By Mohammed Ismail, Muazu Elazeh, Yahya Sarki, Midat Joseph
Although the three square meals per day is already a luxury in many homes in the country, the rising cases of cow rustling is threatening to make the situation even worse.
If you are one of those who dismiss the rising spate of cattle rustling in the North as a localised problem, you may be in for a big surprise sooner or later as your food budget shoots for the skies for no other reason than the disruption in the food supply chain by the theft of cows in the North.
Investigations conducted by LEADERSHIP Weekend have shown that if nothing is done to check the increasing wave of cattle rustling, every part of the country dependent on the northern states for foodstuff and livestock supplies will soon feel the pinch.
In Adamawa, factional scribe of the state chapter of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, (MACBAN) Mallam Usman Liman Demsa, told LEADERSHIP Weekend that if concerted effort is not done to address the malaise, the country may soon experience meat shortage, with its debilitating consequences on food security.
Demsa disclosed that herdsmen in Adamawa have lost no fewer than 1,500 cattle to thieves in the last one year alone, costing millions of naira.
The factional scribe said he believed that cow rustling has become an organised crime in the North, stressing that “for any measure against cow rustling to be effective, government must ensure the deployment of security personnel to the bushes and not just the towns. Whenever cows are rustled, we always trace their footsteps to the side of the road from where they are shipped into waiting vehicles that carry them away.”
A renowned agriculturalist in Adamawa, Alhaji Maijimilla Buba, told LEADERSHIP Weekend that apart from food insecurity that will become prevalent if cows continue to be rustled, social insecurity could become the order of the day in affected communities as mutual suspicion between the herdsmen and the communities simmers.
Buba said: “Part of the issues that usually lead to farmers/herdsman crisis is the failure of the authorities to nip cattle rustling in the bud. Usually, in the wake of any rustling, mutual suspicion is generated between the two sides, which often lead to serious clashes between them.”
According to Buba, “cattle rustling could also cause food insecurity as the cow dung is usually used on farms to fertilise the soil fertility. If the cows are stolen, then there will be no cow dung for these poor farmers to use and this will have a telling effect on harvest. Poor harvest in an area as vast as the North would cause a huge social crisis as people go hungry.
Of course there is the potential shortage of meat in communities where cows are stolen, which would deprive them of a veritable source of protein, which is an essential ingredient for human development.”
The rising incidence of cattle theft, which has continued unabated in some council areas of Katsina State has been a source of serious concern to residents. Frequent cases of cattle rustling occur in Safana, Faskari, Funtua, Batsari and Danmusa local governments of the state. Hundreds of cattle have been brazenly stolen by armed thieves who often invade communities and farm houses in the dead of the night. However, the incident is allegedly being perpetrated with the connivance of some locals. Some victims claimed that the cattle rustlers use charms to take the cows away.
“They invaded our community, assembled all of us and took our cattle while we watch helplessly because they were heavily armed” a resident of Wagini village in Batsari council area who lost about 50 cows to thieves told LEADERSHIP Weekend.
“The pattern is no way different from how most robberies are carried out. These people will invade a place, most times heavily armed and instruct cattle owners to assemble their cattle in one place before moving them away,” another source added.
There are claims that the rustlers are using Rugu forest, a large swath of woodland in Katsina along the state’s borders with Zamfara, Sokoto, Niger and Kaduna states, as their hideout.
The attacks on communities by these cattle rustler has led to forced migration and created an atmosphere of uncertainty within the farming communities in the state. There is the growing concern in the state that if the malaise is not checked soon, it may have negative consequences on food supply.
Katsina’s farming hub is the southern senatorial district, which has Funtua, Faskari, Sabuwa councils plagued by cattle rustling.
Residents who spoke with LEADERSHIP Weekend on condition of anonymity accused Fulani of the crime. However, Fulani leaders denied these allegations.
But to check the menace, the Katsina State government has restricted vehicular movement in the state between 7pm and 6am. Consequently, cows are now transported in Katsina between 6am and 7pm.
Commissioner of Police in the state, Muhammad Hurdi, who announced the decision, said: “The idea is that once these animals are moved in the day time, people will be able to see and if it is suspected to be stolen, take appropriate action.”
Hurdi also urged residents to stop buying stolen cows, stressing that “rustling will stop if these people can’t find customers.”
Though there have been pockets of incidents in Kebbi in recent times, cattle rustling is not yet an everyday occurrence in Kebbi.
Chairman, Miyatti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, Kebbi Mohammad Dan Ali confirmed that the problem of cattle rustling has been affecting the Fulani for a long time in Nigeria and is a general phenomenon in places where people engage in animal husbandry as a means of livelihood.
His words: “The problem of cattle rustling is common in areas where people adopt cattle or animal breeding as a means of livelihood and as you know the Fulani’s main source of livelihood is their animals. Cattle rustling occurs everywhere, it’s a general problem but the nature of how it is perpetrated differs from place to place.
“In Kebbi such cases are very minimal compared to states like Zamfara, Katsina, Benue and Plateau where the perpetrators steal herds of cattle in their hundreds or thousands. Here in Kebbi we only have local thieves who take away 1, 2 or 3 animals, slaughter them and sell the meat. Sometimes the thieves are caught and sometimes they get lucky.”
Dan Ali said stolen animals in Kebbi were usually taken to Gumbi where they are either sold or slaughtered.
He recalled a recent case in Bunza Local Government where one Ango Buzun Buzu was arrested for cattle rustling: “Ango Buzun Buzun had a big compound where he kept all the stolen animals to sell them in the markets. Sometimes what they do is to slaughter the animals, prepare them and transport the stolen animal meat to Lagos. The police raided Buzun Buzun and demolished the compound.”
Abdullahi Dikko who resides at Gesse Bayero, a Fulani community in Birnin Kebbi, alleged that non-indigenes were responsible for cow rustling in the state. His words: “In most cases strangers who come to live with us are those stealing our animals. We trust them but they betrayed our trust and indulge in stealing our animals. These people I believed must have come from places like Niger Republic. They use the opportunity of being watchmen but ended up stealing our animals like sheep, cows and even camels. We don’t know how they do it but we know they steal in the night when we are asleep.”
Rather than cow rustling, stealing sheep occurs more frequently in Kebbi, Dikko said, because “sheep are stolen because of their small sizes.”
Sanusi Ibrahim Geza, the Kebbi State Commandant of Vigilante Group of Nigeria, said: “Actually we don’t have serious cases of cattle rustling in Kebbi where attackers would come and kill off all the animals or carry a whole herd of cattle away. The cases we usually have here are reports of one or two animals missing.”
Geza added that Maiyama, Jega, and Shanga are the local governments in Kebbi State where cattle rustling do occur.
The VGN chief explained that their effort to curb animal theft had been successful in recent times. Citing an example, he said a woman was arrested in Birnin Kebbi recently for being in possession of more than 20 sheep, whose origin or ownership she could not explain.
A Lecturer in the Department of Agriculture, Kebbi State University of Science and Technology, Aliero, Nasiru Kwaifa, told LEADERSHIP Weekend that cattle rustling was not peculiar to Nigeria but also affects African countries like Senegal and Kenya.
Kwaifa explained that apart from threatening food security, cow rustling could also fuel insecurity and poverty. His words: “In my view, cattle rustling also leads to herdsmen losing their ancestral profession, and this will translate into massive unemployment at grassroots level. This will eventually cause security challenges in the country.”
Cattle rustling has become a huge problem in the state, threatening its peace and food security. LEADERSHIP Weekend’s investigations showed that hundreds of lives have been lost to the crime in the state.
State Chairman, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, Ardo Ahmadu Suleiman, said cattle rustlers pose serious threat to the Fulani communities and their cows. He said: “We are still battling with the rustlers. Some of the rustlers are not Nigerians and they form gangs to terrorise Fulani and cart away their cattle.”
Emir of Birnin Gwari, Alhaji Jibrin Maigwari, who recently spoke about the problem, stated: “We don’t know how many thousands of cattle have been stolen so far. The issue is that everywhere you go in the Emirate, you will find a casualty; someone’s herds of cattle were stolen, a wife or children raped and others even killed.”
According to the Emir, “the rustlers are well organised and they are in control of one village called Jan Birni. You can’t go there now if you are not a thief. If they don’t know you, they may kill you. I reported to the government that our people have sighted, many times, helicopters landing and taking off, delivering weapons to these people. These rustlers don’t care whether you put fire on your cattle, they will whisk them away. The rustlers are so clever. If your cattle are branded, they will slaughter them, cut them up and sell them in pieces. If you go to the Birnin Gwari-Funtua axis, they are gradually taking over all villages and towns along the roads. They come out on market days and brandish their weapons without a care.”
A retired Federal Permanent Secretary, Dr. Hakeem Baba Ahmed, who has also lost his cows to rustlers, said: “The backbone of the northern economy is farming and animal husbandry. Cattle breeding and processing was a major business in these areas. Not anymore. Slowly but surely, the heart of the northern economy is being snuffed out. We cannot keep cattle on our farms. Large-scale farming is becoming less and less attractive. A huge swathe of the north is now bandit territory.”
However, Governor Mukhtar Ramalan Yero recently promised to check the menace even as he observed that “the perpetrators are not resident in Kaduna but are attacking boundary communities from neighbouring states.”
Yero added: “The issue of cattle rustlers is very serious because both Fulanis and non-Fulanis are accusing one another of perpetrating it. We have to do something about it and it is not just Kaduna State; we have to involve other neighbouring states and we have been discussing on ways to check the menace.”
A herdsman, Haruna Abdullahi, who recently lost his cows to thieves, said his life depended on the cows because he use them for farming and other agriculture-related activities. He appealed to the state government to find a lasting solution to the problem.
An agricultural expert, Mr. Vincent Bitrus, told LEADERSHIP Weekend: “Many of the cows are used for farming and if they not there, what will they use to till the ground? So, I think government must wake up to its responsibilities and stop cattle rustling in the North.”