Nigeria: The Last War Before the End of the World

Guadi Calvo
The last war before the end of the world has been raging in Kaduna, a state in northwestern Nigeria, for at least ten years, between the Muslim majority ethnic group and essentially herdsmen known as Fulani, who fight against Christian farmers, renewing an ancestral conflict that the climate crisis and the war in Ukraine have aggravated in an extreme way.

On the other hand, the United Nations, displaying its natural inefficiency, is ignoring the insistent requests for cooperation to reach a solution before the situation spirals out of control.

This conflict, which has claimed the lives of more than 8,000 people between 2011 and 2020 and forced 200,000 more to flee for safety, is being reproduced in countries such as Niger, Cameroon, Chad, Mali and Senegal, where episodes of violence between farmers and herders are gaining in intensity.

The Fulani ethnic group, which has been present in 14 countries on the continent for centuries, move with their thousands of head of cattle, ignoring the borders drawn by colonialism, in search of pasture and water, which leads to clashes with farmers each season, resulting in dozens of deaths on both sides.

Particularly in Nigeria, where this problem has taken on increasingly serious characteristics, statistics on deaths caused by this conflict have not been available since 2020 to date.

It can therefore be assumed, adding the information of new episodes that speak of attacks on churches and mosques, Christian villages and Fulani camps, that the deaths, produced between one side and the other, continue to be high beyond the concealment of the official data.

While the climate crisis increases and the chilling increase of desertification spreads all along the Sahel, the strip that runs from the Red Sea to the Atlantic Ocean, which separates the Sahara from the sub-Saharan countries, the Fulani are forced to take their herds southwards, towards Nigeria. They cross the borders smoothly to Kaduna and other states such as Benue in the central region where attacks are as frequent as in Kaduna, Plateau in the central west, Lagos in the southwest, rivers in the south and Borno in the northeast, where cattle by the thousands arrive to attack crops, leading to more clashes on the way.

According to various reports, several armed groups, including self-defense groups, common criminal gangs and mujahideen, operate alongside the Fulani, who, in addition to destroying crops and villages, kidnap, loot and steal livestock.

In the face of this conflict, which is not confined to Kaduna State, the Nigerian army, almost exclusively engaged in the fight against the fundamentalist khatibas, is unable to restore confidence and calm in the mixed communities of Christians and Muslims that had lived together in harmony for centuries.

Thousands of people displaced by the violence have still not returned to their lands due to the lack of security on the part of the government authorities, both national and state, to which must be added the inoperability of international organizations, including the United Nations, which ignore the situation and fail to even pay attention to the reports prepared by their own teams of special rapporteurs who have been warning for years about the seriousness of the crisis after having analyzed and taken note of the situation in the same territory. The government of President Muhammadu Buhari, weakened by failure, is practically inert, not only because it is in the last months of its final year in office, but also because of the failure of its anti-terrorism policies.

Therefore, the more than 211 million Nigerians, will have to wait for next February’s presidential elections, in which Buhari will be unable to participate because he has had two consecutive mandates, not counting the military government he presided over between 1983-1985, to find a solution. And that the new government can intervene with force in the long list of conflicts that are dragging the country down and where the increasingly violent and numerous criminal organizations are involved. Depending on the area, they engage in mass kidnappings, piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, plundering of oil pipelines in the Niger Delta, drug trafficking, smuggling of weapons, gold, precious woods and human trafficking.

Mujahideen and bandits, a two-way street

Some of these organizations have partnered in one-off operations with the three extremist groups that have generated a death toll of well over 50,000 and have displaced millions of people since the emergence of Boko Haram in 2009 and after splitting from them in 2015 – ISWAP and the Ansaru or Vanguard for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa.

The ethno-religious clashes that began in 2011, during the government of evangelical Christian President Goodluck Jonathan (2010-2015), were the response of Christians to preserve their ancestral lands from religious and ethnic invasion by Muslims in many cases nomads, encouraged by the authorities of the time.

The laissez-faire of President Goodluck Jonathan triggered the conflict, which resulted in 700 deaths in Kaduna within days and as many in the rest of the 11 northern states of the country, with an Islamic majority.

The response of the Muslims to these attacks was to massacre Christians, loot their stores and set fire to their churches, which was followed by another lethal response from the Christians of Kaduna, who killed another 500 Muslims in a matter of hours.

Faced with the magnitude of the conflict, many fields have stopped being cultivated, increasing the food crisis in Nigeria, which, according to an expert, could be further aggravated by the increase in prices, to which the situation in Ukraine and the shortages caused by climate change contribute.

In an attempt to prevent further outbursts, the army launched operations in Kaduna state, managing to eliminate Kachalla Gudau, the main organized crime leader, together with one of his closest lieutenants, known by the alias Rigimamme, on the 20th of in Kankomi, south of the city of Kaduna, capital of the state.

Gudau was one of the strategists of the coordinated attacks against herders’ camps, from which he seized large quantities of animals, and is believed to have become one of the region’s major cattle ranchers. In addition to drug and arms trafficking, in the first half of the year alone Gudau and his associates had stolen some 5,000 cows.

While the death of Gudau and his deputy was confirmed, it was learned that during an aerial operation the army destroyed ten criminal camps in Kaduna state, neutralizing a significant number of criminals and several of their bosses in what appears to be Buhari’s last push for control, The two groups seem to be circulating on a double track, since in many occasions their operations appear to be joint, such as the assault on the Abuja-Kaduna train last April, or the kidnapping of hundreds of students in various schools in the northeast of the country.

On the 18th, a group of bandits kidnapped about 40 people in the locality of Kanwa, Zamfara state, in the west of the country. Most of the abductees are children and women. After the action there has been no further news of the captives or the bandits, although the authorities believe that they will soon reappear to discuss ransom terms.

In Kaduna, one of the oldest wars of mankind is being fought: farmers against shepherds who, since the beginning of time, compete for an increasingly scarce commodity: productive land. It is therefore paradoxical that in a context of the latest generation of weapons and climate change, perhaps this ancestral battle will be the last war before the end of the world, which seems inevitable.

Guadi Calvo is an Argentine writer and journalist. International analyst specialized in Africa, Middle East and Central Asia.