Originally published in World Watch Monitor
Many experts on Nigeria now believe that violence across the Middle Belt, which World Watch Monitor has reported at length, has been responsible for more deaths than Boko Haram.
As Emmanuel Akinwotu wrote last year in the New Statesman, the conflict – between indigenous settled farmers (mainly Christian) and nomadic Fulani herdsmen (mainly Muslim) – is an old one but shows no sign of abating as the impacts of climate change intensify.
While the conflict is at its most intense in southern Kaduna, as World Watch Monitor highlighted in July, other states, such as Nasarawa, continue to face low-level violence, which in turn threatens growing and widespread instability, as villagers flee and become ‘internally displaced’.
Since the majority of those displaced are Christians who depend on subsistence farming, shortage of food is then a risk for them and the wider community.
When World Watch Monitor published a detailed in-depth report over two years ago, it was noted that “herdsmen are now in the habit of pushing their herds to eat up crops of farmers” and that “the conflict will frustrate the attainment of development goals, as children are displaced and no longer go to school, homes are burnt – and in some instances vandalised – and accessing medical services has become more challenging than ever.
“Conflict means many Christians will be deprived of access to education, medical facilities and the comfort of their homes.
“Ongoing policy consultations by the state governments in Kaduna, Benue and Nasarawa about allocating land to be ‘classified’ as ‘grazing’ fields mean that vast swathes of land will be taken away from indigenous Christian communities and made into grazing fields for Hausa-Fulani Muslim herdsmen.”
Recently World Watch Monitor has had two updates which illuminate that March 2015 report.
The first was a political development, which showed how one Middle Belt State Governor is attempting to deal with the challenges he has faced through legislation.
The second relates to a recent incident in Nasarawa, reported to World Watch Monitor by two local pastors.
“On July 22, some Fulani herdsmen attacked Mante Community in Kokona Local Government Area of Nasarawa State,” explained Rev Abel Dauji, Regional Secretary of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) in Nasarawa. “The attack led to the death of one man, several others were cut with machetes, and many houses were burnt down, including some vehicles.
“The herdsmen also looted homes, while their cattle ate the farmers’ crops. As a result, the community has been deserted. No arrests have been made by the security agencies, even though they visited the area.
“Mante community is 25km from Keffi town. The majority of inhabitants are Ninzom, who have been there for over a hundred years, farming, as did their ancestors. They have settled and are peaceful people without a history of incident or crisis. Not until July 22, 2017.”
Joseph Umaru, an ECWA pastor in Mante, explained how the incident had shattered decades of peaceful co-existence between the farmers and their predominantly Fulani herdsmen neighbours.
“As Fulani herdsmen were on their way to grazing, their animals entered one of my church member’s farm. It was Thursday morning, between 11 to 12 noon,” he said.
“The animals started feeding on soya bean plants and the female owner reacted: ‘How can you do that? How can you let your animals eat my bean plants?’ But instead of withdrawing his cows, the herdsman started threatening her. He told her: ‘Do what you can [to stop them]!’
“She decided to call villagers to her rescue. Her son, Mathew, first to arrive, heard the Fulani insult his mother and threaten to beat her. An angry exchange of words between him and the herdsman suddenly turned into a violent argument. The herdsman removed his machete from its sheath and left a deep cut on Mathew’s hand.
“The second Fulani herdsman took out his machete to also wound Mathew, but Mathew managed to dodge, and the Fulani cut himself.
“The herdsman ran to report the incident to his parents, but lied that his friend had been killed by a Mante man.
“The parents spread the story, and not long after, their brethren converged at the community centre to decide on how to carry on their revenge mission.
“They concluded to lay an ambush on any walkways that leads to the farms and exits of the community. They used cutlasses to hurt anyone they came across.
“As a result, one of my church members, Saleh Musa, 55, was killed. He left behind ten children. They also went on the rampage, looting and setting fire to properties. Five houses were burnt to ashes, and one motorbike and two cars were set ablaze.
“Mathew reported himself to the security agency to clear his conscience; the police chose to keep him in custody; they said it for his own security.
“No arrest has been made, but an investigation is underway, said the police.”
However, Professor Yusufu Turaki, Director of the Centre for the Study of Religion, Church and Society at Jos ECWA Theological Seminary in Nigeria, told World Watch Monitor that, in reality, such promises of police investigations often come to nothing.
“Speaking from experience with Nigerian society, they [the police] will start something as if they are serious about it, but after a few weeks the thing sinks and nothing happens again. We have seen a lot of that… This for me has become the culture: the culture of making ripples, making a noise and fooling the people into thinking that you are doing something, but actually not meaning it.”