I’m positive you haven’t been missing out on the media coverage from Africa, where death tolls and fatalities have always had to force their way into the headlines. Perhaps you are like me, getting bored and tired of every bit of that sameness and unchanging phenomenon: you visit the nearest vendor to get a copy of the same thing you’ve just watched on television, death figures scattered all throughout the headlines.

Even if you are like me, it won’t be surprising if you are closely following the headlines that are currently in what seems like a non-stop romance with the Nigerian media—the Fulani herdsmen and farmers crisis and the Ruga Settlement Project. Let’s get more involved in this, who are these Fulanis? What is the origin of their clash with local farmers and the much talked about Ruga Settlement Project? Set for the move? Let’s go.

The Fula origin also known as Fulanis [singular “Fulani”] are a mass inhabitant widely dispersed in all of Africa, but most predominant in West Africa (Ajibefun, 2017). In many African countries, the Fulanis make up a minority ethnic group. In few African countries, the Fulanis constitute a significant population. In Guinea, the Fula people make up the largest ethnic group.

The Fulanis practice nomadic pastorialism. They herd cattle, sheep, and goats; consequently they are the major producers of hide and skin, milk and meat in Nigeria.

Being nomads, the Fulanis migrate from one place to another. Their migration is largely determined by the availability of pastures for livestock grazing which in turn is a strong function of the changes in season.

In Nigeria and many African countries, seasons don’t follow the pattern they follow in Europe and the United State. Instead of Spring, Summer, Autumn/Fall and Winter, we have the rainy season and the dry season. During the rainy season, pastures start growing and the all-important migration in search of pastures leads the Fulanis to trespass into farmlands owned by local Nigerian farmers.

In a bid to stop the cattle from destroying their crops, local farmers would launch attack on the cattle, leading to reprisal attacks from the Fulani herdsmen who tend to kill without fear of the consequences. This ab initio, was the major cause of the much talked about Fulani herdsmen and farmers crisis in Nigeria. It is however, important to mention that the clash has now taken a more radical dimension. The herdsmen are now in custody of powerful weapons and the death toll from their attacks rises every day.

According to the International Crisis Group as cited by Ajibo et al(2018), there was an estimated death toll of about 2,500 arising from herdsmen attack in 2016. Higher estimates of deaths have been made by different sources for 2017, 2018 and the first half of 2019.

Recent reports have been that the herdsmen are also involved in rape and robbery attacks. Until recently, the Fulani herdsmen and farmers clashes were confined to the North Central Zone of Nigeria but had since spread to other parts of the country. States like Benue, Enugu, Delta and so on are under attacks with Benue having the highest number of attacks.

The frequency of attacks, estimated deaths and the alleged failure of the government to address the issue in a suitable way has led many to accuse the Nigerian government of taking sides with the Fulani herdsmen.

Osadebamwen A.O. (2017), posits that the Nigerian government has taken some steps towards laying the problem to a rest. In his words:

The federal government and some state governments have taken some steps towards solving the problem. The affected state set up mechanisms to counter the menace of the herdsmen while the federal government ordered security chiefs to hunt down those perpetrated the attacks on farmers.

This to a large extent has been perceived as mere pretense in the side of the government. Of course, this is not an argument for this article.

What looks like a more recent intervention measure by the federal government of Nigeria is the introduction of the Ruga Settlement Project which for some reasons has been suspended.

The term “ruga” is a Hausa word which translates to “cow settlement” in the English language. The Ruga Settlement Project is a plan approved by the federal government of Nigeria in May 2019. According to the permanent secretary of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture in Nigeria, the settlement will house herders and animal farmers. He speaks:

We felt that to do away with herders-farmers conflict, we need to settle our nomads and those who breed animals. We want to put them in a place that has been developed as a settlement, where we provide water for their animals, pasture, schools for their children , security, agro-rangers” (Pulse ng, 2019).

The settlement plan as approved by the federal government triggered mixed reactions. While some thought of it as a way out of the morass, others rebuffed it. There was a deluge of criticisms regarding the implementation of this plan. Among those who felt uncomfortable about the implementation of the plan was the Nigerian Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, who boldly expressed his dissatisfaction:

…they [Fulani herdsmen] kill without any compunction, they drive away the farmers who have been contributing to the food solutions in the country, the cattle eat their crops and then you come up with Ruga. I think there is going to be trouble in this country if this Ruga thing is not handled imaginatively and with humanity as a priority. Any country where cattle takes priority over human is definitely at an elementary stage. (Daily Post Newspaper, 2019).

These criticisms and debates among citizens and state governors perhaps, gave rise to the eventual suspension of the project.

The Fulani herdsmen are still launching attacks as usual. Deaths are still being recorded. One is then tempted to ask, “what is the way out of this?” “Was the Ruga Settlement Project a good initiative?” These are questions left for clear minds.


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