Violence in Nigeria between semi-nomadic cattle herders and settled farmers killed around six times more people than deaths related to the Boko Haram insurgency in the first half of 2018 and is a major threat to the country’s stability, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said.
The think-tank said in a report the violence, concentrated in central states and largely driven by competition over dwindling arable land amid a rapidly growing population, killed more than 1,300 people between January and June this year.
Security is a key challenge for President Muhammadu Buhari as Nigeria fights the Islamist insurgency in the north-east and seeks to quell communal violence before an election in February next year in which he hopes to secure a second term.
Violence related to grazing rights has occurred for decades but threatens Buhari’s popularity in swing states as herders are mainly from the Fulani ethnic group, as is the president. Deaths are politicised as critics say he has not cracked down on the nomads, which he denies.
“Now claiming about six times more civilian lives than the Boko Haram insurgency, the conflict poses a grave threat to the country’s stability and unity and it could affect the 2019 general elections,” said the ICG report.
VOW TO IMPROVE SECURITY
The think-tank cited a United Nations official as saying the Boko Haram insurgency, which since 2009 has aimed to create an Islamic state in north-east Nigeria, killed “over 200” people in the first six months of the year.
Buhari, a former military ruler, took office in 2015 after winning an election largely on a promise to improve security across Africa’s most populous country, the continent’s biggest producer of crude oil.
Troops and additional police officers have deployed since the start of the year to improve security.
“The federal government has taken welcome but insufficient steps to halt the killings,” said ICG.
It said government should “prosecute perpetrators of violence, disarm ethnic militias and local vigilantes and begin executing long-term plans for comprehensive livestock sector reform”.
A spokesman for the president declined to comment on the report’s recommendations.
The violence further stretches security forces already fighting Boko Haram insurgents who carry out gun raids and bombings in the north-east.
Boko Haram has been pushed out of most of the territory it held in early 2015 but militants still control an area in the Lake Chad region.