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The media are a major player during periods of conflict by virtue of the influence they can exert on the public’s understanding and perception of conflict situations. The agenda the media set and how issues are framed can also impact on the direction or outcome of conflict situations. The conflict between herders and farmers- the conflict-focus of this study- is a leading resource-use conflict in Nigeria primarily caused by the competition to have access to land and freshwater. The aim of this study was to examine the extent and patterns of coverage of the herders-farmers conflict by national newspapers in Nigeria. The agenda-setting theory, media framing theory, and the social responsibility theory formed the theoretical foundation to this study.
The research method adopted for this study was content analysis. Three Nigerian national newspapers- The Punch, The Guardian, and Vanguard- were purposively selected. The timeframe for this study spanned a period of 20 months: from January 1, 2015 to August 31, 2016. The purposive sampling technique was used to select weekday editions and exclude weekend editions of the selected newspapers. The census or complete enumeration technique was used to study the entire weekday editions of the three newspapers published within the 20-month period, resulting in a sample size of 1,305 editions from an accessible population of 1,827 editions. A total of 687 contents on the herders-farmers conflict were found, coded, and analysed using descriptive and inferential statistics.
Findings revealed that the selected newspapers were episodic in their coverage by presenting the herders-farmers conflict overwhelmingly through news reports while, comparatively, doing little in terms of interpretation and analysis. The newspapers largely accorded low prominence to issues on the herders-farmers conflict with the placement of a majority of stories on the inside pages and far less on the front page. It was shown that the newspapers varied their coverage across the six geopolitical zones of Nigeria. Results showed that the newspapers were reliant on government officials, security personnel and victims/eyewitnesses as their major news sources. It was found out that the newspapers dominantly adopted the criminality frame, resolution frame and the political response frame. Indicating herders as the principal perpetrators of violence, the newspapers framed the conflict more as criminal attacks by herders rather than as clashes between herders and farmers. Also, the newspapers were critical of the Nigerian government in their editorial reactions to the government’s level of intervention in the herders-farmers conflict.
The study concluded that, despite their inclination towards war journalism, the selected newspapers played some parts in the mitigation of the herders-farmers conflict, and performed their watchdog role over the government effectively. The study recommended, among other things, that the Nigeria press should be more interpretative and analytical in their coverage of the herders-farmers conflict; that journalists should be regularly trained in conflict-sensitive reporting and peace journalism; and that the Nigerian government should develop and execute policies that would address both the root and situational causes of the conflict.
Keywords: Newspaper Coverage, Herders-Farmers Conflict, Framing, Resolution, Peace
1.1 Background to the Study
Violent conflict is a foremost global conundrum. There has been a major rise in intrastate conflicts in the 21st century. Contemporary conflict trend shows that intrastate conflict is the dominant form of violent conflict in the world, while interstate conflict has declined considerably in recent years compared to the 1900s (Cottey, 2013; Kegley & Raymond, 2010). No continent is spared as both developed and developing nations are struggling with one form of internal conflict or the other. Spates of terrorism, insurgency and civil strife, leading to vicious destructions, displacements and deaths, are now persistent across the world.
Alongside the Middle East, Africa has attained quite a reputation for violent conflict. Since the end of the Cold War between the Soviet Union (USSR) and the United States of America (USA), most armed conflicts on the continent of Africa have been internal in nature (Cilliers & Schunemann, 2013; Vogts, 1994). Scholars and observers have identified a number of factors responsible for the growing profile of internal violent conflicts in Africa. These causative factors include poverty, poor governance, corruption, human rights violation, ethnic and religious rivalry, and small arms proliferation (Annan, 2014; Aremu, 2010; Cilliers & Schunemann, 2013; Vogts, 1994). Some observers, such as Anup (2010), also maintain a retrospective perspective, placing conflicts in Africa as a consequence of colonialism.
Internal conflict has been a recurrent narrative in Nigeria since her independence in 1960. Conflicts in the country are often incited under religious and ethnic pretexts. As Anifowose (1982) observed, “a great deal of the post-independence troubles in Nigeria arose because of the politicisation of ethnic loyalties by the political elite” (p. 12). The Census Crisis of 1962/1963 and the Nigerian Civil War between 1967 and 1970 are only two of many instances of ethnically-induced violence in the country. The latter still stands as the single most devastating violent conflict in post-independent Nigeria. Conflicts in Nigeria also take on religious identity. Disagreements between adherents of the two predominant religions in the country- Islam and Christianity- easily degenerate into violence, whereby killings and destruction of property are perpetrated. Violent disagreements between Christians and Muslims are usually rooted in their race for ascendency (Muhammad, 2008). Religious conflicts may be provoked by perceived ridicule of tenets or doctrines of a particular religion. Laws or policies on religious practices may also incite conflicts. In the year 2000, for instance, there were violent clashes between Christians and Muslims in some Northern States due to the introduction of Sharia law in those states.
Furthermore, conflicts with purely political or economic antecedence easily assume religious and ethnic dimensions in Nigeria. Religion and ethnicity are manipulated to fuel “neutral” political disagreements into violent conflicts. On the whole, it could prove difficult to describe conflicts in the country in absolute terms because “there is a very strong correlation or overlap between ethnic and religious boundaries in Nigeria’s plural setting” (Ojo, 2006, p. 369). The Northerners are mainly Muslims, the South-South and South-East regions are dominated with Christians, while the South-West is populated with an almost even mix of Muslims and Christians. It is for this reason that conflicts that start as inter-religious disagreement often evolve into inter-ethnic violence and vice-versa. There is, therefore, a delicate divide between the independent cause of many conflicts in Nigeria and the ethno-religious identity that undertones or overtones them.
According to Homer-Dixon (1998), environmental scarcities contribute to violent conflict in many developing nations. In Nigeria, the conflict between nomadic herders and sedentary farmers is a leading resource-use conflict. The cause borders primarily on the competition to have access to land and freshwater (for grazing and farming), resources which have become acutely scarce (Audu, 2013). Massive desertification of vegetative lands and drought in Northern Nigeria compel herders to migrate toward the South in order to provide green pasture and water for their livestock. In the course of their movement down South, the nomadic herdsmen momentarily settle in farming communities where green vegetation and water are available. Disputes arise between herders and farmers over allegations from both parties. On the one hand, farmers accuse herders of destroying their crops by the encroachment of herded livestock on their farmlands and contaminating community water sources. On the other hand, herders accuse farmers of poisoning, killing or stealing their cattle and denying them access to grazing routes.
Pastoralism is a conventional occupation among certain groups in Nigeria including the Kanembu, Kwoya, Manga, Fulani and the Shuwa Arabs (Blench, 2010; Muhammed, Ismaila & Bibi, 2015). However, the Fulani are the most prominent herding group, owning over 90 per cent of the country’s livestock (Abass, 2012). The fact that no other pastoral group is as numerous and expanded as the Fulani (Blench, 2003) could be presumed a reason for the pervasive stereotypes about the occupation of the Fulani pastoralists (Olayoku, 2014), and why they are the herding group mostly involved in disputes with farming communities.
The conflict between herders and farmers is a protracted issue in Nigeria. Violent clashes between them have been frequent since the 1980s, but gained new momentum in intensity and reoccurrence at the country’s return to civilian rule in 1999 (Blench, 2003). The progressive increase in the occurrence of clashes between herdsmen and farmers has been confirmed by different research findings and reports. It is reported that whereas only 18 incidences were recorded between 1997 and 2010, there was a surge of 371 attacks between 2011 and 2015 (SBM Intelligence, 2016). The conflict has been responsible for the death and displacement of many people in various regions of Nigeria. Fatalities are not limited to the conflicting herdsmen and farmers as innocent members of host communities are also casualties of the conflict. According to the Human Rights Watch (2013), the conflict between Fulani herdsmen and farmers significantly contributed to inter-communal violence and death of about 3,000 people in North-Central region of Nigeria between 2010 and 2013. On February 24, 2016, Fulani herders were reported to have raided and killed over 300 people in Agatu communities in Benue State, an epitome of the level of brutality that has become synonymous with the conflict in recent times.
The herders-farmers conflict has turned all the more fatal due to the proliferation of firearms among herders. Although the argument may be advanced that they carry guns and other sophisticated weapons around to protect themselves and their livestock from bandits who steal their cattle, the possession of arms, most likely, makes violence an instinctive reaction for the herders whenever there are contestations between them and farmers. Fulani herders have often been linked to rape and kidnap cases in farming communities. An example is the case of a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Olu Falae, who was abducted on September 21, 2015 from his farmland in Ilado, Ondo State and held captive by some Fulani herdsmen (Lawal, Olumide & Akingboye, 2015). He was later released on September 24, 2015.
Identifying the role of the news media in the context of this conflict is critical. The news media are a major player during periods of conflict. Through their surveillance function, the media are responsible for surveying the society, gathering and disseminating information that are of significance to the public. Conflict is of particular consideration in the media for its news value. The public are concerned about the safety and security of their environment and so when violent conflicts arise, their attention readily turn to the media to keep them abreast of unfolding events. The heightened emotions of the public from an ongoing conflict situation could be approached from a business perspective by the media. “Bad news is good news”, “if it bleeds, then it leads” are covert operational policy in several newsrooms because conflict sells. Tumbler (2009) argues that journalists place emphasis on violence and conflict in order to produce and increase the value of “a commodity that is supposed to generate profit” (p. 396). Nevertheless, it is expected that the media’s social responsibility to the public should compel a foremost commitment to minimise confusion and contribute to social order during conflict situations (Daramola, 2005).
The news media wield a great influence on the audience in times of conflict. The context, parties and shifting narratives of conflict are engaged and brought closer to the public through the discursive forum the media create. Their selection of what becomes reported as news and framing of issues related to a conflict tend to shape public perception and opinion about the issues. Agenda set through media reporting can directly or indirectly determine the course a conflict situation would follow. The media, in essence, can play a role in engendering the mitigation and resolution of conflict. Conversely, the media can also incite or escalate a conflict.
The tendency for the international media to complicate attempts to resolve conflict has stirred a growing recognition of the importance of the local media in shaping the course of conflicts within their immediate purview (Puddephatt, 2006). According to Gilboa (2009), investigating the functions and dysfunctions of the local media should be a research priority because the local media’s coverage of conflict directly affects people engaged in conflict and conflict resolution. The coverage of conflict by the Nigerian press is vital to what the perception and understanding of the Nigerian public would be of such conflict. In view of this, it is important to examine the conflict between herders and farmers in Nigeria through the coverage of the issue by newspapers in the country.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
The conflict between herders and farmers, often highlighted by violence, is a longstanding issue in Nigeria. It has been evolving in frequency and intensity, hence assuming new complexities in recent years. Fulani herdsmen are now classified as a terrorist group. According to the 2015 Global Terrorism Index, Fulani pastoralists, regarded as “Fulani militants”, were the fourth most deadly terrorist group in the world, only behind the Taliban, the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) and Boko Haram (Institute of Economics and Peace, 2015). Fulani herders are geographically dispersed as far as their nomadic movements, and so are their attacks. Although hostilities have concentrated more in the North-Central, there is an extension to the South-East, South-South, North-West, North-East and the South-West geopolitical zones of Nigeria (SBM Intelligence, 2016). These regions have, in varying degrees, suffered the loss of lives and property as well as displacements due to attacks by the pastoralists. The broad scope of the conflict qualifies it as a national crisis. Despite this reality, the herders-farmers conflict has been denied the same exigency accorded to the Boko Haram insurgency (largely remote to the North-East) and the Niger-Delta crisis (largely remote to the South-South).
The herders-farmers conflict comes with economic implications for the country. Violent feuds between herders and farmers have direct impact on food security: the availability of crops, meat and dairy products would decline with the conflict at a sustained level, affecting crop production and livestock production thereby. It is estimated that Nigeria loses 13.7 billion dollars in potential revenues annually to the clashes between herdsmen and farmers (Mercy Corp, 2015). The level of violence and economic cost from clashes between herdsmen and farmers pose a major national security concern for Nigeria. Yet the government has not been able to devise strategies that will effectively address the conflict. According to Blench (2003), the Nigerian government’s disposition toward the conflict has been largely reactive in that when and where the “situation is more serious, they send in the military, set up road-blocks for a few days and hope the problem goes away” (p. 10). When the National Grazing Reserve Bill was proposed in the National Assembly as a measure to resolve the conflict by establishing grazing reserves for herders in any part of the country through the prerogative of the federal government, it only further accentuated the faulty approach to the conflict. While the bill, sponsored by Northern legislators, drew ample support in the North, it was heavily criticised and rejected in Central, Southern and Western Nigeria. It is then expedient to situate the watchdog role of the media in influencing the policies and actions of the government in proffering lasting solution to the conflict.
Disparity in the ethnic and religious identities of the conflicting parties moves the conflict from just being resource-based to an ethnic-and-religious-motivated crisis. More than a few of the clashes have been represented as religious conflict since the Fulani herders are mainly Muslims and many farming communities, especially in the Middle-Belt, South-East and South-South, are dominantly populated with Christians. Attacks by Fulani herdsmen have also been viewed as deliberate ethnic cleansing in some quarters (SBM Intelligence, 2016). It is instructive to note that some Nigerian media outlets do engage in the unethical practices of religious and ethnic advocacy, thus projecting sectional interests (Oboh, 2008). This raises concern over the media’s ability to report certain conflicts in the country objectively and accurately.
The significance the public attach to conflict situations is greatly hinged on the extent of media coverage. While some conflicts have gained widespread attention through media exposure, others have been relegated to the background due to neglect by the media (Puddephatt, 2006). This presupposes that non-reportage or under-reportage of certain conflicts by the media could be inimical to the mitigation and resolution of such conflicts. It is therefore imperative to examine the extent and patterns of coverage by the Nigerian press of the conflict between herders and farmers in Nigeria and the coverage’s possible implications on the conflict.
1.3 Objective of the Study
The main objective of this study is to examine selected national newspapers’ coverage of the conflict between herders and farmers in Nigeria. The specific objectives are to:
1. examine the major formats of coverage used in presenting the conflict between herders and farmers in the selected newspapers;
2. determine the level of prominence given to the conflict between herders and farmers in the selected newspapers;
3. find out the extent of geographic variation in the selected newspapers’ coverage of the conflict between herders and farmers;
4. ascertain the dominant news frames adopted by the selected newspapers in reporting the conflict between herders and farmers;
5. identify the major sources of news reports on the conflict between herders and farmers published in the selected newspapers;
6. identify the principal perpetrators of violence in the conflict between herders and farmers as indicated in news reports published in the selected newspapers; and
7. evaluate the direction of the selected newspapers’ editorial reaction towards the interventionist policies and actions of the Nigerian government on the conflict between herders and farmers.
1.4 Research Questions
1. What are the major formats of coverage used in presenting the conflict between herders and farmers in the selected newspapers?
2. What is the level of prominence given to the conflict between herders and farmers in the selected newspapers?
3. To what extent did the selected newspapers’ coverage of the conflict between herders and farmers vary geographically?
4. What are the dominant news frames adopted by the selected newspapers in reporting the conflict between herders and farmers?
5. What are the major sources of news reports on the conflict between herders and farmers published in the selected newspapers?
6. Which of the conflicting parties- herders and farmers- are indicated in news reports published in the selected newspapers as the principal perpetrators of violence?
7. What is the direction of the selected newspapers’ editorial reaction towards the interventionist policies and actions of the Nigerian government on the conflict between herders and farmers?
The following null hypotheses were tested with 0.05 level of significance:
H01:There is no significant difference in the formats of coverage of the conflict between herders and farmers among the selected newspapers.
H02:There is no significant difference in the level of prominence given to the conflict between herders and farmers among the selected newspapers.
H03:There is no significant difference in the geographic variation of coverage of the conflict between herders and farmers among the selected newspapers.
H04:There is no significant difference in the dominant news frames adopted in reporting the conflict between herders and farmers among the selected newspapers.
H05:There is no significant difference in the major sources of news reports about the conflict between herders and farmers among the selected newspapers.
H06:There is no significant difference in the attribution of theprincipal perpetrators of violence in the conflict between herders and farmers among the selected newspapers.
H07:There is no significant difference in the direction of the selected newspapers’ editorial reactions towards the Nigerian government’s interventionist policies and actions on the conflict between herders and farmers.
1.6 Significance of the Study
The present state of insecurity in Nigeria makes this study a timely one. The findings of this study could prove useful in further understanding the complexities associated with the issue of insecurity in the country. The Nigerian government and security agencies may thereby come to appreciate the urgency required to tackle the herders-farmers conflict through a proactive approach.
This study would help establish the influence of the Nigerian press in a conflict situation. The press would be apprised of its shortcomings, if any, and sensitised on how to promote the mitigation and resolution of conflict. It would also build a case for journalists to be well trained in the aspect of conflict reporting.
Scholars and researchers have studied the causes and repercussions of the conflict between herders and farmers in Nigeria mainly from agrarian, environmental, socio-economic and ethno-religious perspectives. There appear to be a dearth of scholarly discourse on the role of the mass media in this conflict as no empirical study dedicated to the subject matter was found in the perusal of extant literature. This study would, thus, contribute to filling this gap in the body of knowledge. For researchers in the field of mass communication this would serve as a reference material in conducting similar studies.
1.7 Scope of the Study
This study sought to investigate national newspapers’ coverage of the conflict between herders and farmers in Nigeria. Mindful of the fact that clashes between herders and farmers also occur in some other African countries, incidents relevant to this study were entirely those that had happened in Nigeria. This study covered a period of twenty (20) months- from January 2015 to August 2016. The period was selected based on the premise that the conflict increased in occurrence and magnitude during the timeline. The necessity to clarify the latest complexities of the conflict also encouraged the selection of the period. This study was delimited to content-analysing three Nigerian national newspapers, namely: The Punch, The Guardian and Vanguard. Only weekday editions of these newspapers spanning the study period were examined and analysed.
1.8 Operational Definition of Terms
For the purpose of clarity, variables and concepts as used in the context of this study are defined below:
Press: although often a synonym for the news media, this term is employed in this study to particularly refer to newspapers.
National Newspapers: refers to newspapers with wide coverage and circulation reach across Nigeria. The Punch, The Guardian and Vanguard are used to represent national newspapers in Nigeria.
Newspaper Coverage: this encompasses the process ofsourcing, reporting and analysing information by a particular newspaper. It refers to reports and analyses of the conflict between herders and farmers as presented in the selected national newspapers. This was measured through the news reports, features, news analyses, columns and editorials contained in The Punch, The Guardian and Vanguard within the period of study.
Conflict: refers to differences in interests and goals made manifest through violent clashes between a minimum of two groups at a given point in time. This study is primarily concerned about the conflict between herders and farmers in Nigeria resultant from resource scarcity and other factors; as well as its ranging effects on farming communities.
Herders: are prevalently Fulani nomads who rear and move their cattle from Northern Nigeria down South. They are hosted in farming communities and come in contact with farmers in various parts of Nigeria. The usage of the word “herders” in this study is alternated with “herdsmen” and “pastoralists”.
Farmers: refers to those who are involved in planting and growing of arable crops. Specifically, these are sedentary cultivators in various regions of Nigeria who have direct interactions- and disputes resultant therefrom- with herders.
Framing: this refers to how news reports and issues related to the conflict between herders and farmers are slanted in the selected newspapers.
Frame: this refers to the specific narrative construct adopted in the presentation of news reports about the herders-farmers conflict by the selected newspapers. The frames applicable to this study include conflict frame, criminality frame, human interest frame, religious frame, ethnic frame, political response frame, economic consequence frame, and resolution frame.
Editorial Reaction: refers to the stance or position of the selected newspapers on the policies and actions of the Nigerian government in intervening in the conflict between herders and farmers as expressed in their editorial pieces. Three criteria of critical, supportive, and passive were used to measure the direction of the selected newspapers’ editorials.
Source Actors: are individuals and institutions that are quoted or attributed as the primary news makers or key informants in reported news stories in the selected newspapers. These include: victims/eyewitnesses, government officials, security operatives, herders/herders association, farmers/farmers association, religious leaders/organisations, community leaders, socio-cultural groups, civil rights groups, non-governmental relief agencies, etc.
Sourcing of Story: This refers to the means through which information for news stories are obtained by the selected newspapers. These include: field coverage/investigation, telephone interview, press release, press conference, news agency/media, and social media
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