The lived realities of adolescent girls in Nigeria focus on the impact of resource and livelihood-based conflict between sedentary farmers and nomadic pastoralists in the Nigerian Middle Belt states of Benue and Nasarawa. Through telling the stories of 7 young women who lived through these conflicts, the inter-linkages between economic, environmental and sexual/reproductive justice issues are made evident. Our Lived Realities presents the compelling narrative of how livelihood and resource-based conflict between pastoralists and community farmers directly impacted their access to education, health care, safety and their ability to live a life free from sexual harassment and violence in the Central Region of Nigeria.
Our hope is that this evidence showcases how when policy is developed from a clear understanding of the realities of those who will be directly impacted by its implementation, it can often ensure justice and ultimately, transformative change in the lives of girls and women’s lives.
When the herder and farmer conflict in Nigeria reached its peak, Amina had to flee for her life from her village at the age of 12.
“When the crisis started, we were at home and we saw them coming with guns in their hands. We didn’t know what was happening, and then we saw people running, so we also started running… We heard gunshots so we ran out of our houses into the forest.”
Amina was lucky to escape. Her grandmother, too old to move quickly, had to be left behind. The attackers were setting their homes ablaze, and Amina lost her grandmother to the fire. After hiding in the bush for three days with no food or water, a few of her family members fell ill. Distant relatives soon came to their aid, providing the traumatised family with sustenance.
After some time in their relatives’ care, Amina and her family returned to their burnt village to survey the damage and salvage what was left.
“When we ran away from our homes, we didn’t take anything along with us. We had left all our property, including our food, and they came and burnt them all so we found nothing at home when we returned. We were left with no food to eat.”
Homeless, her family, like many others in the village, had to wait until new homes were constructed for them. Some families had no houses constructed for them, and to this day remain without a home.
“Before the crisis, we had houses finished with a ceiling and a roof, but now we live in a house without a ceiling – only the roof that allows dust in.”
Many of Amina’s peers could not return to school due to the destruction of their property and modes of income. They were forced to drop out.
“Before now I used to go to school and I hawk fresh cow’s milk (nunu), but as a result of the crisis, now all I do is sit back at home.”
Drinking and cooking with unclean water caused many of them to fall ill, but the conflict has made it impossible for Amina’s community to use the resources of their neighbouring community in the same manner they did before the war.
“The way we lived in peace with one another before is not the same anymore, for example, we used to go for their ceremonies and they came for ours too but now the unity has been severed by the crisis– now if we took our cow’s milk to them, nobody would buy anymore because of the crisis. Even when we went to the hospital to seek medical attention, they did not attend to us.”
With no more farmland left to their name, Amina’s community now has to rent farmland to cultivate their crops for food to eat. Their way of life has been permanently changed, but Amina is determined to unite the communities once again in a bid for coexistence.
“I want us to come together to regain the peace and unity that was there amongst us before the crisis.”
It was midnight when Hauwa was woken by a raid on her village in the middle of the night. She and her family ran to the safety of the surrounding forests, leaving behind all their possessions.
“During the fight we lost everything, many people were killed, our houses were burnt, and all our animals were killed… My father was killed during the fight. Some of my relatives were also killed, our house was burnt down, and we were left with nothing.”
According to Hauwa, what lead to the conflict was that some cattle had destroyed an area of farmland. In retaliation, the farmers had clashed with the owner of the cattle, resulting in his murder.
“When the fight started, we started hearing some gunshots, and then we all started to run and we all ran into the forest. Everybody was running for their lives. When we ran to the bush we spent three days without food and water, and from there some of our people started giving us some food.”
At the time of her interview, Hauwa’s family still did not have food to eat, nor did they have clothes to wear. The cruel attackers had incinerated all of the family’s property, including their house, clothes, and cattle. They are currently surviving on donations and hand-outs. Even so, Hauwa remembers a simpler time.
“Before the fight we used to go to school in town, we used to be friends with them and we did visit them but now we can’t go there because we are afraid of them. The fight has really affected us because we lost everything. Now what we want is to start going to school and we want to start doing business… We want school, and we also want to get clean water and we want help so that we can start doing business again.”
Kashimana Jacob was only a teenager when the conflict between nomadic pastoralists and the sedentary farmers destroyed her life as she knew it. During 2014 to 2015, everything that was familiar to her went up in flames as the violence between farmers and herders escalated to a fever pitch. Homes, crops and shops were burnt to the ground, cattle were slaughtered, and the loss of human life was insurmountable.
“Some could not run, even my parents ran and were in the bush for days and some of my brothers that did not expect that kind of thing to happen were killed. Even some of my siblings were killed. We slept in the bush for a number of days, like 3-4, before we could even find a safe place.”
After fleeing for their lives on foot to Asukunya, what was left of Kashimana’s family reached safety, but soon discovered a host of new challenges to overcome.
The aftermath was, in many ways, even more devastating.
Before the crisis began, families like Kashimana’s were earning a living through various businesses, and Kashimana had been attending school as any teenager would. Houses that were in the process of being built by the farmers were left, abandoned and unfinished, after the rampage. Now, with her parents’ livelihood up in flames, Kashimana’s family had no way of paying her school fees. Even the few crops they managed to grow were not harvestable, and could not be sold nor could they be consumed.
Hunger was also becoming a growing issue. Very little food could be grown after the farms and crops were destroyed, and healthcare – even for basic ailments – where also proving to be life threatening.
“Before the crisis, the manure from the animals’ dung was used to fertilise our crops, and that gave us a good yield, but now that they are gone our yields are no longer good because we do not have fertile soil.”
What little food that was fit for consumption was sold in order to take sick children to the hospital for treatment. Kashimana’s mother, injured from a fall as she fled the violence in her hometown, was unable to see a doctor due to the family’s lack of income. All she could do was watch her condition worsen.
“After this crisis we don’t even have good healthcare centres here anymore, and some of the people that did come to treat us from time to time also stopped coming. They even stopped bringing medical drugs for us, so if someone should fall sick we can’t get drugs to treat that person and sometimes in the course of taking the sick person to a better healthcare centre, we lost that person in the process.”
During the crisis, some girls of Kashimana’s age went missing altogether. Some of the others decided to marry in order to escape poverty, but many of them contracted illnesses from their new husbands, and suffered abuse in their own households. Other girls fleeing from the crisis fell pregnant and would then have to undergo a risky abortion – some of which ended with the death of the pregnant teenage girl.
The lack of income and food were overwhelming enough, but the invisible suffering – mental trauma – would also go unaddressed.
“This crisis has brought us serious challenges, like food scarcity and our brothers that we lost because of the crisis, are always fresh in our memories, and some of the young people in our communities can no longer go to school because the hardship is too much and their parents cannot afford their school fees.”
Kashimana also watches her parents struggle to make a living at a market that is no longer frequented by a decent number of visitors. They now sell firewood.
Through all of their hardships, Kashimana’s vision for the future of her community is simple.
“The government should provide us with good health facilities: fully equipped and with trained health personnel. They should provide security for our people so we can go back to our farms, and lastly they should build us a new school because the ones we had have been burnt down. They should be replaced so we can go back to school and also school fees should be reduced.”
Two of the things that little Mariam loved doing in her village of Ageregu were fetching water from her neighbours’ wells, and attending her Primary Three classes at school regularly. Sadly, at the age of nine, she would experience one of the worst sides of humanity during the herder and farmer crisis.
“What brought about this fight is that a herder’s cattle destroyed someone’s farm and ate their crop. Then the people caught the man and beat him to death. After killing the man, the herders said that they would not take that, so they went and retaliated by killing the other people, that’s what caused the fight.”
Her elder brother and grandfather did not make it out of the village alive, but Mariam managed to escape into the bush, where she would wait with her remaining family members without any food or water to sustain them.
“We were just in the bush, crying… During the period of the fight our animals had been killed, houses were burnt, and we are no longer free to move around and do our activities because of the fear of being killed. We can’t go out and play like before, we can’t go and fetch water because of the fear in us; we don’t want to be killed.”
Missing her friends from the other side of the divide, Mariam also missed fetching the water for the household, and she deeply missed school.
“I like school, and I want go back to school. I am not happy with this fight because it stopped me from going to school and going to fetch water… I am not in school not because I don’t want school but because I am scared for my safety.”
Shelter, clothing, food and potable water remained constant problems faced by Mariam’s community. With no farm animals, Mariam’s family no longer has a business to run. Mariam remains hopeful for reconciliation.
“We used to farm, but now they refuse to give us farmland again. We used to fetch water from their well but now they no longer allow us to… I want us to reconcile with them and start to live in peace like before. I want to start going to school again… The fight started when I was nine years old. I am not happy with what happened, and I am not happy with what the fight caused.”
18-year-old Mnena’s family lost a lot that was precious to them during the clashes between the nomadic pastoralists and sedentary farmers. Like many other girls her age, Mnena was at school when the fighting reached its greatest intensity in 2014. Her mother and father called her from home, telling her to rush back and pack her belongings.
Before the crisis reached our house, we left, leaving behind some things so they (the herdsmen) burnt everything – they even burnt down our house too.Before the crisis reached our house, we left, leaving behind some things so they (the herdsmen) burnt everything – they even burnt down our house too.
Unable to pack all their belongings before the rioters reached their home, Mnena’s family dropped their excess items at another house. Her father would later return to retrieve them and survey the damage, but was tragically murdered in the process.
“When we didn’t see him again, my brother said he will go and check on him, and on reaching home he discovered our fathers dead body lying lifeless on the ground. It was then that he called home and told us that they have killed our father. So when the crisis had calmed down a little we came but the children had come and taken his dead body already.”
Bereaved and displaced, Mnena and her family had even more challenges to face after the bloodbath. The pigs and goats intended to pay for Mnena’s education were all lost, which in turn caused her to drop out of school. Food was scarce, and many girls her age were in serious need of aid.
“Since this thing happened, it has shattered their lives and they have just been sleeping from one point to another, and some cannot even afford bathing soap, some cannot even find food to eat, and some have died… Some… were working before the crisis, but because of the fight most of them have lost their jobs.”
Their family farm and its produce destroyed, Mnena’s mother and brothers were also separated during the crisis. With no food to eat, no crops to sell, nowhere to earn money to buy food, they suffered huge setbacks. Even procuring a piece of land to farm on was not a viable option.
“The Agasha people… some do not have food, some have died, some could not even see their children again and are looking for their children and some have travelled to different destinations… We do not have any business anywhere, but we do work on other people’s farms so we can get money to buy clothes but since this crisis we can’t even go to work on anybody’s farm, so we can’t get money to take care of ourselves. So things are now hard for us.”
Before the crisis, the manure from the animals’ dung was used to fertilise the crops, and that gave them a good yield. Without the fertiliser, the yields are poor, and other challenges included finding good drinking water and basic healthcare.
“After the crisis we cannot even afford any good healthcare services because there is no money to pay for the services… For me I will advise that we should be in one accord, the fighting should stop permanently and also we should learn to live in peace with one another.”
Since 1998, the herder-farmer conflicts in Nigeria have been responsible for the deaths of 10,000 people, and have displaced hundreds of thousands more.
Naomi, a young girl from the village of Tyulen, was deeply affected by the violence that ensued, after nomadic pastoralists brought their cattle to the crops of sedentary farmers and allowed the animals to destroy the harvest.
The farmers demanded reparations for the damaged crops, but the pastoralists refused, and the clash that followed would soon drive Naomi, and many families like hers, out of their homes and livelihoods and into poverty.
It was while she was in class at St. Michael’s Science Secondary School that Naomi heard of the brewing trouble. Rushing home, she found her uncle already packing their belongings and preparing to take her to safety.
“Shops were damaged, people were fighting, and some were even killed. My mother’s medicine store was destroyed, and some of my siblings were slaughtered.”
Fleeing for their lives, the family reached Abinsi, where they met Naomi’s father, who then carried her to Makurdi city. However, a new story of suffering was about to unfold.
“The cattle ate all the peoples’ crops in the farm, and things that were not expensive before are now too expensive, like rice or gunnie corn that was once sold for N7, 000 even N8, 000 – it is now going for N15, 000.”
Deprived of their shop and crops, they realised they would have to somehow make ends meet. The price of daily essentials had doubled, so the family had to sell items like pure water, fried cakes, and vegetables in order to survive.
Naomi was placed in a new school, but eventually her father was unable to continue paying the fees, so they had to return to the village. Her father later passed away in December of 2015. Following this loss, food for the family became more difficult to provide, and fear began to grow at the deserted markets. Crops and even seedlings were hard to come by, and hunger set in. The clashes also drove the resident fishermen away, leaving the village with no fish, and provisions that had become too costly to purchase.
Three major issues arose from the crisis: a lack of food, limited access to schools, and teenage pregnancies. After the destruction of their crops, Naomi’s family was left with no produce to sell, and could not, therefore, afford to keep her in school in Makurdi. Many of her teenage peers resorted to one last desperate attempt for an income.
“After the crisis, some of the girls that were my age got pregnant because they were selling their bodies for money. Some parents forced their wards into early marriage because of the hardship, like myself.”
Few would venture out for fear of being assaulted. External travel routes were also altered, avoiding the area as much as possible. In turn, this has also driven up transport rates.
The crop yields lost their richness due to the lack of fertiliser from animal dung. The animals, like many of the people, left. The village needed healthy food, road repair to boost economic and commercial activities, and a reintroduction programme for the communities to coexist peacefully as they had done before.
Salamatu, a seventeen-year-old Muslim girl from Ageregu Village, tragically lost her mother in the clashes between the sedentary farmers and herders. She was fifteen when the conflict broke out.
“I am in Islamic school, Islamiya. When the fight started we were in our house. We decided to run away and we were not able to take anything. Everybody was running for safety, because we saw people coming to our house. We just saw people running and confused so we also decided to run.”
Her mother, unwell from a previous ailment, was unable to run to safety with the rest of the family, and was killed. Salamatu and her remaining family members had to hide in the bush until the chaos subsided.
“Our house was burnt, and all our clothes were burnt. We stayed for three days in the bush without food and water. It was after that some of our relatives started giving us food and water. From there we went to a village where we got a place to stay.”
When the mob left their village, Salamatu returned to the devastating scene. In her words, there was nothing left. All food, clothes, shelter, and business ventures had been destroyed. All they could do was eat what their relatives provided and figure out their next step.
“Having nowhere to stay was a major problem for us. Till now some people have no place to stay, while some are staying in a very bad place where the roof is very poor… We faced so many challenges during the fight. Many people fell sick and had no access to good care, which led to them losing their lives… We lack food to eat, we lack water, we don’t have farmland, we don’t have a place to take our people that are sick, and we really suffered from the effects of the fight.”
Their relationship with their neighbouring communities seemed damaged beyond repair. Normal interactions between the communities became fraught with tension, so much so that Salamatu and her peers stopped attending school because the schools were in the ‘enemy’s’ territory.
Though they began renting farmland to farm on, all the farm animals used by Salamatu’s community were lost in the conflict, and they were their only source of livelihood.
“What brought about the fight was that our animals have spoiled their farms and they caught the person looking after the animals. They beat him to death, and that lead to the fight.”
But despite her bitter, horrifying ordeal, Salamatu is still hopeful for reconciliation between the two communities.
“If possible we want to reconcile with them so that we will continue interacting with them like before… We want to stay together with them in peace.”