Conflict in the Middle Belt: Nigeria's Unseen Problem

IDPs wait in line for daily food ration provided by Catholic Church in the grounds of a primary school in Kafanchan IDPs wait in line for daily food ration provided by Catholic Church in the grounds of a primary school in Kafanchan © Obi Anyadike/IRIN

July 2017
Internal conflict is tearing the Middle Belt region of Nigeria apart. The divisions between villages continue to threaten the lives of innocent Nigerians.

From the beginning of the report published by IRIN, the rundown of the situation in Nigeria is given. Moses Berde, the village head of Goska, accuses the Fulani neighbouring town Dangoma of attacking Goska on the 24th and 25th of December last year. He explains that the attack killed more than 40 people and destroyed over 100 homes. However, the district head of Dangoma, Muhmood Suleiman, has a different story than Berde’s. He accuses Goska of attacking Dangoma on the 25th of December, stating that seven people died. But there is no visible evidence that the raid even happened.

The Goska and Dangoma region has continually been a hotspot of violence, stretching back to the 1980s. The report mentions Pastor Gordon Matum, who has registered more than 2,590 displaced men, women, and children for a feeding programme at a primary school in Kafanchan. Matum expresses his anger, in particularly because the partisan state government refuses to acknowledge the extent of the widespread displacement. By not declaring the school as an IDP camp, it forces people to find paid accommodation in the neighbourhood.

Nigeria’s Middle Belt is divided by the largely Muslim population in the north, and the Christian population in the South. Not only is the region very diverse ethnically and religiously, but there have been many conflicts over farmland, grazing areas, and stock routes. A Lagos-based consultancy firm, farmer and pastoral clashes in the Middle Belt accounted for more deaths than Boko Haram last year.

In Nigeria, the Fulani’s 19th century jihad transformed the north. Fulani communities have been in the Middle Belt for over 300 years, whether it was due to settling, abandoning nomadic life, or grazing cattle. But due to climate change and the fact that northern Nigeria is becoming dryer, the Fulani have been forced to move south. This has led to the increase in disputes over land and grazing.

A Mercy Corps study in 2013 discovered that more than a third of pastoralists and farmers in the Kaduna and Nasarawa states have been affected by the ongoing violence. Without the violence, households would have seen at least a 64 percent increase in incomes. In the Kuduna State alone, between 10,000 and 20,000 people have died as a result of this conflict since 1980.

One of the most violent communal conflicts occurred after the presidential election in 2011. Fulani-supported candidate Muhammadu Buhari lost to Goodluck Jonathan. As a result, Christians and other ethnic groups were attacked in northern Kuduna by the south. In southern Kudana, mobs of Christians retaliated by killing Fulani and burning their mosques. On both sides, this conflict is ongoing.

Sectarian violence also encompasses guilt by association. Because it is an identity-driven conflict, members from a rival group can be attacked for any perceived wrong committed by that community. This cycle of revenge strengthens the conflict and increases suffering. Rival communities also share the perception that security forces and the judicial system are partisan and incompetent. This unfortunately leads to them taking the law into their own hands.

So where do they go from here? Demarcated stock corridors and gazetted grazing reserves have been proposed as ways to detract from the farmer/pastoralist competition for land and water points. However, grazing routes have been restrained by the expanding commercial holdings. Most of the land has also been appropriated by corrupt political and private interests.

Tukur, of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBA), and Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, former chair of the National Human Rights Commission, argued for a livestock development program that would address the issues of “access to water, grazing, agricultural extension services, and access to markets” for farmers and pastoralists.

There are also incoming NGO-led efforts aiming to mitigate the Middle Belt conflict. However, Odinkalu worries these initiatives are occurring too slowly and lack real leverage. This urgency is needed as Nigeria is approaching the 2019 election, and the violence will likely be politicised as it gets closer.


To read the entire report, visit:’s-not-boko-haram

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