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Violence over land on the rise in Jigawa State

Malnourished cows grazing in Jigawa State, Nigeria.
(Aminu Abubakar/IRIN)

Violence flared in early February in northern Nigeria’s Jigawa State, leaving five farmers dead and several houses in cinders, and the troubles are likely to continue as competition for land between farmers and pastoralists intensifies.

“That our state is agrarian makes it a hotbed of such violent fights between farmers and nomads, each with an interest to survive,” Jigawa state agriculture commissioner Nasidi Ali told IRIN at his office in the state capital Dutse.

All across northern Nigeria farmers and nomadic cattle herders compete for land, although the competition is particularly intense in Jigawa State as it is a migratory route not only for Nigerian nomads but also nomads from other West African countries, including Niger, Benin, Cameroon and Senegal.

The overall number of both local and foreign nomadic pastoralists is also increasing, as is the overall population of the state, Dahiru Mohammed, director of livestock services in Jigawa Agriculture ministry told IRIN.

“We have experienced a population explosion over the years and farmers need more farm fields to meet the growing need for food to feed this large population”, Mohammed said. The population was grown from the 2.8 million, recorded in the 1991 census, to 4.3 million, according the latest state government figures.

“[That] is at the root of the conflict,” he said.

The fighting in early February broke out in the town of Ringim after the nomad’s marauding cattle destroyed the crops of farmers.

As with many clashes, the nomads proved superior fighters. They more often have guns and ride in on horse back while the farmers only wield machetes, clubs and bows and arrows.

Many more farmers have been killed or injured than nomads, Ali said, adding that the nomads often torch the farmers’ villages before fleeing.

Arresting nomads is near impossible, Muhammad added. “They are heavily armed and move in large numbers.”

The nomads are also fearless and will shoot at the police sent to arrest them, he added. “[The nomads] murder and plunder with impunity because they can flee back to their countries and are hard to trace,” he said.

Beyond blame

One farmer IRIN spoke with said he could understand the nomads’ anger. “It is true that we encroach on grazing reserves, waterholes and cattle paths”, farmer Yusuf Bala Sheshe said.

But he also justified his own frustration with the nomads. “The nomads sometimes steer their herd into our farms and destroy our crops. This drives us crazy and we fight them.”

Previous peace efforts by local chiefs and representatives of farmers and nomads, as well as local government leaders, all failed. But recently the government established a high-powered committee of chiefs, bureaucrats and representatives from the police, army and intelligence authorities which has arbitrated some disputes and appears to be fostering harmony.

One thing both farmers and nomads agree on is that the government needs to intervene.

The pastoralists have asked authorities to provide three basic services. “We need improved grazing reserves, waterholes and cattle paths so that we do not trespass into farms,” said Isa Abdullahi Jabe, secretary of Jigawa chapter of pastoralists union Myetti Allah. “Once the government provides these three requirements there will hardly be clashes anymore,” he said.

Jigawa state government is planning on improving services to hundreds of grazing reserves in the state, and a 13-man team of agricultural experts is looking into ways of recovering land that farmers have encroached on, Mohammed said. “We have already purchased the grass seeds from some reputable local companies and research institutes which we will broadcast on the reserves after the clearing and re-stamping,” he added.

The federal government has also dug two boreholes in local grazing reserves in the villages of Garbagal and Sankara in the state and says it will build dams as well as provide veterinary services for nomadic herdsmen.

But Mohammed cautioned that the needs of farmers must not be ignored. “We are trying to do it in such a way that it will not cause bad feelings and jeopardise public peace,” he said.

For farmers, either the government must provide them with more farmland or help them increase their yields with support for modern farming. “Most farmers still use traditional farming methods of hoes and ploughs and rely on low-yield seeds,” Mohammed said.

The state recently purchased 400 water pumps which farmers can borrow to irrigate their land. “This will enable them to cultivate all year round without having to wait for eight months for rains to cultivate crops”, Ali said.

Many farmers say that in order to become efficient they also need tractors and harvesters, and improved seed varieties. “Then farmers will have no need for bigger fields since one can have high yield from a small field”, Auwalu Waek, head of Jigawa state farmers’ union told IRIN.

But for Ali, what would make both farmers and pastoralists most productive is peace. “They both expend energy killing each other instead of concentrating on their occupations,” he said.

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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