Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, with a population of approximately 226 million people. One of the most outstanding aspects of the country is the fact that it is made up of 250 different ethnic groups. Diversity is beautiful because it allows people of different beliefs, traditions, and cultures to learn from each other. It can also be a recipe for disaster if there is no perceived fairness and understanding in relationships between these different people. This perception is applicable to the tensions that existed between the nomadic Fulani herders and farmers in the north-western region of Nigeria.
The Fulani herders are nomadic herders of cattle. They move around the region as their name indicates. They are ethnic people of that area of Nigeria and they speak Fula. The herders compete with the farmers for resources such as land and water. Climate change has played a direct hand in the conflict between the herders and farmers. The Sahara Desert is spreading into Nigeria; causing deforestation, making the land unsuitable for farming, and depleting sources of water. This means there are fewer resources to go around, causing conflict. These clashes between herders and farmers have led to both sides arming themselves. These armed groups have been labeled as vigilantes who simply want to protect themselves. In any situation that involves guns and violence, there are bound to be more opportunistic people who take advantage of a situation. The bandits that now terrorize the Nigerian northern states of Zamfara, Katsina, Sokoto, Kebbi, and Kaduna, are made up of Fulani herders as well as opportunistic criminals. A prominent group of herders has denied the claim that it is them carrying out the banditry. Miyeti Allah, a group of cattle breeders, deflects the blame away from themselves claiming that they are victims of the bandits. They claim their members have been kidnapped and their cattle were stolen. “Our cows have been rustled. The bandits are a bunch of criminals comprising of all sorts of groups,” said the national secretary of Miyeti Allah.
The bandits have varying modes of operation. They are mostly based in the forests found in parts of the northern region of Nigeria. Motorcycles are their preferred mode of transport. Two of the bandits would be seated on a motorcycle, each of them carrying an AK-47. Villages are usually their targets. They attack the villages, shooting to kill, robbing, and stealing. They have been known to abduct women as well. Kidnapping for ransom is another one of their means of terrorizing the villages in the northern states. The bandits demand ransoms ranging from $20 to $200,000. According to reports, during the height of kidnappings between 2017 and 2018, there would be over 10 kidnappings a day on the main road from Nigeria’s capital Abuja to Kaduna in the northwest of the country.
All the states in the north-western region of Nigeria have suffered several attacks. Most recently, more than 200 people were killed in the villages of Zamfara. The bandits attacked villages, shooting people indiscriminately, and destroying their homes. On February 4th, 2022, a group of bandits attacked a village in Zamfara again, murdering at least 33 people. These killings were carried out because of the village’s failure to pay a levy imposed by the bandits. In June 2021, Kebbi experienced attacks that led to 88 fatalities. Before the deaths of those 88 people, there was an occasion in which nine police officers were slaughtered by the bandits while responding to a distress call. A Northern Youth Group condemned attacks that took place in the state of Sokoto. A group of travelers in the area had been set ablaze, leaving 23 dead and several others injured. “Nigeria has been turned into a killing field by these bandits terrorizing the country where innocent civilians looking for their daily bread are forced to live in perpetual fear,” the group said. The fact that Nigeria shares a border with Niger complicates matters further. Some of the bandits operate illegally between the borders, attacking the people in those areas. This has created a refugee crisis with some Nigerians fleeing into Niger in order to escape from the bandits. Reports indicate that 11,500 Nigerians have fled into Niger and remain there as refugees.
Military operations have been launched in order to curb the problem of the bandits. There have been about 10 operations but none of them can be said to have been fully successful. There have been attempts at peace talks, which are problematic because not all of the bandits operate under a single umbrella and they do not stick to their word. The governor of Katsina State, Aminu Bello Masari, met with a group of bandits in order to reach a peace agreement. The governor promised that if the attacks stopped, the bandits would not be prosecuted. These kinds of agreements are not effective. They are difficult to reinforce because they are only with particular groups of bandits, they are not on paper, and are not supported by any Nigerian laws. This means that the problem of banditry will continue in the foreseeable future.
Nigeria is a country of massive potential. One can actually make a solid case that it should be further than it is at the moment in terms of development. One of the problems that hinder Nigeria’s growth is the violence perpetrated by bandits. A solution is needed because the country will be better for it.