Climate Change and Conflict in Nigeria

Climate Change and Conflict in Nigeria: Herders-Farmers Conflict

Conflict and insecurity remains a major issue in Nigeria’s development. Climate change (occasioned by global warming) has brought about consequences that have led to conflict in Nigeria. In the post, we examine the relationship between climate change and conflict in Nigeria, with particular reference to the herdsmen-farmers conflict in northern Nigeria. Findings show that climate change-induced environmental problems in northern Nigeria has triggered and reinforced the conflict. Considering this fact, it is necessary for government and stakeholders to work toward mitigating the effects of climate change to minimize conflict in Nigeria.

Climate change and herders-farmers conflict

Climate Change

Climate refers to the average weather (including temperature variances, precipitation and wind) over a select period.

The ongoing climate change is mainly caused by increasing concentration of greenhouse gases, GHGs (CO2, etc.), in the atmosphere. This has led to a gradual rise in mean global temperature because greenhouse gases trap and emit heat through the use of fossil fuels.

When climate change hazards such as droughts, desertification, famine, erratic rainfall regimes, and in some areas like in the north, prolonged dry spells, occur in Nigeria, it is normally results environmental degradation, economic loss, migration and food shortage. People fail to give enough attention to the possible role of climate change in inducing conflicts.

Conflict remains an enduring aspect of social existence in the sense that wherever a group of individuals is found, conflict is a part of their experiences.

Climate change has brought about the desertification of the ‘Sudano-Sahelian’ region and in the violent conflict emanating from northern Nigeria, which now threatens peace.

Nigeria’s climate is witnessing a gradual rise in temperature; furthermore, rainfall is becoming largely erratic. Both the rise in temperature and the decline in rainfall partly account for the fast pace desertification witnessed in the semi-arid ecological zone (cutting across several northern states) of Nigeria.

The desertification results mainly from fast depletion in the amount of surface water.

Climate Change and Conflict in Nigeria

Some of the social consequences of climate change like poverty, hunger, and population migration have the potential to lead to conflict.

A classic example of such conflict is the herdsmen-farmer clashes emanating from northern Nigeria since 1980s. The conflict has brought about insecurity in Nigeria.

The conflict has resulted in incessant strife and killings between the herdsmen/nomads and the farmers in northern Nigeria.

Nigeria’s northern region is experiencing drought and desertification at a very fast pace. The social effects of desertification as witnessed in the region of the country include reduced crop yield, loss of livestock, economic decline, population displacement, and disruption of legitimized institutions and social relations. Taken together, these social effects have contributed to the onset and escalation of conflict.

Link between Climate Change and Conflict in Nigeria

Desertification (a major effect of climate change) is occurring at an alarming rate in northern Nigeria, and contributes partly to steady drop in crop yield and high rate of animal mortality since 1970s.

Due to the fact that agriculture is the biggest employer of labor in Nigeria, especially in northern Nigeria; low yield in crop production and high mortality rate of livestock leads to economic loss and poverty.

The loss of arable farmland and low crop yield as well as animal loss has brought about massive southward migration of Fulani herdsmen and their animals in search of greener pasture and water. This is the main factor responsible for the recurring herdsmen-farmer conflict in Benue, Nassarawa, and Plateau state.

In essence, the conflict between host farming communities and Fulani herdsmen/pastorals, seems to arise from resource scarcity. However, resource scarcity is the immediate cause of conflict between these two groups while climate change is responsible for the resource scarcity.

Indeed, climate change has triggered and reinforced conflict between Fulani herdsmen and host farming communities in northern Nigeria at the all levels.

For a long period, the pastoral peoples (of which the most numerous and widespread is the Fulani) were confined to northern fringes of Nigeria.

However, during the twentieth century, Fulani herdsmen began to move through and settle in areas zones that were previously inaccessible to pastoralists, bringing them into contact with previously unknown peoples, and cultures. This brought about misunderstandings and conflicts between host farming communities and settled herdsmen.

The resultant competition of herdsmen for a fast-declining ‘stock’ of grazing land has pitched them (Fulani herders) against farmers.

Indeed, climate change has both triggered and reinforced conflict in Nigeria between these two groups.

Climate Change, Fulani Herdsmen-Farmers Conflict

Really, the conflict between Fulani herdsmen and farmers in northern Nigeria has many causes.

Climate change in Nigeria has resulted in steady rise in temperature, decline in rainfall, and sea level rise. These climatic challenges had thrown already scarce land and water resources into even shorter supply.

The struggle for the scarce resources has brought about severe adverse secondary effects.

More heat and less rain, drought as well as desertification as experienced in the north have implications for climate change-induced conflict, but they will first lead to factors that will trigger climate conflict such as, land scarcity.

Due to climate change, the northern and middle parts of Nigeria are undergoing steady desertification. Consequently, the Fulani herdsmen have to migrate southwards to middle ecological zone (including states like Nasarawa, Kogi, Abuja, Kwara, Plateau, Benue) to find greener pasture for his herds.

The farmers of these northern states find this migration unacceptable largely because of the change in their vegetation which has reduced their crop yield.

The natural result is clash over available land. At the same time, a mix of weather-related factors has pushed farmers to cultivate more land each year, leaving herdsmen fewer places to graze and water their stock.


From the foregoing, it is clear that declining rainfall has caused incessant conflict due to the scramble for scarce existing land and water resources. Therefore, there is the need to mitigate climate change effects to ensure peaceful co-existence of all Nigerians.


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