This summer the Global Terrorism Index announced that Nigeria’s “Fulani militants” were the fourth most deadly terrorist organization in the world. The GTI is based on data from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland. There’s indeed evidence that violence has increased. But it’s hard to pinpoint when and how much, and a goal of this post is to also explore some overlooked reasons as to why. A shortcoming with the analysis is that according to the Consortium’s dataset, only one attack occurred in 2002 and precisely zero attacks occurred between 2003 and 2009. In 2010, only three attacks occurred and 2011 again saw precisely zero attacks. Since the database otherwise goes back to 1970 this makes it difficult to accurately establish the nature of a trend. This is most likely due to the dearth of online newspapers from Nigeria prior to the early 2000s, rather than coding bias. Another problem is that the Fulani, who are traditionally pastoralists, typically clash with those engaged in settled agriculture. Yet “farmers” never appear as perpetrators in Nigeria in the list of 290 incidents between 2002 and 2015. This made it easy for members of the U.S. Congress to seize on the GTI analysis to paint a picture of Islamic extremists senselessly attacking “predominantly” Christian farming communities.
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