The Impact, Effects and Government Response to Herdsmen-Farmers Conflict on National Integration in Nigeria

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   Afeez Tijani Osumah

Department of Political Science, Faculty of Social Sciences, Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, Nigeria.  


The study critically examines the impacts and effects of conflicts between the herdsmen-farmers in vulnerable communities and the exact response of government to nip the crisis in bud. However, the conflict has a negative reflection on national integration and development of Nigeria. Therefore, most communities where the nefarious acts occurred experiences bloodshed and chaotic situation within the middle belts and southern part of Nigeria. The main goal of this paper is to highlight how the crisis has a negative impact and effect on the future of the nation at large. Despite the destruction of farmland and farm-produce by the herds of cattle being the crux of the matter, the conflict was aggravated by inactive and nonchalant attitude and decision of government towards the crisis. The study relies on secondary source of data collection and analyzes same using qualitative descriptive method. The study concludes that government at all levels need to be proactive to know the impact and effects of the crisis on national integration of Nigeria.   

KEYWORDS: Nationalism, National Integration, Herdsmen, Farmers, Conflicts, Government


The aim of every government is to provide security for the highest number of happiest citizens. Producing the highest number of happiest citizens implies that government should provide enough security for the lives and properties of the citizen in the country as the basic function to satisfy a very high percentage of the population. The clashes between the Fulani herdsmen and the hosting communities is as a result of frictions caused by the climatic condition (Tonah, 2000) which the Fulani herdsmen battled with in terms of deforestation, and desertification in the Sahara Desert where the northern part of Nigeria is located. When such problem persists in the North, the Fulani herdsmen which are known to be nomadic, move sporadically down south towards the middle belt in search of greener pastures to feed their cattle amass (Ofuoku and Isife, 2009). This resulted into a situation whereby the herdsmen cattle destroyed the farmland and eat virtually most of the crops on the farm in the host community (Tonah, 2000) and this triggers conflicts and confrontations between the farmers and the Fulani herdsmen. 

However, reports on media on the frequent clashes between the Fulani herdsmen and the inhabitants of Plateau, Kogi and Benue in the middle-belt region and some parts of the Eastern region is alarming to the extent that it has not gone unnoticed. Therefore, the main cause of the crisis is occasioned by the absence of adequate rainfall, poor grazing land for the animals and lack of coping mechanism by the Fulani herdsmen. According to Authors like Boko (2007), and McCarty (2009), expatiates on the main reason for causing communal conflicts and wars across Africa as a result of climate change and resource depletion. This observation was made long time back and is now a reality in middle belt and South-eastern region of the country. 

With the unlawful possession of sophisticated weapons by the Fulani herdsman, which is against the Nigerian laws unchecked by the government, this aggravates the clashes and makes the Fulani herdsmen perpetrate more evil, since security is not provided for the host communities in middle-belt i.e Plateau, Benue, Kogi and Nasarawa and other places in Southern part of Nigeria. 

As a result of insecurity and frequent clashes that threatens the existence of both majority and minority ethnic groups in Nigeria, this gave birth to ethnic militias which contributed immensely to the crisis between Fulani herdsmen/crop farmers and affected the growth and development of diverse ethnic nationalities in Nigeria. Olufemi (2005) noted that the geo-political divide and mutual suspicion between the north and south have been resilient factors in Nigeria’s political life, at no other time had the structural contradictions in the policy generated into multiple fratricidal and seemingly irreconcilable conflicts than in the period of the Fourth Republic since 1999. The depth and dimension of this development are reflected in the rise and popularity of ethnic militias such as the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC), Arewa People’s Congress (APC), Egbesu Boys, Ijaw Youths Congress (IJC), Bakassi Boys and sundry militant organizations canvassing and competing ethnic claims. Onyeoziri (2007:17) remarked that loyalty to the Nigerian state remains at best reluctant while stability has continued to elude the system. Inter-communal or ethnic hostility and even open violence have increased while the constant complaint of marginalization tells its own story of the declining sense of belonging that exists in the land. The sense of belonging that thrives within diverse ethnic groups in Nigeria has been eroded by the claims of ethnic militias to defend their various ethnic groups and communities at the expense of national integration and development in Nigeria.

The herdsmen-farmers’ crisis has greatly affected the national integration and development of Nigeria in a negative way by their actions of causing mayhem in the body of Nigeria state as a whole, thereby making government to take a bold step to tame the clashes between Fulani herdsmen and the host communities by providing avenue for cattle ranches across the country (Moritz, 2010). 



This section will focus on nationalism. In doing so, I will attempt a working definition of the concept nation, which forms the basis of nationalism in all its connotations and denotations. Thereafter I will discuss the concept of nationalism and examine its emotional and concrete contents, its uses and its end. 

The Meaning of Nation

In English Language the word nation has two different connotations. One, it denotes a political unit coterminous with a state. Two, it also means an ethnological unit coterminous with a tribe or a race a state may consist of one national group, for example the present state of Israel, or many national groups for example the united State of America. A nation is generally regarded as body of people recognized as an entity by virtue of their historical linguistic or ethnic links… a body of people united under a particular political organization, and usually occupying a defined territory. Watson (1976) contends that from the concept nation we get the enigmatic concept ‘nationalism’.  Logically, nationalism connoted devotion to one nation, which invariably leads one to advocate the national unity or independence of his nation. The main and tangible content of nationalism is the ‘feeling’ or ‘consciousness’ in a people, which disposes them to think of themselves as a distinct group from other human groups. Coleman (1986) captures the meaning of nationalism when he defines it as “a consciousness of belonging to a nation (existence of the realm of aspiration) or a nationality, and a desire as manifest in sentiment and activity, to secure or maintain its welfare, prosperity and integrity, and to maximize its political autonomy”. The definition of nationalism has been very problematic because if we look at it from ethnological perspective nationalism in the third world countries would appear a misconception. This seems to be the reason why Coleman goes further to say that “the reference group for “nationalism” can be a de facto nation or nationality, or a territorially defined group in which certain members believe and advocate that it ought, or is destined, to become a nation. (Coleman, 1986; 425) He continues:  

If the reference group is an existent nation (as in much of Europe) nationalism is directed towards the attainment, maintenance, or restoration of its political independence as a nation-state in the international state system, if the reference group is an existent nationality. Nationalism refers to sentiment and activity directed toward maximizing its political autonomy either as a separate state, or as constituent member of a multinational state, in the international states system. If the references, is a territorially defined group, which is neither a nation nor a nationality, nationalism refers to a sentiment and activity directed toward the creation of a nation and the attainment of independent statehood.

The major point to note is that desire or sentiment, weighs much more than other variables in the ingredients of nationalism. To be sure, desire and sentiment must anchor on a rich common heritage of the people that claim to belong to one nation. Thus, Joseph Ernest Renan (1823; 92), a French philosopher and historian assert that two things go to make up national sentiment: 

One of these lies in the past, the other in the present. The one is the possession in common of a rich heritage of memories; and the other is actual agreement, the desire to live together and the will to continue to make the most of the joint inheritance… to share the glories of a past, and a common will in the present, to have done great deeds together and the desire to do more –these are the essential conditions of a people being.

The list of common heritage is captured by language, followed by common culture, common religion as well as common historical experiences. Many European nations satisfy these condition: “France” (for example) “is a nation because it consists mainly of Gallic race speaking the French language, adhering to the Roman Catholic form of the Christian religion, and enjoying a rich cultural tradition based on centuries of living together in one state, clearly defined by natural boundaries of sea, mountain and river” (Heater, 1971; 30). The same could be said of Germany, Italy or Spain. However, the test of language would not be 100% successful as each has a very small minority that speaks other than French, German, Italian, and Spanish Language. These exceptions to the rule make the definition of nation and nationalism less than accurate.

In the case of the Third World countries, the definition of nation and nationalism is much more problematic. This is because virtually every country/state of the Third World contains several nations yoked together by the imperial masters to become a nation state. Nigeria, which contains more than 250 different nations, is a typical example. They do not speak the same native language, nor do they have common culture or religion. They can only boast of a century of living together under one government, and colonial experience. They are only aspiring to be a nation, and can, at best, be described as a nation in the making.

By way of recapitulation, we state that the spirit of belonging together and seeking to preserve the groups’ identity is the core nature of nationalism. This spirit or desire is intensified by common racial, linguistic, historical and religious ties. It is essential characteristic, in the words of Plano and Olton (1969), “an active sense of the uniqueness of the group vis-a-vis the rest of the world”. Nationalism as a mass emotion can promote solidarity and a sense of belonging. It can also engender hostility, divisiveness, tension, and war between rival nationalist groups or states. It is always the focus of individual’s loyalty, which is kept alive by the manipulation of a variety of symbols, national heroes, national flags, national uniforms, national pledges of alliance and national holidays. Nationalism is in a sense coterminous with patriotism although the former is endogamous while the latter is exogamous in their sentimental attachment.


National Integration is an omnibus word; it has been defined differently. In a way, it has been conceived as a process, Morrison et al, (cited in Ojo, 2005: 51) views integration as: 

A process by which members of a social system develop linkages so that the boundaries of the system persist over time and the boundaries of sub-systems become less consequential in effecting behaviour, in this process, members of the social system develop an escalating sequence of contact, co-operation, and consensus in the community.

Duverger (1976:177) also sees it in the same light by defining it as ‘the process of unifying a society which tends to make it a harmonious city, based on an order its members regard as equitably harmonious. These perspectives conceive integration as a relationship and persons within a political system, a community of a people within the same geo-political unit with a state of mind that promotes cohesion, unity of purpose and a commitment to mutual programmes in a symbolic relationship 

Integration can also mean a progressive reduction of cultural and regional tension and discontinuities in the process of creating a homogenous political community (Coleman and Roseberg, 1964:9). This idea presupposes a comprehensive existence of unity within a political community. Indeed, Weiner (cited in Ojo, 2005) distinguishes five different senses in which interaction can apply. These are: territorial, national, elite-mass, value and behaviour.   

How then can an integrated society be identified? How much integration and which norms are indicated of integration within a social unit? Which institutional forms are relevant to an integrated society? Deutsch Karl, et al, (1966:20) tend to provide answers to most of these issues when they describe integration as: 

The attainment, within a territory of a sense of community and of institutions and practices strong enough and widespread enough to assure for a long time, dependable expectations of peaceful community. 

In this sense, an integrated political community is one that is secured, in which social problems are seemingly irreconcilable and differences are resolved through processes of peaceful change without recourse to physical force.

Integration would involve bringing together for mutual co-existence, people of diverse ethnic nationalities. However, national integration is the union of people of diverse ethnic nationalities that made up the corporal existence of a nation state. Since, the migration of Fulani herdsmen feed their cattle on crops of the host community (farmer). This resulted in retaliation and confrontation by the farmers which leads to conflict in the host communities that are vulnerable to the crisis in Nigeria; there is a need to fashion out national integration strategies in order to take care of peaceful co-existence of diverse elements that co-habit in the nation. 


The impact of this conflict has been observed to include:

Displacement of indigenous people from their places of origin. The farmers and their families have thus become Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) within their places of origin and have found refuge in other communities, towns, settlements and other missionary centers outside the conflict areas which is antithetical to the state of national integration that the ethnic groupings in Nigeria supposed to cleave unto for national development but a retarded one in nature.

Poverty; Because the people displaced are peasant farmers they now depend on others to give them land to plant crops on smaller scale than they have cultivated before. This leads to low agricultural yield mainly to supports their existence at a subsistence level. Their economic well-being is thus tempered with because of this conflict. Their cash crop production has reduced, their subsistence level also has dropped, thereby making the rate of production process reduced to a very low level. Therefore, this has negative effect on the issues of national integration in Nigeria.

Reduced Standard and levels of education has been noticed. Their unhealthy looks were also visually observed. The conflict has led the children of the farmers in the host communities to be out of school for some years, as they cannot afford the school fees. The low capital base leads to poor health and are unable to purchase drugs prescribed in the clinics for them. This will definitely lead to very low Human Capital Development Index which is measured on them. However, this has a multiplier effects on the rate at which national integration is viewed in this manner in Nigeria.

Environmental Degradation has found to be high particularly in areas where the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are staying. Refuse disposal, heap of human wastes and associated household wastes create environmental degradation as drainages are found to be blocked due to poor sanitary conditions and above all potable water is found to be lacking during the dry season. Therefore, causing inhuman nature to the displaced persons and resulted into poor level of national integration in Nigeria.

Many people were killed in the conflict both young and old especially the farmers which go against the spirit of national integration and development in vulnerable communities in Nigeria.


One of the numerous reasons for national integration is to provide an enabling platform for extraordinary diversities and the multi-ethnic groups to co-exist in peaceful atmosphere as an indivisible union to form a sovereign state. Nigeria is a country of extraordinary diversities and complexities. This complexity is a reflection of avalanche of ethno-cultural and religious groups co-habiting the territories and intricacies of interaction among these various ethnic and religious groups. Nigeria’s ethnic composition is estimated to be between 250 and over 400. Nigeria has since independence been marked by varied ethno-religious crisis. Ethnic and cultural pluralism has become a setback to national integration in Nigeria (Olufemi, 2005). 

The nature and the composition of this conflict; that is the Fulani/Muslim against the Middle-belts and Southern Nigeria who are predominantly Christians, has painted it to be an ethno-religious conflict. The incessant killings between the group has led to acquisition of small arms and ammunitions by both parties, as both the farming communities and the herdsmen see each other as arch enemies. This is inimical to the spirit of integration of Nigerian tribes or ethnic groups and peaceful co-existence embedded in the Nigerian federalism. This fosters a growing sense of apprehension and palpable fear about the future of the country among the population.

Endemic ethno-religious conflicts such as the herdsmen and farmers case have had appalling consequences on the national integration drive in Nigeria. This had led to the submission of Olufemi (2005) that violence in whatever form is inimical to the attainment of the goals of national integration. He continued that such violence also hinders sustainable national development; it is divisive and hinders unanimity of purpose and goal attainment.   

As a result of such ethno-religious conflict as the herdsmen-farmers’ conflicts, the nation has experienced wastage of enormous human and material resources. The increasing gaps in social relations among the ethnic nationalities involved, including structural suspicious and hate for one another, are detrimental to the national integration in Nigeria. Such crises have led to threat to security of lives and property in the country and this has in turn led to disinvestment of local and foreign components, with continuous capital flight and loss of confidence in the economy (Onyeoziri, 2007).

Such conflicts have no doubt punctured the national integration in Nigeria, and pose a serious threat to the corporate existence of the country. This trend, according to Olufemi (2005), cast a shadow of doubt over the adaptive capability of national integration in guaranteeing socio-economic, cultural and political stability in the country. This conflict will therefore, undermine the purpose of adopting integration as a mechanism of fostering unity in diversity and peaceful co-existence among the ethnically, religiously and regionally diverse population.

Generally, therefore, farmers and herdsmen conflict in Nigeria has the following effect on the country’s national integration:

It hampers the peace-promoting and integrative forces that tend to pull the country apart, rather than strengthen the integration, which normally would act as a centripetal force, binding the country together.

National integration creates a perception of a zero sum game among the people. This is in line with the position of one group (herdsmen) about issues without due consideration to the views or position of others (farmers).

It makes the country of a competition rather than cooperation. National integration which is supposed to be a tool for cooperation becomes one of competition among various groups in the face of such conflicts.

It results in an increasing culture of citizens taking laws into their hands, with regards to such herdsmen and farmers conflict. This stern from the violent stance and desire for revenge between the groups involved.


The Nigerian government has been accused by various scholars, analysts, commentators and citizens alike of her seemingly nonchalant attitude towards this serious and very sensitive crisis. These accusations have been much more directed against the incumbent, who, it is observed, is practically silent over the issue. However, in a bid to curb the incessant violent clashes between herdsmen and farmers in the country, a bill entitled “A Bill for an Act to provide for the Establishment, Preservation and Control of National Grazing Reserve Commission for Purposes Connected therewith”, was first introduced in the Senate in 2013 by Zaynab Kure (Niger South). 

There was also a similar bill being considered at the House of Representatives. The sponsors and other backers of the bill-legislators from Northern Nigeria, are seeking that power be granted to the federal Commission to acquire lands from all over the state governments in Nigeria and the minister of the Federal Capital Territory to establish grazing routes and reserves for Fulani herdsmen. Subject to the directives of the Commission, Fulani herdsmen would have a right to such lands, despite the wishes of the owners, and despite the wishes of the government of any state (Okeke, 2014). The Senate and House of Representatives first debated the bill in early August 2013. 

However, the bill was opposed by legislators from Southern Nigeria, and some from Central Nigeria. Besides, several associations representing the interests of different ethnic groups in Southern and Central Nigeria have publicly opposed the bill. They include the Ijaw National Congress, the Federation of Middle Belt Peoples, Afenifere (a Yoruba organization), and the Movement for the survival of Ukwuani people and the Southern Kaduna in Diaspora (Nzeshi, 2013). 

Supporters of the bill are of the view that due to over grazing in the home lands of the herdsmen, the pasture has become greatly inadequate for their cattle, hence they need to migrate in search of pastures. In the process of doing that, they have often come in conflict with the host communities for several reasons; in order to avoid such in future therefore, there is a need for grazing reserves for the herdsmen, in non-Fulani communities.

The major reason for those in the opposition to the bill is that it would deprive people of their land, they would like to use for various purposes. Furthermore, it is likely that once the Fulani herdsmen are entrenched on reserves, they would seek to acquire even more lands. This would result in more conflicts with the non-Fulani owners of the land, rather than curb it.

The bill was jettisoned, after it failed to pass through the first reading at both legislature chambers.  However, on June 22, 2016, the bill was reintroduced by Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso (Kano Central), and co-sponsored by others. The bill may become law if it passes through the last and third reading in the House of Representatives and assented to by the president. Elsewhere however, in Ekiti state, in order to curb the menace in the state, the state government has passed a similar grazing bill right into law.

Whatever be the case however, in the face of the ongoing debate over the National Grazing Bill Reserves, and while in search for a long term solution, the government should come up with prompt, immediate and short term solutions to control this menace. The government also needs to be much more responsive in this matter.


This paper has been able to explore the impacts, effects and government response to herdsmen-farmers conflicts on national integration in Nigeria. It vividly observed the relationship between the herdsmen-farmers to national integration and development in the vulnerable communities where the crisis occurred in Nigeria.  However, the paper explicates in details the impacts and effects which the crisis has on national integration and the inactive response of government to curb the menace on time. This paper clearly concludes that government at all levels should properly respond on time to tame the incessant destruction of live and properties caused by herdsmen-farmers crisis within the trouble communities before it spreads across order communities within Nigeria.  


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Afeez Tijani, O. & Tijani, O (2018). The Impact, Effects and Government Response to Herdsmen-Farmers Conflict on National Integration in Nigeria. Afribary. Retrieved from

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Afeez Tijani, Osumah, and Osumah Tijani "The Impact, Effects and Government Response to Herdsmen-Farmers Conflict on National Integration in Nigeria" Afribary. Afribary, 08 May. 2018, Accessed 02 Oct. 2023.


Afeez Tijani, Osumah, and Osumah Tijani . "The Impact, Effects and Government Response to Herdsmen-Farmers Conflict on National Integration in Nigeria". Afribary, Afribary, 08 May. 2018. Web. 02 Oct. 2023. < >.


Afeez Tijani, Osumah and Tijani, Osumah . "The Impact, Effects and Government Response to Herdsmen-Farmers Conflict on National Integration in Nigeria" Afribary (2018). Accessed October 02, 2023.