Stopping Nigeria’s Spiralling Farmer-Herder Violence

The farmer-herder conflict has arguably become the greatest threat to Nigeria’s peace and security. It is exacting an ever-deadlier toll and, with elections looming in 2019, could destabilise the country if the government and other actors fail to contain it. Without measures ranging from immediate dialogue between affected communities to long-term livestock sector reform, the conflict risks escalating. President Buhari and the federal government must redouble efforts to check the violence, the drift of many young men toward ethnic militancy, the proliferation of assault weapons and the entrenchment of impunity. Those states enacting anti-open grazing policies should see herders not as unwanted intruders, but as a crucial link in the food security chain. For their part, herders’ organisations must accept that the old frameworks of farmer-herder relations and conflict resolution are no longer workable and that a transition to ranching is, over time, likely inevitable. They should discourage members from taking the law into their own hands, and instead urge them to channel their grievances through the appropriate authorities or seek redress in court. They should work closely with security agencies to identify groups responsible for attacks and killings. The transition from open grazing to ranching, which involves giving up traditions developed over many centuries of pastoralism, will not be easy. But it is not impossible – and not without benefits. The leaders of herders’ groups should endeavour to persuade their members to embrace ranching or related alternative vocations.