The Causes and Socio-Economic Consequences of Herdsmen-farmers conflict on Sustainable development in nigeria



   Afeez Tijani Osumah

Department of Political Science, Faculty of Social Sciences, Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, Nigeria. Phone: + (234) 07065020634, E-mail: [email protected]


The paper attempt to ascertain the rationale on mass exodus of herdsmen southward part of the country and to determine the causes of the clashes between the herdsmen-farmers in the incessant resource conflict witnessed in Nigeria and to examine the consequences of these conflict on sustainable development in Nigeria on how it affects livelihood and security of those involved. Some of the findings caused by the incessant crisis are destruction of crops and farmland belonging to the farmers, none payment of damages caused by herds of cattle owned by herdsmen, killing of herdsmen cattle by farmers, misunderstanding between the two actors caused by lack of proper institution on conflict management, inadequate access to water, land, soil compaction and law enforcement agencies are the major causes of the conflict between herdsmen-farmers crisis. However, the socio-economic consequences of the crisis between the herdsmen-farmers has a negative implication on sustainable development in Nigeria. The study relies on secondary source of data collection and analyzes same using qualitative descriptive method. The study concludes that government at all levels and other stakeholders needs to critically examine the causes and socio-economic consequences of herdsmen-farmers conflicts so that the crisis will not escalates to order parts of the country and to provide sustainable development in Nigeria.  

Keywords: Conflicts, Socio-economic, Sustainable, Development, Herdsmen, and Farmers.


1.     Introduction

There have been clashes between Herdsmen and the aborigines in several parts of Nigeria for over three decades. The clashes are occasioned by the destruction of farmlands of the aborigines by the herds of cattle belonging of the herdsmen. Naturally, herdsmen by their nature are migrants who leave their traditional abode in search of greener pasture for their flocks. The migration is caused by the absence of good and veritable land for their flock to feed on. For instance, the rate of desertification and deforestation in the Sahara Desert is at an alarming rate and Nigeria is part of the countries of the Sahel region that experiences drought, desertification and deforestation (Blench, 2003; Abass, 2012; Okoli & Atelhe, 2014). 

These triadic challenges mentioned above forced the herdsmen who occupy the area to migrate down south for greener pasture for their cattle to graze. In the course of entering the shores of the Southern and middle-belt regions of the country, their cattle cause great damage to farm land, resulting to conflicts and confrontation with the indigenes. Boko (2007) noted that the intensity of the drought in the Sahel region calls for worry and urgent attention. It must be recalled that the Sahel and the Sahara Desert stretches across over fifteen countries from North, West and Central Africa and these areas are home for pastoralists, farmers, fishermen, traders, etc. The herdsmen in Nigeria occupy some part of the drought stricken areas of the Sahel and to escape from the ravaging effects of the drought as well as to save their cattle from dying, they migrate down south and some areas of middle belt like Plateau, Benue, Nasarawa and Kogi.

 In the main, the migration of the herdsmen has caused more harm than good in all these areas (Tonah, 2000). Between the year 2000 and 2016 (Edegbe, 2016), there has been reported cases of conflicts and confrontation between the herdsmen and the indigenes of the areas they migrated to. The media (print and electronics) is awash with reported cases of clashes between the herdsmen from the North and the inhabitants of the Plateau, Kogi and Benue in the middle belt region of the country and some parts of the Eastern region. 

The Sun Newspaper of June 30th, 2014 reported the clashes between the herdsmen and the Agatu people of Benue state and the clashes left several people dead. In the eastern parts of the country like Uzouwani, Ezeagu, Umuahia to mention a few, such clashes have been reported.

In 2013, the media reported that the herdsmen killed 2 people in Uzouwani Local Government of Enugu State, and caused great damages to crops in Umuahia, Abia State. The case of Benue State is pathetic as the herdsmen have become an army of occupation to the inhabitants of the areas. 

Essentially, the main cause of the migration has been the change in climate occasioned by the absence of adequate rainfall, poor grazing land for their animals and lack of coping mechanism by the herdsmen (Ofuoku and Isife, 2009; Adoji, 2013). 

Essentially, in all these developments, government has to find a lasting solution to the frequent clashes between the herdsmen and their neighbours. Although, the Nigerian constitution of 1999 as amended allows every citizen to conduct his/her business in any part of the country as desired, the clause does not state that herdsmen should destroy the lives and properties of others. 

Instructively, the climate changes and effects are a global phenomenon which is not peculiar to Africa and Nigeria alone. The difference between the western world and Africa is that they possess the resources and adaptation strategy to deal with the challenges while Africa and Nigeria in particular do not. McCarty (2009) noted that the lesser the rainfall, the more severe the drought and more intensification for scarce resources in the future. According to the author, recent observations on resources depletion across Africa, has shown that climate change is capable of causing communal conflicts and wars. While this observation was made years back, the realities in the middle-belt and South Eastern region of the country shows that communal clash still live with them. 

The Tell edition of June 2001 with the headline, war imminent in Benue between Fulani herdsmen and the inhabitants chronicled the degree of preparation made by the Fulani’s and those they met in the area. A place like Jos, also in the middle belt has not known peace for over a decade now. The case of Benue and Jos remains worrisome in the sense that the herdsmen possess more sophisticated arms and ammunition (Olayoku, 2014; IEP, 2015:41) and easily displace the owners of the land and occupy there. The government inability to deploy adequate security and other resources to stem the scourge of the clashes to checkmate the ravaging effects of the climate change has not helped matter. Had there been adequate rainfall in the north east and west, the herdsmen may have remained in their traditional abode than migrating to other areas for their cattle to graze.

The problem that bedeviled the Nigerian state has to do with negative participation of Nigerian citizens toward attaining national integration and development. However, this has its basic roots in ethno-religious tendencies that resulted into herdsmen/crop farmers’ crisis in Nigeria. Therefore, the unpatriotic behaviour of Nigerian citizens’ pave-way towards the crisis that affected the union between herdsmen-farmers in middle-belt and southern Nigeria as a whole. However, the crisis between herdsmen-farmers has affected the National integration and development of Nigerian state negatively to a very large extent. Most of the strategic policies adopted by the government at all level to nip the crisis in bud have not been able to proffer more solution to the problem at hand. Onyeoziri (2002) views that the federal character or quota system and other strategies adopted to unify Nigerian state as one entity has not been able to achieve its desired effect which it was created in order to unify and integrate the diverse ethnic nationalities that existed in Nigeria.    

In the light of frequent clashes caused by the migration of the herdsmen to some areas of the country, government should as a matter of urgency examine the crisis by providing institutions of peaceful resolution and conflict management in vulnerable communities to critically inquire and tame the crisis. Cattle ranching are seen as the best approach and method which the government has proposed to adopt in order to avoid these clashes. 

2.Theoretical Framework of Analysis

Several theoretical explanations have been provided by scholars for the occurrence of violence. Anifowose (1982:1-14, 2007:71), Otite (2000:152-164) grouped these into mutually complementary models. These are the psychological frustration aggression, relative deprivation hypothesis, systemic hypothesis, the group conflicts hypothesis. 

Psychological explanation of violence has the central premise that aggression is always a result of frustration. Given the requisite conditions, individuals or group of individuals that feel frustrated in the attainment of their desires and demands often react by directing aggressive behaviour at what is thought as being responsible for thwarting those desires as substitute or a retaliation. 

The systemic hypothesis offers a socio-structural explanation for the origins of most violent behaviour. For a proper understanding of the problem of violent behaviour, it is necessary to look at the social context within which crises occurs. When group of people feel alienated and there is a further feeling that such alienation is entrenched within the system, mobilization of people along lines of division could degenerate into violent behaviour.

Group conflict hypothesis views violence as the product of the struggle for power among various sections within the society. 

Within the above theories my analysis is situated. This is because not one theory is adequate to explain the complexities inherent in a conflict circumstances and also because all conflicts are contingent upon certain unusual conditions or inherent in human society. Thus, an eclectic approach would be of great value for the study. 

3.Conceptualizing Conflict

The concept of conflict is very important in social science discourse. The debate is based on the nature that conflict is the engine room of progress. However, several scholars have expressed their opinions on the conceptual discourse of conflict in socio-political and economic development of many countries of the world. 

Defining conflict also depends on the concept one has of the nature of conflict as something that takes place in society and between people. For example, conflict is commonly understood as; 

A form of opposition between parties 

An absence of agreement between parties 

A way to solve social contradictions

A natural process in human social interaction.

However, the recent general trend has been to consider conflict as something normal, an everyday social phenomenon, and a simple and natural characteristic of human social systems. Society by its very nature, as human beings themselves, is not perfect, so disharmony and contradictions are inevitable parts of social development. The distinction that has to be made is between conflict itself and the negative consequences that some ways of dealing with conflicts have, such as war. In this perspective, a war is not the conflict, but rather the negative result of how the conflict was dealt with. 

According to Coser (1956), conflict is a struggle between opponents over values and claims to scarce status, power and resources. Moreover, Coser in his definition of conflict means that it has to do with struggle between two or more opponents over the values and claims to the scarcity of resources, status and power. These three elements are very important to the struggle between opponents engaging in conflict. 

Therefore, conflict is a dynamic process in which structure, attitudes and behaviour are constantly changing and influencing one another, for Galtung (1969), the three major tenet in this definition are structure, attitude and behaviour which change and influence one another in a conflictual manner. 

According to Duetsch (1973), conflict takes place whenever incompatible activities occurs, one party is interfering, disrupting, obstructing, or in some other way making another party’s actions less effective. Wall (1985) sees conflict as a process in which two or more attempt to frustrate the attainment of the other’s goals. The factors underlying conflict are three folds; interdependence, differences in goals and differences in perceptions. However, Conrad (1991) views conflict as a communicative interaction amongst people who are interdependence and who perceive that their interests are incompatible, inconsistent or in tension. 

Significantly, Tjosvold and Van de Vliert (1994) understood conflict as incompatible activities occurring within co-operative as well as competitive contexts. Conflict parties can hold co-operative or competitive goals. Glasl (1994) views conflict as an interaction between actors (individuals, groups, organizations etc.) where at least one actor sense incompatibilities between their thinking, imagination, perception, and /or feeling, and those of the others. 

Moreover, conflict is defined as a disagreement through which the parties involved perceive a threat to their needs, interests or concerns, the major elements in this definition are disagreement, parties involved, perceived threat and needs, interests and concerns. All these elements are summed up and results into the conceptual discuss of conflict.

4.Synopsis of Herdsmen-Farmers Crisis in Nigeria since 2012.

This segment of the study is important for the breakdown of some major event and recent clashes between herdsmen-farmers in various part of the country. The conflict between herdsmen-farmers has shaped the image of the country in a negative manner as a place where Speace and tranquility is far away from especially in the trouble area of middle belt and southern part of Nigeria at large. The crisis has been viewed by many scholars and analysts that the Fulani herdsmen are so bold to the extent that they can perpetrate such genocide and get scout free because their blood brother {a Fulani man} is the president of the country and they can do and undo without been sanctioned by the law enforcement agencies. And as such these herdsmen feel they are untouchable by virtue of their brother being in the realm of power. Statistic provided by the Institute of Economic and Peace, shows that 1,229 people were killed in 2014, up from 63 in 2013. Benue state seems to be the hardest hit {Agbedo, 2016}.

The Herdsmen see themselves as powerful with the possession of arms and ammunitions illegally to defend themselves and their cattle when they encountered resistance or difficulties in moving from one location to another. Therefore, in doing so many of the Herdsmen flout the law of Nigeria which says nobody no matter your position in the country do not have right to possession of weapon unlawfully except the person receive permission from law enforcement agency. This create a scenario in our mind that the government has not done well in taming the arrogance of the Herdsmen but kept quiet on the matter and many Nigerian citizens are slaughtered and burnt to death in their home and on their farmland. 

5.Remote causes of Fulani herdsmen-farmers’ crisis in Nigeria.

The remote causes of herdsmen-farmer crisis in Nigeria refers to the factors which in a general way have contributed momentum in a negative manner and likely to reoccur if not properly addressed by government at all levels.

The annexation and expansionism by herdsmen occasion by inadequacy of grazing area has promoted an increase in destruction of crops (Adeleye, 1971; Tribune, 2014). More importantly is that it is viewed as an attempt to build inroads into central Nigeria, stake claims on other lands for possible migration from the core north into such lands or areas for effective occupation rather than grazing (Yakubu, 2014).

Crop damage is widely identified as the major cause of conflict between herdsmen and farmers {Tonah, 2006}. Farmers perceive this to be highest cause of conflicts while the herdsmen perceive it as insignificant in causing conflicts since they pay huge sums of money for any crop damaged and cattle enjoy crops better than grasses (Bello, 2013).

The lack of institutions for proper communication was identified as major barriers between the herdsmen and farmers to work together to resolve issues of concern that can leads to conflict in open and fair manner. At present, very few formal institutions exist to allow such discussion to take place. This contributes significantly to the misunderstanding that exists between the two groups. The rebuilding of conflict management resolution committees has been found to be very beneficial especially where the traditional customs and local government are supporting the initiatives (Galtung, 1969).

Changing in cultural herdsmen practices and changing that are not adequately recognized and appreciated by the farmers for example, the modern herdsmen settled in different places, but their animals continue to search for grasses from one place to another. As a result, it is the young herdsmen or boys that control cattle rather than the practice where adult herdsmen take the cattle for grazing (Musa, 2013). This new cultural changes are being interpreted by the farmers as a deliberate act on the part of the herdsmen to destroy their crops and escape from the land and areas.

To help address the problems of inadequate access to land, water, infrastructure, and services and to promote intensification of livestock production and avoid conflicts, the problem of Grazing reserves, inadequacy of water, soil compaction, the roles of law enforcement agencies and vigilante groups have contributed greatly in the remote causes of conflict between the herdsmen and farmers (Tonah, 2006). In a situation where the law enforcement take side in emerging conflicts between the farmers and herdsmen relationship suffers. In the same way when the youth carry out indiscriminate arrest of herdsmen cattle unwarranted violent emerge. Water is usually a problem during the dry season, depending on ponds and small stream: when animals are watered in the ponds and streams, they pollute the water, a practice that is viewed offensive by the farmers. Where the situation is not properly managed, such have resulted into violent confrontation.

The soil compaction is also a remote cause of conflict. However, the problem of cattle ‘Mashing’ the ground was identified as a problem related to grazing of cattle on farmlands. This was of particular concern in areas of clay and clay/loan soil such as those found in the FADAMA or Swampy areas (Musa, 2013; Fasona, & Omojola, 2013). These fertile areas are the most productive soils for rice cultivation and other crops most adapted to soils with high moisture content. FADAMA soils remain wet and soft until February and grasses also remain green, therefore attracting cattle into the areas. Farmers expressed their belief that allowing cattle into FADAMA while the soil is soft exacerbates soil compaction and makes the soil very hard to cultivate. Thus, today, herdsmen in middle-belt region of Nigeria are deliberately prevented from grazing animals in many areas containing fresh grasses because of this belief. Not surprising, the herdsmen see this as a deliberate act to prevent their animals from feeding fat on the lush pasture. The outcome is usually conflict.       

6.Socio-Economic Consequences of Herdsmen-Farmers Conflict on Sustainable Development in Nigeria.    

The conflicts between herdsmen-farmers in most of the violent zone of middle-belt and southern part of Nigeria has reduced the rate of food production in the country, thereby making farmers not to produce food in surplus as a result of fear of been killed on their various farmland by the herdsmen. This has negative effects on the moral of farmers to plant more crops. In other to alleviate the rate of poverty among the people in agrarian communities, government should provide enough security in the troubled area and make farmers to be sure of protecting their lives and properties as well as in their various communities. The massacre of people in Agatu local government area of Benue state where herdsmen killed 500 indigenes and burnt their properties as a result of lackadaisical approach of the federal government to their plight in providing adequate security {Eyekpimi, 2016; Agbedo, 2016}. 

The scourge of herdsmen clashes with farmers in various parts of Nigeria leads to a lot of insincere attitude of government to respond to the issue on time. It is a painful scenario that the crises result into a sharp increase in poverty rate in the trouble area due to insensitive manner through which the three tier of government handle the situation from the onset. However, the rural dwellers are known to be subsistence farmers that depend on the sale of farm produce. The farmers depended on their farm produce for survival and when their crops are destroyed it will have a drastic influence on them either psychological or physiological in reasoning and creates a severe hunger with alarming poverty rate.  

Therefore, as a result of destruction of farm produce by the herds of cattle, the local farmers will be unemployed for some period of time since their major occupation is on farming and when their farm produce are destroyed they will have nothing to do but redundant for some period of time {Tonah, 2006}. The youth among the farmers will probably sojourn into the city to engage in one job opportunity but the opposite will be the case and they need to survive thereby committing crimes. This depicts a scenario where a hungry man is an angry man, as a result of psychological frustration, majority of jobless youth farmers will increase the crime rate in the city.

The herdsmen are not prosecuted for the crime committed on destruction of crops on farmland of their host community by their herds. The crimes are not single handedly dealt with by the law enforcement agencies. The law of the federal republic of Nigeria states that nobody should possess arms and ammunitions except the government give license to such a person. However, the herdsmen have access to possession of arms and ammunition illegally to secure the lives of their herds from dangerous animals in the bush and also to defend them as well. The weapons are used in erroneous way against their claims and for negative reasons, since they are illegally acquired and not license by government agents.       

The herdsmen refused to pay for damages as a result of over grazing caused by their herds of cattle on farmland. This will result into counter reaction and retaliation by the farmers to kill the cattle belonging to the herdsmen thereby causing greater conflict and violent reaction on the host communities.


The study has been able to explore the herdsmen-farmers conflict in Nigeria. It quizzically observed that such crisis is majorly caused by destruction of crops on farmland by the cattle belonging to the herdsmen in the host communities. However, the paper explains in details the socio-economic consequences of Fulani herdsmen-farmers conflict on sustainable development in Nigeria. Base on the issues of food insecurity and poverty that has a major implication on national integration and development in the country. The paper also elucidates a clear view of various alternative measures to manage conflict resolution in vulnerable communities in Nigeria. This study explicitly concludes on some findings and recommended that government at all level should collaborate and reach consensus in providing leeway to the crises that bedeviled national integration in the country, Nigeria.  


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Afeez Tijani, O. & Tijani, O (2018). The Causes and Socio-Economic Consequences of Herdsmen-farmers conflict on Sustainable development in nigeria. Afribary. Retrieved from

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Afeez Tijani, Osumah, and Osumah Tijani "The Causes and Socio-Economic Consequences of Herdsmen-farmers conflict on Sustainable development in nigeria" Afribary. Afribary, 08 May. 2018, Accessed 13 Jul. 2024.


Afeez Tijani, Osumah, and Osumah Tijani . "The Causes and Socio-Economic Consequences of Herdsmen-farmers conflict on Sustainable development in nigeria". Afribary, Afribary, 08 May. 2018. Web. 13 Jul. 2024. < >.


Afeez Tijani, Osumah and Tijani, Osumah . "The Causes and Socio-Economic Consequences of Herdsmen-farmers conflict on Sustainable development in nigeria" Afribary (2018). Accessed July 13, 2024.