A trend of violent communal clashes which is spreading through Nigeria in recent years has increased in the past few months. The conflicts have left hundreds of people dead, and thousands displaced. However, on Thursday November 10, 2022, an official has revealed that at least 28 people have been killed in clashes between two rival clans in Benue State, Nigeria. The victims of these clashes are mostly women and children. These incidents of violence between the two clans – Ezza and Effunn clans – was reportedly triggered by the alleged desecration of a shrine in the neighboring Ebonyi State.
According to Paul Hembah, a retired army officer and security adviser to the state’s governor, since Monday, November 7, 2022, scores of residential and commercial properties have been damaged in the Ado area of Benue State. He said houses and businesses were set ablaze. He said that police and military personnel have been deployed to prevent further violence in the area. He also added that investigations are ongoing and that those responsible for the mayhem will be found, arrested and punished.
Nigeria has a long history of inter clan rivalry.
Communal conflicts in Nigeria can be categorized into two types: ethno-religious conflicts and herder-farmer conflicts. The former is attributed to actors primarily divided by cultural, ethnic or religious identities. An example is religious violence between Christian and Muslim communities. The herder-farmer clash typically involves disputes over land and/or cattle between herders and farmers. The herders are usually Fulani and Hausa, while the farmers are usually Adara, Berom, Tiv, and Tarok. The most impacted of all the states in Nigeria are those in the Middle Belt such as Benue, Taraba and Plateau.
Since April, more than 600 people have been killed, scores of houses have been burnt and many people have been displaced from their homes. For instance, automatic weapons and dynamite were reportedly employed to kill and destroy houses when fighting broke out between the Aguleri and Umuleri communities over a boundary dispute in April. In that clash alone, more than 300 people were reportedly killed and thousands displaced. Also, more than 200 people died in the latest incident of communal violence when ethnic Ijaw and Urhobo fought their Itsekiri neighbors in Warri.
Major cause of rivalry is distribution of resources.
According to Samie Ihejirika of Strategic Empowerment and Mediation Agency, a Nigeria not-for-profit organization, “thirty-one prominent communal conflict areas have developed in Nigeria in the last 10 years.” He identified the major cause of the clashes as rivalry over distribution of resources, which may manifest itself as disputes over land, money, titles or chieftaincy. For example, climate change played a major role in the migration of Fulani herdsmen towards Southwestern Nigeria. Desertification, landslides, droughts, pollution, sandstorms and diseases that have been caused by climate change have led Fulani herdsmen to leave their communities.
Thus, many Fulani’s are inclined to migrate south where there is improved vegetation, weather conditions, and market opportunities. The majority of farmer-herder clashes have occurred between Muslim Fulani herdsmen and Christian peasants. This has heightened ethno-religious tensions and hostilities. Other prominent communal conflicts in terms of high casualties include the one between Ife and Modakeke communities in the Southwest, the Jukun and the Kutebs in the Northeast, and the Kataf and the Hausa-Fulani in the north.
Some intense fighting has been between the same group.
Despite the ethnic lines often dividing the actors, some of the most intense clashes have been between people of the same ethnic group. The Igbo communities of Aguleri and Umuleri in Eastern Nigeria and the Yoruba communities of Ife and Modakeke. In most cases, the conflicts are rooted in age-old disputes. According to Chukwudi Ekwunife, a researcher on communal conflicts, this fighting is as a result of government failure since the military era. He said, “With most communities left on their own and poor, they returned to their old ways.”