Cattle rustling has spread across many northern states of Nigeria, leaving in its wakes, marks that portend that a new ‘Boko Haram’ is in the making.
Everywhere was getting dark. You can start hearing the chirping of crickets onto leaves; mowing of cattle that just returned from grazing and the clinking of pots and plates that will soon serve dinner. The children were still jumping up and down, the women stirring the pots of soup, while the men were gathering for dusk prayers. Then danger struck!
Out of nowhere, hooded men numbering over 20 carrying dangerous weapons including AK47s, daggers, cutlasses, bows and arrows, etc. appeared. And they were shooting sporadically!
Women who were stirring soups on fire were jolted; they abandoned the sweet broth and headed towards the direction of their screaming children and in the process toppled the delicacies. Men stiffen their resolves and searched quickly for their weapons to get ready for a showdown. But alas, they were outnumbered and outmarched!
“Shoot the Alhaji! Shoot the Alhaji!” screamed one of the bandits, narrated Alhaji Jibrin who witnessed this harrowing ordeal. On hearing this and seeing the numbers and arms carried by the bandits, everybody took his heels, running for dear lives.
Women grabbed their kids and head straight into the bush, moving in the opposite direction of the gunshots. Even as dear as cattle are to Fulani, in this scenario, the herdsmen couldn’t do anything to rescue the animals. But those that were recalcitrant or unlucky were hit with stray bullets causing them varying degrees of injuries and some ultimately exiting this world. Alhaji Jibrin managed to escape with his soul, but was bruised with bullet sprays.
And when the dust settled, he had lost 80 herds of cattle to the melee, while his two sons lost 60 and 40 respectively. This melodrama akin to a Nollywood movie happened in the fringes of Falgore Forest, at the outskirts of Rano Town of Kano State, where he took his herd to graze.
“Over 1000 cows have been rustled from Fulani herdsmen,” says Alhaji Usman Usman, the National Chairman of APC Fulani Nationwide, “and about 17 Fulani herdsmen killed”. And he fumed at the lackadaisical attitudes authorities take towards rescuing the animals and ameliorating the suffering of Fulani herdsmen.
“If you stay on any federal road,” Usman lamented, “out of every 100 trailers that move to the south of Nigeria from the north, 98 are carrying cattle!”
And Adamu I. Birniwa, the National Youth Leader of the association, alleged that the revenue generated from hides and skins sales was what was used for oil exploration in the country and as such, decried “the pathetic state of the Fulani man in Nigeria today!” According to Birniwa and Usman, since the Fulani herdsman’s wealth was used to kick-start the economy and it still being a major player of the economy, he shouldn’t have been left in the fringes fighting for survival and sustenance.
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But the authorities have a different story to tell. Kano state police commissioner, Alhaji Muhammad Katsina recently paraded to journalists over 72 arrested suspected cattle rustlers and over 818 rescued cattle that were to be returned to the owners. Also, he said the police killed three of the suspects, including one Umaru Dogo Ndaiye, a Senegalese national who led a gang of bandits that maimed, raped and ransacked the entire Gidan Kare village in Sumaila Local Government Area of the state.
“Ndaiye was gunned down when he engaged our men in a gun battle who were on special duty at Falgore forest by Gazobi village. He later gave up while receiving treatment at the hospital. A revolver pistol and 224 rustled cattle were recovered from him while four other members of his gang were arrested,’’ the police commissioner said.
On his part, Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje said the state government had set up a committee to return the cattle to their genuine and rightful owners and called on the people of the state, particularly those of Tudun Wada, Doguwa and Sumaila local government areas that shared borders with the Falgore forest, to cooperate with security agents with a view to checkmating the menace.
The Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II, urged courts in the state ensure that those found guilty were appropriately prosecuted.
But at the end, no succour was reported to have been given to the Fulanis whose cattle were not returned and are currently finding it difficult to live.
When Boko Haram sprouted in the early 2000s under the regime of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, they weren’t violent and were overlooked.
Even when prominent Islamic scholars such as Late Malam Ja’afar Mahmud Adam warned of the imminent destruction the sect could bring to the society and Islam in particular, the government of the day waved off the warning with the wave of a hand.
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In many of his sermons, the Late Ja’afar wondered “Why Muhammad Yusuf (the late leader of Boko Haram) would be arrested and orders from above will come for his release or personalities like Jeremiah Useni and Jerry Gana come to bail him?”
And with leaps and bounds, Boko Haram grew to become the monster it became recently!
History Repeating Itself
Cattle rustling is not an isolated case to Falgore Forest of Kano State. According to the chairman of the Kano State Committee on Cattle Rustling, Alhaji Sani Dawaki Gabasawa, “At least 11 local government areas in the state were affected by the scourge of cattle rustling and 13 states of the federation were also identified with this same problem.”
Even Kaduna State governor, Nasir el-Rufai, said recently that unless urgent steps are taken, a new Sambisa Forest is in the making in the North West zone of the country. According to him, investigations revealed that the cattle rustlers in the zone reside in Kamuka forests, which if urgent action is not taken, may turn out to be a hub to cattle rustling.
The governor said, “Unless we have a secured zone, we are not going to make any progress. In my state for instance, we have a lot of cattle rustling in two local governments. So the first thing we did as a government was to work on a common regional security strategy because most of the cattle rustlers reside in Kamuku forest which we concluded will be the next Sambisa unless we take these guys out of there.
“So we came together, we funded the operation; federal government said it was not ready to fund it; we contributed money, each of the seven states and we funded a military operation which has been going on and which has substantially degraded the activities of rustlers.”
As an adage says, “The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step!” Cattle rustling whom according to Alhaji Usman Usman, “governments of all levels are treating with kids’ gloves” could spiral into an uncontrollable menace debilitating the nation and negating its progress if not nipped in its bud.
Here are some of the multiplier effects.
The cattle rustlers are emboldened in their activities when authorities turn blind eyes on them. This is a lesser evil.
But the kegs of gunpowder waiting to explode are the deprived cattle owners.
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Fulani herdsmen tend to marry early and give birth to many children. Usually before a boy gets to the age of 18, he has already been groomed to become a man. Once he comes of age, he gets married and is given herds of cattle to rear, multiply, sell and maintain his young family. And when his own children also come of age, the cycle continues.
Majority of Fulani are barely educated, neither in Islamic nor western education. So when they are robbed of their major source of sustenance – the cattle – they have nothing to fall back to.
When this reporter visited a ruga (Fulani settlement) in the outskirt of Rano town, the valley which used to bubble with cattle was now a shadow of its former self. No single form of formal education was sighted anywhere in the valley.
One of the survival mantra most Nigerians sing is, “When the desirable is not available, make the available desirable!” Meaning, if you were looking for a plum job in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), banking or telecommunication sector, but you couldn’t lay your hand on any, all you need to do is turn to teaching, which is tagged “the poor man’s last hope”.
But you can only teach when you are averagely learned. And here, the Fulanis are scarcely learned. So, what and where do they turn to? Nothing and nowhere! And this is the bubble that is about to burst!!
The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
Alhaji Jibrin, now in his sixties, caught a forlorn figure. Even though quiet and talks slowly, he remains calculative. He had a son called Abba who attends a secondary school in Katsina state whom he sponsored through the proceeds of cattle rearing. But he recently stopped Abba’s education due to the paucity of fund.
“An idle mind,” as another adage says, “is the devil’s workshop!” Here is an idle father, redundant elder brothers and the alternative and perhaps last hope of the family has also been grounded! A veritable mix for catastrophe!! And according to the APC Fulani Nationwide, the authorities and elites are not doing anything to ameliorate the suffering of these groups of people.
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According to the Alhaji Usman, “If for instance, there is flooding in a farmland – which if you sell all the produce, you will not get more N60,000.00 – you will see individuals, local, state and federal governments assisting them? But if a Fulani man loses cattle worth N10 million, not even a single stick will be given to him by any government or philanthropists!”
And according to him, all these herdsmen have dependents. “When these children grow up without cattle and education, what will they do?” he queried. “Nothing!” he retorted. And so, some resort to stealing!
Saving the Day
The former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Olu Falae, who was kidnapped recently in his farm but later released after paying N100 million ransom, pointed accusing fingers on the Fulanis as his abductors. When the Afenifere, the pan-Yoruba group rose up from a summit it held to look into the matter, they concluded to send all Fulani herdsmen packing from the Southwest region of Nigeria.
On his part, Senator Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso, a former governor of Kano state, faulted their line of thought. In his submission, he believed that education is the only antidote to Fulani’s problems in the nation.
He said, “It (Fulani crisis) is not only peculiar to the South-West. We just have to have a lot of understanding of the situation. Some of the issues being raised by the people, especially politicians, do not help anybody.” And he added that “I am Fulani. My parents settled many years ago. My father went to school and I have been to school. My children have gone to school. Now, I don’t think I will get cattle and go into a forest; that is education for you.”
Malam Adamu I. Birniwa also shares the same views of Senator Kwankwaso and also called on concerned individuals and governments to provide education systems in Fulani settlements.
Furthermore, he and Malam Usman made compassionate pleas on individuals, federal, state and local governments to look into the plights of Fulani herdsmen. First, adequate schools should be built in Fulanis’ settlements. Secondly, they want the sufferings of Fulanis ameliorated. Thirdly, they want rustled cattle rescued and returned to genuine owners. And fourthly, governments should create secure new and revamp old game reserves for cattle to graze properly which will curb the incessant herdsmen-farmers clashes.
As it is right now, Fulanis whose cattle are rustled remain liabilities to themselves and their immediate families alone. Without the support and aids of governments and philanthropists, they could turn out to become eyesores of the nation in the nearest future. They have already been accused of kidnappings. Who knows what crime they will be accused of in the future? Boko Haram also started like a child’s play!
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