Nigeria: Worsening conflicts between herdsmen and farmers, and amongst ethnic groups

A settlement of herdsmen in Durumi Town, Abuja Nigeria, November 2020 (Photo: Audu king/Wikimedia Commons)

This year has seen a further intensification of conflicts and clashes, in different parts of Nigeria, between herdsmen and farmers in some areas and different ethnic groups in others. This has added to the sense of crisis in the country. Against the background of Covid, and the second economic recession in five years, one recent newspaper editorial described how “the far North has become a vast killing field, the Middle Belt smouldering while the South-West is crumbling too” and that “Nigeria is dysfunctional. Every issue is politicised and ethnicised.”

Last year’s #End SARS movement showed the potential for a mass movement to develop and, despite the government’s attempts at repression, the potential still remains. However, without a mass movement developing there is the danger of ethnic and religious conflicts further developing. In this situation, the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM, the CWI in Nigeria) is proposing both concrete steps to resolve the local conflicts and a programme to revive the labour movement nationally, to be rebuilt as a force fighting for a socialist alternative.

Below is a statement issued by the DSM on January 26, 2021.

socialistworld.net

HERDSMEN/FARMERS CONFLICT: CONSEQUENCE OF FAILURE OF SUCCESSIVE CAPITALIST GOVERNMENTS AND UNRESOLVED NATIONAL QUESTIONS

DSM CALLS FOR SWIFT ACTION TO END ATTACKS AND RAPID CREATION OF MULTI-ETHNIC DEFENCE COMMITTEES UNDER COMMUNITY DEMOCRATIC CONTROL TO FIGHT CRIMINALITY

WE CALL ON THE NLC AND TUC TO INTERVENE WITH A VIEW TO ENSURE UNITY OF THE WORKING PEOPLE IN THE FACE OF VIRULENT PROMOTION OF ETHNIC DIVISION

The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) considers the current resurgence of herdsmen/farmers crisis leading to the destruction of poor peoples’ farmlands and assault on defenceless citizens, especially in the Southwest of Nigeria, as a direct consequence of the scandalous failure of successive capitalist governments, including the past PDP (Peoples Democratic Party) governments, the current Buhari-led APC (All Progressives Congress) Federal government and the state governments controlled by them and other elite political parties to guarantee the safety of the lives and livelihood of Nigerians.

Along with other forms of banditry, including rising kidnappings, armed robberies, cult clashes, etc., it is also a direct consequence of their failure to guarantee the means of livelihood for the majority through provisions of decent jobs, payment of a living wage, properly subsidised agriculture, provision of affordable housing, health care and education, etc. On both grounds, they regularly breach the oath they take to uphold the constitution, which mandates them to make the welfare and security of the people the main purpose of governance.

Fundamentally too, the resurgence and the reactions it has generated among different nationalities within the Nigerian nation reflect the unresolved nationality questions in the country.

The DSM condemns the rising spate of kidnappings, rape, killings and assault by criminals and despoliation of farmlands by cattle driven by unscrupulous herdsmen and condoles with all those who have fallen victim.

We demand swift action by government to arrest and prosecute all perpetrators, as well as adequate compensation to victims, including farmers, communities and pastoralists. This is essential for a fair and just resolution of the crises in favour of the working class and peasants elements on both sides of the divide. However long experience has shown that Nigeria’s security forces cannot be trusted and have no capacity to carry out such tasks fairly or adequately. There must be democratic control over these forces to ensure that it is criminals who are targeted and these actions are not used as excuses for bribe-taking or settling of private scores.

We also call on the trade union movement, particularly the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), to break its disturbing silence by publicly condemning the crisis and urgently convening an emergency conference of the trade unions and unionists, youth and students organisations, working class-oriented political organisations, professional organisations of the media, lawyers, etc., activists and socialists. Such a conference should discuss and work out a programme of action for the labour movement to ensure the unity of the working class and peasant elements, on both sides of the divide, in order to undercut the sectarian and war-mongering campaigns of ethnic bigots.

No one can deny the now annual river of blood and tears that follows the trail of Fulani herders as they herd their cattle from the North (and also West Africa) towards the central region and southwards in search of greener pasture and water. It is a known fact that green pasture and water are important elements of animal husbandry. But they are now increasingly in short supply in the North, especially during the dry season, due to shrinking of Lake Chad and other environmental factors.

Unfortunately, successive capitalist governments have either ignored or failed to address these factors which are effects of climate change for decades. In the process, conflicts regularly flare up as the animals trample underfoot farm crops and eat up tubers and vegetables. In the tow of the herdsmen are often criminals, of all shades, who engage in kidnapping, banditry, armed robbery and rape of defenceless people including farmers and travellers on the highway. Among these are also cattle rustlers who attack the herdsmen themselves in order to steal their cattle.

Without equivocation, we recognise that it is the failure of government at all levels to satisfactorily address the age-long concerns and outcry of farmers, including many other Nigerians who have fallen victim to series of nefarious activities like despoliation of farms by cattle, kidnapping, rape and armed robbery, all seen to be committed by criminals of Fulani extraction, that has created the condition for the current upheaval. Equally, it is this sense of cluelessness of the state and implicit support for the herdsmen by the Buhari regime that has led to the emergence of militant tribal elements like Sunday Igboho and other sectarian forces.

Violent reaction 

However, the threat to arrest Sunday Igboho will only further incense the populace and may lead to a violent reaction. To this extent, we condemn the reported attack and burning of his residence located in Oyo state by yet-to-be-identified criminal elements in the early hours of Tuesday 26 January 2021. Such actions if unchecked will deepen division and lead to a violent crisis. As they say, nature abhors a vacuum. The police, army, Department of State Security and other security agencies have distinguished themselves over the decades to be only effective at extortion and extrajudicial killings of innocent Nigerians, as well as persecution and repression of peaceful protesters and activists including workers’ leaders. They have failed to provide security for citizens who have been victims of various crimes. Therefore, arresting or attacking Sunday Igboho, whom many see as a fighter against killer herdsmen, in the face of the glaring failure of security agencies, can only incite mass anger. This is something which can only be countered by independent action by working people directed both against the criminal attacks and those who seek to take advantage of the crisis to divide the working people and the poor for their own personal gain.

Also, in our opinion, the directive of the Governor Akeredolu (APC) of Ondo state, ordering the eviction of herdsmen from the forest reserve apparently due to pressures from traumatised communities, without providing any viable alternative arrangement for the herdsmen to be displaced, may be a recipe for future social crisis. The herdsmen may simply relocate to other parts of the state and other states in the Southwest, which will further intensify the friction and crisis between them and farmers.

Moreover, the recent creation by Southwestern states of the paramilitary Western Nigerian Security Network, popularly known as Amotekun, has failed to curb criminality. Rather this security network is warming up to become a new terror given the number of extrajudicial killings it has reportedly already carried out across the Southwest in the brief period of its existence.

Against this background of state failure, there is no way people will not seek the option of self-help, hence the rise of Sunday Igboho. Nonetheless, genuine socialists cannot fail to recognise that Igboho’s ethnic-jingoist rhetoric, just like that of Nnamdi Kanu of IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra), is not the way forward. They fail to recognise that despite the brutal legacy of colonialism, it is the system of capitalism that prioritizes profit for the rich few that is the major obstacle to the peaceful coexistence of the constituent parts of Nigeria. Already there are rival factions of the ruling elite fighting for their “own” area to rule and exploit. Therefore, even if Nigeria splits today and Oduduwa, Arewa and Biafra Republics are established as separate sovereign entities, so far as the system of primitive capitalist accumulation continues to exist, the condition of mass poverty, lack of development, unemployment etc. will continue. This will, in turn, create the conditions for crime and other social crises to blossom in the new sovereign states.

Therefore the DSM strongly advocate as the only viable way forward for the working and toiling people the setting up of independent and democratic multi-ethnic defence committees in every village, town and rural settlement where Fulani pastoralists and farmers cohabit or which receives frequent visitation of herdsmen and cattle. Such a defence committee must be under the democratic control of the communities and armed, where and when necessary, to defend the lives and livelihood of residents of the community.

For multi-ethnic, democratic defence committees

Why we say such a defence committee should be multi-ethnic is for two major reasons. One, an ethnic or sectarian approach will not resolve the issue. Rather, it will only make the crisis snowball into a bigger one with possibilities of reprisals on ethnic groups in the Fulani dominated parts of the North. In turn, this will pose the threat of ethnic tensions exploding in urban areas, especially Lagos, across the country.

Secondly, it is because the job of identifying and isolating the criminal elements in both pastoralists and farming communities becomes easier when they work together and are able to build mutual trust. Such a multi-ethnic defence committee can also act as a means of hearing complaints and peacefully settling disputes. Most importantly, such a step must be backed by the building of a mass movement of rural residents, farmers and pastoralists against their joint enemy which is the anti-poor capitalist governments across the country which cares more for its luxury than the needs of the workers, peasants and poor. This can be achieved by beginning to organise to fight for the development of the rural areas through electrification, access to the internet, good roads, potable water, public schools and healthcare, police post etc. Should the threat of conflicts extend into urban areas such multi-ethnic defence committee will be also required in towns and cities.

In conclusion, we support the call for ranching and grazing reserves as one of the ways to begin to resolve the age-long conflict between herdsmen and farmers. At root, this is a conflict over brutal competition for fast diminishing land and water resources due to the domination of profit interest and government failure to address environmental needs.

Hence, this crisis calls for government massive investment in agriculture, in particular crop production and animal husbandry, on the basis of workers’ control and management, as well as public control of use of land, water and other natural resources to set a striking example while also guaranteeing food security for all. Unfortunately, the genuine solution to these crises cannot be found under capitalism. The fundamental solution to the herdsmen/farmers crisis, just as other crisis under capitalism, can only come with the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism and the coming to power of a workers’ and poor people’s government armed with socialist policies to develop the society and end oppression and poverty.

 

 

 

The CWI relies on the donations from working class people around the world to fund our campaigns.Please donate towards building the CWI.