Unravelling A historical perspective on the Pastoralist/Farmer conflict in Nigeria


I recently discussed the Nigeria-Iceland match with a friend of mine and he was at loss to understand how a group of individuals purportedly numbering under 400,000 can call themselves a country. I smiled and tried to explain at great lengths the modern definition of a nation… as different from a country


Now a nation is simply defined as a large body of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular state or territory.

Countries on the other hand are a group of nations with its own government, occupying a particular territory.


The Fulani people are a nation.

I think to understand what is going on you first have to understand the history of the Fulani. I have a couple of helpful links


The most interesting of course being the Wikipedia page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fula_people


The Fulani people are believed to number about 25million and are one of the largest ethnic groups in the sahel and in west Africa….. they are also widely dispersed in these regions.

The Fulani people can be found in the following countries Mauritania, GhanaSenegalGuineathe GambiaMaliNigeriaSierra LeoneBeninBurkina Faso,Guinea BissauCameroonIvory CoastNigerChadTogoSouth Sudan the Central African RepublicLiberia,

The Fulani are traditionally pastoralists and many continued to pursue a pastoral life; some, however, particularly in Hausaland, have given up their nomadic pursuits, settled into existing urban communities,

Now as a people, the Fulani are bound together by their

1. Language
2. The Islamic religion,

3. Their history and

4. Their culture….

Probably in this order too.

Now lets discuss the scramble for Africa…

The Scramble for Africa, as defined by Wikipedia is also known as the Race for Africaor Partition of Africa. Now this involved a process of invasion, occupation, colonization and annexation of Africanterritory by European powers during the New Imperialism period, between 1881 and World War I in 1914.

This process did not affect the Fulani. So while the rest of us are enamored or obsessed by boundaries drawn for us by the Europeans, the Fulani aren’t. this is the reason today a Fulani man in Adamawa would still easily identify his relatives in Cameroon, Sokoto, Niger, guinea and even Senegal or Ghana etc

Unlike you and I they do not recognize the partition the Europeans created. The Fulani are one unit bound by their language, the Islamic religion, their history and culture.

The Fulani are a Nation.

The history of the Fulani can never be complete without the study of their conquest and annexation of territory. From the 4th century up till 1862 Fulani history is replete with conquest and occupation (Jihad) some unsuccessful, most quite successful, the most successful being the Jihad of Usman Dan Fodio between 1804 – 1809

This period called the jihad is marked by the capture of Hausa land and the emergence of the caliphate.

Today nearly all emirs are Fulani… even in Hausa territories where the Fulani are in the minority

in 1808 the Fulani attacked the bornu empire but they were unsuccessful.

Historically, Kingdoms or Nations that accommodated Fulani herdsmen in the past were eventually overthrown by the Fulani. In all situations, these herdsmen took up arms and fought for a Fulani leader to overthrow the kingdoms that accommodated them and their cattle…. It is hereditary… its their way of life … it is their history.


Now Nigeria is an aggregation of several nation states or nationalities who were forced to coexist together within boundaries defined by the british. The Fulani on the other hand don’t necessarily respect the boundaries drawn by the british, French and Portuguese etc….. they still regard themselves as an indivisible nation.


So while you say i’m Nigerian, you are from Ghana, while the other folks are from Cameroon or Mali or Niger etc….. the Fulani don’t follow your own rules of identification.

They are a united Fulani nation.

Now as with every nation historically they’d have an army which is called whenever there is a distress call.

This is what is happening in the middle belt. As well as the rest of the country.

You see we are bound by extant constitutional provisions and laws as a country as regards boundaries and even up to the possession of fire arms.

The Fulani nation on the other hand are not bound by your laws… they simply invite their army once theres a threat even if that threat is an application of your laws.

National laws are in certain cases alien to them… they don’t know it… they don’t respect them …they don’t need it… they would not accept it.

They are loyal to the Fulani nation… anything that affects the Fulani nation is what matters to them

they arrive at Fulani settlements and launch attack on renegade communities that inhibit, restrict or attack them or have previously inflicted any such harm on them.

They are also sometimes known to allegedly organize rogue elements within the armed forces/ security services who take part in any retaliatory attack if necessary.

Now the Nigerian communities, which have been attacked all mostly, have similar characteristics in common

Most Ethnic Nationalities resident in Nigeria have all come to accept the superiority of Nigerian laws which outlaw the possession of weapons and the possession of private armies.

They all cede their common protection and safety to the Nigerian state.

Historically Fulani pastoralists have grazed in lands around the arid and sahel regions of West Africa partly because of the environmental conditions that limit the amount of land for agricultural purposes leading to less intense competition for land between farmers and herders. However, after recurrent droughts in the arid and sahel regions, Fulani pastoralists have gradually moved southwards to the guinea savanna and the tropical forest areas resulting in competition for grazing routes with farmers.
Fulani pastoralists started migrating into Northern Nigeria from the Senegambia region at about the thirteenth/fourteenth century.

Then came the Uthman dan Fodio jihad, which saw the integration of the Fulani into the Hausa culture of Northern Nigeria.

Now during the dry season when tsetse fly population is reduced, Fulani pastoralists began to drive their cattle into the middle belt zone dominated by non Hausa nations in a timely manner which ensures they are able to return to the north at the onset of the rainy season.

But while managing the herd and driving cattle, cattle grazing on farmlands sometimes occur leading to destruction of crops and becoming a source of conflict.

In 1978, the Nigerian military government under Gen Olusegun Obasanjo implemented the land use act…. Ostensibly in response to the discovery of large crude oil deposits in the Niger Delta. The implementation put all land and its resources in the control of the federal and state government.

The application of the land use act gave the state and federal governments the right to assign or lease ancestral land to indigenes or natives

Nigeria’s implementation of the land use act of 1978 allowed the state or federal government the right to assign and lease land and also gave indigenes the right to apply and be given a certificate of occupancy to claim ownership of their ancestral lands.

Now it became increasingly difficult for the nomadic Fulani to continue to graze unrestricted as it brought them into conflict with the farmers.

Now the periods preceding the 1978 also brought about an increase in the number of Fulani’s in top government positions. Grazing and stock routes, which were established as early as 1962, became difficult to maintain.

Unlike in Ghana where Fulani migrant groups and pastoralist are usually considered strangers and foreigners because of their Senegambia origin, in Nigeria they are largely accepted as kith and kin particularly for political reasons bordering on population or numerical advantage. So today the Fulani’s largely consider Nigeria their second home and Nigeria also plays host to the largest Fulani population anywhere in the world

 Nigeria 7,611,000
 Sierra Leone 7,075,641
 Guinea 4,099,645
 Mali 2,567,664
 Burkina Faso 1,639,052
 Niger 1,211,509
 Ghana 800,523
 Cameroon 700,000
 Guinea-Bissau 501,360
 Chad 128,000
 Sudan 90,000







Nigeria is a contradiction as much as it is also a contraption of several ethnic Nationalities…. there is as much difference between a Fulani man and an Igbo as there is between a Turk and a German…. Different nations…
These nations that make up nigeria have different histories, different values, cultures, languages etc.

And as is with history, all such nations fear subjugation, domination, and control.

Every nation fears “a jihad”

All the nations fear having their history, their way of life, their customs, traditions, religions, languages and cultural practices lost to domineering influences from other strong nations.

Incidentally all nations wouldn’t mind being the recipients of ethnic superiority, domination and conquest…. They wouldn’t give up these features for anything

the Nigerian state must in turn find ways to knock back all such occupationist, expansionist and domineering tendencies or inclinations from aggressor nations

Nigeria must discover creative ways to instill mutual respect between its nations

So how do we inculcate mutual respect amongst the several hundred ethnic nationalities that constitute Nigeria?

How do we make sure that the Igbo’s doing business in surulere, Lagos where they are the definite majority subsume themselves under the authority and control of the aborigines/ natives?

How do we make sure that the Hausa/ Fulani in jos north who are the majority integrate themselves under the authority and control of the Anaguta who re the natives of jos north?

How do we make sure the biroms of plateau state do not take advantage of their numerical strength in Jos north to consign or marginalize the Anaguta to second place?
How do we also encourage the Anaguta to carry all groups along

How do we make it IMPOSSIBLE for the stronger nations are unable to act aggressively against the smaller weaker ones how do we make sure that within the Nigerian state… the stronger nations are made to respect the laws, culture and way of life of the aborigines/natives/indigenes of a nation?

How do we also make sure that it is impossible for the TIVS in Benue state university do not dominate staffing and admissions to the disadvantage of the Idoma or the Igede’?

How do we ensure that these several hundred nations WILLINGLY CEDE THEIR SOVEREIGNTY to the Nigerian state?

The Nigerian Nation needs to make sure that it is impossible for the Birom man from the Birom nation to act aggressively against the Fulani nation in kano or Katsina or anywhere else and it is equally impossible for the Fulani man to act aggressively against the Birom nation in Ryom, Barkinladi etc or anywhere else .

The Nigerian state must also make ensure that its basic ethnic nationalities are able to accommodate the interests, businesses and concerns of other ethnic nationalities within the Nigerian state without risking domination, subjugation or control.

This is key.



Other Options like The supervised Training, Arming and equipping of communities must remain on the table in the event of a situation where the federal or state government shows inability to push back aggressor ethnic nationionalities

The federal/state government must take full responsibility over the communities, which have voluntarily ceded their right to security and protection to the federal/state government.

No community or ethnic nationality should be allowed to face annihilation from a neighbouring aggressor ethnic nationality  particularly when it has volutarily ceded its security to the  Nigerian state to protect their lives and interests




Even better, If the Nigerian government wants to continue to keep Nigeria united under a sovereign authority it should also commence massive programmes aimed at encouraging inter marriages and interrelationship between its nations. These incentives may present themselves in ways such as reduced tax as an incentive, or increased social incentives. Say for instance if an Igbo man marries a Fulani woman, there must exist attractive incentives or incentives for the Fulani man who speaks the language of his host nation fluently, intermarries and shows evidence of substantial investment in health, education or infrastructure in his host community.


The other option is to contract a private military contractor (PMC) this is to help with trust issues a well as matters relating to the tactics, training and doctrine of the security forces

A South African PMC was contracted by the Goodluck Jonathan administration during its twilight months to help them train the Nigerian army on matters relating to asymmetric warfare. And in three months they had recaptured territory the size of Belgium from boko haram terrorists….

it was called STTEP and was headed by Col. Eeben Barlow.

STTEP is a South African PMC that has worked across Africa and has extensive experience in advising, training, and mentoring African armies in combating armed anti-government forces

Some of the guns-for-hire cut their teeth in South Africa’s border wars 30 years ago. But their formidable fighting skills – backed by their own helicopter pilots flying combat missions – have proven decisive in helping the Nigerian military turn around its campaign against Boko Haram in its north-eastern strongholds


Now why should we consider contracting a PMC?
One major advantage in contracting a PMC to search out and eliminate armed threats to National sovereignty may be their neutrality in the conflict. They are not interested parties in a conflict and would work according to laid down agreements with the Nigerian government.

The other advantage would be their understanding of the difficult terrain and asymmetric warfare.

According to Col Eeben barlow of Special Tasks, Training, Equipment and Protection (STTEP) International Ltd.

“The Nigerian army is a clone of its once-colonial master, the United Kingdom. Organized and trained to fight according to a European doctrine and unsuited to a harsh and unforgiving African environment, and the terrorist asymmetric threat facing Nigeria, the army was unable to withstand attacks by a mobile and maneuverable Boko Haram. …. Just as with the Fulani fighters

Furthermore, because the Nigerian security agencies are lacking in field intelligence, the armed Fulani militia are able to strike at will, forcing the Nigerian security agencies to respond defensively or reactively with little to no field initiative”.



There is the need for effective data collection and collation. This cannot be over emphasized.


The Fulani herdsmen complained that their cattle was being rustled and their people were being killed. Sadly there were little to no records to this as the record keeping of the Nigerian agencies is notoriously unreliable.

Crises data must be collected and collated in a timely and efficient manner helps in the quick management of a burgeoning crises. When data is collected on time, it enables the necessary agencies to wade in and adjudicate before the matter goes out of hand.

Finally as a tech aficionado I’m particularly interested in how the efficient use of technology can be used to help protect innocents as well as rate tension.

I am interested in Tech that can be used to point out a build up of negative energy or personalities in a location.

for instance when the militia begin to gather, they don’t just magically appear in a location… they gradually converge… sometimes passing through several other communities until they arrive at the camps of fellow herdsmen or friendly ethnic communities. Then they move, sometimes several hours to the communities which have been marked for attack

We must be able to source appropriate tech aid backed by geo locator tools which when enabled, can provide early warning from some of these neighboring communities


These tools should also be able to provide timely information to road users on the tense spots during a journey




You’d see a lot of similarities in the mutual distrust /suspicion evident the relationship between the Fulani vs. the non Hausa/ non Muslim middle belter and the ethno religious crises that has engulfed Jos for a while now

The most popular misconception about the Jos crises is that it started in 2001

The Jos crises didn’t start in 2001

Jos crises didn’t even start when a military government split jos into three with the ultimate purpose of favoring one ethnic/religious group.


The Jos crises begun even before Jos north was partitioned to the advantage of a particular ethnic group.

External influences played a key role in attempting to denigrate a once welcoming plateau nation by first using the role of the powerful interests within the military and attempting to assert a strange culture on the plateau.

IBB working under certain very key influences created Jos north from the city of Jos to the advantage of an ethnic /religious party.

Nigeria is a country of many nations… These nations are bound by common characteristics including history, language, religion and location.

And as with all nation, no nation wants to be subjugated or dominated or controlled or have an alien culture imposed on it.

We all must learn to give absolute respect to our hosts… And position or relate within the sphere of authority of our hosts

In the case of plateau…. It was abused.

Jos crises actually started gaining traction at the point one of the numerous ethnic nations resident in Jos was accused of scheming to introduce or assert its culture which was alien to the culture of the natives

Now you see there are hausa’s native to Jos…. and as Jos grew in stature and productivity, there was emigration from neighboring climes like kano, katsina Zaria, Bauchi, Sokoto etc now as residents in Jos, they linked up with similar ethnic nationalities and became larger in number than the hosts.

Then they decided to assert themselves and their culture which was alien to that of their hosts…. this action resulted in a build up of tension which remains to this day

Jos crises is believed to have become exacerbated at the point one of the nations resident in another nation, allegedly started plotting to install a traditional leadership (an alien culture) which was markedly different from the aboriginal/ native leadership.

One nationality on account of having a larger population tried to assert itself on the territory of another nationality.
It became worse at the point allegedly sympathetic elements in the Nigerian military leadership at the time, split Jos City into Jos north and Jos south, ostensibly to give one interested ethnic group an advantage.

in my opinion, the jos crises started when one ethnic nation decided to disrespect the right to the native authority of its host nation



In conclusion, The Nigerian herdsmen/ Fulani conflict provides numerous valuable lessons to be learned, lessons that remain applicable to both Africa and beyond.
One particularly important underlying lesson of the Nigerian pastoralist/farmer conflict is that as with most African conflicts, large armies fight small wars very poorly. Furthermore most conflicts are the result of a failure of governance and the rise of popular anger and dissatisfaction. However, it is not the resultant poverty that gives rise to armed anti-government forces but rather the populace’s loss of hope.


-Brown writes from Abuja

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