Killer Herdsmen; A Threat to Nigeria Food Security

Adedoyin Shittu
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With the incessant attack on farmers by killer herdsmen, destruction of farm land by cattle and setting of food stores ablaze by the killers; food security in the most populous black nation on earth is on threat.

The seasonal movements of herdsmen has made many States in Nigeria to not only grapple with the increasing presence and the activities of herdsmen in the name grazing but more worrisome is the new dimension of bearing sophisticated weapons of war to terrorize farmers. The herdsmen either as a result of lack of attention or they deliberately allow their cattle to stray, trample on the crops and forcefully eat up farm crops of farmers. They also contaminate streams which serve as source of water for human consumption leading to outbreak of disease in the community. The herdsmen engage in raping women, abducting and killing farmers. Their tactics for large scale violent attacks on villages and towns is to come in 100s to attack at night when people are asleep and carting away valuables. It is also reported that they have taken kidnapping, and arm robbery activities on the highways.

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Though the herdsmen have been known to wreak havoc in certain communities in Nigeria, but now, the rate at which they commit these crimes has increased exponentially. As of April of this year over 2000 farmers have been killed just this year and this is November, triple of that number have been killed and tens of thousands more displaced from their communities.

What is worrisome is the attitude of the Nigerian government towards this menace. The federal government have not brought anyone to book for these never ending attacks. The silence of the federal government speaks volume.

No matter how long it takes the killer herdsmen to destroy their target communities, no police or military forces show up until they are done with the killings. In Southern Kaduna, It took them hours to kill more than 800 people in 2016 and about 200 people in June 2018 in Plateau State, yet there interventions from the military or police during the killings.

Who exactly are these Killer Herdsmen?

The identity of these killer herdsmen have been an issue of concern since no one has been brought to book. Many believe that these killers are members of “Boko haram” disguising as Fulani herdsmen but their modus operandi differs while some others including the sitting government believe that these killer herdsmen are foreigners that have come to cause mayhem in Nigeria.

The mode of operation is to gun down or matchet anyone on sight and set ablaze the whole buildings in the community including food crop barns.

In fact, the governor of Kaduna State, Malam El Rufai; one of the State hit by the attacks, said he traced the killers to their Country and paid them an undisclosed sum to stop the killings especially in the Southern part of the State that is majorly Christian. Despite the said payment by the governor, that has not stopped the killings as Kaduna is presently under siege and 24 hours curfew was declared in the State last week.

One thing that everyone agrees to; is that, the attack is carried out to gain access to grazing lands for livestock.

However the attackers have not always remained faceless. Following the attack at Agatu in February, that claimed over 500 lives; the “Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association” (leadership of the Fulani group) have openly admitted that the attacks were carried out by its members. They claimed that the attacks was carried out by their members in retaliation to killing of one prominent Fulani man, yet security personnel in the country did not arrest anyone concerning the displacement of a whole community to avenge one killing. This is not the only deadly attack that the members of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association have claimed to have carried out since these senseless killings began.


It should however be noted that cattle rearing is a business of the rich and it is the rich who employ the poor to run their cow businesses for them. The herdsmen moving from State to State are not the owners of the cattle but are paid to oversee to the flock. Most of the cows you see are owned by many northern Muslim governors, senators, local government chairmen, other politicians and businessmen.

Could it be that the present administration under the leadership of Mohammed Buhari is shielding these killers to protect himself and his colleagues as he also is a cattle owner?

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Response of Stakeholders in the crisis

There has been an outcry to tag the killer herdsmen as a terrorist group from various quarters since their activities have crippled economic activities and rendered thousands homeless but instead the government have been sympathetic to their demands.

Despite the enormous pressure on land and water to meet Nigeria growing population the federal government have called for the creation of cattle colony in every state of the federation including FCT.

This plan has already been openly criticised by the public and state governors who have said they won’t give up their lands for such a venture but at least 16 states are known to have volunteered at least 5,000 hectares each.

The federal government also called for the allocation of N 170 billion to be used for building cattle ranches all over Nigeria.

Is Cattle Colony the solution?

Nigeria is a complex state driven by ethnic rivalry and religious bigotry. Since the emergence of Buhari as the President, his kinsmen have become so bold in their attacks, sacking communities and claiming lands and nothing have been done to bring them to book. Therefore it could only be interpreted that the president is protecting his tribesmen. Buhari made it worse by placing his tribesmen and religion kinsmen into key security positions. Now he is calling for a portion of land in each state for herders. It should be known that 99% of nomadic herders are Fulani.

It is believed by many that creation of the cattle colony is a ploy to dispossess farmers of their right to land to enable Fulani herdsmen exercise both economic and political control over the people of the area. Also cattle colony will be used as a facade in order to create a caliphate system in the south.

All these theories emanates from the existing feeling of insecurity in the heart of Nigerians due to the inaction of the government to bring these killers to book.

But can the Fulani live as settlers in host state without laying claim to the land.

Using Plateau State as case study, I do not think they can live in a State without laying ownership on the land.

The issue of land has been a major source of conflict in the State. The Fulani are laying claim to some areas in the State as they have lived and grazed there for a long time, so they fought back to protect themselves and the land from being taken by the indigenes.

Notably, people of the Fulani tribe rarely ever use artificial birth control methods and, as a result of this, the tribe is very fertile, hence their vast population in any place they inhabit.

Power is shared and controlled on the basis of land ownership. Land ownership is usually resolved on the basis on indigene. However there is a sharp divide between indigenes and settlers. The right and privileges enjoyed by indigenes have fuelled violent conflicts in the State that seems to be unending.

Kogi State is another state troubled by these killer herdsmen. The Governor of the State, Yahaya Bello, had donated 15,000 hectares of land to the Federal Government to be used as “cattle colony”. This has not stopped the attacks by the killer herdsmen in the State and farmers are scared of going to their farmlands.

So what exactly are the killer herdsmen fighting for?

Currently, farmers in most of the affected states who have been displaced from their farms and homes by the herdsmen are recounting their ordeals.

The farmers chairman in Benue State, one of the state worst hit by the killers also known as the “Food Basket of the Nation” said the population of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the state, who are mainly farmers of food crops, had risen to over 170,000 and this does not include the thousands of those currently squatting with relatives. Herdsmen have disrupted farming activities in 14 local governments out of 23 local governments in the state.

Nguaan Iorshe, a 36 year old man, said he lost 20 bags of rice, 40 bags of soya beans, yams and many other food items to the herdsmen attack.

Mkaaga Peven said three of stocked barn with melon seed, rice, and corn was burnt down during an attack.

In Maiduguri, farmers were rounded up in a community and slaughtered like animals. As they attack them, the attackers repeatedly said they will not allow anyone to harvest their cultivated crops this year. Families and friends of the slained farmers said they are too scared to return to the farm.

In Borno State, the once profitable vocation of freshwater fishing has been abandoned.

In Taraba, herdsmen destroyed a 750 hectare of rice plantation soon to be harvested.

These are just very few attacks on farmers that have happened.

Aside the destruction of farm lands and crop, burning of crops and crops barns containing harvested produce and seedlings, there has also been brutal murders of the farmers. Those lucky to escape the senseless killings of these killers have been detained in IDP camps hideouts and cannot go back home for fear of a reprisal attack.

Other states that have documented gruesome attacks by these killer herdsmen include Enugu, Imo, Abia, Delta, Ogun, Kogi, Nasaarawa, Plateau, Taraba, Adamawa, Ondo, Kaduna, Oyo and Bayelsa

Therefore it is safe to conclude that the Federal Government have remained passive in the face of looming food scarcity and genocide committed on majorly farmers, citizens whom he sworn to protect.

The continuous inaction of the Federal Government to see these massacres as a threat to the unity of Nigeria but as mere communal clashes with herdsmen signifies that he is an accomplice and he is not sincere to the people of Nigeria as a whole but sees himself as a President to the Fulani tribe.

Despite all this the presidency gave itself a pass in Agriculture, it is either the FG is living in fool’s paradise or Buhari is the president of Pluto.

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