An understanding of individuals or groups’ responses to circumstances can only be more evident when there are explorations on actions. With that, we can understand their invisible but constant and quiet norms, symbols, and values, which provide them with the lenses for viewing their reality. These philosophies constitute parts of the cultural filters through which they create meaning from situations and respond to them. These cultural filters’ role is yet to be given adequate attention in the solutions applied so far to the farmer-herder conflicts in Nigeria. The current approaches to the problem are mostly the use of laws and policies like the anti-open-grazing law in Benue State and the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP). Also is the use of law enforcement such as military and police operations. In a few instances, civil society interventions have experimented on dialogue, mediation, and strengthening intercultural understanding, though this has yet to gain traction. Centrally, agrarian tensions and conflicts are continuing because discussions and intercultural relations that lead to mutual understanding, address the fears and expectations of disputing groups, and build peace on mutually agreed terms are yet to be well implored.
In this edition of Nextier SPD Policy Weekly, we explore dialogues rooted in cultural relations as the route not-well-charted in resolving agrarian violence in Nigeria.
For a recap, peripatetic herders who mostly originate from the Sahel region of Nigeria, increasingly migrate southwards in search of forages and water. Lately, this migration is intensified by climate change and violence in the Northern end of the country. Herder migration and cattle grazing lead to conflict with sedentary farmers who complain of crop damages that result from overgrazing. Conflicting claims on grazing rights by herders, on one hand, and land ownership rights by farmers, on the other, results in preventable killings in parts of Nigeria. A Foreign Affairs report in 2019 indicates that over 10,000 people died from this agrarian violence over two years. Government legalistic intervention like the anti-open grazing laws built on restrictions and sanctions, is in fact, a source of new tensions because the cartel of cattle breeders has rejected and challenged the law in court. Besides, the Benue state government continues to arrest both cattle and herders in the state.
Similarly, the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) appears distant from both farmers’ and herders’ everyday lives. Farming communities continue to complain about the invasion of their lands, crop damages, murder, rape, and banditry. Military and police use for peace enforcement provides only temporary solutions (Kwaja and Ademola-Adelehin, 2018). Hence, there is a need to look beyond the legalistic approach and explore options from dialogue and intercultural relations perspective.