Failure to Curb Fulani Attacks Weakens Buhari's Position

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Tuesday, September 06, 2016 5.26pm/ BMI Research 

BMI View: Failure to effectively deal with attacks by Fulani cattle herders on farming communities leave President Buhari open to charges of bias, weakening his position in negotiating with other political groups. The attacks illustrate the poor reach of the Nigerian state in rural areas.

The failure by Nigerian President Muhmmadu Buhari to effectively deal with ongoing attacks by Fulani tribesmen on farming communities in disputes over grazing rights will weaken his position as premier, leaving him open to allegations of bias and undermining his ability to negotiate with Niger Delta militants or with renewed calls for Biafran independence.

There have long been tensions between the nomadic cattle herders, who are largely Muslim and the settled Christian farmers. But competition over land and resources has been exacerbated in the last few years by the expansion of the arid Sahel region, which has pushed the Fulani tribesmen further south in their search for grazing pastures for their herds.

Attacks by Fulani militants on farmers have been increasing throughout the Nigerian ethnically mixed ‘middle belt’ region.

The localised rather than ideological nature of the disputes, coupled with the fact the attacks are not as economically devastating as those on oil infrastructure in the Niger Delta, has meant the Fulani attacks have generated far fewer headlines and international attention than the Boko Haram insurgency or the renewed violence in the Delta.

These attacks on oil pipelines and other infrastructure has been spearheaded by the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA). However, the issue of the Fulani attacks is a deadly one, with 1,229 people killed by Fulani militants in 2014, compared to 63 in 2013.

Their activity helped push Nigeria up to third in the world in the Institute for Economics and Peace’s Global Terrorism Index 2015, behind only Iraq and Afghanistan, and the issue has not subsided in the period since.

In the two weeks to July 11, 81 people were killed by Fulani militants in Benue State and they have been responsible for more deaths than Boko Haram in 2016. According to UN High Commission for Refugees, 100,000 people have been displaced.

As a result, there is an economic cost to the disputes, with aid agency Mercy Corps saying the conflict could cost USD14bn annually in lost revenues as agriculture is disrupted.

This will weigh on economic growth, as will potential lost investment given the poor light it shows Nigerian security in. The failure to deal with groups of marauding cattle farmers has illustrated how weak state capacity is in many parts of Nigeria.

It took until April 27 2016 for President Buhari to explicitly condemn the violence, which has led to accusations of ethnic bias, a charge which will weaken Buhari’s position as president.

In an address, the president called on the police to find the culprits, calling it a government priority. However, this took much longer than it did for him to condemn attacks by the NDA, which has led to accusations that Buhari is, as a northern Fulani Muslim himself, looking after his own while quick to condemn actions by the Christian NDA.

This will weaken his position when negotiating with the NDA and we do not expect he will take a leading role in any settlement. A proposed scheme to establish grazing reserves for the Fulani tribesmen by forcibly taking land for the state could help to diminish their attacks, but would do little for ethnic tensions.

There are already renewed calls for Biafran independence, and continued movements south by Fulani cattle herders into Biafran territory in Nigeria’s southeast, and purported acquiescence therein by the government, will exacerbate these calls.

We see little prospect of a renewed conflict of the scale seen when Biafra attempted to secede in the 1960s, but ethnic tensions in the region will remain high.

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