The revelation by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs that more than 81, 000 Nigerians are presently in need of assistance, with 73 killed in recent clashes between herders and farmers in Adamawa State, is quite disturbing. The report indicated that the clashes occurred in Lamurde Local Government Area of the state on May 15 and 16, leaving houses burnt and businesses destroyed. More than 81, 110 people are estimated to be in need of humanitarian assistance in the Council as a result of the disturbances.
In a country without reliable data, the number reported may be low. Coming on the heels of the Coronavirus (COVID 19) pandemic that has exposed the fragility of Nigeria’s health care sector and vulnerability of its economy, the clash raises more concern.
We call on the appropriate agencies of the state to rise up to the challenges posed by the situation to avoid escalation. In the past, when such clashes occurred, they had left behind deaths and avoidable destruction. A report by the Amnesty International in December 2018 had put the number of those killed in the clashes since 2016 at 3,600.
The North-Central states of Benue, Plateau and Nasarawa and other states have borne the brunt of the clashes, mostly. Other states have also been affected in the recurring conflicts that have led to thousands of deaths and displacements. A particular attack on five Benue Councils on January 1, 2018, left more than 70 people dead in one fell swoop. Another assault on the state on April 24, 2018, by suspected pastoralists on a Catholic Church, left two priests along with 15 of their parishioners in an early morning worship session, murdered. Two months later, clashes in Plateau State between June 24 and 26, 2018, resulted to about 135 or 200 deaths while the police claimed that only 86 people were killed.
Elsewhere, suspected herdsmen had struck in Ukpabi-Nimbo community of Enugu State on April 25, 2016, leaving in their trail 50 persons dead and property destroyed. The herders also claimed that they were attacked and their cattle rustled.
There is no doubt that these clashes are caused by issues bordering on land and water use, dispute over grazing routes, livestock theft and crop damage. Pressure on land occasioned by migration from the far North to the Middle Belt region and the South due to drought and desertification, has also resulted to disagreement between the farmers and the herdsmen. In a situation where the herders, mostly Muslims, migrate to the largely Christian settlements of the North-Central and the South, the fragile relations between the two leading religions are readily activated. In the absence of mutually accepted conflict mediation mechanisms, such disagreements easily escalate to violent clashes.
Responses to the crisis at both the federal and state levels have been poor or inadequate as shown in not much being done in arresting and prosecuting perpetrators of the clashes. The causes of the attacks have not been addressed, while the victims are yet to get justice.
We urge the government to rise beyond the current lethargy in tackling the menace. This calls for increased intelligence gathering by the security agents through establishment of early-warning and rapid response systems.
The security of life is the major reason government exists. It is also one of the major promises of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration. He also promised to fight corruption and revamp the economy. A nation without security can be regarded as a failed state. We call on the Federal Government to ensure that such clashes do not recur. Government should use its monopoly of the instrument of coercion for the common good.
The concern by elder statesmen, like former Chief of Army Staff, General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma and erstwhile Steel Minister, Paul Unongo, that Fifth Columnists and dangerous elements within the system may be behind the clashes should not be dismissed. Those caught fomenting trouble or behind the skirmishes should be dealt with commensurately.
The recurring clashes between herders and farmers constitute a threat to the corporate existence of the country. The conflicts, which mostly take place in the food-producing zones of the country, impact on food security and can escalate poverty in the country. The government should pay serious attention to the matter.