The jihadi group Boko Haram are usually characterized as the biggest threat to Nigeria’s state security and even as one of the world’s deadliest militant groups.
But in the first four months of 2016, Boko Haram have actually been responsible for less deaths—208 to be precise—than other sectarian groups in Nigeria combined, which have accounted for 438 deaths so far, according to the Council on Foreign Relations’ Nigeria Security Tracker. A huge chunk of these are down to an ongoing conflict between predominantly Fulani herdsmen and settled farming communities, which is costing the Nigerian economy billions of dollars per year as well as hundreds—if not thousands—of lives.
The Fulani —also known as the Fula or Peul—constitute a mostly Muslim people scattered throughout West Africa but concentrated in certain places, such as northern Nigeria. Fulanis are primarily nomadic cattle herders who follow their livestock along migratory patterns. This wandering lifestyle has brought them into conflict with settled farming communities in Nigeria, who have accused the Fulani of cattle rustling, kidnapping and murder.
Clashes between mostly Fulani herdsmen and settled communities have been concentrated in north central Nigeria, particularly the states of Benue, Plateau, Kaduna and Nassarawa. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari ordered an inquiry into clashes between herdsmen and farmers in Benue at the end of February, which reportedly resulted in hundreds of deaths and thousands being displaced. As well as the obvious security threat, the low-level battles are draining Nigeria’s economy of resources and potential funds. A series of reports published in July 2015 by global humanitarian agency Mercy Corps found that the four problem states stood to gain up to $13.7 billion annually in total macroeconomic benefits if the conflict between herdsmen and farmers was reduced to near-zero. And the benefits are not just limited to state-level—Nigerian households affected by the ongoing clashes could expect their incomes to increase by between 64 and 210 percent were the conflicts to be resolved.