Is the media fuelling herder vs farmer clashes?

Author:Collins, Tom
Position:Around Africa: Nigeria

Clashes between cattle herders and farmers over scarce resources have reached crisis levels in Nigeria as the death toll escalates. Adding fuel to the fire is the alleged bias of media reporting and the politicisation of the conflict.

Moments after Nigeria's former Vice-President-turned-opposition-party-leader Atiku Abubakar had crafted a motley coalition from 38 of the country's lesser-known parties, with the sole vision of wrestling power from President Muhammadu Buhari in the 2019 elections, the heavyweight politician approached the media carrying a sign saying '#Buhari, Nigeria Lives Matter, Stop the Killings.'

The sign referred to the quickly-unfolding crisis in Nigeria's middle belt where northern and predominantly Muslim herders are clashing with largely Christian farmers in a battle over land, as the pastoralists move further south to escape desertification and conflict in the Sahel.

Brewing for around two years, Abubakar's explicit message appears on the back of the conflict's recent escalation. Indeed, middle belt unrest has killed more people in Nigeria this year than Boko Haram.

It also shows how the issue is being politicised and hints at the inflammatory role played by a Nigerian media gripped in the throes of an election period. Buhari, never quick to act, has so far offered very few solutions.

Unless a compromise allowing both farmers and herdsmen to maintain their livelihoods can be envisaged and the media ceases to exacerbate rifts within Nigerian society, the conflict looks like only growing worse.

Explaining the conflict

At its most basic, the conflict is a dispute over land and resource allocation. A number of factors are currently increasing competition and disagreement over resources in Nigeria.

One is environmental. "The increase in southern migration by the herders is connected to the increasing scarcity of arable land, which is of course connected to climate change," says Ini Dele-Adedeji, Nigeria researcher at SOAS University, London.

As the Sahara grows ever bigger, traditional grazing land is turning to desert and herders are forced to look further south to sustain their cattle. This then produces an unfortunate dilemma over how land should be used: either for grazing or farming.

Adding to this debate are the unintended consequences of recent policy shifts in Nigeria. During his presidency, Buhari has made a concerted effort to focus on smallholder farming and agriculture as a way to kick-start the economy.


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