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January 04, 2010

Farmer-pastoralists’ clash leaves 32 dead in Nigeria

A tense calm has been restored following clashes between pastoralists and farmers in central Nigeria’s Nasarawa State which left 32 people dead, scores of houses burned, and several farms destroyed, officials said.

Violence erupted on 18 December when pastoralists attacked the farming village of Udeni Gida - two weeks after a clash with farmers on 6 December when herdsman led their cattle into rice fields resulting in the death of a farmer, according to Mohammed Baba Ibaku, a local member of parliament.

“On Friday [18 December], herdsmen from neighbouring Kogi and Taraba states armed with guns stormed the [Udeni Gida] village and opened fire on unsuspecting villagers and by Saturday [19 December] we counted 32 dead bodies from the attacks”, Ibaku said. “Scores of houses were completely burnt and crops on several farms were destroyed”, he added.

Police deployed in the area during the 6 December violence were withdrawn a few days ago as the authorities thought the fighting was over, but the nomads then attacked again, Ibaku said. Military troops and police have been re-deployed but tension remains high, he said.

Hame Saidu, a pastoralist from Wase District of neighbouring Plateau State sad: "Every time there is [a] clash between nomads and farmers we nomads are labelled the aggressors. Nobody cares to look at the problem dispassionately and apportion blame fairly.

"Our herd is our life because to every nomad life is worthless without his cattle. What do you expect from us when our source of existence is threatened? The encroachment of grazing fields and routes by farmers is a call to war.”

Clashes between farmers and pastoralists over grazing fields - common in northern Nigeria - are on the rise throughout the country as pastureland shrinks, according to environmental consultant Kabiru Yammama.

"Wherever we turn we find the land reserved for our cattle to feast, taken over by farmers… It becomes difficult for our herd to move and graze without veering into crop fields,” said Saidu. "Once that happens, the farmers confront us and we have no option but to fight back.”

The creation of farmer-nomad reconciliatory committees in various states in the north has done little to end such conflicts, say locals.

Nigeria officially has 415 grazing reserves but only one-third are in use; the remaining 270 have been built on or farmed, according to the director of livestock and pest control in the Agriculture and Water Resources Ministry, Junaidu Maina.

The government is carving out a grazing route to run through the central states of Nasarawa, Benue and Plateau, as well as Ebonyi in the south, according to Patrick Boga, an adviser in the ministry’s livestock department.

In September 2009 the government also started to mark out grazing reserves across northern Nigeria’s Katsina and Bauchi states as well as the nearby capital, Abuja, to curb clashes.

The three planned reserves, to serve about 15 million pastoralists, will mean demarcating 175,000 hectares of grazing land, building veterinary service centres, and constructing settlements for nomads to use en route, at a cost of US$247 million, according to Maina.

The government is also demarcating a 1,400km livestock route from Sokoto State in the northwest, to Oyo State in the southwest; and another 2,000km route from Adamawa State in the northeast to Calabar in the delta region, he added.


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