Why does the ownership of the estimated 19.5 million cows in Nigeria remain shrouded in secrecy? Surely, the herdsmen we see carrying AK-47 rifles and following the cows through the roadways, villages, and farmlands are not the owners of the cows they tend. Rather, they are hired by the cattle owners to ensure that the cattle are fed and defended against rustling and other dangers.
We also know that the herdsmen are organised into an association known as the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria. Speaking at the General Assembly of the Interfaith Dialogue Forum for Peace on January 18, 2018, the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar III, revealed that MACBAN was established over 32 years ago to cater for the welfare of its members and advance the growth of Fulani business. By Fulani business here is meant cattle rearing. MACBAN has a branch in each of the six geopolitical zones of the country, which often promptly intervenes on matters concerning the herdsmen within its zone.
True, the leadership of MACBAN owns some of the cattle; but the vast majority of the cattle are owned by people outside the association. This leads to several questions: Who are the cattle owners in Nigeria? What is their relationship to MACBAN? How many heads of cattle does each of them own? How much tax do they pay on each head of cattle? Let us examine these questions more closely.
Beyond the leadership of MACBAN, the first suspects are the patrons of the association. The list consists of the upper echelons of Fulani oligarchs. Here’s the list as recounted recently by one of them, the Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II: “The first grand patron was Sultan Abubakar III; and he was replaced by successive sultans – Dasuki, Maccido and Saad Abubakar now. Other patrons were Emir of Kano, Lamido Adamawa, and emirs of Zazzau and Katsina. So, my predecessor was a patron and on my ascension to the throne, I became a patron” (The PUNCH, January 14, 2018).
It is well-known that the Fulani elite own millions of heads of cattle. It will be recalled, for example, that President Muhammadu Buhari revealed in his asset declaration in 2015 that he owned “ farms, an orchard, and a ranch … 270 heads of cattle, 25 sheep, five horses, a variety of birds and a number of economic trees” (Vanguard, September 3, 2015).
However, the ownership of cattle goes well beyond the Fulani. Many Northern politicians of various ethnicities, especially governors, senators, and members of the House of Representatives as well as their predecessors in office, also own cattle. So do businessmen and thousands of livestock farmers. It is also true of military and ex-military officers from the North.
Interestingly, cattle ownership in Nigeria is not limited to Northerners. There is no state in the federation in which cattle owners do not reside with their cattle. And not all of such owners are Northerners. In every state, there are indigenes who own cattle. For example, Senator David Mark, an Idoma from Benue State, is said to be a major cattle owner.
What seems to be common to all cattle owners in the country is the hiring of Fulani herdsmen to tend their cattle, often through the local MACBAN branch. This is in recognition of pastoralism as their traditional occupation. The implication is that there are Fulani herdsmen resident in virtually every state in the federation. This is why, for example, many Benue residents claimed that they knew some of the herdsmen who plundered their villages and killed the residents.
So far, the people’s anger has been directed at these herdsmen, who are being blamed for plundering farmlands and entire villages. It is high time the owners of the cattle were brought into the equation. There are several reasons to do so, and urgently too.
First, it is believed that the explanation for the sudden upsurge in the marauding exploits of the herdsmen and their killing binge goes beyond them and feeding cows. There is probably a hidden agenda, which, it is believed, may implicate the cattle owners themselves. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo hinted at this in his comment at the graveside of the 73 Benue victims last week: “Whatever is behind this … we must get to the root of it; and until we get to the root of this, we will be burying victims … we must know why this is happening”.
Second, it is necessary to know the source of the AK-47 rifles carried by the herdsmen in full public glare. Where do the arms come from and who is arming them? The government has advanced two major theories about the source of the arms. One theory blames the arms on Gaddafi-trained warriors who returned to Nigeria after the Libyan strong man’s defeat.
Another theory blames the arms on politicians who are behind the herdsmen-farmers clashes. Their goal, the theory goes, is to foment trouble and cause instability in order to make the government look back ahead of the 2019 elections.
But then, why do security officers under the control of the Federal Government appear complicit in the herdsmen’s crime? If the perpetrators of the Offa bank robberies were arrested and interrogated to the point of naming the alleged sponsors of their ammunition, why not do the same with killer herdsmen? Why are they not made to name their sponsors? If the Federal Government has sufficient intelligence about the sponsors, why not go after them? Could the government’s cold feet have to do with the finding that many cattle owners from the North are also politicians?
Why is the Federal Government always ready to appease the herdsmen instead of blaming them for their crime, while delaying, if not denying, the necessary attention to the victims? Why is the focus more on building ranches than on rebuilding plundered villages and compensating the victims?
Third, it is necessary to know the cattle owners so that the Federal Inland Revenue Service could collect the appropriate tax from them. Millions of people must be raking in profit from the sale of cows, beef, milk, cowherd, and so on. The Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, and the FIRS should be keenly interested in them.
Fourth, it is high time reliable statistics were generated that would provide necessary data for planners and researchers interested in livestock farming in Nigeria. Such data should be able to tell us who owns what breed of cattle and where? If such data are not available now, where does the figure of 19.5 million heads of cattle come from? On what basis is the government planning its intervention in the ongoing conflicts between herdsmen and farmers? Appropriate data are needed and necessary taxes should be collected, if livestock farming were to make a dent on Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product.
Finally, it must be emphasised that the government cannot keep advancing theories behind herdsmen’s killings without stopping the rampage. Yet, a concrete plan for achieving that goal is not discernible. The government must do something and soon.