Around 4,000 ethnic Fulani herders have fled southern Nigeria in the past one week following deadly attacks by mobs who blame them for rising crime in their region, officials said on Thursday.
In recent weeks, there have been attacks on Fulani herding settlements in the Yoruba-speaking southwest and the Igbo-speaking southeast by mobs from local communities.
The herders are accused of being behind a rising spate of kidnapping as well as violent clashes with farmers over grazing rights, underscoring inter-communal tensions in the multi-ethnic nation of 200 million people.
We have verified around 4,000 Fulani herders who arrived in the state in the past few days,” Hussaini Abdullahi of the northern Kaduna State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) told AFP.
“More are still arriving,” he said, adding that the government would assist the herders to settle down.
“Their major needs are food and household items because they came with nothing, having lost all they had,” Abdullahi added.
Haruna Usman Dugga, head of MACBAN, the Fulani herders union in the state, said the returnees had been sheltered at a game reserve.
“We have 4,000 Fulani herders comprising of 150 families who have relocated to the Labduga game reserve in the past week,” he said, adding that more were on their way.
Dugga said although there had been calls for all Fulani herders in the south to return, it had not been easy for them to do so.
“Fulani in the south have been there for generations and it is difficult to ask them to leave,” he said.
“The issue of pasture for their cattle is another factor that will make some prefer to stay because there is not enough vegetation in the north,” he said.
Northern governors on Tuesday cautioned against reprisals against southerners in the north.
They appealed to southern leaders to stop attacks against Fulani herders to prevent plunging Nigeria into civil strife.
Analysts also warned against compounding the nation’s security problems, particularly the years of deadly conflict between herders and farmers over water and grazing rights.
President Muhammadu Buhari is already under pressure to curb a decade-long jihadist insurgency in the northeast and growing criminal gang violence in the northwest.
“It will only add to the deadly herder-farmer violence we are witnessing all over the north,” local analyst Ibrahim Adamu told AFP of the ethnic tensions.
“The government should find a lasting solution to the problem.”