Amid deadly clashes with farmers and expulsion orders by state authorities, thousands of nomadic herders in Nigeria do not know where to turn.
The latest clashes, in Plateau state on 6 and 7 June, started with the alleged killing of an ethnic Chala woman by some Fulani nomads in a dispute over her farmland, state information commissioner Gregory Yenlong told IRIN. He said family members of the slain woman killed two Fulani pastoralists in a reprisal attack.
Tensions linked to pastoralist-farmer disputes have been mounting in recent months in several Nigerian states. Local authorities expelled 700 pastoralists from Borno state in the northeast in May 2009 and some 2,000 from Plateau in April, according to local authorities.
"We settled in Damboa [in Borno state] like many other Fulani nomads, running away from desertification and drought in the far north where we have little food for our herd," nomad chief Alhaji Jebbe told IRIN.
"If every community we move to treats us like this I don't know where we will turn to. Our herd, which is our source of existence, will be ruined and we will in turn be ruined," he said.
A local expert says effects of climate change are partly to blame for the disputes. Northern nomadic communities are increasingly moving southwards as climate change turns their grazing land into desert, Kabiru Yammama, environmental consultant with Nigerian NGO Green Shield of Nations, told IRIN.
About 35 percent of land that was cultivable 50 years ago is now desert in 11 of Nigeria’s northernmost states: Borno, Bauchi, Gombe, Adamawa, Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Yobe, Zamfara, Sokoto and Kebbi, Yammama said.
Nomads expelled from Borno state had travelled 1,000km eastwards from Zamfara state in search of grazing land, and are now heading back again, according to Jebbe.
The livelihoods of some 15 million pastoralists in northern Nigeria are threatened by decreasing access to water and pasture -- shortages linked to climate change, according to Yammama.
The rainy season in northern Nigeria has dropped to an average of 120 days down from 150 days 30 years ago, cutting crop yields by 20 percent, according to a 2008 National Meteorological Agency study.
Damboa local government chairman Lawan Kuru said the authorities expelled pastoralists to avoid further violence.
“Over the years we have had enough troubles with deadly farmer-nomad clashes over grazing fields and we do not wish to encounter more…by accommodating more nomads with their livestock in this area.”
Conflict prevention was also given as the reason for the 27 April expulsion of some 2,000 Fulani nomads from Wase, in southern Plateau state, by state security forces.
“Given the volatility of Wase…that has witnessed communal unrest and remains a flash point, the arrival of the migrants became a matter of security concern to the immediate communities, traditional rulers and the local government council,” said Plateau information commissioner Yenlong. “Our action is based on security considerations and not on ethnic or sectarian motives.”
Ethno-religious clashes in the town of Jos, in northern Plateau, in November 2008 claimed hundreds of lives.
But Muhammad Nuru, head of the Plateau branch of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria [MACBAN], a Fulani nomad union, called the state government’s actions “barbaric and primitive" .
"This unconstitutional and criminal action was hatched and authorized by the Plateau state government in concord with Wase local government without any justifiable reason other than these people are Fulani and Muslims and therefore not wanted in Plateau state,” he told IRIN.
Politics is polarized along ethnic and religious lines in Plateau state, partly because of the way Nigerian politics defines local rights by whether or not residents are indigenous. Many Muslims are not considered indigenous and feel dominated by Christian-dominated party rule, according to Nigeria analysts.
The areas in question are federal grazing reserves, earmarked as international cattle routes since 1956, says MACBAN’s Nuru.
Over time, traditional rulers and local authorities have encroached on this grazing land, allocating it to farmers, according to Abubakar Sadiq, political science professor at Ahmadu Bello University in Kaduna state.
He added: "[As the tensions become further politicized] a very dangerous trend is emerging in the country where state officials will declare some bona fide citizens as persona non-grata."
Sadiq calls for urgent action: "The federal and state governments must sit down and address the issue before it gets out of hand…if the situation degenerates further the battleground will be so huge with so many fronts that the authorities will find difficult to manage."
State governor David Jonah Jang traveled to the site of the clashes on June 7, appealing for calm.