Herdsmen-Farmers’ Clashes Today: Ecology, Class and Categorical Politics in Contemporary Nigeria – By Omotoye Olorode

Herdsmen-Farmers’ Clashes Today: Ecology, Class and Categorical Politics in Contemporary Nigeria – By Omotoye Olorode

Herdsmen-Farmers’ Clashes Today: Ecology, Class and Categorical Politics in Contemporary Nigeria – By Omotoye Olorode

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The conflict between the needs (and the practitioners) of livestock agriculture and arable-crop agriculture is not unique to our country Nigeria or to our time although it has escalated in Nigeria recently for various reasons we address below.

Overtime, and in different parts of the world, various methods have been adopted to address the needs of pastoralists. These include free-range grazing, enclosure livestock husbandry, and various mixtures of both. Arising from the  profitability of wool in Europe between the 16th and 18th centuries, for example, the enclosure system became rampant in the UK generating major changes, especially landlessness and rural-urban migration and, riots (such as The Midland Revolt, Newton Rebellion of June 1609 and Western Rising of 1630-1632) and sundry social crises (Wikipedia, January 25, 2018). It has also been suggested that unimpeded access to free pasture (extensive husbandry) is, more economically viable especially in locations like Nigeria where many consumers of animal products are also low-income populations. Consequently, ecological factors (climate change, increased aridity, vegetation decline, diseases and removal of ecological constraints) and other factors that limit or enhance access to free and better pasture are bound to affect the economic behaviour and movement of pastoralists, although ecological crisis is one of the fundamental causes.

In this presentation, we also show that ecological problems and climate change crisis do not exhaust the causes of herdsmen-farmers’ conflict. We try to show, on one hand, that the herdsmen-farmers’ narrative in the public domain in Nigeria today is compounded by ethnic-nationalist and confessional or religious antipathies that are being manipulated and promoted for political mobilisation. I have tried to demonstrate that these elements of the conflicts are typical when a ruling class is faced with palpable possibilities of open resistance by, and conflict with oppressed classes of society as a class. And, on the other hand, I tried to demonstrate that because of the fear of the prospects of a class war, both the ruling class and their media insist on an entirely ethno-religious rather than a class rendition of the story of herdsmen-farmers’ conflict. The preferred rendition by the ruling class, however, simply deepens the crisis by mutual attempts by the contending forces to mutually criminalise one another without resolving the problem itself. This is partly because of this that the extant political economy which entrench the crisis is the handmaiden of the ruling class whose economic and political interests reproduce the crisis.


The neo-liberal ambience of the herdsmen-farmers’ clashes.


We must locate the current escalation of herdsmen-farmers’ clashes in the development of the neo-liberal siege that had various manifestations since the close of the 1970s.

The siege assumed a particular form in agriculture and agricultural development and land use especially in regard to imports of food, agricultural inputs and machinery and massive intervention of international finance institutions (World Bank) of   multi-national corporations, and construction companies (such as Impresit Bakalori). In various ways these interventions enabled foreign contractors, corporations, and other interests to extract massive surpluses from Nigeria and availed various wings of the Nigerian ruling class opportunities to engage in unprecedented private accumulation especially of landed property. Abba, et al. (1985) noted in regard to World Bank ADPs as follows:

The ADPs especially in the areas where they were initially established, have also raised the value of land. This has led to large scale land appropriation from poor peasant households in favour of rich peasants, traditional rulers, bureaucrats, top military officers and business tycoons who have taken this opportunity to become large-scale landowners. In this way millions of peasant household are being pauperised or their holdings are reduced to such a size that it becomes uneconomic to cultivate.

The foregoing is also generally true for the Operation Feed the Nation of the late 1970s and the River Basin Development Authorities (RBDAs) and the National Accelerated Food Production Programme (NAFPP) of the 1970s and 1980s. Abba et al. (Ibid.) articulated the issues pertaining to these World Bank-inspired programmes in detail. We are raising these matters here in anticipation of the point we address later that a huge class dimension exists in relation to accessibility to land by farmers—a dimension that has to do with the scourge of the rise of capitalist farmers, ranchers and land grabbers and which mainstream media and scholarship have generally down-played or completely ignored.


Ecology and the Politics of Resource Scarcity


Human ecology is about human habitat in all its ramifications: physical and biotic, including “other” human beings in the environment. The ecology of any organism is, or is about, its “house” or “home”; to be tenable as such it must secure life and means of sustaining life. To do both, the ecology has to be itself secure, sustainable and capable of being so in a reliable and predictable way.

Over the last six centuries especially, rapidly growing human population, improved health care and technology have all helped man, allegedly, to conquer nature. All these have also created hegemonies, enhanced exploitation of peoples on global scale, generated unprecedented individual wealth and, at the same time, created unprecedented inequality among regions and countries of the world and among individuals inside national borders. The situation had also created massive stresses on the capacity of human environment everywhere. These stresses on the environment had generated unprecedented and often intractable conflicts among neighbours who have co-existed in solidarity, cooperation and peace. Mohammed (2013) observed in regard to the pastoral Fulani of Nigeria:

The effect of climate change in far northern Nigeria has assumed such magnitude that the minimum vegetation cover in Katsina, Sokoto, Zamfara, Kebbi, Kano, Jigawa, Bauchi, Yobe, Maiduguri, Taraba and Adamawa states respectively (sic) has already fallen below 10% as against the ideal requirement of 25% ecological cover recommended by UNEP to support Fulani man his herds (sic).

The predominant Fulani herdsman of the lower Sahel and Sudan savannah ecologies from Northwest and Northeast Nigeria are now migrating and gradually becoming natives in the middle-belt region- -to find greener pasture for their herds…. The farmer has the fears that Fulani herds will destroy his farmlands. The natural result is clash over rights to the land.

Even where religion-cultural factors facilitate Fulani migration as the north-southwest migration, it was also shown by a number of studies (Blench and Dendo, 2003) that ecological factors are pivotal:

The climate regime of the south-west is such that the derived savannah loops south wards west of Oyo, almost reaching the coast in Benin and the Togolese Republic. this creates relatively open land without the high humidity associated with forest proper and therefore reduces the disease risk of two Zebu cattle.

We may generalise this section by observing that direct conflict over resources and land do not exhaust the sources of native-immigrant hostility. The 1845 migration of the Irish following the potato famine resulted in considerable prejudices and hostility from even fellow European colonists in America. And in the case of the Middle East and the Maghreb which Europeans are now scattering with their war machine, we see the amount of hostility to immigrant populations in Europe. These are strictly ecologically-induced migrations!

It may be appropriate to conclude this section with the following quotation (rather in reversed sequence) from Mohammed (2013):

Broadly speaking, Nigeria’s systems of Common Pool Resources evolved in periods when resources were abundant, when forest, wildlife, grazing, water etc. were abundant in relation to the population exploiting them. Nigeria, for example, may have had a population of 35million in pre-colonial times but now there are at least 165million Nigerians, CPR regimes that were perfectly rational in former era have now become inappropriate in a period of population explosion, rising pressure on resources and extended trade networks.

Politically, we need to think out of the box and avoid politicising the conflict between farmers and fulani’s (sic) in Nasarawa State, it is purely a ‘Natural Resources Conflict’, it happens in Taraba, Benue, Kwara, Southern Kaduna and recently some parts of Abuja, and outside Nigeria, it’s also a cyclical events (sic) in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Mali and this is exactly what led to separation between North and south Sudan.


The National Political Ambience of the Herdsmen-Farmers’ Clashes in Nigeria


The debates and sabre-rattling over the herdsmen-farmers’ clashes in certain parts of the country and the incendiary statements by certain alleged leaders of ethnic nationalities are typical of national elites that have run out of tricks concerning how to create and sustain certain illusions among the oppressed. The essence of this war is to divert the attention of the oppressed from crimes of the ruling class so that the latter can sustain their hegemony.

What are the crimes of the ruling class? The main components of the crimes are the sale of our country, the abandonment of the people, the destruction of Nigeria’s economy and cultural institutions, the unending debt slavery, privatisation of everything and continued subsidy to privatised institutions (power, banking and finance , public works etc.), continued division of our people along ethnic and religious lines, unending corruption at various levels, continued commercialisation of elective posts, bloated sinecures, bloated cost of governance, unpaid salaries, and continued precarious state of public security.

The elections of 2015enabled the ruling class to re-jig the illusions but today, once again as towards the end of the the previous ruling-class regime, the ruling class has reached the end of the road. They claimed that the “recession” is over. But only rich people are taking the claim seriously. The political parties are all in crisis as the godfathers who made public shows of tearing their party cards are forming new conspiratorial intervention fronts!

And all the “Who-is-whos” are yelling about “restructuring”, state police, resource control, control of labour and wage matters by states. They are even threatening secession! All these are being orchestrated after the ruling class have shared GRAs, Abuja, OPLs and public properties among themselves!

The Federal Government will now be able to abandon its responsibilities (institutions, infrastructure, civil servants, roads, schools and universities etc.) to the state. Even the ruling APC’s own committee on restructuring is on all fours with most of these proposals for “restructuring”!

It is in the ambience of the foregoing threats of the collapse of the illusion that the Nigerian ruling class erected in the last two decades especially that the largely ecological phenomenon of herdsmen-farmers’ clashes acquire their potency for politics and political exploitation enabling mind-bugging stereotyping on all sides of the conflicts.

To be sure, the crisis of the polity and the crisis of neoliberalism have generated, and continued to generate, other categories of conflict such as religious (Christians vs. Muslims, Muslims and Christians vs. traditionalists) and various degrees of violence and bloodletting even within linguistically, culturally and confessionally homogenous groups and communities.

A few weeks ago, there was a huge massacre in a church somewhere in eastern Nigeria; it was not about tribe or religion. On November 4 2017, NAIJ.com (an online news outfit) reported that 5 women were killed in an Ebonyi-Cross River border dispute while three others were declared missing by John Nnabo, Chairman of Ikwo Council Area. On June 4 2017, NAIJ.com also reported that many people were feared dead while many were declared missing in a clash of Tiv and Jukun communities of Benue State (see also Olorode, 2017).


Ruling classes always prefer ethnic and religious wars to class wars!


Why are various wings of the Nigerian ruling class so worked-up on the herdsmen-farmers’ conflicts and similar conflicts while studiously avoiding the concerns and causes of the masses that cut across ethnic and confessional divides?  Causes such as the right to jobs, education and health care, to clean drinking water, to generalised availability of land for agriculture? Why are they all abandoning unpaid workers, public funded education at all levels and the struggle for generalised narrowing of inequality gap in Nigeria? Why are they generally more interested in wars at ethnic and sub-ethnic levels mobilising the same citizens that they have decided to abandon?

The answer is usually straight-forward. The current economic and social crisis in Nigeria portends a class war. Class war itself is often preceded by the oppressed and the under privileged turning their anger against members of the oppressed or against self (including rise in suicide rates) or simply by groups and individuals taking the law into their own hands via crimes and criminal activities. In such situations, the ruling class in nation states seek foreign wars to stifle class dissension while sub-nationalities incubate wars with other sub-nationalities or religious groups or with rival groups to hold themselves together and especially to retain the legitimacies of their being recognised as “leaders” (Powell, 1988: p. 199-208). The Nigerian ruling class and segments of it may actually need a war or wars to legitimise themselves. But as Powell, (Ibid, pp. 141-143; p. 208) noted:

As a ruling class grows feeble and rigidifies, it loses capacity for creative adaptation to changing conditions…. Then it seeks to hold on by the resort to force and tries to restore cohesion through involvement in war. The ruling class resorts to war to avert revolution and thereby creates the disaster it seeks to avoid.

In times of peace, war looks like a rational, ordered enterprise serving as an instrument of cohesion as well as of policy.


Herdsmen-Farmers’ Conflict in Nigeria: The class Dimensions of the Crisis.


In colonial and post-colonial Nigeria, the main thrust of economic “development” as we mentioned earlier had been the extraction of surpluses from the territory by foreign and, as a subaltern force, indigenous accumulating interests. Economic and social “transformation” had occurred largely as ancillaries of that thrust and especially as responses to the pressures and agitations of the Nigerian labour movement and other segments of the nationalist movement and particularly since 1960, as the demands for the promises of national sovereignty; the struggles for which were carried out almost entirely by the labour movement and its allies.

As Claude Ake (1978) insisted, the main post-independence revolutionary pressures in Africa, and as exemplified by Nigeria, had to do with the struggle of the oppressed against the singular preoccupation of the ruling with [wealth] accumulation. Consequently while ecological forces, as we earlier observed, had been building up to traumatise farming and herding communities, political and economic muscle had been mobilised to alienate land in favour of moneyed individuals and largely alleged public purposes.

To be sure, since colonial days, various laws and ordinances have been promulgated for the regulation of land use, land acquisition and land alienation. There had, thus, been specific laws and public policies for settling the pastoralists. (Adamu, 2014; Majekodunmi et al., 2014; Mohammed, 2013; Nuhu and Aliyu, 2009; Oshio, 1990; Awogbade,1987; Blench and Dendo, 2003; Iro, undated; Nwocha, 2016).

Indeed, at least prima facie, the Grazing Reserve Law of 1965 promulgated by the then Northern Regional Government demonstrated clear altruism as Awogbade (Ibid.) noted:

The broad objective was to provide livestock owners with legal grazing laws and title to land, as a response to increasing pressure on traditional grazing lands by arable farmers and government agricultural projects.

The two elements of the increasing pressure had escalated especially since the late 1970s as a result of the activities, as we observed earlier on, of the ADPS, the NAFPP and the emergence of large-scale capitalist, largely absentee farmers and ranchers. This development implicated the 1978 Land Use Act as a law enacted fundamentally to promote the class interest of the ruling class—retired generals (from Ota, to Ore-Benin and Mambila; form Katsina to Ebonyi, Niger, Sokoto Oyo, FCT, Ondo, Taraba, Ogun, and Cross Rivers etc. etc.), business men, retired senior civil servants and foreign companies (NTC, Leventis, Cadbury, John Holt, etc.) fronted for by them. We may note that the purported intent and actual implementation of the Land Use Act of 1978 notwithstanding , large chunks of land continue to be forcefully occupied, purchased or alienated via the influence and political and money power of the so-called traditional rulers, politicians and other members of the ruling class. And it is not just agri-business that has created land hunger and mass poverty that exacerbate today’s ecological crisis. From tin mining on the Plateau since the colonial days (Freund 1981; Olorode, 1998) to the current frenzied extraction of minerals from Zamfara to Nasarawa states and oil mining in the Nigerian Delta, we see various pressures on arable land and ecological crisis that the ruling class media do not, or hardly, factor into the current ecological conflicts.

The total loss of sensitivity to the consequences of the build-up of landlessness and land hunger and the fanatical commitment of decision-makers can be further exemplified by at least two issues. One is the continual seizure by political decision makers of arable land such as creation of entire new towns and suburbia and summary abrogation of land use rights to the original owners (Nuhu and Aliyu, 2009). In a report by Tony Adibe et al. (2016) Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) claimed that “115 Grazing reserves in Nigeria [had been] taken over” for facilities like airports. This insensitivity and irresponsibility on the part of the Nigerian state and those who run it was also particularly registered by the importation of white farmers from Zimbabwe by President Olusegun Obasanjo and Bukola Saraki (then Kwara State Governor) to take over a huge acreage of peoples’ land in Malete (Kwara state) for private commercial agriculture! Lawal’s (2010) study of the Zimbabwean farmers’ phenomenon at Malete (in the Abstract) observed among other things:

The study which used both primary and secondary data showed that only marginal improvement in terms of employment creation and infrastructural development can be attributed to the policy as the policy was entirely elitist. While the Zimbabwe farmer project has employed a few residents of the areas and the Malete youth farm school has graduated the first set of students there are a number of flaws inherent in the implementation of the policy to the advantage of the people of the state.

Finally, in this section, we need to ask in relation to the herders-farmers’ clashes, and the class dimension of the crisis who actually owns the cattle?”

In the so-called Hausa-Fulani North, which Hausa or Fulani actually own the cattle whose forays into farms are generating so much heat in the Nigerian polity? I do not have systematic data on this question but I suspect that answers to this question lurk in some previous studies especially in relation to average number of cow herds owned by Fulani pastoralists. I know for a fact that in northern Nigeria including non-Hausa/Fulani states, rich businessmen and women, politicians, serving and retired public servants and bureaucrats, retired and serving military top brass, the so-called traditional rulers and university professors and administrators own hundreds of herd that are husbanded by Fulani herdsmen! I also know for a fact, that the foregoing is true in south western Nigeria where large herds owned by members of the ruling class are husbanded by Fulani thus constantly putting the latter in direct line of fire!

A large number of Fulani herdsmen now branded “terrorists”, “Jihadists” “criminals” are, therefore, mere exploited working class who work for rich Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo, Fulani, Idoma or Tangale absentee owners. And when people ask, “Why do herdsmen need Kalashnikov rifles?” It looks like some people have not heard about cattle rustlers! An acquaintance informed me recently, for example, that in a single cattle-rustler assault, seventy (70) of his cows were stolen. Somehow, it appears perfectly normal that Nigerian Police and private security companies regularly post their men to guard rich peoples’ residences and to banks to keep vigil over their money. This same rich people need to protect their cattle using the herdsman proxy!


Conclusions: how do we respond?


The fundamental perspective of this contribution to the current public discussion on the herdsmen-farmers’ clashes is that farmers, especially smallholders, and pastoralists represent a numerically significant segment of Nigeria’s working people. They also represent some of the most neglected segments of our society in spite of their contributions to the sustenance of our society. It is also true that both segments (crop production and livestock production) which together contribute close to 25% of Nigeria’s GDP annually, and consistently, between 2010 and 2014 according to ARCN (2015) draft documents’ references to National Bureau of Statistics (2015) figures.

We have shown earlier on that in spite of huge public expenditure on agriculture since the late 1970s, the failure of policies had been the result of dependence on neo-colonial finance and political institutions, primitive and private accumulation by the Nigerian ruling class, increased pressure of adverse ecological forces and human demographic factors. Appropriate responses to the present state and elements of the crisis have two main legs: the first is immediate and strategic amelioration and stoppage of the current trends of violence between herdsmen and farmers; the second are long term state and popular people’s responses to the ecological crisis including the revitalisation of the state-led revitalisation of grazing reserves. Both responses must be activated immediately and simultaneously.

Two important categories of causes tend to deepen the crisis of herdsmen-farmers’ clashes. Firstly, prejudices, fear and ignorance had been promoted by ethnic and religious warlords who tend to insist that only war and/or adversarial cessation of all contacts between herdsmen and farmers can solve the problems on ground. Secondly, as in all wars and violent clashes certain groups have developed that derive considerable economic and political leverage from the crisis. These include, but are not restricted to gun running, looting, cattle rustling, robberies and seeking political advantage of being recognised as “leader” of ethnic or religious group. Authentic and informed citizens peace groups (rather than those that have turned “peace-building” and “conflicts resolution” into business), will be required for the task of reinstating contact and solidarity in conflict zones. Public enlightenment and intense small-group interactions will be necessary to impress it on all concerned that the crisis is not about Fulani-Yoruba, Fulani-Agatu, Fulani-Igbo or Fulani-Takor irreconcilable differences! The report by Tony Adibe et al. (Ibid.) showed beyond any reasonable doubt that the deepening of the crisis has to do with fears, prejudices and ignorance; the report also showed that a huge amount of goodwill remains among and between the various contending groups.

Of course, state actors have to show greater sense of commitment and responsibility especially in supporting citizens’ movements’ interventions. The resolution is not just about policing and military action; neo-colonial law-enforcement institutions (police, armed forces, law courts, soldiers) have retained their colonial antecedents in essential forms, content and psychology! Their colonial antecedent and actual post-colonial records of the law-enforcement at Ibadan (1960s), Modakeke (1970s,1980s), Zaria (1986), Bakalori (1980s), Odi (2000s), Zaki Biam (2000s) are not flattering in “peace-keeping” matters.

This contribution asserts firmly that the tensions arising from the clashes can be doused significantly ifNigeria’s working people calls the Nigerian ruling class to order on all counts. A peaceful resolution of this bourgeoning crisis is not only possible, it is desirable.

It is also the firm belief of this contribution that a return to the Grazing Reserve Strategy (GRS) holds the most viable promise for the resolution of the crisis in spite of the previous problems that arose from shoddy implementation and undemocratic management of the reserves. A good account, indeed critique, of the development of grazing reserves as state-led response was given by Iro (undated). Following the pioneering efforts of the mid-1960s, various advanced plans for improvement and enlargement of the reserves were made and gazetted. According to Iro (Ibid):

At the close of 1992, the government has identified over 300 areas with twenty-eight million hectares for grazing reserve development. About forty-five of these areas covering some 600,000 hectares have been gazetted. Eight of these reserves totalling 225,000 hectares are fully established. Already, 350 of the projected 950 pastoral families and 17,000 of the planned 46,000 cattle are using these reserves (NLDP record 1992). Apart from acquiring the land, the government regulates how the Fulani should use these reserves.

In the mid-1970s and early 1980s, the crisis of environment and escalation of poverty in rural environments especially in the peripheries of capitalist and imperialist agri-business instigated massive debates. Today’s environment crisis and the violence they created were clearly presaged (Fedder, 1976; George, 1979; Mooney, 1983; Abba et al. 1985; Juma, 1989). But the alleged “triumph” of capitalist globalisation that produced today’s crises generated and sustained its own hubris. In spite of the neoliberal capitalist peripheries like Nigeria being back on square one with all-round crisis in the agriculture and rural sector, the ruling class and their intellectuals are re-inventing the said hubris. At the onset of the current herdsmen-farmers’ clashes several months ago, an opinion by a regular member of the commentariat in The Punch (Nigeria) valorised Uruguayan cattle ranching as an example of success. What we were not told was the consequence of large-scale latifundist commercial ranching for landlessness and poverty in rural Uruguay.

Let us return to the intent and possibilities of the GRS as a general model of a state- led revitalisation of rural life, production and innovation not just for pastoralists, but also for the communities of arable farmers. Regarding the aims of Grazing Reserves, we quote again from Iro (Ibid.):

….government aims to foster peaceful coexistence [between herders and cultivators] by making the grazing reserve a zone of no-conflict. Improving land use and herd management, providing social welfare amenities to the Fulani and increasing national income…..(Laven, 1991).The government hopes the game reserves will become the center of agro-pastoral innovations, a guarantor of land security, a nucleus for nomadic Fulani settlement, a precinct for crop-livestock systems integration and a place for small-scale rather than large-scale holder-oriented production (Bako and Ngawa, 1988). Ademosun (1976) lists some of the gains…..as easing seasonal migration, improving the quality of herds, multiplying outlet for bovine product, and enhancing access to extension and social services.

The alternative being actively pushed by capitalists and land speculators and their intellectuals is the large-scale mechanised, enclosure latifundist model; it will simply lead to massive landlessness and general and more intense environmental disaster without stopping or ameliorating the current herdsmen-farmers’ clashes.
The meaning of all these is the urgent need for the Nigerian labour movement, and especially its intellectual wing, to return to a comprehensive re-think towards a people-oriented and patriotic strategy,not just about herdsmen but also about arable-crop producers. This strategy will be basically in the direction of building infrastructure for production and welfare (power, water supply, health-care delivery and education) of rural populations and in the general context of a radical state-led alternative strategy for national development. The overall alternative national development strategy will necessarily integrate livestock production and crop production horizontally in the rural sector. We must emphasise that the rural sector in the Nigerian economy does not exist in isolation from the urban sector of the population and economy. Consequently, a necessity for vertical rural-urban integrations is implicated in the envisaged strategic re-thinking which must link trade unions, urban consumer cooperatives, educational institutions and artisans’ organisations to rural communities and production cooperatives of livestock and crop producers. These links will encourage and enhance mutual economic and political support and development, begin to generate national integration and solidarity among Nigeria’s working people and, hopefully, arrest the spread of urban decay to rural locations.

The foregoing perspectives are not new. They have produced phenomenal developmental results in China and Latin America. The directions are also implicated in the literature of our own movement (Abba et, al. op. cit., NLC, 1984; NLC, 2010; ASUU, 1984; Olorode 2014) these are all commended for our close scrutiny.

The task ahead of our people is thus about understanding the political economy and political ecology of the current crisis. Only a mass-based, pan-Nigeria, working people’s movement, armed with class and political consciousness, can carry out that task.

Omotoye Olorode,

Ibudo Oranyan, Odoje,




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