For generations, farmers and pastoralist herders throughout West Africa have lived in relative harmony - a symbiotic partnership kept cropland fertile and cattle well-nourished. However, increased competition between these two groups caused by population growth, environmental degradation, the expansion of cultivated land and regional instability has led to the breakdown of farmer-herder relationships and widespread violence.
At its core, farmer-herder violence stems from competition over limited resources; however the crisis has increasingly been framed within Nigeria as an ethno-religious conflict with farming communities being typically Christian and herder communities predominantly Muslim. This conceptualisation of the violence is not just over-simplified and inaccurate, it is also highly dangerous and has served to further stoke the already deeply entrenched ethno-religious divides within Nigeria.
The farmer-herder conflict has become one of Nigeria’s most urgent security challenges. Since 2017 farmer-herder violence has claimed more lives than the Boko Haram insurgency, which has dominated discussions on Nigerian security over the past decade. It has displaced hundreds of thousands of people, damaged local economies, and entrenched ethnic and religious polarisation. It threatens to become even deadlier, and it is feared it could spread to other areas.
To date, responses to the escalating violence have been ineffective and inappropriate in nature because they fail to reflect the true underlying drivers of insecurity. Responses have been dominated by high-level discussions amongst security, government and political elites who have limited connection to the communities most affected by the violence and, as such, do not fully understand the complex nature of the conflict dynamics.
There is no organised community effort to build peace because we don’t trust each other. However, everyone is tired, so the time is ripe for us to talk about solutions. We just need to be supported and we can build the bridges between us.
A farmer from Plateau State
Alongside our local partners, we are working in ten communities in Plateau State - one of the areas most affected by displacement and violence in recent years. We believe that peacebuilding initiatives will have more success if the people most affected by the conflict are involved. This is why we are working with groups of herders and farmers to develop the skills and confidence required to jointly find creative ways to resolve the violence.
We are training over 300 people from farming and pastoralist herder communities in conflict analysis and peacebuilding techniques, helping them to gain practical skills to identify and analyse key causes of conflict in their communities and develop strategies for mediation. Through facilitated dialogues, the project looks to build trust and understanding between the divided groups so that they have the confidence to work together and use these skills to mutually develop and implement strategies to resolve sources of conflict. From June 2019 we will be organising monthly ‘peace markets’ to provide a space for farmer and pastoralist herder communities to come together and celebrate their peaceful coexistence by selling and buying their respective products side-by-side. The project also looks to document examples of local responses that have effectively managed herder-farmer relations in Plateau State, Nigeria and beyond.
In parallel, the project aims to strengthen relationships between herders, farmers and local authorities, including security actors. Both herders and farmers do not feel the authorities are currently doing their best to address their needs, and resolve their conflicts.
There is a cycle of violence that is going on because the systems for seeking redress are not working. You report a case and there is no response or the person is arrested and the next day this person is walking around without any remorse. Where there are systems for redress in place there will be no reprisals.
Herder living in Plateau state
The project will create a range of spaces for members of the conflict-affected communities, security actors, and political officials to interact with one another, share their concerns and suggest solutions to the challenges they face. These spaces look to build trust and provide a forum for two-way communication and collaboration between the different groups. State-level political leaders will also be invited to take part in learning visits to the region, designed to enable them to better understand the realities of the violence, and determine what new responses are needed.
This work is being implemented in partnership with Conciliation Resources’ local partner - The Centre for Peace Advancement in Nigeria (CEPAN). CEPAN works to create peaceful communities in Nigeria by promoting peacebuilding and development through dialogue, reconciliation, training, research and disseminating accurate and reliable information on peace and development.
This project has been made possible due to the generous financial support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of Conciliation Resources and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.