|Cattle herdsmen sometimes have to flee Islamic militants/insurgency/cattle rustling|
By Ulf Laesing
Muslim herdsmen fleeing Boko Haram jihadists, fast-spreading desertification and more recently rampant cattle rustling in the north of Nigeria are clashing with Christian farmers in the south, adding a dangerous new dimension to the sectarian tensions and militancy plaguing the country.
Thousands of people from Muslim Fulani tribes have moved southwards this year, leading to a series of clashes over land that have killed more than 350 people (SEE NEXT STORY), most of them Christian crop farmers, according to residents and rights activists.
The fighting threatens to fracture the country further by bolstering support for a Christian secessionist movement in the southeast, which has been lingering for decades but gained fresh momentum late last year when resentment over poverty and the arrest of one of its leaders spilled over into street protests.
The conflict is also exposing a growing problem that has attracted less international attention than Boko Haram and the militants threatening oil production in the Niger Delta region.
Fertile land is becoming scarcer across Africa's most populous nation, and conflict over this dwindling resource is likely to intensify. The population of poverty-stricken Nigeria is expected to more than double to almost 400 million by 2050, according to the United Nations.
There are no signs that the secessionists will take up arms against the government like in the 1967-70 civil war that killed one million people. But the clashes and growing resentment at the arrival of Muslim herdsmen come at a time when many people in the southeast are complaining about widespread poverty.
In one of the deadliest clashes, about 50 people were killed in April when Fulanis attacked the village of Nimbo in the southeastern state of Biafra, according to residents, rights groups and lawmakers who visited Nimbo after the violence.
They said the attackers opened fire on villagers and torched a house where a priest and his family were sleeping, with the family only surviving by jumping out of a window.
"The Fulanis ... came in the town and shot at any man they saw and killed him," said Joseph Obeta, another priest in Nimbo, which is now almost deserted after hundreds of villagers fled during or after the attack.
Obeta said if there was an independent state in the southeast of Nigeria, it would be easier to prevent such violence.
"It would make a difference if the southeast were on its own."
He was echoing the sentiment of campaigners lobbying for an independent Biafra. They say they want to stop the Muslim north from dominating the Christian south of the West African country, which is split fairly evenly between Muslims and Christians.
They say the influx of herdsmen from the north is part of a plan by the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, a Fulani Muslim, to turn Nigeria into an Islamic nation - an allegation vehemently denied by the government and Buhari.
Fulani leaders say their communities have no choice but to migrate southwards.
The precise numbers involved are unclear, but thousands first moved to central Nigeria to seek new pastures and escape the violence and insecurity of the Boko Haram insurgency.
Growing desertification - where fertile land turns into desert for reasons including over-exploitation and drought - has forced many further south this year, to more than 1,000 km from their homeland.
|Cattle herdsmen and their livestock obstructing traffic in Abuja Federal Capital Territory|
The Fulani leaders say they are clamping down on members who commit crimes but added that they often were themselves victims of kidnapping, attacks or cattle rustling at the hands of residents of southern farming communities.
"When they suffer maltreatment (in southern areas they migrate to), they do not usually speak up or report to police until when it becomes unbearable, then they will react," said Alhaji Gidado, head of the Fulani cattle breeder association in the southeast.
Buhari said last week that he had ordered security forces to "deal decisively" with violence between herdsmen and farmers.
But he faces a host of other crises.
His security forces are battling the Boko Haram in the northeast - the president's priority since taking office last year after making an election promise to defeat the jihadists.
Seven years into Boko Haram's insurgency that spread from Nigeria into Chad, Niger and Cameroon, regional armies have retaken most of the territory that had been seized by the group, though it still stages suicide bombings.
The countries are in a final push to defeat the hard-line Sunni Muslim group, which has pledged allegiance to Islamic State, but lingering divisions in their joint task force are complicating that mission.
Buhari has also promised to crush militants that have carried out pipeline bombings in the southern Niger Delta region and are threatening to trigger a wider conflict that could cripple oil production in a country facing a growing economic crisis.
On the problems created by Fulanis migrating south, residents and rights activists said Buhari's previous pledges to tackle the clashes between the herdsmen and crop farmers had not been backed up by any significant security action.
Human rights lawyer Emmanuel Ogebe, invited by the U.S. House of Representatives to give testimony in May about Boko Haram and other crises facing Nigeria, said the Fulanis had been operating in "plain sight" to stage attacks that were more brutal than the jihadist group.
Police have said they had increased patrols in farming areas that have been affected by violence but local youth have nevertheless taken up arms against Fulanis since the Nimbo attack.
"The Fulani people have been robbing, raping women," said 28-year old Anthony Okafor, searching cars at a vigilante checkpoint outside Nimbo. "That's why we are here."
Some residents said the youth, with their outdated rifles borrowed from farmers, would be no match for the Fulanis, who they said had assault weapons.
Officials worry poverty levels are rising in rural areas, where there are few job opportunities outside agriculture, as many scared farmers have abandoned their fields.
Stanley Okeke, head of the government council in Agwu, said production of cassava, a staple crop, had fallen significantly in parts of Enugu state, to which Nimbo and Agwu belong.
James Onyimba, leader of a community comprising six villages in Enugu, said many farmers were now sitting idle at home. "Farming is our main job. We don't have any factories," he added. "The problem of unemployment is getting worse."
B’ Haram, Fulani Herdsmen Kill Over 3,000 Under Buhari — Gbenro Adeoye & Jesusegun Alagbe
It was alleged that the assailants had attacked their victims for refusing to allow the herdsmen use their farmland for grazing their cattle.
B’ Haram, Fulani Herdsmen Kill Over 3,000 Under Buhari — Gbenro Adeoye & Jesusegun Alagbe
Troops arrest four Boko Haram Commanders in Borno
By Gbenro Adeoye and Jesusegun Alagbe
No fewer than 3,094 Nigerians have been killed by suspected Boko Haram insurgents and Fulani herdsmen since President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office on May 29, 2015, Saturday PUNCH (May 28, 2016) investigations have revealed.
Findings by our correspondents based on related killings as reported by the media show that at least 2, 569 persons were killed by the insurgents while 525 others were killed by the nomadic cattle herdsmen in the period under review.
It was also learnt that thousands of persons, including women and children, sustained various degrees of injuries from the attacks.
Available figures indicated that the number of persons killed by the suspected insurgents dramatically dropped after President Buhari’s four months in office.
In the last days of May 2015, following President Buhari’s inaugural speech, the deadly sect reportedly killed 97 persons and injured several others.
In June, July, August, September and October 2015, the sect reportedly killed 368, 635, 431, 267, and 279 persons, respectively.
But starting from November 2015, the number of persons reportedly killed by the sect dipped with November 2015 recording 81 deaths; December, 136; January 2016, 104; February 2016, 90; March 2016, 26; April 2016, 43; and May 2016, 12.
In 2015, Nigeria ranked third in the 2015 Global Terrorism Index, trailing Iraq and Afghanistan.
According to the index, on June 4, 2015, a female suicide bomber in Maiduguri killed two people near a military checkpoint. On the same day, 45 people were also killed in a Yola market, Adamawa State when a blast ripped through the place.
On July 1, 2015, suicide bombers attacked a hospital in Kukawa, Borno State when Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo visited the state, killing 118 people.
Also on July 17, 2015, 50 persons were killed when suicide bombers attacked a Muslim prayer ground in Damaturu, Yobe State.
One of the worst Boko Haram attacks in the last one year include an attack on Dalori village, some four kilometres from Maiduguri, Borno State on January 30, 2015, where at least 86 people were reportedly killed after an invasion by the insurgents.
On February 9, 2016, 60 people were reportedly killed while 78 others were wounded when two female suicide bombers suspected to be Boko Haram members, sneaked into a camp for internally displaced persons in Dikwa, Borno State.
However, the situation did not apply to the casualty figures associated with Fulani herdsmen attacks.
June 2015 recorded 97 deaths arising from suspected Fulani herdsmen attacks; September recorded three; October, 18; November, 22; December, 28; February 2016, 300; April 2016, 55; and May 2016, two.
Last December, no fewer than 22 persons were reportedly killed when suspected Fulani herdsmen attacked Kwata in Jos South Local government area of Plateau State.
In February 2016, suspected Fulani herdsmen attacked a village in Agatu, Benue State, reportedly killing at least 300 persons. The attack has been described as one of the worst ever witnessed in the series of attacks by Fulani herdsmen.
In April, 2016, at least 40 persons were also reportedly killed when suspected herdsmen attacked Nimbo in Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu State.
About seven villages in Nimbo including Ugwuijoro, Ekwuru, Ebor, Umuome and Ugwuachara were among the areas attacked.
No fewer than 10 houses including a church were also said to have been burnt in the attack.
In the same month, suspected Fulani herdsmen also attacked Dori and Mesuma villages in Gashaka Local Government Area of Taraba State, killing at least 15 people, according to the police. Although, residents said more than 40 persons were killed and several houses razed by the assailants.
One of the most recent attacks by suspected Fulani herdsmen occurred on Friday, May 20, 2016, when two persons were killed and six others injured following an attack on Oke Ako in Ikole Local Government Area of Ekiti State.