The Secretary-General of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders’ Association of Nigeria, Ngelzeerma Usman, speaks with SOLOMON ODENIYI about the recent killing of the association’s chairman and members in Abuja by Fulani bandits
Members of your association were killed and others kidnapped in Abuja. How is your association taking this?
Our Chairman in the Gwagwalada area council was killed with one Gwari man and two other persons. They were ambushed by bandits and killed and in the process four other people were also kidnapped. It happened on April 7 around 8 o’clock in the evening. They were coming from a cattle market on the road to Daku village. They took away from them the proceeds of the cows they sold and they are demanding N100m ransom to free those kidnapped.
Does it mean these attackers, believed to be of same ethnicity with you, don’t have respect for Miyetti Allah members?
Are our members different from the other public members? Of course, not. Their cattle are being taken away by bandits on a daily basis; they are being kidnapped and killed by bandits. It is the same thing that is happening to communities in the North-West and the northeastern part of the country. Our people are not different from other citizens that are coming under attacks by bandits.
We understand that, as an association, we must safeguard the interest and welfare of our members. When things like this happen we always ask government to take action and protect everybody in society. The way these things are happening is really scary and our members are the most affected.
Since majority of these bandits belong to the same ethnic group as you, has your association tried speaking to them, to persuade them to stop these unprovoked attacks?
There is no doubt that a large number of them are Fulani, but this, of course, does not stop them from killing many (of our people) and taking away cows from the pasture at the same time. A criminal can come from any tribe and they don’t select their victims. Whoever comes their way; they kill, kidnap and take away their cows. However, our appeal to the government is, though they are doing their best, they should redouble their efforts in protecting the cattle breeders and other Nigerians alike against the activities of this criminal group.
Beef is the most consumed meat in the country. Is there fear that bandits’ attacks on your members may lead to scarcity of beef?
It (the attacks) has already affected supply in major parts of the country because cow meat has been the major source of protein in the country. Go to the market and price meat and compare the current price with the price of last year. You will realise that the price has skyrocketed. And it is not an imported commodity that we will say the price is being influenced by the dollar-naira exchange rate. Beef is locally sourced, purchased in naira and sold in naira, yet you’ll realise that the price of meat has skyrocketed by about 100 per cent, if not more. Undoubtedly, this is not unconnected with the activities of bandits who are rustling our members’ cows. The livestock industry is all already failing. The producers are being rendered poor; the meat no longer comes to the market in large quantity because some of the pastoralists are trying to move out of the country for fear of attacks by bandits, who forcefully take their cows from them. We have lost about 15 per cent of the pastoralists. Others are also trying to move out of the country to where they can find shelter and protection for their lives and cattle.
The livestock industry is already affected; a visit to the butchering markets shows the reality. In Niger State alone, over 5,000 cattle have been rustled; our statistics show that all over the country, about three million cows have been lost to rustling since the beginning of this banditry, insurgency and what have you. I could remember an attack in Niger State in February, in just one day, 120 cows were rustled from pastoralists. So, the pastoralists are not being spared by the kidnappers, who attack them on a daily basis. And because of the rate at which our members’ cattle are being taken away, so many families have been rendered poor and you know they don’t have formal education to survive on, the only career and skill they have is to rear cattle, they don’t know anything. And when these cows are taken away from them, they become idle and an idle hand is the devil’s workshop. They become an easy prey for initiation into criminality. No education, no work, idleness, poverty and possession of arms, what do you expect to happen?
What is the way forward?
These are difficult times for the pastoralists because after being kidnapped, whatever money they make from selling cattle in the market they give to the bandits as ransom to secure their freedom. Yet that’s the only source of livelihood they have. When you kidnap their wives, daughters and others relations, the only option they have is to sell their cows to pay the ransom and rescue their loved ones from being held hostage.
The way these things are going on are alarming and that’s why we call on the Federal Government to double up efforts in bringing peace to the pastoral industry in the country because not all pastoralists are criminals. Some of them are criminals, we know, but the majority are legitimate cattle rearers doing their business.