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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 19 July 2018

Scores killed in fighting between Nigeria's farmers and herders

Toll from violence in the country's Middle Belt region rivals that of Boko Haram insurgency

Police enter the town of Jos on June 25, 2018 after clashes in central Nigeria between mostly Muslim herders and Christian farmers. Nigeria government via AP
Police enter the town of Jos on June 25, 2018 after clashes in central Nigeria between mostly Muslim herders and Christian farmers. Nigeria government via AP

At least 86 people have been killed in the Nigerian state of Plateau in the latest escalation of violence between farming communities and nomadic herdsmen sweeping the country’s Middle Belt.

By some estimates, the conflict is now more deadly than the war against Boko Haram, which has killed more than 20,000 people in under a decade in Africa’s most populous and wealthiest nation.

State authorities on Sunday imposed a night-time curfew in the Barikin Ladi area of Plateau to quell the violence amid fears of reprisals against the armed herdsmen allegedly responsible for the latest bloodshed. At least 50 houses were razed in violence over the weekend.

The ethnically-charged clashes between mostly Muslim Fulani cattle herdsmen and predominantly Christian farmers are rooted in a decades-old dispute over land ownership and grazing rights.

But they have grown in number and brutality since 2013. More than 1,000 people have been killed this year in Plateau and the surrounding states of Benue, Taraba and Nassarawa.

Nigerian security personnel check a pickup truck loaded with people and their belongings as they flee the town of Jos on June 25, 2018 after weekend clashes in central Nigeria between mostly Muslim herders and Christian farmers. Nigeria government via AP
Nigerian security personnel check a pickup truck loaded with people and their belongings as they flee the town of Jos on June 25, 2018 after weekend clashes in central Nigeria between mostly Muslim herders and Christian farmers. Nigeria government via AP

Climate change, which has accelerated the slow creep of the Sahara Desert, is part of the problem.

“The increase in desertification caused by climate changes has only meant the movement further southward of cattle herders, which brings them into frequent interaction with other communities,” Ini Dele-Adedeji, a teaching fellow at SOAS, University of London, told The National.

Resource scarcity and a weak security apparatus in the Middle Belt – as the Nigerian army diverts more resources to fighting Boko Haram in the north – have also exacerbated the killings and sparked a grim spate of kidnappings.

Meanwhile Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has blamed Libyan security services who, he claims, trained the herdsmen.

The fighting gained international attention in May, during Mr Buhari’s visit to Washington, when US President Donald Trump said: “We’ve had many serious problems with Christians who have been murdered, killed in Nigeria … we can’t allow that to happen.”

Mr Buhari – a Muslim ruling a nation divided along religious and ethnic lines – has come under increasing pressure to find a resolution ahead of next year’s presidential elections.

“For Mr Buhari, who has yet to map out a plan to stem the tide of the violence or articulate a solution, his 'silence' might be seen as consent by some sections, since he is Fulani himself,” said Mr Dele-Adedeji.

On Twitter, the Nigerian president wrote: "We will not rest until all murderers and criminal elements and their sponsors are incapacitated and brought to justice.”

But many observers are unconvinced. “There have been no arrests or prosecutions whenever these killings take place, even where groups come out to claim responsibility,” Mark Amaza, an independent political analyst in Nigeria, told The National.

Amid an intractable war against Boko Haram, politicking and economic decline, many feel the frail president’s priorities lie elsewhere.