BY: Naveed Qazi
In one of the most fertile Nigerian regions called Benue, there lies a village called Aya Mbalom.
Here, the Christian farmers and Muslim herdsmen have lived in harmony for decades. But a worrisome, wanton and unabated destruction has started in the region.
As of now, the soil is degrading for various reasons and the village population has also surged between the two communities. The Christians are predominantly farmers and town dwellers. The Muslims are predominantly herdsmen.
The war for survival rages between the two religious communities, mainly for stocks of food ration and dwindling farmlands.
With the result, more than 1500 people have been dead and thousands have been displaced. This kind of internal wrangling, it seems, resembles what had happened in other African states such as Sierra Leone and Liberia in the past.
Wall Street Journal Correspondent Joe Parkinson calls it a deadlier conflict than Boko Haram insurgency.
Fulani herdsmen, fighting an uprising with arms have been on a rampage. These acts of pogroms may have divided the two communities for a long time to come. The conflict might also spread to other fertile states known as the middle belt.
In April 2018, they ambushed a church, opened fire, and killed around 17 worshippers and two priests.
The armed Fulani herdsmen have been responsible for destruction for other public and private property as well, including schools, hospitals, water boreholes, reservoirs and they have done forced invasion of several ancestral lands.
The panicked Christian community is urging the government to supply them with arms so that they could protect their community. If something like this happens, a long-term civil war will become apparent.
On the other hand, Fulani herdsmen believe that the cattle they own has often been stolen by the Christian farmers. It has been one of the reasons, why there has been a rise in violence from their side. On the other hand, farmers believe that the security forces did not intervene when their villages were attacked by Fulani herdsmen.
In fact, Nigerian Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka has called for immediate international interventions and has warned that the recent surge of killings could end up in an ethnic cleansing seen in Yugoslavia in the 1990’s.
In Benue’s capital, Makurdi, production of food including cassava, maize and soy has collapsed and it is prompting the villagers to make defence forces for their protection.
Local officials believe that the Fulani herdsmen are controlling farms in over seventy villages. In Makurdi’s outskirts, two-refugee camps host around 30,000 displaced people. More people keep on arriving, according to information by local officials.
One of the camps has been made out of a ramshackle primary school building, where two toilets host around 10,000 people. The situation has become unimaginable.
The White House has asked for remarks from President Muhammadu Buhari. The US government has expressed displeasure over the nonchalant attitude of Nigerian government on the killings by Fulani herdsmen, time and again.
The incumbent Nigerian President believes that Fulani herdsmen don’t carry rifles, but rather sticks and machetes to cut foliage for their cattle. He believes that poverty and lack of jobs have escalated the conflict. The President has urged the people of Benue to stand collectively for peace and harmony. But, it seems, that a serious confrontation of opinions has been instigated between the Nigerian government and the US government.
When Joe Parkinson interviewed an old Nigerian lady, she said, “they (Fulani) killed as many as they could.” There are rumours where it is believed that Boko Haram militants have been hired to kill in the local Christian villages, a claim which the Fulani herdsmen deny. They think it is a work of some marginal criminal elements.
In the recent past, the Nigerian government introduced stricter laws that halted the grazing to raise agricultural output. At this point in time, the government fears that the conflict could intensify ahead of elections in 2019. Around 20 million cattle farmers, who own around 50 million livestock, want an end to new laws introduced by the government, that reduce the grazing.
International Crises Group believes that these confrontations could spill over to other regions, in terms of ‘resource wars’ across West Africa’s Sahel region. Jihadism is rising there amongst people, which is resulting in surging migration around the continent.
The herdsmen communities in Africa are largely concentrated in Sahel region. They move their cattle across thousands of miles to regions of Central Asian Republic from Senegal. During dry summers, they take their cattle towards the south. But longer dry seasons and growing population has destroyed nature’s equilibrium.
According to International Crises Group, 75% of land in places such as Sokoto, Katsina, Bauchi and Kano has turned into a dry desert. It is forcing the herders, who are armed, into the south, where they encounter settled farmers who are trying to harvest more land. It is believed, until 2050, this region will have more population than the U.S.
Head of Allah Cattle Breeder’s Association, Usman Ngelzerma, who directs Nigeria’s largest Fulani advocacy group, keeps a book illustrating slain Fulani corpses. He thinks the regional media is biased towards the community by making polemics and uniting many communities against them.
Naveed Qazi is the author of ‘The Trader of War Stories’ (2018) and ‘Musings on Global Politics’ (2018) [email protected]