Nigeria may continue to walk a violent tightrope as measures towards addressing the country’s farmers-herdsmen conflict, considered a threat to national survival, are not in the re-election campaign manifesto of President Muhammadu Buhari and only mentioned with a casual air in Atiku Abubakar’s plans, PREMIUM TIMES has observed.
The conflict is not new. Studies show that the pastoral conflict has posed an unrelenting security concern in the years preceding the Buhari administration. But decades of not tackling it decisively has seen it snowball that it now threatens the very existence of the country. Though reliable statistics on the impacts of the conflict are scarce, the Global Terrorism Index reported the conflict claimed 1,229 human lives in 2014. Mr Buhari came to power in 2015.
However, under Mr Buhari, it became Nigeria’s major defining problem with implications for national survival and socio-economic well-being, including food security and livelihoods. A 2017 report by Lagos-based SBM Intelligence suggested the conflict accounted for 44 per cent of Nigeria’s fatalities in 2016, the year that witnessed the international attention-grabbing Agatu Massacre.
Throughout 2017, killings resulting from the conflict regularly featured in daily media reports. The country opened 2018 on a fatal note with the killing of 73 citizens in Benue State by suspected herdsmen.
“Pastoralists-farmers conflicts in Nigeria have grown, spread and intensified over the past decade and today poses a threat to national survival,” according to a January 2018 memo by Attahiru Jega, Ibrahim Gambari, and Martin Agwai. “Thousands of people have been killed, communities have been destroyed and so many farmers and pastoralists have lost their lives and property in an orgy of killings and destruction that is not only destroying livelihoods but also affecting national cohesion.”
Despite the seriousness of the issue, Mr Buhari and his main challenger, Mr Abubakar, at best have paid drab attention to the crisis in their campaigns for the 2019 election.
In the APC’s Next Level manifesto of Mr Buhari, there is no mention of the crisis even though it has taken a spiralling dimension since the president came to power in 2015. Ironically, one of Mr Buhari’s main election promises in 2015 was to tackle the country’s security lapses.
“This is extremely tragic,” said Cheta Nwanze on the absence of the herders-farmers crisis in the manifesto of Mr Buhari.
Meanwhile, in the Atiku policy document, the farmers-herders conflict is stated among “other persistent challenges'” that include terrorism in the Northeast, Niger Delta militancy and politically orchestrated acts of conflicts.
Yet, apart from a mention, Mr Atiku offers no measures to address the conflict, unlike the somewhat detailed solution the document proposes to end the Boko Haram terrorism, kidnapping and the militancy in the Niger Delta region.
When questioned by PREMIUM TIMES, the spokesperson for the Atiku campaign, Segun Sowunmi, counter-reacted rhetorically: “Have you seen the APC’s Next Level document? Is the herdsmen crisis given much prominence?”
Mr Sowunmi explained that the policy document for the purpose of the campaign could not have captured ‘all the emotions’ and plans of a party, but just the direction it plans to go. However, the Atiku document includes specific steps towards addressing other security challenges, excluding only farmers-herders crisis.
“If for print out error or not wanting to make the document too talky or not wanting the document to be divisive or not wanting to go into specific details of security…I don’t think that is a flaw,” argued Mr Sowunmi, adding that his principal has clear thoughts about the country’s problems more than any other candidate.
Festus Keyamo, who speaks for the Buhari campaign, was evasive when PREMIUM TIMES made efforts to have him comment on this report. Repeated calls to his phone after we both agreed to a telephone interview were not answered.
Similarly, Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu, both of whom speak for Mr Buhari, also declined to comment on this report.
The crisis has a socio-political context, including history, culture, ethnicity, religion, state capacity and politics of the elites, which has further drawn it out and made it a seemingly intractable challenge.
“It is a resource conflict but has taken a religious colouration,” noted Mr Nwanze, who is lead consultant at the SBM Intelligence.
This context evokes diverse sensitivities and sentiments across the country and might be the reason both Mr Buhari and Mr Atiku, like previous administrations, are not demonstrating boldness in the face of a challenge on the edge of which Nigeria’s stability and unity stand.
Speaking of the treatment of the crisis by both Mr Buhari and Mr Atiku, Mr Nwanze said it appeared there is no identification of the problem, adding that the solution may, therefore, be impossible.
“It may go on to the extent that we may even forget what (the actual cause of) the problem is,” said Mr Nwanze.
The crisis poses a grave risk to Nigeria’s unity and stability – perhaps greater than any other crisis – because usually, the belligerents are from diverse ethno-religious backgrounds; for instance, Muslim Fulani herders and Christian Tarok or Tiv farmers with a long history of distrust.
This context evokes diverse sensitivities and sentiments across the country and might be the reason both Mr Buhari and Mr Atiku, like previous administrations, are not demonstrating boldness in the face of the challenge.