Skip to main content
Blog post

Farmers-Herders Conflicts in Nigeria: A Role for FBOs?


This blog was originally posted on NewSecurityBeat, a blog of the Environmental Change and Security Program at the Wilson Center.

Nigeria is home to many violent conflicts, one of which is the farmers-herders conflict that has posed severe security challenges in the country. The human toll of the violence has been immense, claiming more lives than the Boko Haram insurgency. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed or displaced. Nigeria has also experienced increased ethnic, regional, and religious polarization, and this crisis has undermined national stability and unity.

Yet Nigeria is also one of the most religious countries in the world. And while significant attention is given to understanding the drivers of the conflict and the efforts of state actors in resolving the conflict, little attention has been devoted to examining the peacebuilding role of non-state actors such as religious institutions — often referred to as faith based organizations (FBOs). These groups are increasingly active and effective non-state actors in international and domestic peacebuilding in Nigeria.

The gap that these FBOs seek to fill is significant. The insincerity and failure of the political elites and weak governance by institutions have failed to cope with both systemic challenges (poverty, inequality, climate change, increasing political violence, and Islamic insurgency) and more immediate crises (COVID-19, financial systems). Many victims are turning to religion — and FBOs — for solutions.

The Roots of Conflict

The conflict between farmers and herders (also known as "pastoralists") is centered on a collision between two ways of life on shared land. Yet, both groups are essential because Nigeria relies heavily on agricultural produce from both of them. Religious belief and geography also divide the two groups. Herders are predominantly Muslims hailing from northern Nigeria, while farmers are predominantly Christians and reside in both the southern and northern parts of the country.

Despite these divides, both groups have cohabited for decades. Many pastoral and farming settlements developed symbiotic relationships through reciprocity, economic exchanges, and support. However, there has been a decrease in economic cooperation as climate change decreases both the availability — and access to — shared land and water resources. Increasingly, the farmer-herder relationship is characterized by violent conflicts.

The Role of FBOs: Interfaith Mediation Centre

The role of FBOs — and the religious leaders who operate them — is important in Nigerian peacebuilding. These organizations are highly respected, and religious leaders enjoy high status in their communities. This social capital and "divine" mission give religious leaders significant legitimacy. It also allows them to occupy a unique position in influencing and addressing the needs of the people and carrying out peacebuilding roles. This public perception also provides religious leaders with avenues to influence society in key areas, including behavior, norms, and civil obligations.

One example of how this perception leads to action was the establishment of the Interfaith Mediation Centre (IMC) in response to the outbreak and escalation of violent conflict between farmers and herders in Kaduna State in northern Nigeria in 1992.  The center's initial purpose was to mediate that conflict, but it has also been active in offering assistance to resolve other religious conflicts in Kaduna state and beyond for many years.

The two religious leaders who created the IMC — Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye — were initially active in championing the escalation of the 1992 conflict. Their decision to join forces led to a subsequent de-escalation of the discord. They have not only used their agency to reach out to militias, but they have also facilitated training sessions that allow community members (including youths, women, religious figures, and traditional or ethnic leaders) to become civic peace activists. The goal is to create a more tolerant, cooperative community in which all groups can coexist peacefully.

IMC's grassroot efforts to promote peace in the region have also expanded into regional projects and capacity building programs to address ethnic, religious, and farmer-herder conflicts. The group has also embarked on early warning and early response community-based initiatives like the Community Peace Action Network (CPAN), which collects, analyzes, and disseminates conflict and peace information coming from areas of crisis. The goal is to prevent anticipated violent conflict, and influence decision making by relevant actors involved in the situation.

Continuous dialogue with the conflict's primary stakeholders — the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria and the All-Farmers Association of Nigeria — has further strengthened this FBO's interventions. The IMC's engagement and collaboration have provided avenues for various communities to de-escalate tensions — and also to ensure that the aggrieved parties act upon their recommendations.

A Growing Movement

The example of the IMC's peacebuilding efforts has motivated more religious leaders to take on conflict resolution roles to further achieve lasting peace among religious groups in Nigeria. "They pioneered peacebuilding in Kaduna, and I decided to get into it to contribute my quota," observed Pastor Yohanna Buru in an interview with the Center for Religion and Civic Culture at the University of Southern California (USC).

Pastor Buru's response was to start the Kaduna-based Peace Revival and Reconciliation Foundation of Nigeria, a nonprofit that works to help Muslims and Christians accept each other and respect their religious, ethnic, and social differences.

Other FBOs have also entered the picture. The National Inter-Religious Council (NIREC), comprised of 25 Christians and 25 Muslims, has also been active in the peacebuilding arena. When an attack on Christians by Fulani herdsmen led to a subsequent counterattack by local Christian youths in Nigeria's north-central state of Benue in 2018, the NIREC helped to enforce a peaceful coexistence between farmers and herders.

The process by which the NIREC did so demonstrates the power of FBOs to carry out peace interventions. The council's leaders initiated a dialogue between the parties to the conflict, advising and counseling them to be forgiving and patient, and to apply lessons from religious teachings. The NIREC has also established its own early warning and response systems for local conflicts. And, in conjunction with local governments and traditional institutions, the council has developed grassroots conflict resolution infrastructure such as mediation and restorative justice units and processes.

What Must Be Done Next?

As we have seen, FBOs are a rich resource for peacebuilding efforts. Religious leaders and institutions have become important stakeholders and a central component of these activities because they are trusted by the people.

Yet, while these interventions have been largely successful, significant and noticeable spontaneous attacks in the conflict between farmers and herders still occur. The absence of African Traditional Religion's (ATR) participation in interfaith mediations between farmers and herders in Nigeria also challenges the inclusive nature of FBOs in Nigeria.

There is a role for the international community to play in these efforts. Governments and NGOs could assist FBOs to strengthen their conflict mediation, resolution, reconciliation, and peacebuilding capacities — especially in the communities most affected by conflict. This support could be achieved with investment initiatives to train religious leaders and improve their mediation skills, as well as funding and developing more robust local early warning, conflict resolution, and restorative justice frameworks for local conflicts. These efforts could also provide platforms for parties to a dispute to interact and pursue collective dialogue on long-lasting solutions to their conflict.

There is also a clear need for FBOs to adopt a more inclusive approach that provides traditional institutions with the opportunity to participate in interfaith dialogue and peacebuilding. Such an initiative would assist in bridging the gaps in the process where traditional matters that involve victims of this conflict are left unaddressed.

Finally, these conflicts must also be addressed through an interdisciplinary lens. Researchers and experts in the fields of conflict resolution, development and peace studies, peacekeeping, and post-conflict reconstruction must explore the possibilities offered by FBOs and conduct extensive research that examines their growing impact on conflict resolution in Nigeria.


Ojemire B. Daniel is a PhD student in the Global Governance and Human Security program at the University of Massachusetts Boston. His research interests include climate change, conflict resolution, natural resources and violent conflicts in Africa (especially Nigeria), and human security.

Sources: African Journal of Emerging Issues; Center for Religion and Civic Culture; Council on Foreign Relations; Interfaith Mediation Centre; International Crisis Group; Mercy Corps; National Inter-Religious Council; Peace Revival and Reconciliation Foundation of Nigeria; USIP; U.S. State Department

Photo Credit: A young fulani herder walking with his livestock along the roadside in Lekki, Lagos, Nigeria, courtesy of Alucardion/

The opinions expressed on this blog are solely those of the authors. They do not reflect the views of the Wilson Center or those of Carnegie Corporation of New York. The Wilson Center's Africa Program provides a safe space for various perspectives to be shared and discussed on critical issues of importance to both Africa and the United States.

About the Author

Ojemire B. Daniel

Africa Program

The Africa Program works to address the most critical issues facing Africa and US-Africa relations, build mutually beneficial US-Africa relations, and enhance knowledge and understanding about Africa in the United States. The Program achieves its mission through in-depth research and analyses, public discussion, working groups, and briefings that bring together policymakers, practitioners, and subject matter experts to analyze and offer practical options for tackling key challenges in Africa and in US-Africa relations.    Read more