time (President Buhari) is from the Fulani ethnic group.

In addition, the inability of Nigeria’s ruling elite to deal with the impact of the neo-pastoral dimension of the conflict poses serious problems. Instead of addressing the reasons why pastoralism is becoming increasingly militarized, the government is focusing on the ethnic and religious dimensions of the conflict. In addition, many owners of large herds of cattle belong to influential elites with considerable influence, making it difficult to prosecute criminal activities. If the neo-pastoral dimension of the conflict is not properly assessed and an adequate approach to it is not adopted, there will probably be no change in the situation in the country and we will even witness the deterioration of the situation.

Sources used:

The complete list of the literature used in the first and second parts of the analysis is given at the end of the first part of the analysis, published under the title “Sahel – conflicts, coups and migration bombs”. Only those sources cited in the present third part of the analysis – “The Fulani, Neopastoralism and Jihadism in Nigeria” are given below.

Additional sources are given within the text.

[5] Ajala, Olayinka, New drivers of conflict in Nigeria: an analysis of the clashes between farmers and pastoralists, Third World Quarterly, Volume 41, 2020, Issue 12, (published online 09 September 2020), pp. 2048-2066,

[8] Brottem, Leif and Andrew McDonnell, Pastoralism and Conflict in the Sudano-Sahel: A Review of the Literature, 2020, Search for Common Ground,

[38] Sangare, Boukary, Fulani people and Jihadism in Sahel and West African countries, February 8, 2019, Observatoire of Arab-Muslim World and Sahel, The Fondation pour la recherche stratégique (FRS).

Photo by Tope A. Asokere: https://www.pexels.com/photo/low-angle-view-of-protesters-with-a-banner-5632785/

Note about the author:

Teodor Detchev has been a full-time associate professor at the Higher School of Security and Economics (VUSI) – Plovdiv (Bulgaria) since 2016.

He taught at New Bulgarian University – Sofia and at VTU “St. St. Cyril and Methodius”. He currently teaches at VUSI, as well as at UNSS. His main teaching courses are: Industrial relations and security, European industrial relations, Economic sociology (in English and Bulgarian), Ethnosociology, Ethno-political and national conflicts, Terrorism and political assassinations – political and sociological problems, Effective development of organizations.

He is the author of more than 35 scientific works on fire resistance of building structures and resistance of cylindrical steel shells. He is the author of over 40 works on sociology, political science and industrial relations, including the monographs: Industrial relations and security – part 1. Social concessions in collective bargaining (2015); Institutional Interaction and Industrial Relations (2012); Social Dialogue in the Private Security Sector (2006); “Flexible Forms of Work” and (Post) Industrial Relations in Central and Eastern Europe (2006).

He co-authored the books: Innovations in collective bargaining. European and Bulgarian aspects; Bulgarian employers and women at work; Social Dialogue and Employment of Women in the Field of Biomass Utilization in Bulgaria. More recently he has been working on issues of the relationship between industrial relations and security; the development of global terrorist disorganizations; ethnosociological problems, ethnic and ethno-religious conflicts.

Member of the International Labor and Employment Relations Association (ILERA), the American Sociological Association (ASA) and the Bulgarian Association for Political Science (BAPN).

Social democrat by political convictions. In the period 1998 – 2001, he was Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Policy. Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper “Svoboden Narod” from 1993 to 1997. Director of the newspaper “Svoboden Narod” in 2012 – 2013. Deputy Chairman and Chairman of SSI in the period 2003 – 2011. Director of “Industrial Policies” at AIKB since 2014 .to this day. Member of NSTS from 2003 to 2012.

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