Abuja, Kaduna, Damaturu, Jos, Gusau, Makurdi, Minna, Sokoto and Bauchi — A total of 322 herders were killed and 60,000 cattle were stolen due to rustling activities in some northern states last year, Daily Trust investigations revealed.
Officials of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), who spoke to our correspondents, said rustling has assumed an alarming dimension, resulting in the killing of their members by rustlers who are usually armed with sophisticated weapons.
Daily Trust investigations show that the 322 herders who are mostly Fulani, were killed in Kaduna, Benue, Plateau, Taraba, Nasarawa, Zamfara and Niger States last year alone.
Though rustling activities are taking tolls in other states like Sokoto, Yobe, Bauchi, Kwara and Gombe resulting in the loss of thousands of cattle, our correspondents couldn't obtain casualty figures of herders from either the police or MACBAN officials in those states.
But our findings show that in crisis-ridden Plateau, 87 herders lost their lives and 7,200 cattle were stolen with 125 herders killed and 12,000 cattle rustled in its neighbouring Nasarawa while 17 herders were killed in Benue with 2000 cattle rustled.
Zamfara State is also badly hit with 2,462 cattle rustled while 37 cattle rearers lost their lives. In the same period, 15 herders were killed in Niger State with 500 cattle taken away while 700 cattle were stolen and 17 people were killed in Taraba State.
Daily Trust findings also revealed that 29,040 cattle were rustled in Gombe, 92 in Yobe, 99 in Sokoto, 204 in Bauchi and 204 in Kwara, even as there were no casualty figures of herders.
The national secretary of MACBAN, Saleh Bayari, said rustlers who hitherto targeted herders in the rural areas, are now targeting commercial farms across the North. Speaking to our correspondent in Kaduna, MACBAN chairman in the state, Alhaji Ahmadu Suleiman, said rustlers attack herders with sophisticated weapons and drive their herds, no matter how large they are.
"The rustlers also target commercial farms and virtually all the farms along Kaduna-Abuja road were raided and their cattle herds driven away," he said. He said the number of stolen herds consisting of between 50 and 120 cattle had increased recently and many herders were killed.
"In January 2014, a total of nine herders were killed by armed rustlers and over 5,000 cattle were taken away out of which I recovered 22 and arrested two people. Those arrested were handed over to the police for prosecution. I learnt they were released on bail," Sulaiman said.
He said another three herds consisting of 120 cattle belonging to one Fulani family were moved by rustlers from a settlement near the Kaduna airport.
He said: "The family had met and decided to migrate to Maraban Rido due to the menace and on Tuesday night last week the rustlers attacked them and drove away their cattle herds. About 40 cows have returned the next morning. We are suspecting insider connection. And before that incident, some rustlers were chased away in Burutu town on Monday."
He said the rustlers have their camps in the thick forests and would gather about 2,000 stolen cattle there before selling them. They have middlemen who are mostly butchers that would bring along the buyers with their trucks to their hideouts. The animals are sold cheaply and loaded to the trucks before they are transported to major markets, he said.
He added that due to this menace, hundreds of families have migrated from their rural settlements in Birnin Gwari, Jiwa, Ckikun and Kubau to other places or other states. He also said the police are not helping matters, noting, "All rustling incidents are being reported to the police but they will only come to the scene or help in identifying the corpses of those killed. They also assist in taking the victims of attack to hospital but rarely participate in our effort to recover the stolen herds."
In Benue, the rustling took place mostly in Agatu, Apa, Gwer West and Guma, while in Plateau Wase, Shendam and Lantang North and South were the most affected areas.
Bayari said the rustlers move around with sophisticated arms and in Benue for example, they threw hand grenade at the middle of the herds, making the animals to scatter before driving them away, killing some animals in the process.
The deputy state chairman of MACBAN in Plateau State, Usman Bello Zabolo, told Daily Trust that the cost of the 7, 200 cows lost to rustlers in the state was approximately N430 million. "Last year alone", he said, "we lost 43 heads of cattle in Wase, 13 in Shendam, 11 in Barkin Ladi, nine in Langtang and five in Riyom." While linking cattle rustling to the persistent crises in the state, Zobolo said the arrest of the cattle rustlers by Shehu Aljan last week was a welcome development.
Aljan, who arrested 16 suspected cattle rustlers of both Fulani and Berom ethnic groups, said the suspects revealed that both tribes are guilty of cattle rustling.
Only last week in Zamfara State, three suspected cattle rustlers were killed by a mob in Nasarawa Godel village of Birnin Magaji Local government Area.
The spokesperson of Zamfara State police command, DSP Abdullahi Lawal, said they recorded 66 reported cases of cattle rustling and armed robbery and about 41 cattle owners were killed while about 702 suspects were arrested last year. He said 24 suspected cattle rustlers and two policemen were also killed during an encounter, while two police stations were attacked by the bandits.
He said 41 motorcycles, 10 cars, eight AK 47 rifles, one TO6 rifle, 23 dane guns, 13 knives, 26 cutlasses, 14 locally made pistols were also recovered from the rustlers. Sarkin Fulanin Zamfara, Alhaji Shehu Ahmad, said the Fulanis are always at the receiving end when it comes to cattle rustling in the state. He said herders in the state lost property worth N120 billion to crisis, just as about 60 percent of them fled the state in the past two years.
In Sokoto, cases of cattle rustling are very minimal, according to Daily Trust findings. The police spokesman in the state, DSP Almustapha Sani, said most of the reported cases of cattle rustling in the state occurred along border towns, mostly Sabon Birni and Isa Local Government Areas, sharing borders with Niger Republic. In Yobe State, herders in Jajere and Gashua are seriously facing threats from rustlers. Malam Muhammad Bello Jajere, a herder in Chidol village of Jajere Local Government Area, told our correspondent that he lost 92 cows and 51 sheep and goats to the rustlers.
In Gombe State, MACBAN scribe Aliyu Alhaji Abare said 29, 040 were lost to rustlers in the state last year. He said last year alone he lost about 35 heads of cattle to rustlers as a result of which he disposed them all after recovering them. Reacting to the story, the police headquarters in Abuja said it commenced aerial patrols by helicopters to stop rustling. Force spokesman CSP Frank Mba told our reporter yesterday that the patrols were designed to stop the menace of cattle rustling and loss of human lives that has plagued some states in the north.
"Our helicopters are doing a lot of patrols in Nasarawa, Plateau, Taraba and Benue States... as I am speaking to you, because of the seriousness that we are pursuing the issue of aerial patrols, we are building a helipad in Lafia," he said.
"The helipad should be delivered probably before the end of February, we are also building a helipad in Otukpo and we have been using the Air-Force base in Makurdi for taking-off of our helicopters," he said. "But to tell you how serious we are, we want to deploy one helicopter permanently in Benue, one helicopter permanently in Lafia and these two helicopters are to take care of the four key states of Nasarawa, Plateau, Taraba and Benue," he said. The police spokesperson also charged state and local government authorities to delineate grazing routes to separate cattle herders from farmers.
Nuruddeen M. Abdallah, Ronald Mutum, Misbahu Bashir, Hamisu Kabair Matazu, Lami Sadiq, Hassan Ibrahim, Shehu Umar, Hope Abah, Aliyu M. Hamagam, Abubakar Auwal and Ahmed Mohammed