Encroaching desert intensifies crisis for farmers and herders in Nigeria
By Kunle Adebajo and Murtala Abdullahi, CCIJ — April 14, 2022
A shirtless elderly man sits in the emergency room of a government hospital in northeast Nigeria. An IV line comes out of his right arm and an arrow from his left shoulder. A second arrow, the tip of which is now detached from its shaft, rests on a bedside table a few feet away. About a third of the man’s left arm is covered in bloodstained gauze. The bloodstains are also visible on his white pants and unbuttoned navy jacket. Within hours, Usman Alhaji Mikaila went from working in a rice paddy to fighting for his life.
The day before, at a farm in Nguru, Yobe state, where Mikaila was the foreman, workers were husking recently harvested rice when a herd of cattle started grazing in the same field. Normally, Mikaila said, herders would let farmers clean the hulled grains before letting cattle graze.
But as Mikaila walked towards the shepherds to complain about the disturbance, several arrows rained down on him. When the shepherds ran out of arrows, Mikaila says one of them charged him with a machete.
“I was carrying a pile of wood for the workers. The shepherd cut the wood and then my hand,” he said, gesturing with his unharmed arm. “Now they say the hand can no longer be a hand. It needs to be amputated. »
A younger victim who came to Mikaila’s aid was struck in the head. He had significant nerve damage and had to be transferred to a better equipped health facility in a neighboring state.
A new wave of bloodshed
Mikaila has been farming for over 40 years, but this is the first time an encounter with shepherds has put her life in danger. “We have problems from time to time, but it never escalated into violence,” he notes. The December 15, 2021 incident that injured Mikaila and another farmer is just one part of a larger pattern of growing hostilities between herders and farmers in this region.
At least 3,641 lives were lost to the crisis between 2016 and 2018, according to Amnesty International, with more than half of the deaths recorded in 2018 alone. In the first half of the same year, it is estimated 300,000 people have been displaced for the same reason. The North Central Region of Nigeria was particularly the focus of these clashes. But the violence is quickly spreading to other parts of the country, including the south.
Decades ago, farmers and herders in Nigeria enjoyed a relatively peaceful coexistence. In pre-colonial times, mechanisms such as the traditional administrative system which regulated grazing activities and demarcated cattle migration routes, known as burti, were essential in establishing clear boundaries between farmers and herders. In recent years, however, these mechanisms have begun to break down.
The problem has only been exacerbated by banditry and the Boko Haram insurgency in the north, which has forced nomadic Fulani herding households to migrate south. Thanks to improvements in veterinary medicine and cattle breeds, their herds can now survive tropical diseases in southern Nigeria.
But even if insecurity issues in the north were quickly resolved, the area would still not be attractive to return to. Climate change and human activity are causing desertification, a form of land degradation that leads to loss of vegetation and dwindling water sources.
And while the resources that herders and farmers compete for – fertile land and water – are rapidly dwindling, the populations of both groups are rapidly increasing. The result? Mistrust. Attacks. Counter attack. Even more mistrust. And then a seemingly endless cycle of brutality and bloodshed.
Over the past few years, the Nigerian government has begun to recognize the seriousness of the problem and has allocated resources to address it, but there have been a series of problems with the ownership, delivery and ultimately the effectiveness of these resources. The government has even tried to retrain some herders to work as herders, but little is known about the progress of this initiative.
The end result of these controversial and often unsuccessful initiatives, when coupled with accelerating rates of desertification, is not just continued violence, but the potential elimination of entire ways of life with future prospects. almost uncertain.