Professor Adeolu Akande
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Adeolu Akande


Department of Political Science and Public Administration

Igbinedion University


Edo State











Paper presented to the Students Representative Council

Lead City University

Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria

March 29, 2018



There are very few issues that dominate public discourse in contemporary Nigeria as the conflict between Fulani herdsmen and farmers. The conflicts have become so recurring and intense in the last one year or so that Herdsmen and farmers conflict has almost become a generic name for all kinds of inter-ethnic conflict in Nigeria. There has been several initiatives to address the problem, one of which is the proposal of the Anti-Grazing Bill by some state governments. Contrarily, the Federal government had proposed the Cattle Colony and the Grazing Reserve Bill to address the problem. This paper examines the Grazing Reserve Bill as elixir to the problem of herdsmen and farmers conflict in Nigeria. It begins by providing theoretical perspectives to put the subject in context. It examines, in quick succession, the causes of the conflict between pastoralists and farmers before looking at the implications of the conflicts. The next section examines the Grazing Reserve Bill as elixir to the problem of herdsmen and farmers conflict. It ends with a conclusion highlighting issues to consider in finding a final solution to the perennial conflict between herdsmen and farmers.

Keywords: Herdsmen/farmer Conflict, national security, Nigeria’s Fourth Republic














The activities of herdsmen have become worrisome in recent times.  There have been reported cases of farmer-herdsmen attacks across the country. Many people commit heinous crimes in the name of herdsmen. The spate of atrocities masterminded by herdsmen has continued to threaten national integration vis and vis national security. It further intensifies suspicion between ethnic nationalities in Nigeria. The Fulbe/Fulani usually graze cattle, goats, and sheep and live throughout the Sahel region, in Senegal, Mali, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Northern Nigeria. At the end of the rainy season, the pastoralists move southward from the Sahara Desert. Mobility enables pastoralists to get the most out of the sporadic rainy seasons that are characteristic of these dry lands..

According to Blench (2004) farmer-pastoralist conflicts are associated with land resource. Incessant conflict between farmers and herdsmen has been linked to the theory of eco-violence (Okoli & Atelhe, 2014), where environmental factors and exploitation of scarce resources lead to conflict and violence.  This may be due to the dwindling grazing resources (land, pasture etc.) and poor management of existing grazing reserves (Adisa, 2012). In addition, the population is dynamic and ever increasing compared to land that is relatively static. The population growth rate of Nigeria per year is 3.2% (National Population Commission, 2012).

There are several factors responsible for conflict between farmers and herdsmen especially in recent times. First, replacement of traditional communal property by private ownership seems to be one of the potent reasons advanced for this protracted conflict (Adisa, 2012). It is commonplace these days that political elite or power brokers in society now lay claim to land that is communally held by community. Furthermore, it is commonplace to see that Burtalis (cattle pathways) close to cities do not exist anymore as houses and filling (petrol/gas) stations have taken over their places.  Cattle now have to compete with motorists to the only path that is tarred road. The other causes of the conflicts are blockage of waterholes by farmers and fishermen; crop damage by pastoralists livestock and reprisal attacks on pastoralists by sedentary farmers when ethnic or religious disputes occur somewhere else (Umar, 2002; Abbass, 2012; Audu, 2014). Furthermore, allocation of grazing lands as government layouts without compensating the pastoralists could ignite conflict (Rasak, 2011).

Land seems to be one of the factors that compound the problem of indigene/settlers deep-rooted conflicts in Nigeria. Land is highly valued in Nigeria in particular and Africa in general. Africans and indeed Nigerians see land as an inheritance from God and, as such, nobody wants outsiders to encroach on his inheritance. Land is handed over from one generation to the other (Beinen, 2000). According to Delville (1997:112) conflict usually occurs when livestock is poorly controlled, and when animals wander about in cultivated fields. This always occurs at critical times in the annual cycle mainly during sowing, when herds are late in leaving agricultural lands and during harvests; if they return too early, clashes occur when agricultural activities hinder the movement of animals and cut off their access to water sources or pastures.

Interactions among people of different ethno-cultural backgrounds are crucial concerns in the world, as conflicts, which naturally emanate from such relations, are important issues that impede effective interactions and social harmony. Ethnicity is a very powerful force in the socio-economic politics of Nigeria, and is more fervently exhibited within the ‘indigene-settler dichotomy’ (Odoemene,2008). This strong division results both from the awareness of indigenes (hosts) and settlers (strangers) that they are different, and from the labelling of ‘settlers’ by ‘indigenes’ (Ibeanu and Onu 2001). Indeed, the indigene-settler question in Nigeria remains a contentious issue in accessing land, education, employment, political prospects and other socio-economic opportunities. Land is central to all the conflicts mentioned above. It is against this backdrop that this paper attempts, in the next section, to put the conflicts in theoretical perspective.


  1. Theoretical Discourse

This paper locates the conflicts within two theoretical perspectives namely environmental scarcity and instrumentalist theories.

  1. Environmental Scarcity Theory

This theory, as developed by Homer-Dixon (1991; 1999) and Gizewski (1997), uses the term “environmental scarcity” to refer to scarcity of renewable resources. Homer-Dixon (1999) argues that environmental change, population growth and unequal social distribution, are the three major sources of scarcity which lead to violent conflicts. First, Homer-Dixon identifies supply-induced scarcity, which is caused by the loss of resources such as a lack of quality drinking water or fertile land. Second, population growth and/or migration can increase the person’s demand leading to demand-induced scarcity. In this context, Homer-Dixon considers the political economy of resource distribution, contending that the first two (sources of scarcity) are most pernicious when they interact with unequal resource distribution. However, these scarcities contribute to violence, only under certain circumstances. There is no inevitable or deterministic connection between these variables. The nature of the ecosystem, the social relations within society and the opportunities for organised violence, all affect causal linkages. In essence, the theory attempts to link conflict between multiple resource users to increase tension between these groups, emanating from growing vulnerability and insecurity of their livelihoods.

Environmental scarcity produces four principal social effects: decreased agricultural potential, regional economic decline, population displacement, and the disruption of legitimised and authoritative institutions and social relations. These social effects, either singly or in combination, can produce or exacerbate conflict between groups. Most of such conflicts are  sub national, diffuse and persistent. For conflict to break out, the societal balance of power must provide the opportunity for grievances to be expressed as challenges to authority. When groups organized around clear social cleavages such as ethnicity or religion, articulate grievances, the probability of civil violence is higher. Under situations of environmental scarcity where group affiliation aids survival, inter-group competition based on relative gains is likely to increase. As different ethnic and cultural groups are propelled together under circumstances of deprivation and stress, there  is bound to be inter-group hostilities in which a group would emphasise its own identity while denigrating, discriminating against and attacking outsiders (Homer-Dixon, 1999). Environmental scarcity is merely a contributing factor and is neither a necessary nor a sufficient cause of violent conflict. In applying this theory to the present study, it can be alluded that increased competition for land between pastoralists and farmers resulting from climate change has intensified the age long feud between the two parties.

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  1. The Instrumentalist theory

The Instrumental Theory of conflict is associated with scholars such as Edward Mickolus (1976), Richard Betts (1982), and Martha Crenshaw (1985). It is premised on the assumption that the act of terrorism is a deliberate choice by a political actor and that the organization, as a unit, acts to achieve collective values, which involve radical changes in political and social

conditions (Crenshaw, 1985:13). Here, terrorism is interpreted as a response to external stimuli, particularly government actions. The major thrust or basic assumption of this theory is that violence is intentional. Terrorism is a means to a political end. Schelling (1966) suggests that terrorism is one form of violent coercion, a bargaining process based on the power to hurt and intimidate as a substitute for the use of overt military force. As such it is similar to other strategies based on the power to hurt rather than conventional military strength. Within this context, terrorism is meant to produce a change in the government’s political position, not the destruction of military potential. The theory also submits that non-state organizations using terrorism is assumed to act on the basis of calculation of the benefit or value to be gained from an action, the cost of the attempt and of its failure, the consequences of inaction, or the probability of success. According to Betts (1982), violent actions may occur for several reasons; the value sought for is overwhelmingly important; costs of trying are low; the status quo is intolerable; or the probability of succeeding (even at high cost) is high. Thus, violent groups may act out of anticipation of reward or out of desperation, in response to opportunity or to threat. This strategic perspective, according to (Betts,1982), is a conceptual foundation for the analysis of surprise attacks. Thus, he concludes that violence is par excellence a strategy of surprise, necessary for small groups who must thereby compensate for weakness in numbers and destructive capability.

  • Herdsmen-farmers’ Conflict in Nigeria

There are several factors responsible for incessant conflict between the farmers and herdsmen as acknowledged in established literature. For example, Haan (2002), notes that  ‘destruction of crops by cattle and other property (irrigation equipment and infrastructure) by  pastoralists themselves are the main direct causes for conflicts cited by the farmers, whereas burning of rangelands and fadama and blockage of stock routes and water points by farmers are important direct reasons cited by the pastoralists’. Ingawa, Ega, and Erhabor (1999) reported that the key underlying causes of farmer-herdsmen conflict in Nigeria are: Changing resource access rights, whereby traditional access rights to communal grazing and water resources are being obstructed by the individual tenureship of arable farmers. This is particularly severe on the traditional trek routes, which become favourite cropping sites because of their better soil fertility resulting from the concentration of animal manure from the trekking herds in these areas. Within the Fadama areas, this is exacerbated by the fragmented nature of the crop plots, which makes prevention of animals straying in the crop plots difficult;

Inadequacy of grazing resources, as increasing crop cultivation (and increasing commercialization of the crop-residues) and poor management of the existing grazing reserves have resulted in a significant reduction in available livestock feed resources, in particular in the Northern States. Moreover the high value crops introduced by NFDP (tomatoes and onions) produce almost no crop-residues for livestock feeding. There is also the decline in internal discipline and social cohesion resulting from non-adherence to the traditional rules regarding grazing periods and the authority of the traditional rulers. This is exacerbated by increased rent seeking of the formal and traditional authorities in managing resource access.

Ingawa et al. (1999) reported that the main underlying causes of farmers-herdsmen conflict in Nigeria are: (a) Changing resource access rights, whereby traditional access rights to communal grazing and water resources are being obstructed by the individual tenureship of arable farmers. This is particularly severe on the traditional trek routes, which become favourite cropping sites because of their better soil fertility resulting from the concentration of animal manure from the trekking herds in these areas  (b) Inadequacy of grazing resources, as increasing crop cultivation (and increasing commercialization of the crop-residues) and poor management of the existing  grazing reserves have resulted in a significant reduction in available livestock feed resources, in particular in the Northern States.

Another factor responsible for conflict between pastoralists and farmer is that grazing resources including pasture and water are found in different places at different times of the year, hence the need for constant mobility among cattle herders for opportunistic resource use. This brings them into contact with the landed settled farmers, and cause competition and conflicts (Abubakar, 2012). Tonah (2006) found that the causes of farmers/herders conflicts include the southward movement of pastoral herds into the humid and sub-humid zones, promoted by the successful control of the menace posed by disease, the widespread and availability of veterinary medicine and the expansion of farming activities into areas that hitherto served as pastureland. As a result, the herdsmen destroy crops of the farmers on their farmland.

According to Baba (in Abubakar, 2012) land tenure system or ownership of land is another factor responsible for conflict between Fulani herdsmen and farmers in Nigeria. Bello (2013), identifying the factors above, added the following as additional factors for herdsmen-farmers conflict:

  1. Increasing rate of cattle theft which is often accompanied by violence;
  2. Antagonistic perceptions and beliefs among farmers and herdsmen



The eruption of violent conflicts between the Fulani pastoralists and farmers as manifested, in many forms and dimensions have wide range of implications on the Nigerian federation. However, the intensity, scope and frequency of such conflicts have shown the fragility of unity of ethnic nationalities in Nigeria. The tenacity to maintain ‘no retreat and no surrender’ by all parties in the conflict indicates the porosity of Nigerian federation. The conflict prone areas in fierce struggle and competition over the shared resources undermine the relative peace, stability hitherto enjoyed; with threats to social order. The conflicts have brought about fundamental problems of human security in the region particularly with regard to humanitarian crises. The herdsmen and farmers conflict poses a great threat to national security and national integration. It is capable of further polarising Nigeria along ethnic, religious and regional lines. Also, the conflict has increased tension and fears among the ethnic groups.

The timing of the increase in herdsmen’s attack on the farmlands and farmers, especially in the middle belt region pose serious political implications particularly as it increases on the approach of the 2019 general elections. Fears have indeed been expressed in many circles that unless the spate of violence is checked, it could pose a problem for the successful conduct of the elections.

The general sense of fear engendered by the rising wave of violence involving herdsmen/farmers is captured by not less a personality than the former Minister of Defence and a former Chief of Army Staff of Nigeria, General Theophilus  Danjuma who in March 2018, warned Nigerians not to rely on the armed forces to protect them because the forces do collude with perpetrators of inter-ethnic violence. “If you wait for the armed forces to protect you, you will all be killed”, he said in a scary remarks that brings to the fore the notion that Nigerians are, in the words of Bunmi Ayoade, are “citizens without a “state”

  1. The New Grazing Reserve Bill
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The Grazing Reserve Bill was proposed by Senator Zainab Kure, a member of the all Progressives Party (APC) representing Niger Central Senatorial Zone. The Bill was conceived to establish a National Commission for Grazing Reserve. The Commission shall be charged the general duty of designing, acquiring, managing, and maintaining the National Grazing Reserves and Stock Routes established” under the Act. The Commission is also to construct dams, roads, bridges, fences and such other infrastructures the Commission may consider necessary for the purpose of the National Grazing Reserves and Stock Routes, among other functions. The Commission is also to establish and protect grazing zones. The proponents of the bill have contended that due to deforestation and overgrazing, grazing land in the country is fast diminishing. As a result, the pastoralists have to move southwards to seek pasture for their herd. In the course of doing so, they frequently come into conflict with farmers and consequently have often lost large numbers of their herds. To prevent such conflicts from reoccurring, the sponsors of the bill want the federal government to designate grazing routes and reserves in all parts of the country (Kawu 2012).

It is important to note that the bill was actually building on the provisions of an earlier Act of 1964 which had established a National Grazing Reserve. The Nigerian Grazing Reserve Act of 1964 was passed as an initial attempt to improve access to grazing land for cattle. Like the new initiative, it was conceived to address the problem of recurring conflicts between farming and grazing communities and improve provision of essential amenities to pastoralist families.  The Act was expected to address some of the wider constraints facing livestock development in Nigeria at the time, such as disease control and market supply (Ingawa et al., 1989). As a result of this, the National Agricultural Policy of 1988 declared that a minimum of 10% of the national territory, equivalent to 9.8 million hectares, would be allocated for the development of grazing reserves in an attempt to protect pastoralism. However, this policy has not been enforced; as at 2012 only 2.82 million hectares has been acquired in a total of 313 reserves (Ibrahim, 2012). Conflicts between cattle herders and farmers have existed since the beginning of agriculture. For instance, increases in the herd sizes, due to improved conditions of the cattle, compelled the cattle herders to seek for more pastures beyond their limited range. Climate change has constituted a great threat by putting great pressures on the land and thus provoking conflicts between farmers and herders. However, improvements in human health and population have enhanced a much greater pressure on land.

In summary, the incidence of herdsmen/farmers conflict in Nigeria has been accentuated by the factors of climate change which has made it imperative for Fulani herdsmen to stay longer, if not permanently, in the North Central and Southern part of the country because of green pasture for their cattle. There is also the dislocation caused by the disappearing Lake Chad which had shrunk from about 400,000 square kilometres according to earliest records to 26,000 square kilometres in 1960 and 1,750 square kilometres today. This has pushed herdsmen who relied on the Lake Chad region for pasture to move down south in search of pasture. There is also the conflict that had traversed the northern fringe of West Africa which has made the entire region unsafe for pastoralists and their stock. Again, such displaced pastoralists found refuge in the southern fringe of West Africa. Another major consequence of the conflict in the region is that herdsmen who had to arm themselves to secure themselves and their stock  in the dangerous terrain of civil war soon  found arms a natural companion as they traversed the sub-region such that even when they arrive at relatively peaceful zones such as  southern Nigeria, they had become so accustomed to the  company of their arms that they found it difficult to live without them. Finally, the rampaging Boko Haram Conflict in the North Eastern part of the Nigeria also forced the emigration of herdsmen who also moved southwards for their safety and that of their stock. The combined effect of all of this is that there was more demand for pasture than the relatively fixed land in central and Southern Nigeria could provide. There was more demand than supply and the consequence is frequent conflict between host farmer communities and the Fulani herdsmen.

  1. Is the Grazing Bill The Elizir to Herdsmen/Farmers Conflict

The best way to approach this question is to examine how well the provisions of the Grazing Reserve Bill address the major causes of the conflicts between herdsmen and farmers. As noted above, the major cause of frequent conflicts between the farmers and herdsmen is the contest for the control of land resource which both of them  need for their economic enterprises but which unfortunately are not in equal supply as the demand for it.

The notion of the bill is that if grazing reserves are established and grazing zones delineated, it will guarantee the pastoralists of the pasture for their stock. This provision is fraught with many challenges. The first is that the issue it seeks to address, that is, the control of livestock in neither in the exclusive nor the concurrent legislative list of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).This indicates that the National Assembly before which the bill is proposed does not have the power to make laws on the matter. The states, rather than the federal government, have such powers.

The second assumption is that by taking over land across the states and turning them into grazing reserves, the frequent conflict between farmers and herdsmen will be reduced. That stands logic on its head. As noted in the earlier part of this paper, land is considered the heritance of the family in Nigeria, just as in most part of Africa. The confiscation of the land of a community, by whatever name it is called, and the offer of same to some other people for their own economic enterprise will only accentuate inter-ethnic tension and conflict. The communities disposed of their land will only view the opportune group as impostors and will be so disposed to engaging them in clashes at the slightest provocation. Besides, the history of indigenes/settlers conflict in Nigeria have shown that settlers who are given access to land by host communities soon claim equal right to such land especially when succeeding generations of the original settlers who have lost contact with their original places of birth soon lay claim to the indigene ship of their new abodes. Such claims are difficult to fault in the contests of the Nigerian Constitution that guarantees that every Nigerian can live wherever he chooses to reside or where descendants of such settlers have indeed lived for hundreds of years in the new home embraced by their immediate ancestors.

Finally, the practice of the pastoralists traversing hundreds of kilometres as they migrate in search of pasture for their stock which the Grazing Bill seeks to preserve by demarcating and protecting Stock Routes is a recipe for crisis. Experience has shown that it is not in all instances that the pastoralists are able to keep their stock on the route. Cows do stray from the herd and destroy farmlands, instigating crisis between farmers and herdsmen.

  1. The Way Forward
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The Grazing Reserve Bill is a proposal frozen in time. It is conceived with the business model of centuries-old cattle rearing method in view. This method is fixated with the notion that agriculture could only be done within the natural provision of rain water hence the pastoralists have to migrate in response to the raining season. It does not have to be so. The leading countries in beef production in the world do not rely on the rain for their livestock. The dominant business model in those countries is the ranching method where investors buy land space to nurture their stock. This has the advantage of keeping livestock under control and without threat to the farmland of other people. The other advantage is that cattle that are nurtured in such ranches are much more productive that the ones exposed to the torture of walking hundreds and thousands of kilometres in search of pasture. Research has shown that cows nurtured in ranches have better nutrients that the ones that ate exposed to hundreds of kilometres of walk. Also, the milk production by cows nurtured in ranches is much more than the milk produced by roaming cattle. For instance, an average cow in Brazil produces 40 litres of milk per day compared to the 10 litres produced by the roaming cattle in Nigeria.

The elixir to the frequent conflict between farmers and herdsmen is to adopt the ranching model which will keep the herds of cattle away from the farms of farmers and away from our roads. It will not only guarantee peaceful co-existence of farmers and herdsmen, it will also stop being a major source of inter-ethnic tension. Finally, it  will also enhance productivity of livestock and contribute to food security in Nigeria and the west Africa sub-region.










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