After being shot in the gut, a young pepper farmer lies still and silent in a rickety hospital bed in the farming town of Miango in Plateau State, central Nigeria. In October, his village of Nkiendonwro was attacked by men wielding AK-47s and machetes, killing 21 people, locals say.
Such stories can be heard repeatedly in the surrounding villages of Ancha, Hukke, Kperie and hundreds of others across Nigeria’s fertile Middle Belt.
Oboigba Osaze, the hospital’s resident doctor, says he has tended to over 500 such cases since arriving here two years ago. He pulls out some plastic bags from a drawer, each one holding bullets taken out of his patients’ bodies. “This is nonstop,” he says. The attacks were, locals claim, likely carried out by nomadic Fulani herdsmen, a group that is scattered across the Sahel region — the long strip of land along the southern edge of the Sahara desert.
The pastoralist Fulanis have traditionally migrated south during the dry season in search of water and grazing land for their cattle. But as climate change and increased drought have caused greater desertification, they have been forced even further south and into conflict with farmers, whose numbers have increased in line with Nigeria’s growing population.
Across swathes of the Sahel, arable land is becoming increasingly scarce. “Dry seasons are lengthening and rainy seasons are shortening,” explains Robert Muggah, an academic expert on conflict in the area. “This is putting pressure on pastoralists to stay longer on farmers’ land. In the past, tensions and disputes were managed by local chieftains and customary rules. As grievances escalate they spill over into violence, overwhelming existing systems of conflict management.”