The Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) is a body that caters for the interest of Fulani herders in the nation.
In this interview, Buba Othman Ngelzarma, MACBAN’s national secretary, speaks on the state of insecurity in parts of the country, the dearth of grazing reserves in the north, the need to reorientate the herdsmen, the wrong profiling of Fulanis as criminals, and other national issues. He spoke with AKIN ORIMOLADE and HENRY OMUNU.
Some days ago, the governor of Kano State, Ganduje said the north should be made to stop taking cows to the southern part of the country. That suggestion has generated reactions; did you listen to it and read it?
No, I didn’t listen to it. I can only answer if the question is thrown at me. If he says the movement of cattle should be regulated; is it the cattle rearing where they are moving from place to place in search of water or is it the movement of cattle for sale? Before you regulate a pastoral movement there has to be an arrangement for the pastoralists.
That movement that they get themselves into is not a choice. If you look at it, it is somehow a necessity. It is just a business and a way of life because this is how their forefathers did it and I am sure that was the reason why countries of the ECOWAS saw the importance of establishing international cattle routes that allowed for the movement of transhuman pastoralists freely through West African countries. Those routes are demarcated throughout Nigeria.
Through those routes, pastoralists can move from Burkina Faso, through Niger, past Nigeria, enter Cameroon and go as far as Central Africa. The routes are there. They are covered by the ECOWAS protocol of free movement.
So, if the whole of West Africa can see the importance of such movement because it is a way of life because that is what they practise as a culture. There is cultural importance attached to that, but with the current security problems in Nigeria, what we always agitate for is that there has to be a certain give and take.
At least, the time has come now for the pastoralists to get settled in a place considering the population growth of both human beings and animals against the land that doesn’t increase. This population explosion is causing so much demand on the limited land, so there is the need for both farmers and pastoralists to coexist peacefully.
I know the era of this free movement is about to be over even in the northern part of the country where the pastoralists belong. In the near future, it will be very difficult to move from one local government to the other. Because of the growing population, people need farmlands and even the pastoralists are also farmers.
So because of the enormous demand on the land, there has to be a settlement model by the state government that can begin to settle the pastoralists in one place for them to get proper benefits of their business; for them to get the opportunity of their children to be educated, for them to have the opportunity of learning other skills apart from cattle rearing which is the norm to them.
Before now, the Federal Government started the nomadic schools, but the nomads refused to key into the scheme?
They didn’t refuse to key into it. There are a lot of beneficiaries from that nomadic education who are highly placed in government today. Even my national assistant secretary of MACBAN is a beneficiary of nomadic education and today, he is an architect working with the Federal Government. So, the nomadic education scheme was not sustained. There was no money to continue to sustain it at a stage, so gradually it was abandoned.
But, the government still has a budget for it?
Maybe, to still maintain those that they can maintain, but I had the opportunity of visiting so many grazing reserves; I saw a lot of dilapidated structures of the nomadic heritage schools. In those areas, the buildings are there, but there are no teachers.
The nomadic heritage schools were not properly maintained. And I also believe when the designers were designing it, they didn’t involve the stakeholders. If they (stakeholders) had been involved, maybe it would not have been the way it is now. Sometimes, the school will be built in an area where maybe in one or two months the pastoralists will move to another place. There is a school in the forest with no pastoralist in the school. If the decision was taken with them, maybe it will not have been the way it is today.
Is it not easier to have ranches in the north than in the south as there is the belief that the north has more land?
What is happening with the grazing reserves in the north? About 400 of them cover a very large area and the problem is those reserves and forests were not maintained.
The dams that were constructed were allowed to get silted with sand, so they no longer hold water. Even the grasses that the cows used to feast on were not maintained properly. So, what happened was that immediately the dry season begins, the cows are forced by hunger to feast on the tender grasses and by removing them from their roots they are not allowed to grow or develop for the next season.
So, these grazing reserves died. The uncollectible grasses took over the collectable ones in the forest so that there is no grass for the cows to feed on and the reserves are not maintained. There is one grazing reserve that has about 18 dams in it, but none of the dams are working today. They are all silted with sand. If the state governments of the north can revisit these grazing reserves, propagate pasture, de-silt the dams, and construct new dams, the pastoralists will not go anywhere. Even, the pastoralists in the south will come back to the north. What took them to the south is the search for water and grass for their animals. If the north can come up with modern meat processing factories that can be established in the northern part of the country, we can stop taking live cows to the south because by taking live cows to the south we are giving the southerners all the benefits related to the cow, while we get nothing from it.
Lagos alone consumes 6,000 cows on a daily basis; just imagine how much investment is going to Lagos daily from the 6,000 cows that are taken from the north to the south daily. Imagine how much employment that business has created in Lagos alone. All the benefits related to the cow are being enjoyed there, while the pastoralists who produce the cow get very little from their product. The majority of the benefits are taken there in Lagos. So, it is time for northern state governors to begin to think of how to come up with modern meat processing factories so that we can stop taking live cows to the south, but build abattoirs where the cows are slaughtered and we transport the refrigerated and processed meat to the south.
But, has your association engaged the northern state governors on this?
We have been doing that so that we can stop the transportation of live cows to all these southern states.
Why are they not taking that advice?
We don’t know; ours is an association. We will continue to pressurize, that is the much we can do.
But, you have the movers and shakers as your patrons?
We have them, and we have been agitating for that. But, even they themselves are not investors. They are emirs.
But, some of them have cows?
I don’t know of a general who has cows, but I know of so many Yorubas, who have cows.
Does Obasanjo have?
Very good, he has. But, how is it relevant to establishing a processing factory for meat in the northern part of the country? So, these are the issues. The settlement is the only solution to this crisis.
But, some are saying that this cow thing is a business and that if you want to do your business, you take care of all the things it encompasses by way of land, labour, and capital. That is if you want to start a business?
I believe you have a commercial bus either here or in Lagos?
…No, I don’t. But, you know so many people who have commercial vehicles.
How much have they contributed to the constituency whose roads they ply daily?
…They pay taxes.
Everybody pays tax as a citizen.
No one is saying that if you want to take your cows to the south… (cuts in)
You’re saying it is a private business so it should not be assisted by the government. Do you know that today over N350 billion was given to the farmers as an intervention by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Federal Government? So, what are you saying? Roads are constructed by the government for commercial vehicles to ply and those are private businesses for their own benefits. So, are you telling me pastoralists should not be taken care of? Even foreigners who are coming into Nigeria to invest money deserve some incentives from the Federal Government that will attract them to come and invest; a foreigner! Talk more of a Nigerian.
If you want to start a poultry farm will you just go to any bush or any forest?
So, people are saying if you want to have RUGA you buy the land. Is that too much to ask when starting a business?
We are not opposed to that. We are not opposed to RUGA or whatever name you give it, but what remains is government should assist. We have found ourselves where we are today because the government has neglected the livestock sector of the country for decades. If the government has done something and tried to transform the way of business of these guys they would have by today tried to settle in one place if it were a matter of choice. The cattle rearers who roam the wild are at the mercy of kidnappers, cattle rustlers, and bandits.
Talking about kidnappers and bandits, the general impression is that Fulani herdsmen are responsible for the various kidnappings. What’s your reaction?
It is a deliberate act to present the Fulani negatively for political and tribal purposes and to get them exterminated. It is deliberate. Have you ever heard of a Yoruba or Igbo armed robber or kidnapper? A kidnapper is a kidnapper no matter where he comes from; a criminal is a criminal.
Who is doing this deliberate act of profiling the Fulani herdsmen?
Some of the media houses. Some of Buhari’s enemies, because he is a Fulani, have sworn the country will become a battleground for him. We are just told the tales of a Fulani kidnapper, while you never hear of a Yoruba armed robber.
These Fulanis are the ones affected by these vices. Today, we lost about three million cows as a result of cattle rustling? Who are the owners of cows in this country? Fulanis. Today, we are sandwiched between two great evils; here we are, typical victims of these vices, and over here we are the cause because of the negative coverage of some of the media houses.
You too know that it is not fair to just say since you caught a criminal that he is a Fulani herdsman.
But, some of the victims say those who kidnapped them spoke Fulfulde?
So what? If you catch an armed robber, if he speaks Yoruba then he is Yoruba? So because he speaks Fulfulde, so what? We have criminals.
What is the association doing to pick these bad elements and throw them out?
We are not a security agency, we are just an association.
But, you can pick them and hand them over?
Are we a security agency to go and pick criminals and hand them over?
You can give them the information?
That one is different.
Has your association been doing that?
Find out from the security agencies. But, we are not a criminal or security organization. We are doing our best as an association. It is not our responsibility to go after criminals.
So, how can we stop these herders and farmers’ clashes that happen every time?
It is the responsibility of the government, the media, and everybody. Let the media begin to report positively with the aim of solving this problem. But, some of the media houses are deliberately profiling the Fulani, maybe for their political purposes. The only solution is while you address the effects of the crisis; try to also address the underlying causes of the crisis, the grassroots causes, and factors. It is evident that we have young Fulani herders who are not educated that are still practising an outdated system of animal husbandry from their forefathers. Try to modernize them, try to tell them the benefits of keeping cows in one place, that that cow can give you more meat than those moving from place to place.
The long term solution is settlement; get them settled. While you are trying to get them settled, from now to the time when they can be settled, what can we do to solve the security problem that is facing everybody in this country? What can we do about cattle rustling, kidnapping, and banditry? Five days ago, one southerner was arrested with 130 cows belonging to a Fulani man in Niger State.
Just imagine how many families are suffering from this? Everywhere has a security problem and it is a fact that when you catch a gang of kidnappers, Fulanis are among them. We have criminals in all spheres. If the media can do justice for us, if you catch a criminal, do you have to add Fulani? By portraying every Fulani man in Nigeria as a criminal today because that is what they portray; this is wrong. How can somebody even think as an association that we will support criminality? As a democratic association, after my four-year tenure I might not be on this seat again, somebody else will take over from me. I am a retired civil servant who spent 35 years in service and then l decided to come here to assist voluntarily on my own because I want to contribute my quota in trying to emancipate my people from darkness into light; from practising an archaic system of cow rearing to a modernized one, from lack of education to education.
Teach them other skills apart from cattle rearing only. A lot of them are attacked by cattle rustlers without leaving them even a bone. What do you think those children will become? With no other skills and they say an idle mind is the devil’s workshop.
So, does your association interface with other associations across West Africa for the modernization of cattle rearing practices?
I have been to several countries, Ethiopia, Chad, and Burkina Faso. Met with so many associations that have invited us to come and rub minds on how we can modernize animal husbandry so that the pastoralists can get more benefits out of their work. Go and see those countries that have succeeded in settling their pastoralists.
They are getting more money from cow sales. We have over 20 million cows in this country, so if this investment can be properly managed it is enough to maintain this country’s economy. If pastoralists stop patronizing the markets, no market will work in the northern part of the country. Every market day in major markets, you discover that 60 percent to 70 percent of those patronizing the markets are Fulanis; they bring their cows, sheep, goats, and chicken to sell and buy what they need and go back to the forest.
Those that you see with the cows, looking emaciated are the people taking care of the cows not any big man in Nigeria. 95 percent of the cows in the country are owned by those Fulani that you see moving with them, but some people believe that big men have these cows. That is wrong; those Fulanis are the real owners. So, the big problem is they don’t even attach importance to the quality of the cows, they attach more importance to the quantity so they want to die and leave more cows for their children to inherit and this continues.
The number of cows that we have in society determines our status in that society. The more cows you have the more you are seen as a big man in society. They stay in the forest, they don’t enjoy education, no electricity, no water, and they are in small uncomfortable places, while they are moving millions of naira. They are the only society moving with their wealth for everyone to see. If you see a small boy moving with 100 cows, do your arithmetic and imagine how many millions he is moving with. This has put them into so many vulnerabilities, so that is why today, we are not spared by kidnappers, bandits and we are not spared by armed robbers. How many times have you heard in the news that bandits have attacked social communities and kidnapped cows, but who are the owners of these cows?
So, if you say Fulanis are criminals, in the north today, it is criminal Fulanis against peaceful Fulanis, criminal Fulanis taking away cows from the peaceful Fulanis.
The story making the rounds at least from those who are victims of kidnappings, said the people that abducted them speak Fulfude with a French accent and that they are not Nigerians?
If they say, they speak French at times that cannot be disputed because the borders are open that allow people to come in and out of the country. Some of the countries have adopted the means of checking people before they come in, but here in Nigeria, nobody is checking them. Maybe, they come with their arms. A lot of them may be criminals; they come to cause havoc and go back to their country. It is true that there are some criminal foreign elements who are coming to perpetuate their criminal acts and you can never distinguish a Nigerian Fulani from a foreigner who is a Fulani. They all look the same, it is only the Fulanis that can distinguish them, but you will never differentiate a Fulani man who is living in Burkina Faso or in Niger. Essentially, they all look alike.
There is another allegation that your association was engaged during the 2015 general elections by the All Progressive Congress (APC) to make things difficult for Goodluck Jonathan. That your association brought people from other ECOWAS countries to make governance difficult. That after the election, these people that were kept inside the bushes were abandoned. Initially, they were being taken care of; given food, money, and everything. But, when the APC won they were abandoned?
That’s a lie, a blatant one. Nothing of such ever happened to my knowledge that I am aware of. In 2015, we did not take any side, our members some of them were APC and some were PDP. There are so many other groups, so we did not invite any foreigner to come and discredit the Jonathan government.
We have no interest in any foreign Fulani. How can we register any foreign Fulani presence with us, are we security agents? Whatever we do is on behalf of people who have taken our membership. We do not take everybody, but we have offices in all 36 states of the federation. Not all Fulani are our members. We do not get ourselves involved in security issues. We do not deal with criminals.
Were you in Akure?
Yes, I was in Akure; we organised the Akure meeting with the governor of Kebbi State. We are far from criminals, we do not condone it. Even in Oyo State, before the emergence of ‘Amotekun’, we organised a Fulani group that goes after the kidnappers to find out their activities and expose them. We are working; we have worked with the security agents by helping them apprehend criminals. I was heading the security, we have got our operatives to work closely with the government. We do not condone criminality, we do not like it. We do not accept people allowing their cows stray into people’s farmlands and destroying it. When we get this, we compel them to pay.
A man said he took a N1.6million loan to cultivate a 12-hectare cassava and maize farm only for cows to eat the crops. He said he was offered only N30, 000?
Sometimes, most of these things are lies. He has collected the money and he has spent the money. Cows do not eat cassava leaves, cows cannot uproot cassava. Whoever says cows eat cassava leaves is lying, but the roots and tubers, cows eat them.
On Sunday Igboho, what is your reaction to some of his criticisms?
I have no business with that one, but I was in Ondo. Governor Makinde was there. His statement was that “you don’t fight criminality with criminality.