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 time frame 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, Journalism

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