Between 2009 when Mohammed Yusuf was killed and now, the death toll of the Boko Haram insurgency is estimated to be 17,000, putting the annual average at 2,500. This is the very significant. But in 2015 so far, the death toll in another crisis in the Middle Belt of Nigeria stands at nearly 2,000, rivalling the annual Boko Haram average. Unfortunately, this crisis has been neglected and ignored.
This report highlights this crisis in the hope that it will shine a spotlight on it, and spur Nigeria’s government to act before our already stretched military will be required to face a third insurgency within our borders.
The initial information we received of this came from personal encounters with survivors on and offline and then sparse reports of the violence in the press. We at SBM Intelligence then undertook a comprehensive study of the situation, employing methodology that included our correspondents visiting three states Benue, Nasarawa and Plateau, and interviewing survivors, visiting IDP camps for the survivors, a review of as many reports as we could find, curating casualty figures, visiting the markets in Lagos where produce from the affected regions are sold and a review of economic data to assess economic impact of the violence.
The picture that our research painted is a grim one, of methodical violence by herdsmen against host communities, and steadily advancing southwards; and of herdsmen facing increasing violence from cattle-rustlers, coupled with a decline in grazing resources. Attitudes towards the Fulani are hardening, and there is evidence of a slow loss of confidence in the ability of the security forces to keep law and order. Both the host communities and the herdsmen have been neglected by the government and have been reduced to self-help.
We analysed the root causes of the violence, its recent escalation, the government reaction as well as the disposition of the host communities towards solutions and the increase of hard-liners amongst the host communities who now believe they have been abandoned by the government and resorting to violent self-help is the only way forward.
Our report also includes stories told by the survivors, pictures of what the communities have been reduced to and video interviews with members of the host communities. We however do not stop at analysis and narratives of the people. Rather, we proffer what we believe to be a sequence of actions that the government can drive in order to provide immediate, midterm and long lasting solutions to the problem.
Why should we care?
The area known as the Middle Belt in Nigeria, is largely rural. A drive from Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, to Enugu in the South-East geopolitical zone, takes you through large swathes of this area, through villages, which were once farming communities, and which unknown to so many Nigerians, are responsible, to a very large extent, for feeding the country.
However, because the most visible elite and middle class Nigerians are based in the urban conglomerations of Lagos-Ibadan, Abuja, Enugu-Onitsha, Port Harcourt-Aba and Kano-Kaduna, we do not see these rural poor, and as a result, hardly care about their problems.
We have to.
These problems are causing a large rural-urban drift, which is unsustainable in the short to medium term as seen in large parts of Jos, Plateau State, which are turning into huge refugee camps. In the long term, these security issues are causing a North-South drift, with the attendant conflict as various cultures clash.
Finally, there is the potential for escalation as the problem accelerates and more people, in their bid to get away from the problem crowd together, and compete more fiercely for ever dwindling resources.
This report serves as a start to a conversation over an issue that has been ignored for too long. It is not a final document, there is a lot more that needs to be done. A lot more.
It is our hope that this report will be studied and broadcast in order to highlight the plight of the people of the Middle Belt of Nigeria as well as that of the genuine herdsmen in addition to assisting and spurring the government to action to find long lasting solutions to the issues and restore the economy of both parties before it further escalates into a full blown insurgency. Nigeria must act now.