Fulani Herdsmen – Crisis in Benue State, Nigeria

Fulani Herdsmen Benue State Nigeria

This article is about the Fulani Herdsmen crisis in Benue State of Nigeria. The article provides a brief on the contextual and contemporary state of affairs between the Fulani Herdsmen and local Christians and farmers of the Tiv tribe as well as other ethnic groups. The Fulani Herdsmen pose a significant security issue not only for Benue State; but, also for the other middle belt states and in the northeast of Nigeria where Boko Haram is operating.  The herder – farmer conflict has killed thousands of people and displaced tens of thousands more. The article gives a brief historical view and offers solutions for the security issues in Benue.

Benue State

Benue is an agrarian state and the majority of the land is rural. The capital of Benue is Markurdi. When you leave the capital and visit the local government areas (LGA) you can see that the villages are austere and primitive. The Local Government Areas (LGA) can be described as primitive with scarce electricity and lack of modern conveniences.

Fulani Herdsmen

The Fulani Herdsman are a nomadic tribe. They belong to the Fulani Hausa ethnic group based in northern Nigeria – with a common religion (Islam), culture, and language (Hausa). [1] The Fulani Hausa come mostly from the northwest of Africa and can be found in Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Chad, Niger, and other African countries. The Fulani Herdsmen are slowly moving from northern Nigeria into Southern Nigeria due to drought and desertification in northern Nigeria.

“There will, however, be significant differences: The territory of the
guerrillas will be rural and its economy agricultural and primitive”,
(Robert Taber, War of the Flea: The Classic Study of Guerrilla Warfare, 1965).

Sources of Conflict

The dispute between the Fulani Herdsmen and indigenous farmers of Benue is said to have started in the early 1800s. According to Benue historians and the Tiv people (as described to the author) the dispute originates from an event in which a Tiv farmer killed a Fulani. The Fulani Herdsmen have not forgotten the incident and the Tiv people have suffered ever since.

Present day contributing factors for the current conflict between the Herdsmen and farmers involve the fierce competition for grazing land and the resentment over religious, ethnic, and regional differences. Whatever the source of the conflict may be – the fact remains that the Fulani Herdsmen continue to kill men, women, and children within Christian and farming communities in Benue. When the Nigerian Army and Police have left an area in Benue the Fulani Herdsmen will sometimes take the opportunity to attack the unprotected villages and communities. At present the Fulani Herdsmen control some of the LGA’s in Benue State and are slowly moving in a southward direction. The response to the security situation by federal and state authorities has been weak.

Benue Governance Ineffective

Samuel Ortom, governor of Benue, is Tiv, and appears to have no idea how to stop the Herdsman from attacking the people of Benue State. It has been reported in the media that Governor Ortom has made several futile attempts (compensation, protests, and anti-open grazing laws) to impede or mitigate the violent confrontations. The media further conveys that the governor asserts having knowledge of the involved Fulani and their whereabouts.

In a recent turn of events, one of Governor Ortom’s staff was arrested for being a member of Boko Haram and accused of masterminding and coordinating many of the attacks with the Herdsman and arming a group similar to the vigilantes who also conducted attacks on the villages. People have begun to conspire that the Benue State Government is behind the recent attacks, especially because the Governor did not receive full support of the Nigerian Federal Government to curtail the existing problem.

Other Nefarious Actors and Private Militias

There have been many attacks on the people in Benue State, but not all attacks are conducted by the Fulani Herdsmen – some are carried out by militias. Prior to Governor Ortom being elected, the previous governor – Governor Suisman – employed a staff member named “Ghana”. Ghana was used by Suisman to organize and carry out attacks against Suisman’s political foes using a private militia. When Suisman lost the election to Ortom, Ghana was still on the Benue State government payroll. According to some that have knowledge of this, Ghana (and his militia) was then used by the new governor (Ortom) to carry out “hits” on Ortom’s political rivals.

When Governor Ortom no longer had use for Ghana, he was released from employment. During his time working for Governor Suisman and Ortom, Ghana obviously became acquainted with many secrets about the Benue State government.

Since releasing Ghana from state employment Governor Ortom has openly stated that Ghana had ties to Boko Haram and was connected to many of the village attacks in Benue State. There is speculation that other staff members working for Governor Ortom have been involved in the organization of Benue militias.

Funding of Fulani Herdsmen

Sultan Muhammadu Sa’ad Akubakar III is the Sultan of Sokoto based in northern Nigeria. In this role he is considered the spiritual leader of Nigeria’s seventy-million Muslims – which is roughly fifty percent of the nation’s population. [2] He has been accused of funding the Fulani Herdsmen and supplying them with weapons.

The Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigerians (MACBAN), which is a loose partisan advocacy group centered on promoting the welfare of Fulani pastoralists in Nigeria, is ostensibly linked to the Fulani Herdsmen. MACBAN was founded in the early 1970s with headquarters in Kaduna (northwestern Nigeria). The group became operational in 1979 and gained wider acceptance as an advocacy group in 1987. MACBAN represents the interest of about 100,000 semi-nomads and nomads in the country.

Both the Sultan of Sokoto and MACBAN have denied any direct involvement with the Fulani Herdsmen. Nevertheless, by some means, the Fulani Herdsmen are being funded and supplied with AK 47’s and motorcycles.

A Worsening Security Situation

The mass killings of the Tiv people had grown progressively worse over the past few years. The Benue State government and the Nigerian federal government have no practical solutions. The Nigerian Army is now in place in Benue State in greater strength and the Inspector General of the Nigerian National Police has been directed by the President of Nigeria to restore order to Benue. There are over 20 LGA’s in Benue and the Herdsman have taken over many of them. Anti-grazing laws have been implemented to restrain the Herdsmen but they have largely been ineffective.

Author’s Personal Observations

In 2017 I had an opportunity to meet with a Commander from the Vigilante Group of Nigeria. The VGA, described in greater detail below, is a group of personnel conducting community oriented policing as a village security force in Nigeria. The VGN Commander and I went to an Internally Displaced Persons Camp (IDP) and queried about how far the Herdsmen were located from the capital of Benue State. Many in the group said they believed the Herdsmen were 10 kilometers (or 6 miles) from Markurdi. They could be seen grazing their cattle not far from the capital. In early January 2018 one attack in Markurdi killed over 100 people.

Vigilante Group of Nigeria (VGN)

The VGN falls under the federal government of Nigeria – the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) and is an extension of the Nigerian National Police. With proper training, the VGN can be similar to other local community defense organizations like the Afghan Local Police (ALP), the Sons of Iraq, the Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) in Vietnam, and the Combined Action Program (CAP) in Vietnam. The CIDG and CAP were US programs established during the Vietnam conflict where the locals protected and prevented attacks on their villages and weeded out the insurgent and criminal elements. If utilized properly, the VGN is a local community defense organization that can assist in bringing back stability and security to Nigeria.


If the Herdsmen Crisis is not brought to an end, there will be another destabilizing group in Nigeria along with Boko Haram, Niger Delta Avengers, and others that have not yet become widely known. The local grassroots / stability operations approach works best when dealing with groups like the Fulani Herdsmen. The Vigilante Group of Nigeria (VGN) may one of the solutions to the security situation in Nigeria.



[1] See Hausa-Fulani, Harvard Divinity School.

[2] For more on Sa’adu Abubakar see a Wikiopedia entry.


Benue State, Nigeria. By Wikipedia

Herders against Farmers: Nigeria’s Expanding Deadly Conflict, International Crisis Group, Africa Report No 252, 22 pages, 19 September 2017.

The Author:

Chris Martin was an officer from the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, D.C. He worked as a Law Enforcement Advisor for Special Operations Task Force – South (SOFT-S) in Afghanistan where he was attached to Special Forces Operational Detachment Alphas.  In addition, while in Afghanistan, he worked as a U.S. Department of Defense Advisor / Law Enforcement Professional (LEP) assigned to International Security Assistance Force Special Operations Forces (ISAF SOF).

He was also a Tactics and Training Specialist for Academi Training Center on contract to train Nigerian security forces. Chris is the President of Martin Group International, LLC, an Irregular Warfare Consulting Firm in the Washington, D.C area. He has been in Nigeria for the past 18 months; working in Benue State for 11 of those months.

About SOF News 1143 Articles
SOF News provides news, analysis, commentary, and information about special operations forces (SOF) from around the world.