The environmental situation becomes even more severe during the dry season, thus worsening the security situation.
The conflicts involving farmers and herders in Nigeria remain one of the country’s top security challenges and a direct threat to national stability and unity. This is because the actors usually belong to different ethno-religious sections. These sections are the dominant pattern of public mobilisation and political loyalties in the country. The conflicts remain seemingly intractable as the core drivers of the conflict are not well understood.
PREMIUM TIMES took pictures of the environmental situation in Nigeria’s far North, the originating zone of the Fulani herders, to explain a root factor that pushes the herdsmen southwards to the sub-humid Middle Belt, the main theatre of the conflicts and the South. The environmental situation becomes even more severe during the dry season and when the herders migrate southwards, they compete for scarce resources with settled farmers. The result, in the context of far-removed governance and years of mistrust, is conflict, which usually snowball into violence.
Many times, the violence is interpreted as ethno-religious in the media and public discourses. However, the reality is that the farmers and herders are not concerned about any religion or ethnicity but resources to plant crops and graze cattle, respectively. The environmental problem also threatens food security.
Reality of desert encroachment: Desert-like conditions affecting vast swathes of land in Jibia, the town in Katsina State, sitting on the Nigerian border with Niger Republic. Locals, including farmers, herders and local journalists, said the desertification is expanding by the year, causing losses of fertile land for agriculture and pasture for cattle grazing. The effects are threat to food security, and national security, following scarcity of resources required to sustain life and migration of the herders for pasture in the Middle Belt and Southern Nigeria.
A child-herder, Mohammed, is frustrated as the dry season takes effect, exacerbating the environmental situation. He struggles to graze the cattle and says his family would soon move southwards for pasture. The farmland behind him is failing. This is the dry season of 2020 in Jibia, Katsina State.
Dryland in Goronyo, Sokoto State, semi-arid northwestern Nigeria: The grazing field barely offers adequate resources to feed cattle. The herder told PREMIUM TIMES he would be moving to Benue State, Middle Belt Nigeria, for pasture. While Benue promises greater resources for grazing, the reality there is that its population is expanding, with consequent needs for land to build houses and firms, and for more resources for crop farming by settled indigenous farmers. Then, competition for scarce resources ensue, usually leading to violence in rural communities where governance is far removed.