Nigeria Land Conflict Kills More Than Insurgency, ICG Says

  • Crisis has claimed more lives this year than Islamist revolt
  •  At least 300,000 people have fled their homes since January

A conflict between farming and herding communities in central Nigeria claimed six times more lives this year than a deadly Islamist insurgency in the northeast and is now the nation’s biggest security threat, the International Crisis Group said.

About 1,300 people died in the clashes in the first six months of the year, compared to an estimated 200 deaths related to Boko Haram, Nnamdi Obasi, a senior analyst with the Brussels-based organization, said by phone. The farmer-herder conflict “is clearly the foremost challenge to Nigerian security and stability,” he said.

As the Sahara desert advances southward, herders who traditionally grazed their cattle on plains in the semi-arid Sahel zone are moving into central and southern Nigeria to find grazing land, where they clash with farming communities. Most herders are Muslim and ethnic Fulanis, while farmers are predominantly Christian, which adds an ethnic and religious dimension to the conflict.

Local Militias

An estimated 300,000 people have been forced to flee their homes this year alone, according to an ICG report published Thursday. “The humanitarian response hasn’t been adequate,” Obasi said.

The rise of local militias with easy access to weapons, the persistence of impunity and legislation to ban grazing by state governments have contributed to an escalation of the conflict since January, according to the organization.

Competition over land and water has also intensified in other West African nations, including Niger, Mali and Ivory Coast.

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Burkina Faso and Niger have set up a joint committee to control cross-border movements of herders, and Ivory Coast recently approved a law that regulates grazing, requiring herders to carry permits if they take their cattle to other countries.

The Boko Haram group has waged a violent campaign since 2009 to impose its version of Islamic law in Africa’s most populous country of almost 200 million people. The insurgency has left more than 20,000 people dead and forced millions to flee their homes. Nigeria is almost evenly split between a mainly Muslim north and a predominantly Christian south.