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This study examined the role of the media reportage on herders and farmers crisis in Nigeria how Nigerian newspapers reported the herdsmen and farmers’ conflict in Nigeria. It analyzed the contents of six newspapers to explore the primary sources, the prominence accorded the conflict reports, and the themes focused on their reportage. Findings show that out of the 159 stories considered for the study, newspapers relied mostly on their correspondents and herdsmen representatives as primary news sources.

Public condemnation/protests and government/public intervention were the dominant thematic focus. The north- south media axis phenomenon in Nigeria resonated in the coverage as the frame of ‘herdsmen-against-farmers’ is indicated more in the southern-based newspapers consistent with the prevailing public notion. The study suggests that the media in Nigeria relied mainly on third party sources with the consequence their reports on the issue could be subject to source credibility deficiency.

In addition to addressing the general theme of reportage of the herdsmen conflict, this study explicitly addresses how the newspapers covered the conflict in Benue states. The study recommended that every arms of the society should seek the restoration of earlier symbiosis relationship between farmers and herdsmen in Nigeria and Peace studies should be integrate to our educational system and make it compulsory subject from primary school level up to university level. 



1.1      Background to the study

It is a truism that conflict occurs whenever disagreements exist in a social situation over issues of substance or whenever emotional antagonisms create frictions between individuals or groups (Okoro, 2018). The issues of substance may include resources such as land, water, trees, crops, crude oil, diamond, gold, reserves and rights – grazing rights, farming rights and hunting rights. However, most conflicts emanating from the above itemized issues are called resource conflicts.

Blench (2016) asserted that resource conflicts can be classified into two, namely point resources including mines, farms and reserves and eco-zonal conflicts including water, grazing and hunting rights. Resource conflict is not unusual and perhaps not unnatural in human ecosystems. Conflict per se, is not bad: it is perhaps a necessity in the evolution and development of human organizations. But when conflicts degenerate to violent and destructive clashes, they become not only unhealthy but also counter-productive and progress-threatening.

It is reported that 63 percent of total Sub- Saharan population live in rural areas in contrast with EU population where 74 per cent of all her citizens live in urban areas and 26 per cent in the countryside. The report further stressed that in overall, there are 854 Million people living in Sub-Saharan Africa, compared to 502 million in the European Union (global-, 2018).

However, majority of these populations of Africans who live in the rural areas are usually among the most vulnerable and insecure in terms of poverty, health, food security, and economic losses owing to resource conflicts. This is because, the eyes of the central governments are usually far from them, and many of their crises are never reported.

As Okoro, (2018) put it, struggle for survival and protection of economic livelihood (including, farmlands, crops and cattle) appears to precipitate conflict between herdsmen and farmers across many communities in Nigeria. And most times the attacks and counter attacks between these vulnerable groups in the rural areas are precipitated by government inactions. The people take law into their hands because they feel they are abandoned by the governments, and some of them even migrate to the urban areas abandoning their farmlands, just to secure lives.

The Fulani cattle herdsmen have identified conflicts arising from land use as the “most important” problem they face in their occupation (Van’tHooft, Millar & Django, 2015). During the peak of rainy season, characterized by cattle-breeding, more milk production and shorter grazing hours, cattle herding coincides significantly with arable crop production emanating in herdsmen-farmers conflict.


The resultant increase in competition for arable land has often times led to serious manifestation of hostilities and social friction among the two user-groups in many parts of Nigeria. The conflicts have not only heightened the level of insecurity, but have also demonstrated high potential to exacerbate the food crisis in Nigeria and other affected countries due to loss of farmer lives, animals, crops and valuable properties (Cotula, Toulmin & Hesse, 2014).

This conflict is believed to have existed since the beginning of agriculture and either increased or decreased in intensity or frequency depending on economic, environmental and other factors (Aliyu, 2015). Idowu (2017) submits that the violence between herdsmen and farmers has displaced more than 100,000 people in Benue and Enugu States and left them under the care of relatives or in makeshift Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps while many are still struggling to rebuild their lives.

The Global Terrorism Index (GTI) recently placed the Nigeria’s Fulani herdsmen as the world’s fourth deadliest militant group for having accounted for about 1,229 deaths in 2014. Amnesty International (as published on New Telegraph) on January 29th 2018 asserted that Fulani Herdsmen have killed 168 people in January, 2018 alone. In their words, “The Nigerian authorities’ response to communal violence is totally inadequate, too slow and ineffective, and in some cases unlawful. Clashes between herdsmen and farmers in Adamawa, Benue, Taraba, Ondo and Kaduna have resulted in 168 deaths in January 2018 alone.

Hundreds of people lost their lives in 2017, and the government is still not doing enough to protect communities from these violent clashes. For instance, 549 deaths were recorded across 14 states while thousands were displaced in 2017. These 549 deaths and thousands that were displaced as a result of clashes between nomadic herdsmen and local farmers were recorded across Enugu, Benue, Taraba, Zamfara, Kaduna, Plateau, Nasarawa, Niger, Plateau, Cross Rivers, Adamawa, Katsina, Delta and Ekiti states, in 2017”.

Although not new, the conflict between herdsmen and farming communities in Africa has evolved into a deadly dimension with many lives lost and property destroyed across many countries (Moritz, 2006; Institute for Economics and Peace IEP, 2016). Following the drought of 1970-80 in Africa, the farmers-herders conflict increased, and this has influenced development programmes and policies (Hussein, Sumberg & Seddon, 1999).

Since the year 2000, the crisis has become widespread in many West Africa countries such as Ghana and Nigeria (Moritz, 2006a). The crisis has developed into a fatal dimension claiming many lives and property, especially in central Nigeria in parts of Benue, Plateau, Adamawa, Nasarawa States. A report shows that from 2001 to 2016, about 60,000 deaths resulted from Fulani militant attacks in Nigeria (IEP, 2016). Of these deaths, 2827 occurred from 2010 to 2015 and 2500 from 2012 to 2016 (IEP, 2016). In 2014, the Fulani herdsmen militants were ranked the 4th deadliest terrorist group in the globe for killing 1,229 people in 2014, up from 63 in 2013 (IEP, 2015).

In 2016, the Fulani herdsmen militants murdered more people than Boko Haram in Nigeria. Amnesty International claimed that in January 2018 alone the Fulani extremists claimed the lives of 168 people (Ameh, 2018), in April, 19 people including two Catholic priests were killed in Benue and in June more than 86 people in Jos, Plateau State (Busari, 2018).


Thus, there is a renewed scholarly attention in Nigeria due to the aggravation of the conflict since 2015 (Adeoye, 2017). National security and peace have become threatened by the conflict. The crisis has political and socioeconomic consequences. In the socioeconomic light, the conflict directly disrupts the livelihoods systems of the parties (Moritz, 2016).

As a study argues, the dispute can mar Nigeria’s pursuit of a 10% growth rate in agricultural production. Thus, it endangers the sustainability of animal herding and crop farming systems. Scholars argue that the conflict will progressively entangle with other interests, e.g., in ethnic relations (Olaniyi, 2016) and politics (Ajaero, 2015). The literature on the farmers- herders conflict in Africa is enormous.

However, contemporary scholarly engagement with the dispute has focused on the effects of herder’s migratory pattern on farmers and herdsmen’s relations. Some studies look at the nature of the motivations of the parties to the conflict. Studies have also looked at ways to resolve the conflict regarding the role of institutions and policy directions (Milligan & Binns, 2017).

Attention has been given to the many forms the conflicts develop into viz, violence, social tension, political action and avoidance (Turner, 2013) and the how and why the conflict develops from conflicts of interest into violence (Moritz, 2016). The battle also evolves from challenges of power relations between indigenous people and settler herdsmen and ethnic identity becomes heightened (Olaniyi, 2015). Thus, the ethnic dimension of the conflict cannot be overlooked. Ethnic identity became characteristics of the crisis because of most nomadic pastoralists are of Fulani ethnic extraction.

Despite the many studies on the conflict, there are significant research gaps regarding the role of the media discourse of the conflict. Some conference papers have explored geopolitics of media representation of the battle (Nwankwo, 2019) and recent advancement of a critical geopolitical treatment of the conflict in West Africa considering discourse of the conflict as language and social practice. However, compared with research on media perspectives on associated disputes in Nigeria, e.g. ethno- religious conflict (Hackett, 2013) and other conflicts, research on the farmers-herders strife has not given adequate focus to the media discourse of the conflict in a poststructuralist sense.

A study by Gever and Essien (2019) focused on three critical issues, namely the newspapers’ level of attention, the language of reporting and readers’ evaluation of the reportage. Odunlami (2017) has analysed the main themes and essential speakers in newspapers’ narratives of the conflict. Shehu (2017) investigated how newspapers’ reportage of the conflict depict Fulani people as obstinate and ‘conflict mongers’. However, the research by Shehu (2017) should have used a theory of how meaning –‘Fulani tribe as conflict mongers’ is discursively articulated in the media, e.g., the dominant-ideology model or the cultivation theory.

Odunlami (2017) contends that newspapers reportage of the conflict gets more strong opinions of politicians which portend the propensity for propaganda and politicisation of the disputes. Shehu (2017) argues that newspapers’ articulation of Fulani people, including the Fulani herdsmen as conflict mongers increases the sensitivity of Fulani-phobia which hinders the resolution of the conflict.

Badiru and Sunmonu (2018) analyzed the reportage and framing of farmer-pastoralist conflicts in the newspapers to determine the nature of covered issues, frequency of reportage, space allotted, placement and frames. They argue that the present framing of the conflicts in the newspapers could exacerbate the standing ethnic tensions in the country. Onyebuchi, Obayi and Nwagu (2019) examined the newspapers’ coverage of Fulani herdsmen attacks on host communities in Nigeria to find out the frequency of news coverage, its level of prominence depth of coverage and direction of Fulani herdsmen attacks on host communities.

The study shows that the coverage is mostly unfavourable and argues that newspaper should support the de-escalation of the dispute via the use of soft words and objective coverage and reportage of the conflict bereft of political and ethno-religious sentiments. Even though these studies have engaged in the analysis of media roles in the conflict, the point of departure from then is the fact that they did not analyse the newspapers’ discourse of the conflict which this paper will do.

Even though the work of Shehu (2017) concerns the representation of the conflict in newspapers, it focused only on how the Fulani tribe are articulated as conflict mongers ignoring other discourses. Besides, existing studies just looked at what the papers are reporting about the conflict not necessarily discourse–how meanings and identities are ascribed to subjects and objects in reportage of the conflict. Also, they lack theoretical traditions consistent in politics which makes them not to reveal the power relations in the discourse of the conflict in media.

While these earlier studies are essential to our understanding of the media constitution of the conflict, this paper is an attempt to augment them with political and discourse analysis. Doing this enables the article to show representations of subjects and identities, subject-positions, subjectivity and power relations in the narrative of the conflict (Nwankwo 2018).


The research found that the various representations of the conflict cluster around five albeit overlapping themes, namely causes victims, consequences, government’s responses and resolution strategies to the conflict. Some of the discourses are characterized by political relations of hegemony, antagonism and dislocation.

It argues that the battle is generally represented as a security concern which encapsulates various forms of security threat viz national security, food security, the security of statehood and unity of the nations that make up the Nigerian state. In the constitution of the crisis as a security question, the dominant representation of the dispute is that it reflects the eco-violence thesis, but when the death toll from the conflict rises considerably within a short time, the battle is characterized differently.

In such instances, the crisis is represented as attempts at ethnic cleansing and terrorism. The vigour of these new appellations is reinforced by the government attitude and response to the conflict, which suggest that the government is supporting the herders against the farmers. This insinuation emanates from the fact that the farmers are invariably represented as the victims of the conflict while the herders are assailants. The news framing is that the government is not addressing the various security threats that the dispute constitutes.

Furthermore, the project found that policies agenda the newspapers are articulating draws on the political and ideological dispositions of the papers. The link between the newspapers’ representation of the conflict and the policy agenda of the newspapers is weak. This research argues that while media representations of the conflict can reveal the various contestations in the framing of the conflict in Nigeria, it might be insufficient to establish the link between discourse, identity and policy.

Hence, incorporation of other texts such as academic papers, government documents, policy documents and even the lived experience of the crisis as embodied in people’s view are vital. Ethnopolitical and religious relations are central to the conflict underlining its articulation as a threat to the unity and existence of Nigeria thus the research argues that developing a sustainable policy for the crisis requires among other things a national dialogue.

1.2  Statement of the problem

The wanton destruction of lives, crops and equipment as a result of conflict between farmers and headsmen in Nigeria has been going on for decades now, this fight has lead the country to food scarcity which emanated from fear by farmers to go back to farming because their lives are threaten by headers.

The dreaded bloody conflict between farmers and herders is one of the social problems that bestow serious security challenge and obstruct with severe threat the ecomomic activities of the people in South western Nigeria. The previous peaceful coexistence and cordiality between farmers and herders in Ondo and Oyo state southwestern Nigeria seems suffered and continuing suffering an unbearable setback on their entrepreneurial practice and causes highly Poverty among people.

1.3  Purpose of the Study

The main purpose of this study was to investigate the effect of the role of the media reportage on herders and farmers crisis in Nigeria. Specifically, the study sought to:

  1. Ascertain the prevalence of Herdsmen-farmers conflict in Nigeria
  2. Ascertain the courses of herdsmen-farmers conflict in Nigeria
  3. Examine the effects of Herdsmen-farmers conflict on socio-economic development in Nigeria. Following the above objectives, the research questions include:

1.4 Research Questions

The following research questions were formulated to guide the study;

RQ1. What was news sources relied upon by newspapers in reporting on herdsmen and farmers’ conflicts?

RQ2. What pattern of coverage and prominence reporting styles did newspapers give to the conflict?

RQ3. What major themes/frames were focused/built by the six newspapers in reporting the conflict?

1.5 Scope of the study

The study covered Benue, Nasarawa and Plateau state. Emphasis was laid on the role of the media reportage on herders and farmers crisis in Nigeria and how various farmers and herders conflict affect the entrepreneurial practice and economic activities of people in selected state.

1.6 Operational Definition of Terms

Media: media are the communication outlets or tools used to store and deliver information or data. The term refers to components of the mass media communications industry, such as print media, publishing, the news media, photography, cinema, broadcasting (radio and television), digital media, and advertising

Fulani Herdsmen: Fulani herdsmen or Fulani pastoralists are nomadic or semi-nomadic Fulani people whose primary occupation is raising livestock. The Fulani herdsmen are largely located in the Sahel and semi-arid parts of West Africa, but due to relatively recent changes in climate patterns, many herdsmen have moved further south into the savannah and tropical forest belt of West Africa. The herdsmen are found in countries such as Nigeria, Niger, Senegal, Guinea, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, and Cameroon

Newspapers: A newspaper is a periodical publication containing written information about current events and is often typed in black ink with a white or gray background. Newspapers can cover a wide variety of fields such as politics, business, sports, art, and science. They often include materials such as opinion columns, weather forecasts, and reviews of local services, obituaries, birth notices, crosswords, editorial cartoons, comic strips, and advice columns.

Conflict: A conflict is a struggle and a clash of interest, opinion, or even principles. Conflict will always be found in society; as the basis of conflict may vary to be personal, racial, class, caste, political and international. Conflict may also be emotional, intellectual, and theoretical, in which case academic recognition may, or may not be, a significant motive. Intellectual conflict is a subclass of cultural conflict, a conflict that tends to grow over time due to different cultural values and beliefs.

Coverage: In telecommunications, the coverage of a radio station is the geographic area where the station can communicate. Broadcasters and telecommunications companies frequently produce coverage maps to indicate to users the station’s intended service area.

Coverage depends on several factors, such as orography (i.e. mountains) and buildings, technology, radio frequency and perhaps most importantly for two-way telecommunications the sensitivity and transmit efficiency of the consumer equipment. Some frequencies provide better regional coverage, while other frequencies penetrate better through obstacles, such as buildings in cities.

Farmers: A farmer is a person engaged in agriculture, raising living organisms for food or raw materials. The term usually applies to people who do some combination of raising field crops, orchards, vineyards, poultry, or other livestock. A farmer might own the farm land or might work as a laborer on land owned by others.

In most developed economies, a “farmer” is usually a farm owner (landowner), while employees of the farm are known as farm workers (or farmhands). However, in other older definitions a farmer was a person who promotes or improves the growth of plants, land or crops or raises animals (as livestock or fish) by labor and attention.

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