BY Fadekemi Akinfaderin
In Nigeria’s middle belt, the competition between farmers and pastoralists for key natural resources including land and water has resulted in various violent conflicts. While these forms of conflict are not new to the region, the increase in access and use of small arms has taken these conflict to a new dimension. There seems to have been a surge in the number of violent conflicts since 2014 and the incidences that took place in Benue and Enugu forced the general public and government to pay attention. Sadly, this comes at the time when Nigerians felt optimistic about the improvement in security, since the government seems to be making some progress in addressing the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East region.
There are several reports that have outlined the impact of livelihood based conflicts in Nigeria generally. A report from Mercy Corp estimates that Nigeria looses 14 billion naira on an annual basis due to the clashes. Within this discourse, there is very limited conversations about the impact of this conflict on women and girls. The public hearing conducted by the Nigerian Senate was a perfect reflection of this narrative, as only one out of over fifteen submissions made by different interest groups mentioned the impact on women and girls. The scope of the discussions on the impact on women and girls has largely been narrowed down to sexual violence. Evidence provided by women and girls in livelihood affected communities shows that women and girls face additional risk beyond sexual violence. In crisis situations, women and girls are thrown into extreme poverty, when the head of the household or they themselves lose their source of livelihoods or the main breadwinner dies during violent conflict. They are also more likely to experience food shortages and insecurity that can lead to severe malnutrition and loss of community assets such as health centers, which reduces access to critical health services including maternity care and sexual and reproductive services. Understanding the differential impact of conflict on women and girls is important to developing strategies to help community prevent conflicts and cope with the impact of violent episodes. It is also critical in helping to shape and outline the roles women and girls can play in the formulation and execution of these strategies.
Unfortunately, President Buhari, in his usual military style, has called on the Nigerian army to deploy troops as a solution to the emerged security challenge. Unlike the Boko Haram crisis, Nigeria can’t afford to focus on policing and militarization of communities as the solution. A multi-pronged approach is needed to address the multidimensional nature of the conflict that links issues of proliferation of small arms, negative impact climate change, food insecurity as well ethnic and religious intolerance. It must focus on changing policy and practices in relation to the use of natural resources that would benefit both the farming and pastoralist communities; improving communities’ resilience and mitigation strategies for climate change; increasing dialogue and strengthening community dispute resolution mechanisms to resolve challenges before it escalates to violent conflict. These approaches must address the disproportionate impact of this nature of conflict on women and girls and create platforms to ensure their participation and voices in solutions that are proposed and implemented.