Farmers displaced in Nigeria conflict find ways to cope

Where do they find shelter, food and water? How do they counter feelings of hopelessness? This is how uprooted farmers continue to eke out a living for them and their families

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Displaced farmers and herders: Oludayo Tado does research.
Longstanding conflict between herders and farmers in parts of Nigeria have uprooted thousands of farmers, who now have to find other ways of making a living. Oludayo Tade, a researcher from the University of Ibadan in Nigeria, has studied their coping strategies.

One of the unpleasant outcomes of the perennial conflict  between farmers and herders in Nigeria is the growing population of internally displaced persons and the challenges associated with their victimhood.

Internal displacement arising from these conflicts has serious implications for the survival of the displaced populations. Violent attacks force victims to flee to camps for the internally displaced or to move in with friends and relations in safer locations. For instance, between 2010 and 2015 there were 850 clashes resulting in the displacement of 62 000 people in Benue and other adjourning north-central states.

But the problems they encounter are not limited to their dislocation. There are problems of shelter, inadequate feeding and water.

My research sought to understand how they cope with their victimhood and what strategies they employ to survive. This is because coping strategies, as strategic alternative plans of action, help us to understand the world of the victims of this conflict and their survival strategies.

I interviewed 20 participants selected from two make-shift camps for internally displaced people. These were located in Obi and Lafia local government areas in Nasarawa State in north central Nigeria. The camps housed only victims of the conflicts from the farming communities and were only inhabited temporarily by the internally displaced people.

Forced to find support

The findings showed that most of the participants relied on their friends and family for food and shelter to cope. The friends and families also became vicarious victims by providing such support. The displaced farmers listed as their coping strategies job switching, relocation to a safer place which included locating to temporary facilities as shelter, formation of a vigilante group in which male respondents participated actively, and trusting in God.

This study has provided insights into the coping strategies adopted by displaced victims of farmer-herder conflict. Having multiple skills proved useful.

Policy intervention should target empowering displaced populations with skills to eke out a living to cope with challenges associated with their displacement.

Coping strategies

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The different experiences of victims mostly influenced the coping strategies they adopted. Some of the victims had more than one occupation and switched to the alternative occupation to eke out a living while nursing hopes of returning to their community some day.

For example, a married 46-year-old from Panjong village described himself as both a farmer and a businessman. Having abandoned farming because of these conflicts, he was managing solely on income from petty business.

Since they are mostly uneducated, the jobs they seek out are unskilled. Another internally displaced person who is a victim of the conflict described how, at the onset of the crisis, he moved from the Doma local government area to his mother-in-law’s place in the Obi local government area. Soon after, the crisis spread to that community too and they all had to move to Lafia, the state capital, where they are sheltered by his father-in-law.

“It has not been easy. my father-in-law is the one providing for us but sometimes, if I get mason work, I go out to help as (a) ‘labourer’ in building sites to get small money to help me meet some of my needs even though it is not enough.”

Hopelessness sets in

Other victims of these conflicts exhibit hopelessness; hence they have pushed their worries from the mundane to the transcendental, believing that a solution will come eventually. They do menial jobs but also trust in God as a coping strategy to help ameliorate their situation. They do this to keep hope alive based on the fact that God is believed to be capable of changing bad situations to good situations. Relying on God only strengthens their resolution not to allow their present unpleasant situation to drive them into hopelessness.

Social support from relations is part of the coping strategy employed by some of the victims. This may account for why some of the victims of these conflicts were found in different parts of Nasarawa where there was no conflict. The decision to migrate was taken considering factors such as the availability of supportive friends or relations as well as consideration for their safety in the place they were considering.

Coping with feeding and accommodation

Internal displacement comes with attendant problems of meeting basic human needs such as feeding oneself and one’s family. Internally displaced persons are usually confronted with this problem as soon as displacement occurs and they are forced to migrate to another location.

Unlike in Benue where formally organised internally displaced persons camps exist, displaced populations in Nasarawa sheltered in public schools. This made it difficult for them to find food. Some of them ate mangoes while others found help with relatives.

To cope with fear of insecurity, the victims organised themselves into vigilante groups to run shifts to provide security for themselves.

Through this arrangement, the men were able to ensure relative security with some level of assurance to their wives and children.

Conclusion

The coping strategies show the innovative agency among the internally displaced victims of farmer-herder conflict in Nasarawa State. Yet it is important that internally displaced persons are empowered with skills that will enable them to cope with post camp-life challenges. The government should ensure that the conflict triggers are neutralised before they escalate to violent conflict which has the potential of leading to internal displacement.

This article was originally written for and published on The Conversation.

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