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Land in Nigeria as throughout much of Africa is a primary resource for survival and a major source of income and livelihood for the rural population. Land is not only a source of livelihood and valuable economic asset but also carries spiritual values with it. Therefore, access to landed resources is not merely a matter of productive use of the ecological environment; it involves power and symbolic relations (Meur et al….2006). In this way, land resources have continued to have major historical, cultural and spiritual significance (Odgaard, 2006, the Encyclopedia of Earth, 2008). Due to increased population pressure, environmental conditions and diversification of the rural land use patterns in Nigeria, adequate access to pasture and water for livestock has diminished thus prompting herdsmen to migrate to the north central, southern as well as western part of the country. The squeezing out of herdsmen from their traditional grazing lands has spurred the tension and conflicts with farming communities in the last decades.
The term conflict suggests differences and disagreements. According to Ofuoku and Osifo (2009), conflict is the simultaneous occurrence of two or more mutually antagonistic impulse or motives. This was further described by Wilson and Hana (1979) as struggle involving opposing ideas and/ or limited resources. The general consensus among scholars is that, all conflict share common qualities. The first is that there is kind of contact between the parties that are involved. Secondly, the parties involved in the conflict share conflicting
views. And finally, one of the parties always seeks redress for the existing contradiction.
According to Radda (2007); “conflict among people in all societies is normal and there may never be a conflict-free society”. In every community, the presence of security is meant to prevent the breakdown of law and order but it is puzzling that this conflict has been allowed to degenerate into violent crisis that led to loss of lives, properties, livestock, displacement of people, disruption of farming and other socio-economic activities. It is obviously clear that a crisis like this, if left unresolved, it is capable of seriously threatening the food security and worsening the unemployment situation of the country.
The herdsmen have been in Nigeria for a very long time and there have been harmony and peaceful co-existence with the farmers for long time. Cases between the farmers and herdsmen were isolated, localized and harmoniously resolved. It is however, disturbing and surprising that the conflict that erupted, specifically in the previous years was spontaneous, widespread and destructive in nature and could not be resolved by both parties leading to the current food crisis. Granted that in the olden times, the farmers and herdsmen were known to be living in peace, what then have triggered the recent conflict leading to loss of life and property? What are the social and political factors which have led to such a terrible state of affairs?
Conflict between farmers and herdsmen has become a common feature of economic livelihood in West Africa. In the period before the beginning of the 20th century, this menace was confined to the savannah belts of West Africa. Cattle rearing were common in the Sudan and Sahel savannah belts where crop production was carried out only during the rainy season on a minimal scale. This trend gave the Fulani herdsmen access to vast area of grass land in the savannah belts of West Africa. In Nigeria, as time passed, the commoditization of land as well as the introduction of irrigation farming in Savannah belt of Nigeria in order to generate profit as well as enhance food security to support the growing population in the country, more land was put to farming activities and other purposes as deemed profitable by those who acquired it. This limited the access to the vast area which was initially used by Fulani herdsmen for rearing their herds especially along the river banks of savannah belts in the Northern part of the country. There arose the need for grazing movement to access pasture across regions in order to support herds.
According to Schema (1996), land, crops, livestock, water resources and vegetal resources plays a key role in the development, maintenance as well as sustainability and, projection of the socio-economic strength of a society. Hence, resource ownership and its utilization have resulted in to conflicts involving man since time immemorial. As earlier stated, of all the aforementioned resources, land has remained an overwhelming source of
conflict among various user groups as well as individuals. In other words, conflicts between farmers and herdsmen over the control of land is becoming fierce and increasingly widespread in Nigeria largely due to the intensification of production activities that are necessitated by the entrenchment of capitalist relations coupled with an increasing human population.
The vast geographical area of Nigeria has placed farmers in a situation to live with the Fulani herdsmen particularly during the dry season (November to April). More so, the Fulani herdsmen still practice the free range system; they move from one place to another in search of pasture and water. This development usually forces them to migrate from the North to the South Vallies, particularly Benue State, where both pasture and water resources can be found. As a result, this has increased the competition for arable land between the Fulani herdsmen and sedentary Tiv farmers resulting to the existing conflicts and social friction among the two groups in the state.
Hagberg (1998) made a distinction between types of conflict in farmers‟ and nomadic relationship. He differentiates between disputes among individual and group conflict of interest and violence while, dispute refers to disagreement between two or more persons or groups. A violent conflict involves mayhem, the destruction of lives, arising from dispute. A conflict of interest on the other hand is seen as the adoption of opposing views and concern by different actors which usually take from a non-violent competition for control of resources in a given area. Furthermore, farmer-herdsmen differences are not only understood
as resource conflict but also construed in some quarters as a manifestation of ethnic conflict involving two groups. Since farmers and herdsmen groups have very different values, customs, physical and cultural characteristics, disputes between them are frequently characterized as ethnic conflict. The feeling of belongingness that is extant among a group‟s members is focused around their economic interest and protection of the valves, culture and power of group. The Fulani nomadic cattle rearers being the minority in their host communities have a unique culture and strong sense of solidarity; they are often isolated from the farming population. In such cases, conflict between them and the farming population is regarded as having ethnic connotations.
Hence, the effect of these conflicts often between farmers and nomadic herdsmen in Nigeria, usually results in the loss of lives and properties. In conflict ridden areas, palpable fear and anxiety have enveloped the residents as a result of the wanton destruction of lives and properties. The farmers and herdsmen alike have lost their lives, crops, properties and livestock. The conflict has demonstrated the high potential to exacerbate the insecurity and food crisis within the area it occurs where it is localized with deep effects on nationwide. In other words, the persistence of these conflicts has had a negative toll on agricultural as well as economic development.
The resultant effect of these conflicts between farmers and herdsmen has attracted the attention of the three strata of authority of the federation, which have in turn, stimulated the adoption of different strategies and mechanism