QUESTION: Are herdsmen criminals or terrorists?


Garba Shehu, presidential spokesman, last week stirred another public debate when he said herdsmen, who attack and kill citizens, are criminal gangs but not terrorists.

According to him, the government did not declare herdsmen as it did to the Indigenous People of Biafra, as terrorists because they are “only criminal gangs”.

“There is a difference between a criminal activity and a terrorist activity. Yes, some Fulani herdsmen are a criminal gang and they are being dealt with according to the law,” he said.

“But IPOB like Boko Haram has a territory they have carved out to themselves …as a sovereign state of its own…. They have shown the willingness to invade other neighbouring states. They have raised concerns in neighbouring Kogi and Benue states. They have said they are interested in taking over Bayelsa and Rivers. That is exactly what Boko Haram has done. This is not acceptable to the law of the country.”

If Shehu claims that herdsmen who kill, destroy properties and farm land are not terrorists, what makes a group a terrorist?


Nigeria is ranked third by the Global Terrorism Index (GTI) as of September 2017- the index measures the direct and indirect impact of terrorism, including its effects on lives lost, injuries, property damage and the psychological after effects in 163 countries of the world.  In the 2016 GTI report, Nigeria was among five countries with the highest impact from terrorism- Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria.

These five countries, the report says accounted for 72 per cent of all deaths from terrorism in 2015

It says the terrorism index in Nigeria increased to 9.31 in 2015 from 9.21 in 2014. Terrorism Index in Nigeria averaged 6.32 from 2002 until 2015, reaching an all-time high of 9.31 in 2015 and a record low of 3.86 in 2002. And GTI recognizes Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen and uncategorized group as the causes of 4,940 deaths from 588 incidents.

Before the release of 2016 GTI report, the United Kingdom Independent reported on November 18, 2015,  that Nigerian Fulani militants named as fourth deadliest terror group in the world. The Independent quoted the Global Terrorism Index.

According to the report, in 2013, the Fulani killed around 80 people in total – but by 2014 the group had killed 1,229.

“Operating mainly in the middle belt of Nigeria, opposed to the north which is dominated by Boko Haram, the group recorded 847 deaths last year across five states, and has also been known to stage attacks in the Central African Republic (CAR), according to the latest report from the Global Terrorism Index” the newspaper reported .

Little is known about the group, despite the high toll they are inflicting on local civilian populations, but it is supposed the increased instability in CAR and Nigeria – despite some government successes against militant groups – has facilitated the group’s expansion.

It says as much as 92 per cent of their attacks target private citizens, reflecting the group’s primary concern over the ownership of farmland.

“Each attack claims an average of 11 lives, with the largest known in April 2014 killing as many as 200 people after a group of the militants targeted community leaders and residents during a meeting in central province Zamfara”.

In the past year Nigeria has experienced the greatest increase in deaths from terrorism, with 7,512 deaths reported – an increase of over 300 per cent – most of which have been claimed by Boko Haram.


In March 2017, Vanguard Against Tiv Massacre (VATIM) said renewed Fulani herdsmen attack across Benue State, has killed no fewer than 500 people and displaced 300,000.

In a statement VATIM alleged a conspiracy of silence against Benue State.

“The recent crisis has so far resulted in over 500 reported cases of deaths in several communities in Buruku, Kwande, Agatu, Gwer East, Gwer West, Guma and Gboko, the worst hit been Buruku and Kwande local government areas with over 30,000 persons displaced and properties and livelihoods worth billions of Naira destroyed.

“These attacks have been incessant, predictable and preventable. In the last two weeks the following villages have been attacked by herdsmen: Mkovur, Ortese in Gboko just as Jingir, Agwabi, Gbanyam, and Tyogbenda are as well as Gbodi, Nzaav, Mbaav and Anyiase in Gboko, Buruku and Kwande local government areas respectively.

“In all cases, however, security agencies have been lackadaisical, and slow to respond. Despite the conspicuous nature of these attacks, not one person has been apprehended by the security agencies.

“In the last five years, no single person has been investigated or prosecuted for the attacks and killings carried out by the herdsmen in affected communities even where some persons have come forward claiming prior knowledge and presumed responsibility for such attacks (for example, the head of herdsmen in the Agatu community in March 2016).”

The group noted that the inaction by the government with regards to the attempted genocide on the Tiv, Idoma and other ethnic groups living in Benue State, directly contravenes the primary responsibility of the Government which is to protect lives and properties of its citizens as enshrined in Section 14 of the 1999 constitution of Nigeria.

VATIM called for urgent humanitarian relief and action, immediate enactment and implementation of appropriate legislation, urgent investigation and prosecution of parties behind the “suspected genocide”.

Also, in January 2017, the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, said 204 people have been killed in the Southern Kaduna crisis which was allegedly carried out by the Fulani herdsmen.

The clashes between Fulani herdsmen and locals in southern Kaduna have lasted months.

It is the first time a government agency is providing a figure of the attacks since they began last year.

The Catholic Church had earlier said 808 people were killed as of December 2016, a figure disputed by the Inspector General of Police Ibrahim Idris. The police Chief did not however give a contrary number.

The Catholic Church also said 1,422 houses, 16 Churches, 19 shops, and one primary school were destroyed.

Musa Ilella, NEMA North West zonal Coordinator, told Premium Times that the figure was for two Local Government Areas affected by the crisis, namely Kafanchan and Chikun LGAs.

The figure covers October, November and December, 2016 and early January, 2017, he said.

“Four districts in Kafanchan LGA namely: Linte,Goska,Dangoma and Kafanchan town recorded 194 deaths.

Some Fulani youths were said to have stormed Ungwan Uka village to avenge the death of a certain herdsman allegedly killed by some village youths at a farm in the area following which crisis erupted and claimed 37 lives.

Agyole Abeh, Commissioner of Police in Kaduna State, confirmed the incident to Channels TV.

Also, Abdullahi Ibrahim National Secretary of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, said the attack which took place over the weekend followed the abduction of two Fulani indigenes in the area.

He added that the gunmen had also attacked Tsonho Damishi community in Chikun Local Government Area of the state where they destroyed houses.

Also on July 7, bandits suspected to be cattle rustlers had killed two policemen and a civilian in the Maigana District of Soba Local Government Area of the state.

According to the police, the incident happened when the policemen engaged the bandits, who have been terrorising communities in the region, in a gun battle.

The Police Commissioner said that the policemen were on a routine patrol in the area when they were ambushed by the gunmen who opened fire on them.


In the executive summary of a report titled: Herders against farmers: Nigeria’s expanding deadly conflict, the International Crisis Group (ICG) neither categorised Fulani herdsmen as criminal gangs nor terrorists, but as a group involved in violent conflict with farmers over land.

The report released on September 19 also said attacks by herdsmen on farmers claimed approximately 2,500 people in 2016.

“ Violent conflicts between nomadic herders from northern Nigeria and sedentary agrarian communities in the central and southern zones have escalated in recent years and are spreading southward, threatening the country’s security and stability” says ICG.

The clashes, ICG says are becoming as potentially dangerous as the Boko Haram insurgency in the North east- ‘yet to date, response to the crisis at both the federal and state levels has been poor’.

The group did note in the report that these clashes are as a result of familiar problems – relating to land and water use, obstruction of traditional migration routes, livestock theft and crop damage, which it said – tend to trigger these disputes.

“But their roots run deeper. Drought and desertification have degraded pastures, dried up many natural water sources across Nigeria’s far-northern Sahelian belt and forced large numbers of herders to migrate south in search of grassland and water for their herds.”

It however did not categorised Fulani herdsmen as terrorists, but the ICG urged President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration and affected state governments to work together, taking immediate steps to shore up security for herders and farmers, strengthening conflict-resolution mechanisms and initiating longer-term efforts to reform livestock management practices, address negative environmental trends and curb cross-border movements of both cattle rustlers and armed herders.

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