A study by a London-based research group has revealed that arms used in the farmers/herders conflict in North-west Nigeria come from the same source as those used by the terror group, Al Qaeda, in Mali and other Sahel countries.
The report, Nigeria’s Herder-Farmer Conflict, conducted by Conflict Armament Research (CAR), focuses its primary findings on Zamfara, Katsina and Kaduna States in Nigeria.
Mike Lewis, author of the report and head of investigative arms research for CAR, told Radio France International (RFI) on Wednesday that researchers found the weapons amongst herders to be the same as those used in an attack by an Al Qaeda-aligned group in Mopti, central Mali.
The report also said sophisticated arms are also being smuggled from Turkey into Nigeria.
Mr Lewis said the study tracked weapons such as manufactured shotguns made in 2014 and smuggled by sea through the port of Lagos as well.
“Attackers in different countries are actually using weapons, not just of the same type, but almost certainly from the same batch and that is passed through the same people.
“And what that tells you is that there are very specific sources of illicit weapons that are providing the tools of violence for armed groups and also terrorist groups right across the Sahel,” Mr Lewis said.
“There were assault rifles, for example, that had had their markings scraped off in exactly the same way, and probably with the same tool, and yet we’re finding them literally hundreds or even thousands of kilometres apart,” he added.
According to the report, CAR researchers traced the origins of the weapons across borders in the Sahel, including from military weapons stockpiles in Côte d’Ivoire and from Libya.
The report also revealed a large number of hand-made firearms in the region, where there was a 35:1 ratio between artisanal weapons and factory-made ones.
”State governments in northern and central Nigeria are trying to capture the illicit small weapons, but the issue of the region awash in small arms remains.
“We also need to get serious about securing the region’s borders, and targeting these kinds of trafficking networks that are moving weapons into the conflict,” Mr Lewis said.
Scores and Cause
“Dry seasons present a harsh spinoff: the scarcity of resources required for farming and cattle husbandry. The impacts of the scarcity are most severe in the country’s semi-arid North.
“A situation that pushes Fulani herdsmen towards the Middle Belt and further south, where farmers already confront the challenge of reduction in the land available for cultivation due to housing and industrial expansion.
“It has also resulted in intense competition between farmers and herdsmen, which is increasingly causing bloody clashes in rural communities.
“But the rising wave of banditry, amid high-profile farmers herdsmen communal clash, has steadily become a major issue of Nigeria’s worsening security crisis in the region. The death count is alarming,” the report said.
According to a 2018 report by the International Crisis Group (ICG), an estimated 300,000 people fled their homes in large-scale displacement and insecurity in parts of Adamawa, Benue, Nasarawa, Plateau and Taraba states, a development the group said may hinder farming as well as herding and drive up food prices.
The Inter-communal violence in the region killed more people in 2018 than Boko Haram and Islamic State in West Africa combined, according to the ICG report.
PREMIUM TIMES last year reported the United Nations saying over 40,000 refugees who were targeted by armed groups in Sokoto, Zamfara, and Katsina states migrated to the neighbouring Niger Republic to seek safety.
While a 2019 report by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) said an estimated 7,000 Nigerians died between 2015 and 2019 in the persistent violence between farmers and pastoralists in the middle belt states of Benue and Nasarawa.
To address the violence, the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) launched operation “Tsaftan Daji” (Clean Forest), to flush out the armed bandits in the North-West. The army also has an ongoing operation in the region.
Various state governments in the North-west, including those of Zamfara, Sokoto, and Katsina, are also negotiating with the armed bandits and have done prisoner swaps with them. The swaps have involved the release of arrested armed bandits in exchange for tens of persons kidnapped by the bandits.