Last updated on April 16, 2014 at 5:31 EDT

Crisis in Policy, Policy in Crisis: Understanding Environmental Discourse and Resource-Use Conflict in Northern Nigeria

August 8, 2007

By Milligan, Simon Binns, Tony

This article explores the emergence and persistence of crisis narratives in the policy environment of twentieth century Nigeria. It finds that environmental crisis narratives have a well- established and traceable historical lineage, initially, as continuity between colonial and post-colonial policy discourse, but more recently with donor agencies gaining increasing importance in influencing and shaping debate. Counter-narratives are identified, but these lack historical ‘legitimacy’, and often sit uncomfortably alongside donor-funded initiatives. In light of weak governance systems that impede the development and maintenance of robust data- sets, the article argues that flawed ‘conventional wisdom’ regarding environmental processes and people-environment linkages will combine to produce a policy environment that could actually constrain rather than enable the improvement of rural livelihoods. KEYWORDS: Nigeria, conflict, crisis narrative, environment, policy, pastoralist, farmer


The West African Savanna-Sahel region has become synonymous with crisis and catastophe. Images of dying trees, moving dunes, drying wetlands, and expanding tracts of unproductive land have become commonplace in both popular and political discourse. It often appears that the script is already written, and people merely await the seemingly inevitable catastrophes – unable to take action to divert or manage the course of events. The inhabitants of this region are often perceived as being passive subjects, and where they do have a role to play, it is largely seen as being environmentally destructive and based on irrational thinking.

Apocalyptic visions are by no means new, but one particular aspect of the present crisis is held to have reached a very serious scale. Images of pastoralist-farmer violence and the end of a former state of symbiosis are marshalled as evidence of an unfolding crisis in the semi-arid regions of the Savanna-Sahel. More specifically, in northern Nigeria, conflict is seen as an inevitable consequence of steady population growth, environmental stress, and irrational natural resource management. Donors, government and members of the academic community have variously asserted that the customary institutions that once managed tenure and conflict have broken down, and are unable to respond to the pressures imposed by widespread environmental mismanagement and degradation, and the unabated penetration of the market economy and modern government (see Hadejia 1993 1994; Williams ef al. 1997). The virtues of urgent external intervention are repeatedly promoted as a necessary strategy to control what is seen as a rapidly deteriorating situation.

In highlighting the imagery and rhetoric contained within key texts and debates over the twentieth century, both within and beyond Nigeria, this article explores how and why pillars of received wisdom have become legitimized in policy fora, The discussion here neither seeks to second-guess the motivations of particular individuals, nor to offer a comprehensive account of the accuracy of such narratives. Rather, the main objective is to examine the historical and political construction of crisis narratives, to consider how principal perspectives were established, the ways in which they became realized in policy, and the extent to which the emergence of new policy spaces, most particularly with the growing influence of donors, has propped up their existence. The article is informed by recent field research on pastoral ist-farmer relations undertaken by one of the authors in northern Nigeria (Milligan 2002).

The discussion opens with a brief introduction to recent debates regarding received wisdom and environmental orthodoxies. We then turn to north-east Nigeria, outlining how one particular development programme, once funded by the European Union, frames pastoralist- farmer conflict. The article proceeds to examine both dominant and subsidiary themes in rural development discourse in twentieth century Nigeria. We find that despite the emergence of counter- narratives that question the very foundations of received wisdom, interventions are still promoted and justified by making reference to the (often flawed) conventional wisdom.

Demystifying crisis narratives

Drawing on Roe’s (1991) discussion of ‘development narratives’, we might perceive ‘crisis narratives’ as accounts of an existing or impending disaster that have a somewhat predetermined beginning, middle and conclusion, and that involve individuals or groups which are either unable or unwilling to influence the direction of events. Where such individuals or groups are influential, it is generally believed that these interventions have negative consequences.

But, we might ask, why should we focus on crisis narratives, and why should actors engaged in rural development be concerned with their emergence and resilience?

As Fairhead and Leach suggest, specific ‘off-the shelf narratives . . . define development problems and justify interventions . . . Narratives help decisionmakers confidently fill the gap between ignorance and expediency’ (1997, 35). The significance of such ‘off- the-shelf narratives’ to the framing and playing-out of pastoralist- farmer relations should not be underestimated, for the ways in which conflict is portrayed have important effects on the ways in which measures to manage or resolve conflict come to be shaped. Unfortunately, however, with a preoccupation on the narrative and a neglect of its validity and construction, the development of appropriate policies and institutions has often yet to emerge, and those that currently exist, and are successful, are frequently overlooked.

Since the early 1990s, a burgeoning literature has emerged on discourses of development and policy formulation (see, for example, Apthorpe and Gasper 1996; Brock ef al. 2001; Grillo and Stirrat 1997; Grindle and Thomas 1991; Hajer 1995; Keeley and Scoones 1999 2000; Roe 1991)’. Whilst there is little merit in reiterating their arguments and analysis here, it is desirable to outline the broad intellectual canvas upon which this discussion is based. This article utilizes Hajer’s definition of ‘discourse’, namely, ‘an ensemble of ideas, concepts, and categories through which meaning is given to phenomena. Discourses frame certain problems; that is to say, they distinguish some aspects of a situation rather than others’ (Hajer 1995, 45). Perhaps nowhere in Nigeria is the power of discourse more evident than in perceptions of pastoralist-farmer relations.

The driving force behind much policy and action pertaining to contemporary pastoralist-farmer relations is a cluster of seemingly widely held beliefs regarding the triggers of environmental change, the dynamics of natural resource management, and the power and control of customary institutions. Whilst they have been found to be often misleading (see Binns 1990; Binns and Mortimore 1989; ClineCole 1990; Cline-Cole ef al. 1990; Milligan 2002; Mortimore 1989), it is apparent that the reasoning behind them is generally taken for granted and seldom questioned. Population growth, agricultural expansion, a degraded environment, and a weakening of customary institutions, are generally assumed to be prime causes of pastoralist-farmer conflict, representing a classic case of demand- and supplyled resource scarcity. Yet, as Milligan (2002) observes, this technicist approach obscures other standpoints, particularly those that place an accent on the role of power, history, and symbolism in the dynamics of rural society, and neglects the degree of heterogeneity and disequilibria in the natural environment.

Perhaps this is unsurprising. Typically, the mainstream approach or received wisdom – by which we mean ‘an idea or set of ideas [that are] held to be “correct” by social consensus or “the establishment”‘ (Leach and Mearns 1996a, 6) – constrains movement towards alternative approaches or policies, often excluding them from analysis (Clay and Schaffer 1984; Leach and Mearns 1996b; Long and van der Ploeg 1989). Thinking on rural systems in the Sahel is seemingly a case in point, and the issue of pastoralist-farmer conflict readily lends itself to an analysis of the establishment, maintenance and resilience of a rural problematique, and by extension, solutions to it.

To pay the necessary attention to the political and historical roots of contemporary policy, and the crisis narratives therein, we will proceed with a brief sketch of policy development in relation to rural development, livestock and agriculture in twentieth century Nigeria. The discussion is compressed by space limitations, but recourse is made to wider literature – a necessary approach given Nigeria’s ‘rather dizzying policy procession’ (Shenton 1987, 34). We situate a consideration of land tenure, property rights, inclusiveness, and participation in power structures within a broader context of the people-environment nexus, rural livelihood strategies, governance and institutions.

The rhetoric of crisis in northern Nigeria

In 1991, the non-governmental organization, Nigerian Environmental Study/Action Team (NEST), published a deeply depressing profile of the Nigerian environment (NEST 1991), with references to frequent and prolonged drought, overgrazing, deforestation, and ‘bloody clashes’ between pastoral ists and farmers. Evidently, little changed during the 1990s, because the 1997 so-called ‘Green Agenda’ report of the UNDP-supported Vision 2010, declared that: the Nigerian Environment today presents a grim litany of woes across the length and breadth of the country . . . Farmlands lhave] become inundated by drifting sands burying young crops, roads and sometimes huts and public buildings may be completely buried by active sand dunes rising sometimes up to 12 meters high

Federal Government of Nigeria (1997, 15)2

Cases of pastoralist-farmer conflict have been utilized to evoke emotive and alarming images. It is often suggested that symbiotic relationships between pastoralists and farmers have broken down and fatal conflicts are regarded as endemic. Government argues that such conflicts now represent a significant threat to the internal security of the nation (see FACU 1998; Ingawa et al. 1999).

This appears to be particularly pertinent in north-east Nigeria. At least 210 people died as a consequence of pastoralist-farmer clashes in Bauchi, Jigawa and Yobe States during the 1980s and 1990s. Sadly, rhetoric emanating from policymaking, donor, and scholarly fora offers little hope that the number of fatalities will decline (Milligan 2002). In fact, the consensus is quite the reverse. Only recently, government officials drew attention to increasing conflict, blaming population growth and irrational natural resource management (see, for example, Kazaure et al. 1997; Machinama 2000). Indeed, in 1998, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture of Yobe State described the ‘ugly situation’ of the ‘persistent clashes’ between pastoralists and farmers, stating that the situation had become a ‘matter of concern for the government and people of Yobe State’ (Permanent Secretary, Yobe State Ministry of Agriculture 1998).

This concern is shared by the donor community. DFID’s last Country Strategy Paper (CSP) for Nigeria draws attention to DFID’s intention to support reform among state governments, including Jigawa in the north-east. Commenting on their strategic partnership, the CSP states: ‘We expect to take forward technical assistance for institutional and policy reform and for work in rural livelihoods. The latter will initially be focused on helping manage conflicts over land and water that threaten livelihoods in the eastern part of the State and neighbouring areas of adjacent States’ (DFID 2000, 13). Accordingly, DFID is funding a project for Jigawa State that addresses the issues of common property resource management and resource conflict management. DFID seemingly assumes that existing institutions have limited capacity, and that there are few fora in which different stakeholders can meet to debate issues.

In March 2000, the World Bank’s Resident Representative in Nigeria described pastoralistfarmer conflicts as:

a ticking social time bomb which ought to be addressed promptly and decisively. It will be highly risky to undertake productive investments in fadama’ development in the areas which still experience this problem. Government needs to take appropriate measures to guarantee the security of farmers against the migrant herders, create effective surveillance groups, re-demarcate and strictly enforce stock routes and grazing reserves and empower traditional authorities to enforce land laws and settle land disputes by arbitration out of court

Byer (2000, emphasis added)

At a regional level, similar rhetoric can be found in the documentation of the North-East Arid Zone Development Programme (NEAZDP), which is now examined in more detail.

Crisis as a development narrative: the case of NEAZDP

NEAZDP, whose activities commenced in February 1990, was jointly conceived by the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) and the European Union. At its inception, it served to promote integrated rural development in northern Borno State and then specifically northern Yobe State after its creation in August 1991. Between 1991 and 1996, the programme received the equivalent of ECU 29.57 million from the EU, and a further ECU 5 million as the state government contribution. With the suspension of development aid by the EU to the FGN in 1996, the latter claimed funding responsibilities for the programme and Yobe State Government became the executing agency. The programme now covers nine of the 17 local government authorities (LGAs) in the northern part of Yobe State.

Claims of widespread overgrazing, deforestation, desertification and pastoralist-farmer tension abound in NEAZDP literature. Pastoralists and farmers are typically perceived as both agents and victims of the crises described. NEAZDP argues that the rangelands are overgrazed as a consequence of the pursuit and attainment of stocking rates that exceed carrying capacities. This, the programme argues, is a condition caused by a ‘range management system having inbuilt self-destructive characteristics’ (1994, 16). In a document produced in connection with a training session held in November 1994 for their Development Area Promoters, NEAZDP comments:

We recognise that intensification can only come through improvement of the land, but have any of us ever seen a herdsman actually improving the rangeland? The answer has to be ‘no’, because the land is not his . . . [Ujnder the present system of range ownership and management, the herdsman simply cannot do what we have argued that he has to do to survive. The grazing areas of Wachakal Development Area, like almost all NEAZDP's rangelands, are grazed under an open range management system by which it is perfectly logical for the individual herdsmen to encourage his animals to graze the resource as completely and as fast as possible, at the expense of any other user. In other words, the system actively promotes overgrazing. The herders have no rights over any piece of grazing, and this means there is no incentive for them to conserve or improve it.

NEAZDP (1994, 12-13)

For NEAZDP, not only do pastoral populations face an expansion of cropping activities and the consequences of their apparently unsustainable and destructive range management practices, but also the reality that traditional leaders may be losing, or have lost, the respect of their citizens. Consequently, NEAZDP argues that such leaders have a questionable ability to protect customary stock routes and pastures. These pressures have combined to produce earlier migratory movements, as pastoralists depart wet season and early dry season pastures in the quest for access to late dry season pastures before the arrival of others. Both drawing on and perpetuating the crisis narratives, NEAZDP posits that against the backdrop of increasing anxiety and diminishing access to grazing resources, conflicts have emerged, particularly, though not exclusively, in floodplain areas.

The Programme's position on such incidences is unequivocal:

[W]e have little sympathy with those involved, and consider it high time their energies were directed towards solving the causes of the problems rather than fighting over the consequences of them.

NEAZDP (1994, 12)

So what of the possible solutions?

NEAZDP argues that to avoid conflict and to secure improvements in range management and the efficiency of its seasonal use, separate wet and dry season grazing reserves must be created, user rights should be defined and respected, and migration between wet and dry season reserves should be controlled by way of access corridors. Emphasis is also placed on further technical measures, including the establishment of fodder banks, fodder tree planting, rangeland re- seeding and hay production (see NEAZDP nd 1994 1995). The solutions are unambiguous and posed against a stark warning:

In areas of actual or potential competition for land between farmers and herdsmen (and NEAZDP certainly has no shortage of these), do we sit back and let the law take its course? If we do, it seems certain that the herdsmen will eventually be eliminated.

NEAZDP (1994, 14)

There seem to be several apparent contradictions that need to be explored in these apocalyptic visions. If communities of pastoralists and farmers are at loggerheads, then why do many individuals actively seek and maintain friendships, and consensual interactions and exchanges? If pastoralists and farmers have conflicting goals, why are customary leaders in agricultural communities keen to prevent pastoralists from imposing trade boycotts and pursuing out-migration? Why are communities often perceived as being homogeneous entities with collective outlooks and goals when, in times of conflict, apologies, reassurances and forgiveness are frequently offered across the inter-community divide? And if conflicts have emerged as a consequence of a neo- Malthusian spiral of irrational and unsustainable resource management, why do many farmers actually report widespread environmental regeneration since the arrival of pastoralists?

Exploring the realities

A recent study by one of the authors of pastoralist-farmer relations in north-east Nigeria, questioned four common strands of conventional wisdom (Milligan 2002) (Figure 1). First, the research showed that environmental change is often more complex than merely population-driven expansion of cultivation into rangelands. Secondly, the study demonstrated that symbiosis never truly existed, either between communities of pastoralists and farmers, or between individuals. Instead, evidence indicated that relationships are highly political, symbolic, sensitive and emotive, and continually drift in and out of states of consensus, dispute and conflict. Thirdly, the field research dispelled the commonly held presupposition that all pastoralists and farmers have divergent needs and interests, and therefore, must necessarily be at loggerheads. Rather, respondents indicated that alliances and friendships do exist and are actively maintained, both across the supposed community divide and behind the public facade of disputes, conflict, and even violence. Finally, the research showed that the emergence of the police and local governments, as alternative institutions for supposed conflict management, is probably a more significant change to rural society than any alleged weakening of customary institutions. At first sight, however, these findings were not readily apparent. Rather, realities along the south-west to north-east agro-ecological gradient, and particularly at the village of Dawayo, seem to sit neatly with neo-Malthusian models of resource scarcity. The floodplains of the Burum Gana and Marma, and the Old Hadejia river channels traditionally offered a dynamic portfolio of both permanent and ephemeral sources of water. Permanent water was guaranteed, even in multi-drought years, and the area is situated in close proximity to valuable animal feedstuff’s, such as Echinochloa stagnina. However, the widespread appropriation of fadamas for rice and vegetable cultivation by the resident farming communities in the 1980s and 1990s has steadily diminished opportunities for pastoralist communities to utilize the watering and grazing resources, and, in some places, traditional stock routes have become blocked by farmland.

Set against this backdrop, pastoral ist-farmer relations are evidently strained. Two local residents commented:

Here there is a fight and there too, a fight. We want everyone to stay peaceful, but the pastoralists compare themselves [to] the government . . . (There are] no advantages (in having the Ful’be pastoralists in close proximity). We are living in a bad condition.

Mallam Buba, blind Hausa resident of Dawayo, aged c. 60 years (3 June 2000)

The Haabe [i.e. the farmers! don't like us and they want to collect our wealth.

Saidu, Ful'be, elder of Kalgidi, aged c. 55 years (12 lune 2000)

And conflict and violence are apparently increasing:

They will bring their livestock near your farm and if you talk they will beat you. So that is how they are causing trouble, but before they didn't used to do that . . . We have been praying that their livestock will die . . . They don't see us as people of reputation. They will put fire in our village and if we go to extinguish the fire, they will shoot us.

Sani, Hausa farmer, aged c. 55-60 years (5 June 2000)

[Conflict] used to happen . . . before but not like this.

Lamido Alhaji Mamme, Ful’be pastoralist, aged c. 60 years (17 July 2000)

The picture portrayed by these extracts is by no means atypical. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was a spate of violent and fatal conflicts in what is now Jigawa State. The clashes were largely centred in the Guri-Kirikasama area, in which the Dawayo research was located. Indeed, earlier studies indicated that over 80 individuals, including two police officers, died in this area alone between 1987-89 and 1993-4 (Hadejia 1993 1994; CNF/MACBAN 1996). Federal Government data concur that 69 fatalities were recorded in the latter period (SSO 1996).

At the villages of Kaluwa and Adiya (Figure 1), both of which are located to the north of the Hadejia-Nguru wetlands, the widespread uptake of cow-melon (Citrullus lanatus) cultivation has triggered a spatial and temporal expansion of cropping activities, placing stress on pastoral populations and providing an opportunity for farmers to generate income by way of compensation claims where crops have been destroyed by ‘invading’ livestock. At all three villages, Ful’be pastoralists reported that the encroachment of stock routes and the removal of key grazing and watering resources were having detrimental effects on the nutritional intake, milk supply, and birth rates of their livestock.

So, we might ask, are we now witnessing the emergence of a new ‘tragedy of the commons’, a tragedy in which former common property resources are becoming the exclusive property of farmers to the detriment of the pastoral populations? The key indicators are apparently present, particularly at the village of Dawayo: a comparatively high population density, the penetration of the market economy, improved infrastructure and transportation, and growing urbanization ensuring a ready demand for high-value produce.

Intensive field-based research has revealed that the realities are in fact much more complex. With rare exceptions, competition and conflict are not natural and inevitable consequences of either a deteriorating resource base or unsustainable indigenous natural resource management practices. Whilst pockets of resource scarcity inevitably exist, the common assumption that cropping has expanded in an uncontrolled and uniform manner is often inaccurate. In fact, the spatial extent of cropping has actually declined at the wetland village of Dawayo, and field investigations found oral evidence of vegetative regeneration and careful guardianship of the natural resource base at various sites along the study gradient. Moreover, at Kaluwa, a farming ‘revolution’ which has seen an expansion in cropping, was not informed by population growth per se, but rather was facilitated by new rural technologies, coupled with tenure regimes governed by a highly partisan customary leader. His actions provided the means by which farmers, who shared his ethnicity and place of residence, could encroach upon grazing patches, with the pastoralists feeling unable to defend their traditional rights.

Field research actually revealed little evidence of the supposed ‘ticking social time bomb’ depicted by the World Bank’s Resident Representative in Nigeria (see Byer 2000). Rather, the study generated evidence from Dawayo, for example, that indicates that alliances and friendships do exist and are actively maintained, both across the supposed community divide and behind publicly staged violence. Moreover, the existence of contracts and exchanges between households regarding livestock herding, supply of manure, labour, credit and storage, in addition to a multitude of friendships, pointed to the merits of not geographically separating the farming and pastoralist communities. Unfortunately, a myopic focus on the natural resource base mistakenly ignores the plethora of such pastoralist farmer interactions, which are often essential for livelihood viability, access to important resources, and the informal management of conflict.

Contrary to the position adopted by NEAZDP, amongst others, that customary rulers have lost the respect of their citizens, field research discovered little evidence that customary institutions had broken down or were malfunctioning. Instead, evidence revealed that such institutions are still regularly mobilized to intervene in conflicts. Two points seem particularly relevant here. First, that it is important to recognize that such institutions should not be romanticized. Field research found evidence of partisan practices, poor transparency, and adversarial forms of stakeholder negotiation, creating conditions for the emergence of non-violent conflict. Whilst violence may be missing, poor conflict management procedures often ensure that unbalanced power relations and inequalities remain. In turn, this both enables and constrains action, inaction and discourse in cases of conflict ‘resolution’, and the management of the nature and dynamics of relations more generally.

Secondly, the research found that the emergence of the police and local governments, as a parallel form of conflict management, is a more significant change to rural society than any supposed weakening of customary institutions. These new fora enable people to ‘forum shop’, selecting the fora that are likely to find in their favour. These two key findings suggest that marginalized actors, who are often composed of a disproportionate number of Ful’be pastoralists, often lack ‘political spaces’ to defend their rights, thus creating resentment and feelings of injustice.

Tracing the scientific roots of received wisdom

As we have seen from the foregoing discussion, we are presented with a plethora of alarming images in policy, donor and academic literature that the findings of this study suggest may be inaccurate. But how have assertions, such as those put forward by NEAZDP, which draw upon alarmist neoMalthusian and neo-Hardinian sources, become rooted in political discourse and seemingly unchallengeable in political statement? One might ask, to what extent do science and rigorous intellectual endeavour underpin the narratives? The following sections of this article offer a historically informed analysis of their construction and evolution.

Concern about the well-being of the Nigerian environment and people-environment relations is by no means new. With the consolidation of the colonial regime, a number of key environmental orthodoxies became established. For example, in his The dual mandate in British tropical Africa, first published in 1922, Lugard talked of:

the increasing desiccation of the (African] continent, and the encroachment of the desert on the cultivated lands. This disastrous retrogression from productive output is no doubt assisted by the ruthless destruction of forest trees, which has decreased the rainfall.

Lugard (1926, 520)

By the 1930s, rhetoric regarding environmental crises in Nigeria gained greater credence. The Annual Colonial Report of 1939, for example, stated:

Hitherto the peasant farmers of Nigeria have paid little attention to preserving the fertility of the soil or to manuring their permanent crops, but the time must come when these matters will have to be seriously considered if yields are to be maintained.

HMSO (1939, 34-5)

As early as 1913-14, drought and famine in northern Nigeria raised concern about aridity among the administration of the Protectorate, but concern about environmental degradation within the British Empire was fuelled by the North American dustbowl scenario of the 1930s (Adams 1991; Brockington and Homewood 1996). Stebbing’s (1938) work on the creation of desert conditions added support to the colonial administration’s philosophy, despite the sceptical reactions of some about the accuracy and validity of his findings (see Anglo-French Forestry Commission 1937; Binns 1990; Jones 1938; Stamp 1940). As a collective, however, the administration embraced the notion of desiccation with some vigour. The Annual Colonial Reports of 1936 and 1937 devoted a paragraph to the ‘question of desiccation and erosion in the Northern Provinces’ (see HMSO 1938 1939), promoting greater questioning of indigenous natural resource management, and particularly the practices of pastoralists. Declarations about the role of livestock and indigenous pastoral management strategies in orchestrating environmental change have a long history in Nigeria. Writing in the 1920s, shortly after leaving his post as Governor General of Nigeria (1914-19), Lugard commented:

The day of the nomad pastoral must before long pass in Africa as it has passed in other countries, and give place to village-owned lands … If it be our aim to teach the natives how to develop the resources of their country themselves in the most efficient way, there is perhaps no sphere of industrial activity in which an object- lesson is more essential than in that of stock-raising. For there is no class more conservatively ignorant than the pastoral races of Africa, whose methods have not changed since the time of Abraham. To such people no means of education other than that ocular demonstration is of any use whatever.

The educative value of an object-lesson in the treatment of the common disease, isolation against contagion, selection for breeding, the flaying of hides, and fattening for market, etc., cannot be overrated. But the application of modern science can do more than this. By artesian well-boring, and raising water by mechanical appliances and irrigation, by importing stock and cross-breeding, by introducing new fodder grasses and scientific methods of storing them, by utilising local oil-cake for fattening, and by creating a steady market, a trade of great value may be built up. The wild nomad pastorals of to-day may become the stock-raisers of tomorrow, and the yearly increment of the herds, instead of perishing by epizootic disease and the starvation of the dry season, may provide food for the industrial classes of Europe, who in turn will raise the standard of comfort of the natives by their manufactured goods. We have seen the process at work all over the world; it is no longer the fanciful picture of the enthusiast.

Lugard (1926, 532-3)

With the passing of the 1930s, notions of crisis shifted from alarm regarding indigenous practices, to numbers, or more specifically, to the growth of human and livestock populations (Watts 1983)4. Calls for the introduction of closer crop-livestock integration were increasingly heard, and these were typically prompted by fears of declining productivity, pasture reduction and population growth. With the onset of the Great Depression, mixed farming in Kano and Zaria Provinces was held to offer opportunities to expand export crop production, lower costs, and produce a greater share of global exports (see HMSO 1938 1939).

During the late colonial period, however, a more resilient feature of contemporary policy was gaining particular strength and impetus – the grazing reserve strategy. Whilst the need to settle pastoralists was raised by the administration as early as 1909, discourse regarding sedentarization became actualized for the first time in the Jos area in 1942. Though strongly resisted by pastoral communities (GLASL 1996; SaMh 1992), a World Bank study conducted in the late 1940s and early 1950s argued that the widespread existence of ‘free-ranging grazing’ was wasteful, undesirable, and ultimately, unsustainable given human population growth rates (cf. GLASL 1996; Okaiyeto 1982). The report both defined relevancy in policy discourse and structured available options5. Selling the virtues of strategically located grazing reserves, the report added support to calls for settlement. Indeed, it argued that with the provision of key basic needs, such as marketing information, veterinary posts, fodder, and water, movement would become unnecessary, the livestock sector could become controlled, and modernization would duly occur (see GLASL 1996; Okaiyeto 1982). The similarities to Lugard’s 1926 text are very clearly apparent.

After Nigerian independence in 1960, the FGN largely adopted the World Bank recommendations, and the Grazing Reserve Law was accordingly passed in 1965, providing legal backing to the grazing reserve strategy. The Law empowered the Ministry of Animal and Forestry Resources and the Native Authorities to acquire ‘native’ land and to reserve it specifically for grazing (GLASL 1996). In the 1970s, Wase (120 437 ha), Ruma-Kukar-Jangari (121148 ha), and Udubo (22 300 ha) grazing reserves were established in what are now Plateau, Katsina, and Bauchi States, respectively (GLASL 1996; Kallah 1998). In accordance with the established orthodoxy of that period, both the grazing reserves and the Grazing Reserve Law were established so as to incorporate pastoral communities into the development process, to provide them with technical assistance, and later, fodder banks. The specific goals were threefold, to increase commercial meat production (thereby increasing the contribution of the livestock sector to the national economy), to update and modernize management strategies, and to safeguard the natural environment6.

The 1980s and 1990s offered little change in government policy. Attempts to promote grazing reserves, settle pastoralists and promote mixed farming were made through the Third National Development Plan (1975-80), the First Livestock Development Project (1974-83), and the Second Livestock Development Project (1987-95)7. Despite recent calls from western academics for measures to support flexibility and opportunism (see Behnke et al. 1993; Niamir-Fuller 1999; Scoones 1995), the logical solution so far as policymakers in Nigeria are concerned is to improve natural resource management, to settle pastoralists and to encourage the uptake of mixed farming, with the geographical separation of the two apparently unconnected livelihood strategies – farming and pastoralism.

The resilience of conventional wisdom in Nigeria, and more widely in sub-Saharan Africa, despite evidence that calls into question its validity, is significant. Recent thinking on rangeland ecology has dealt a major blow to classical equilibrium theory and its relevance across vast tracts of sub-Saharan Africa, arguing that in many respects it has provided misleading guidelines to policy (see Behnke ef al. 1993; Niamer-Fuller 1999; Scoones 1995). In a challenge to the orthodoxy, the new school of thought has brought attention to the appropriateness of ‘opportunistic’ livestock management strategies in large expanses of arid and semi-arid drylands, where rainfall variability is a reality and ecosystems are highly dynamic.

Nevertheless, within and beyond Nigeria, ‘environmental crisis’ had become a key notion in the development lexicon from the early twentieth century. Policy and aid during the 1980s and 1990s coincided with, and were informed by, the rise of the prominent environmentalism and sustainable development agenda. Nigeria’s Third National Development Plan (TNDP) (1975-80) was the first to consider the environmental component of economic development (NEST 1992). Its consideration of policy discourse coincided with such events as the aftermath of the Sahelian droughts and famines of the early 1970s, the emergence of (western-led) debates regarding sustainable development, the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, the 1977 UN Conference on Desertification in Nairobi, and the World Conservation Strategy (IUCN/UNEPAVWF 1980). Of course, neo- Malthusian debates nestled closely with the rise of environmentalism in the 1970s and 1980s, and the TNDP was implemented only a few years after the publication of two seminal texts, The population bomb (Ehrlich 1972) and The limits to growth (Meadows ef al. 1 972).

In Nigeria, population-related problems and natural resource management practices, once again, become mainstreamed, echoing much of the rhetoric of the early twentieth century. A Federal Environmental Protection Agency was established in 1988, with a National Policy on the Environment emerging just one year later8. The 22-page document clearly drew on the language of the Brundtland Report (WCED 1987), but was also critical of indigenous natural resource management practices, particularly those of pastoralists (see FEPA 1989). In the revised 1999 National Policy on the Environment, the wording was modified, but the rationale and intent were maintained (see FEPA 1999)9. An Interministerial National Committee on Ecological Problems was established in Nigeria in 1982. Six years later, the National Policy on Population for Development, Progress and Self-Reliance – the first clearly defined population policy for Nigeria – made links between population growth and environmental degradation, overgrazing and desertification (cf. NEST 1992, 33).

Discussing environmental crisis narratives in Africa, Leach and Mearns note that, ‘it is striking that recourse is taken to the same substantive messages, theories and methodologies, time after time, even in situations where they have been shown to hold little validity’ (1996a, 10). In this regard, the Nigerian case study is particularly pertinent. Perhaps inevitably, those who support technicist approaches to the livestock sub-sector and to the ‘solution’ of pastoralist-farmer conflict have found solace in broad debates about people-environment relations, and the widely acclaimed need for external intervention to abate further decline in, and conflict over, the resource base. Understanding the political pillars that underpin the science

As Ellis and Biggs have noted, ‘there are leads and lags in the transmission of new ideas across time and space’ (2001, 437; also see Apthorpe and Gasper 1996; Brock ef al. 2001; Keeley and Scoones 1999). This observation seems particularly appropriate in the context of farmer-pastoralist relations in Nigeria, where a more nuanced picture, such as that suggested here, has yet to become mainstreamed. Rather, the pillars of conventional wisdom are, first, that conflict and violence are increasing; secondly, that this trend has been shaped by environmental degradation, rapid population growth, and irrational and unsustainable natural resource management; thirdly, that customary institutions have broken down; and fourthly, that external intervention is required to impose peace and stability in the Savanna-Sahel zone. As we have seen, such intervention follows technicist approaches to the rural sector, and overlooks important new perspectives on range ecology, opportunistic livestock management, and the dynamics of tenure regimes (see Behnke et al. 1993; Niamer-Fuller 1999; Scoones 1995).

In light of the Nigerian experience, it would be erroneous to assume that approaches to environmental policymaking and resource- use conflict would simply change if decision-makers had a better awareness of the latest ideas emanating from research. The reality is much more complex. In particular, policy makers are constrained by the frequent absence of timely and reliable data, but there are typically gross inadequacies in the collation, management and dissemination of evidence and information, particularly at local and state government level. Furthermore, the persistence of poor or non- existent data-sets is often compounded by severe shortages in human and financial capacity, including inadequate budgeting for recurrent costs associated with data collection, to cover such basic items as personnel, vehicle maintenance and fuel. These factors may conspire to reduce the scope for evidence-based planning and policy in areas such as northern Nigeria.

However, improved access to data, in itself, will not automatically lead to evidence-based policy-making. Whilst draft sectoral policies should be forwarded to State Executive Councils from the different ministries, and, if approved, then forwarded in turn to the state legislature for ratification and the Governor for his assent, the reality can often be quite different. The Nigerian policy environment is characterized by a lack of strategic planning and consensus building between the political class and the trained civil servants, top-down and ad-hoc strategy development by the state executive, and weak political commitment to policy implementation. This point is illustrated by Ukiwo, who notes that:

Within the executive itself, the ministers and commissioners often claim they wield little or no influence and that state policies are those determined by the Governor or President. The picture given by actors in the executive and legislative arms of government, as well as senior civil servants, lis] one of helplessness if the chief executive was not in favour of a policy proposal. Many were of the view that the Executive Council meetings merely took place to ‘rubber stamp’ the wishes of the chief executive. Some public officials claimed that this was also the case for disbursement of funds for programmes already agreed upon and budgeted for.

Ukiwo (2003, 17)

Deference to senior political figures, particularly in northern Nigeria, is not uncommon. As a consequence, technical expertise within the civil service is neither always utilized nor provided to the political decision-makers, and systems of patronage open and close off avenues for political debate within the government apparatus. With civil society often poorly organized, the scope for post-holders to be held to account is often minimal.

There may also be one further dynamic, namely the political and financial incentives to perpetuate certain ‘facts’, even though available evidence might point to their questioning. This might take at least three forms. First, interventionist strategies and policies that stem from crisis narratives often entail significant capital spend components, creating the conditions for some office-holders to obtain personal benefit. Secondly, as Ukiwo (2003) observes, FGN revenue is redistributed to different tiers of government according to constitutionally defined criteria, with monies provided to an Ecological Fund to deal with environmental crises. As a consequence, there are clear financial advantages in the context of limited public finances, if crisis narratives can be developed. Thirdly, the state apparatus is becoming increasingly adept at dealing with the donor community and its need to spend on specific projects. Inevitably, there is the possibility that government is willing to promote crisis narratives and not question flawed project/programme proposals, as it seeks to benefit from donor funding, training and equipment.

Contrary to common perception (see, for example, Graf 1988; Hadejia 1993 1994; Williams et al. 1997), customary leaders continue to play pivotal roles in rural society, particularly with regard to tenure regimes and conflict management’0. Whilst customary bodies should not be romanticized, it is often the case that they are much more aware of the micro-level realities and needs of their people than government institutions. Unfortunately, the 1979 Constitution made no mention of their role, depriving them of any significant political power (Bello-Imam 1996)”. Whilst the 1989 and 1995 Constitutions did recognize the institution of the Traditional Council, customary leaders were again denied any form of executive, legislative and judicial roles in the 1999 Constitution, and were only assigned advisory and socio-religious functions (Bello-Imam 1996; Graf 1988). This leaves the local governments as the most legally empowered body to support livelihoods at grassroots level.

Under the Land Use Act of 1978, Local Governments are charged with the power to control and manage land within their territory. Thus, as lrele (1990) observes, the legislation places important control with local governments over agricultural and natural resources. Significantly, however, they represent the third tier of the government system, and are frequently characterized by seriously deficient capacity in personnel and financial resources (see Bello- Iman 1996). Nevertheless, the number of local and state governments has burgeoned in Nigeria since the mid-1970s, stimulated by attempts to attain political integration and national unity, greater government efficiency, enhancement of grassroots democracy and participation, and greater autonomy for minority ethnic groups (Bello-Imam 1996; Graf 1988)12.

Conclusion: making space for debate

It would be naive to suggest that some environmental patches are not suffering from pressure, leading to the emergence of crises. We have argued, however, that these realities need to be counter- balanced with a more nuanced understanding that acknowledges realities that run counter to the norm. The danger of regarding policymaking as a linear and uncontested process has already been identified, but the denial of the historical lineage of key narratives is equally dangerous. Crisis narratives cannot be understood in an historical and political vacuum, since rhetoric surrounding supposed crises, and associated measures to ameliorate them, are underpinned by discourse and narratives which have developed over time and are situated within specific intellectual and political contexts. Pastoral ist-farmer conflict is just one example, with profound implications for micro-level realities, research and policy. As such, in addition to interrogating the validity of crisis narratives in specific empirical contexts, an understanding of their construction is essential to the subsequent formulation of appropriate and locally relevant measures which might contribute to poverty alleviation and the development of sustainable livelihoods.

The obvious question arising from the foregoing discussion is, how can the crisis narratives be challenged, both in Nigeria and beyond? And how might a more critical understanding of crisis narratives be infused with more appropriate and locally relevant policies that ultimately deliver a meaningful impact on people’s standard of living?

On the basis of research findings from Nigeria, we would argue that there need to be spaces for vertical and horizontal dialogue between and within stakeholders at various levels, including government and its civil service. The state, donors, and civil society should promote debate and critical analysis, with independent media and academic sectors acting as brokers. Nigeria finds itself in a relatively privileged position in this regard, with the printed press prepared to include often highly critical commentaries. Research and academic institutions have the potential to promote such critical dialogue, though it is not uncommon for them to work in an intellectual and geographical vacuum, in an under- funded sector that is characterized by poor information and communication technologies. An active and well-resourced higher education sector can play a key role in developing relevant and timely policy.

But possibly of greatest importance is that the capacity of key institutions should be strengthened, enabling actors to respond effectively and efficiently to the demands placed upon them. This includes developing better field techniques, generating greater awareness of the need to listen to, and learn from, the voices of the poor and marginalized, and formulating strategies to enable these groups to participate in shaping policies which might subsequently affect them. Development of the tools and capacity to collate and manage appropriate data-sets is also needed. Furthermore, such institutions must have the necessary human and physical capital, including an adequate reserve of appropriate vehicles, in order to provide decision-makers with reliable information, analysis and guidance for policy and action, particularly in more remote areas. The Nigerian experience has indicated that it is important that during consultations and data collection at the micro-level, the ‘power-holders’ must be closely situated to the ground level in order to ensure that grassroots voices can be heard. The potential role of customary leaders in this regard is clear, but there will be a need to dovetail their responsibilities and duties with those of the state. It is only through such sensitive research and development strategies that longstanding and often self-perpetuating crisis narratives can be effectively challenged, and development programmes which are based on accurate and more nuanced understanding of local realities can be formulated and then successfully implemented.


The authors wish to acknowledge Simon Milligan’s ESRC studentship (R00429834566) and the additional financial support provided by the Tropical Agriculture Association, the Dudley Stamp Memorial Trust Fund of the Royal Society, and the BritainNigeria Association. Bayero University Kano, the Hadejia-Nguru Wetlands Conservation Project, the British Council-Kano, Ian Scoones and Adamu Tanko have all provided further valuable support and/or comment.


1 As with all ‘new’ fields, their roots can be traced back through time, and early seminal texts can be identified. In this case, Clay and Scharfer (1984) is regarded as particularly insightful.

2 Vision 2010 was a long-term blueprint economic plan produced by a 1 70-member body headed by the former interim President, Ernest Shonekan. It was initiated on the request of President Abacha.

3 Fadamas are seasonally flooded wetland areas of varying sizes, and can comprise (a) enclosed or open depressions, (b) streamside fadamas, which are found adjacent to river channels in intermittent or continuous strips, or (c) floodplain fadamas, which are characterized by backswamps, levees, point bars, meander scrolls and oxbow lakes.

4 For example, the colonial administration expressed grave concern about the threat of high livestock numbers on pasture availability and environmental quality in Kano and Katsina Provinces (see Stenning 1959; Watts 1983).

5 The 1950 Nigerian Livestock Mission Report presented to the Colonial Office also proposed the settlement of migratory pastorallsts in reserves.

6 Of course, such moves were not peculiar to Nigeria (see Perrier 1995).

7 The Second Livestock Development Project (1987-95) did attempt to overcome the FLDP’s neglect of ‘bottom-up’ planning and implementation. Moreover, whilst encouragement of settlement in reserves remained a key objective, provisions were made for the utilization of post-harvest crop residues beyond the reserve boundary, and the allocation of specific ‘blocks’ of land for transhumant herders migrating through reserves. Studies were undertaken on major transhumance stock routes in the north.

8 The Agency was transformed into the Ministry of Environment under Obasanjo’s civilian government of 1999-2003.

9 Section 4.7(g), for example, discussed the need to ‘encourage and support ecologically appropriate livestock and poultry production’, and ‘encourage conservation of grazing reserves and enforce strict range resource management programmes’ (Section 4.7(J)) (FEPA 1999).

10 There is one significant change in the 1978 legislation. As Graf (1988) notes, Section 50 of the Land Tenure Law of 1962, which empowered customary leaders and native courts to operate as a buffer between people and government in matters of land use and tenure, was erased from the later Land Use Act. There is no variant of Section 50 in the most recent legislation. Graf suggests that Section 50, ‘was apparently seen as perpetuating traditional rulers’ powers and impeding the deployment of land for ‘modern’ economic development’ (1988, 195). Yet, whilst the power and authority of customary leaders on paper has shifted to local government, in practice they remain key organs in the outplaying of customary tenure regimes. Consequently, where the Act was supposed to clarify, in fact legal pluralism has become even more profound.

11 They continued to offer representation on the Emirate/ Traditional Councils, but their role was merely advisory.

12 For an analysis of decentralization and its causes and consequences, see Bello-Imam (1996), Graf (1988), Idowu (1999), Kazah-Toure (nd) and Osaghae (1998).


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* Styrbordsgatan 15, 12065 Stockholm, Sweden

E-mail: simonmilligan@compuserve.com

[dagger] University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin 9001, New Zealand

E-mail: jab@geography.otago.ac.nz

This paper was accepted for publication in January 2007

Copyright Royal Geographical Society Jun 2007

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