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Home > Features > Spate of Killing Along The Benue Trough Across The North Central Part of Nigeria: Where is the Social Contract?

Spate of Killing Along The Benue Trough Across The North Central Part of Nigeria: Where is the Social Contract?

Every human society has its peculiarities anchored on its very mix of historical trajectory. It is a multi-layered fabric of norms, values, customs, cultures, traditions culminating in its over-arching politics. The politics of every society is the totality of this multi-layered history manifesting through social interactions, conflict and resolution.

The ethnic nationalities on the African Continent existed as fussed societies before the early contacts with the European nations through trades in commodities, slaves and colonization. In the end, this contact brought diffusion into a hitherto fussed continent. Hence, “Things Fall Apart” and mare anarchy was loosed upon the African continent. Since then, the centre can no longer stand.

Societies generally across the world, especially in Africa, have had very disturbing phases in their history. Such phases are characterized by inter group rivalries. In some societies, the levels of conflicts have reached alarming stages that it seems hardly possible to imagine that such societies ever enjoyed any peaceful relationship. The rising tide of instability and the issue of peace and national security are essential in the understanding of the development of

societies. The significance of the issue of peace and security cannot be overemphasized in the light of their relationships with one another. In recent times, the issues of conflict and instability in the northern region of Nigeria has become a major focus or at least has seemed to dominate the focus of  the Nigerian Government, International and National or indigenous development organizations.

Attempts by non-governmental organizations to convene a multi-level dialogue where representatives of the parties as well as other relevant stakeholders collectively reviewed the information gathered in the mapping and brainstormed on the way forward resulted in these findings:

  • The cattle Fulani, before 1980 had lived cordially, mutually coexisting with the Tiv farmers especially in these three districts of Tongov Sengev and Tyoughatee.
  • The origin of the conflict is the conflict over the ‘material’ needed for ‘existence;

. The struggle between the two groups is because each is struggling to survive or exist and each group depends on the same material called the ‘green of the land’.

  • Another cause of conflict is the Quantum nature of land. Land has a fixed value it is given by God to be fixed, not to increase. Therefore, since the population of farmers is increasing, the population of the people of Nigeria and indeed the local governments is increasing by 2.8% (1963 Federal Government Census Figures) thus more people, more farmers will depend on land which has a fixed value hence, the supply to demand relationship will not be balanced and as such conflict will arise.
  • The large influx of herdsmen into the Benue trough/Benue valley is a cause of conflict. Statistics have shown that the influx from Nassarawa to Benue is on the increase at a rate of 3 –4% annually and 1.5 –2% leaves the valley every year while 0.5 –0.8% is consumed as meat in abattoirs, in the slaughter houses Federal Livestock Department Report (2004). By implication there is always a large percentage of livestock in the Benue valley every year. As was reported, the type of grass, the soil type that

encourages and supports vegetation cover creates an enabling environment suitable for the herdsmen to desire to pasture in this valley. The number of the cattle Fulani herdsmen is thus increasing as the population of the farmers on this land.

  • Another cause, which immediately sparks up conflicts between the Tiv-farmers and the Cattle Fulani, is “the claim by the Fulanis  of their payment of compensation to the Traditional rulers” in Gwer-west Local Government which they claim gives them the right to graze over the land.
  • “The Un-forgiveness” attitude or culture of the Fulanis: This fact was obtained from several Authorities vested with management of peace in the State. The secretary of Meyette-Allah (The Association of Cattle Breeders of Nigeria) Benue State Chapter also confirmed this fact. The Fulanis are still revenging the ‘Ijov Pupuu’ episode of the early eighties.
  • There is a historic relationship between the Tiv man and the Fulanis. The Fulanis call the Tiv-man ‘Munchi’. This is a Hausa word meaning ‘we have eaten’. Historically the Tiv man is believed to have killed and eaten a Fulani cow when the Tivs and Fulanis were moving together in the migrational train as was revealed through Ethnographic Studies. The Fulani’s have the believe that as long as they are in the mist of the Tiv people, some of their cows must be lost,this makes a Fulani man to ever live suspecting a Tiv, man over the loss of their cattle.
  • It was discovered that there were several instances where ‘mischief makers’ had set false alarm by saying that either the Fulani’s or the Tiv people are coming for an attack.This had caused fears in the Tiv or Fulani community and the people either the Tivs or the Fulani’s had run for their dear lives and these mischief makers rooted, stole and caused other mischief actions. This is of a great concern and it has several dimensions, and has been found to transcend to the other Local Governments too.
  • The findings revealed that between 1980 –1984, the conflict was volatile. The nature of the conflict that time was volatile, unfriendly, harsh and resulted into a wanton killing of cows of the Fulanis who were reported to have fled for their lives.
  • The episode of 1980 –1984 over eighty (80) Fulani cattle of them killed in an ‘Ijov pupuu’ or ‘white mushroom’ episode. It is not clear if some Fulanis lost their lives in this attack but for large flocks to have been killed meant a lot of loss to the Fulanis even if this was to make them leave Gwer-West FADAMA land by a forceful act.
  • The Fulani attackers used sophisticated weapons, which did not only kill people but also set into flames houses and structures. The attackers came in the military uniforms so they could have been hired. They may not necessarily have been Fulanis if they came for revenge they could be militia on a mission to revenge. The attack was swift and the attackers came using speed boats by river Benue, completed their assignment and went back through the same route.
  • Displacement of the Tivs from their places of origin. Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from the local governments have found refuge in other districts, towns and settlements including Agaigbe, Naka, Atukpu, Tse-Iorbogo and other missionary centers outside the conflict areas including Mission Station Ajigba of the NKST Church other Christian centers like the Catholic Church premises in Agaigbe and the voluntary organization in the Local Government Areas.
  • Poverty: Because the people displaced are peasant farmers they now depend on others to give them land to plant crops on a smaller scale than what they have cultivated before. This is leading to low agricultural yield mainly to support their existence at a subsistence level. Their economic well-beingis thus tempered with because of this conflict.
  • Reduced standard and levels of education has been noticed. Their unhealthy looks were also visually observed. The conflict has led their children to be out of school for about one year, as their parents cannot afford the school fees. The low capital base leads them to poor health. 9
  • Environmental degradation has been found to be high particularly in areas where the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are staying. Refuse disposal heaps, human wastes and associated household wastes create environmental degradation as drainages are found to be blockeddue to poor sanitary conditions and above all potable water is found to be lacking during the dry season. Many people were killed in the conflict both young and old.
  • Some of the cattle Fulanis do not know their bearings. Because there are no cattle routes they graze without limit and in most cases they are not guided (or guided by children) and so they cause not just havoc on to the crops but the response by the farmer’s results into violent conflicts, which lead to wanton destruction of lives and properties


The Benue State Government has set up a joint committee with the Nassarawa State Government because of wide accusations that the Fulanis are used for reasons outside of the struggle for material existence. This report has been completed and the committee set up by government has submitted its report

Many people were killed in the conflict both young and old. 40, 000 to the traditional rulers for every plot somebody is allocated and want to develop. This is a common practice, which is illegal but allowed to continue. it must be

true that the traditional rulers are collecting tolls from the Fulanis who claim that they are buying pasture land for a given period. The developers give money and they are not given receipt and so the Fulanis too give money and do not get the receipt for it. The first noticeable conflict between the Tivs and the Fulanis in Guma LGA originated when the Fulanis diverted from the old cattle route which came from Awe through Akaahena to Torkula then west wards to ‘Ortese’ and out to ‘Doma’ district. This route clearly was away from the Makurdi north because of the absence of the flood plains in the North Bank area of Makurdi town.

The population of the cattle made the cattle Fulanis to begin to seek other routes to lead them to areas close to Makurdi namely Rukobi, Anter, and Nyijir. These are all ‘rich’ and evergreen arable land suitable for pasture. The land around Nyijir settlement which is close to Akpanaja in the neighbouring Doma district of Nasarawa State is low enough and has the FADAMA characteristic of the Benue trough more so because of the ‘Wururu’ stream that enters river Benue and acts as part of the 1923 delimited boundary stream by the colonial administrators. The dimension from the route has thus taken this nomads to lands far away from the tract which was earmarked for the cattle by colonial administrators and which has been in use up to the late seventies.

  • One of the origins of the conflicts between the Tiv farmers and the Fulani cattle rearers is traced to the fact of the influx of the Fulanis from Nasarawa State on the boundary line which was delimited by the 1916, 1919 and 1924 description. Whereas National Boundary Commission, the presidency Abuja handed over this delimitation instruments in 1991 to Benue and Plateau State, Benue State Government rejected them as not being legal instrument to bind the states together. Any conflict from Nasarawa State including the conflict of Tiv farmers with the Fulanis is viewed by the some highly placed political actors as being one of the actions by the Nasarawa State to send the Tiv people/farmers away from their ancestral home. More so as the ‘Fulanis’ who come to breed the cattle are not the Fulanis but from other tribes. Because they do not even understand Hausa language the Tiv people view them as ‘militia’ coming under cover of The attacks are not only on the Tiv farmers but the crops they produced hence the farm yield are affected.
  • Pastoralists need land for grazing purpose cattle Fulanis to cause mischief and attack them and send them away from the boundary corridor. The attacks are not only on the Tiv farmers but the crops they produced hence the farm yield are affected.
  • Pastoralists need land for grazing purpose Tiv farmers equally need land for farming activities
  • The conflict is polarized due to the porous borders
  • That absence of grazing reserves and routes precipitates and facilitated the conflict
  • Encroachment on grazing routes which have gone extinct/blockage of cattle routes
  • Increase in human and livestock population with no corresponding increase in land mass
  • Lack of control of the migrant life style of the nomads generates conflict
  • Unemployment by youths is the cause of mischievous activities between Tiv farmers/Fulani herdsmen.

It is against this backdrop that I engage and interrogate the government of the Nigerian state today. Over the years since independence, lives of the Nigerian citizens have become increasingly cheap that any group of lunatics, fanatics, criminals and even the state security agents could dispense with at the blink of an eye.

Life in Nigeria can best be described in the same term as it were in the western world before its philosophers theorized “Social Contract”, “nasty, brutish and short”. Nigeria as a country in this 21st century has plunge into pre-history that the western philosophers abhorred by re-inventing through their civilization to conceive social contract theories. Where is the social contract that exists between the government of the Nigeria state and her citizens today?

We in the vanguard of change from below under the aegis of Generation for Change Africa Initiative condemns vehemently the spate of wanton systemic genocide going on around the country disguised as Herders/ Farmers clash over natural resource that has become scarce due to government negligence and irresponsiveness exacerbates by Climate Change.

Socialist perspective posits that the pastoralists Herdsmen/Farmers conflict across the country should fundamentally be seen as the inability of the capitalist ruling class to take society forward on the basis of capitalism. It further asserts that labour movement should advocate the abolition of open grazing. Rather, ranches be developed by government and the cattle owners be taxed appropriately for using ranching facilities. Labour should indeed advocate the organizing or unionizing of the young poor itinerant herders with a view to addressing their grievances against oppressive employers, the cattle owners. We also need to advocate for the support of poor farmers and for far more government action against inequality.  This narrative underscores the fundamental class relations in the violent conflicts resulting in wanton killings across the country with specific focus on the Benue trough and the north central part to sensitize the masses.

The violent dimension to competition over scarce natural resource including land is a manifestation of the glaring inequality when the 1% extremely rich of a society owns almost everything (99%) while the 99% submerged middle class and the underclass struggles with the crumbs (1%) from table of the super rich colluding ruling class including their military state coercive apparatus.

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Alex Ameh Ogbu
Alex Ameh Ogbu
Comrade Alex Ameh Ogbu is an Abuja based Media Practitioner and a prolific writer that writes mostly from Akatekwe Kingdom. He can be reached via:

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