Alhaji Baba Usman Ngelzarma is the new National Chairman of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN). While featuring on Trust TV’s, Daily Politics, he spoke on the many difficulties faced by pastoralists in Nigeria.
We are aware of the intrigues that trailed the election of new leadership of MACBAN; how tough was it and how did you emerge?
Well, it was a bit tough but Alhamdulillah, I appreciate God for giving me victory. At least whatever took place, we associate it with the will of God but now we are victorious.
We appreciate God for everything and we hope this new leadership that has come on board will be a source of peace for all the pastoralists in the country.
I want to use this medium to appreciate his eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto, for organising a formidable team to take charge of the screening and the election.
The mere mention of herder or, let me be specific, Fulani, elicits suspicion across the country; why the profiling?
Well, we attribute this aspect of profiling to the attitude of some media houses and to some extent the attitude of some politicians. You know, politicians today, sometimes use religion to get what they want and sometimes they use their ethnicity, tribalism to get what they want; so this is the game. The negative profiling, we believe to some extent is deliberate; some people out there are trying to prepare the Nigerian Fulani for genocide, that is why they engage in the negative profiling and to sustain it until now when almost everybody thinks negatively against the pastoralists. Even if a person divorces his wife in the southern part of the country, it is normally attributed to the pastoralists. But thank God; a lot of criminals are being caught and the security realised they are mostly not Fulani. We always agree we have our fair share of criminals.
At what point did the Fulani young man who is known to be carrying sticks herding cows have connection with some of these crimes and criminalities?
You know ignorance and poverty are two things that can make a person become anything. The pastoralists’ youths were not given the opportunity to be educated because of the nature of their trade and because of the neglect that society has suffered over the years because it is a neglected society for decades. These are people who are doing their legitimate things, rearing the cow, roaming the wild, looking for pastures for their herds because this is the only thing they know, this is what they saw their forefathers doing and because there was no attempt by the past administrations to transform, to modernise their trade. So they only practice what they only know as their only source of livelihood and a way of life. So while they are doing that, the nature of the business did not give them the opportunity to settle in one place and be educated, so they are always on the move looking for where their cows will get pasture to eat or where their cows can get water to drink, that is what is pushing them to the southern part of the country because all the grazing reserves we have in the North are becoming dead, no grass, no water. So they gradually move from one area to another looking for water and pasture for their herds. This makes them illiterate because the opportunity for them to be educated was not there. And secondly, with the emergence of cattle rustling, it started in a small scale, to a larger scale to an industrial scale to the extent that thousands of cows are today missing without trace.
Have your members been compensated?
The Nigerian pastoralists have never enjoyed any form of compensation right from the onset of insurgency in the North East.
Let me get it clear. Government over time, let’s start from 1999, if you talk about bird flu, farmers who had poultry and lost it to bird flu were adequately compensated and then you had farmers who lost their grains.
What is the problem with yours?
Nothing like that. Let’s begin from the North East where the insurgency took place some years back. The pastoralists remained the typical victims of that crisis because at a time, the insurgents were using the pastoralist’s cows as their only source of money until when they finished, they started looting communities. So a lot of pastoralists were rendered poor as a result of that insurgency in the North East. And with the coming up of banditry in the North West, one can imagine how many pastoralist families are being affected by that and in all these that is taking place, there has never been a time we were noticed, where compensation are being paid to the pastoralists, that is part of the frustration of the pastoralists.
But don’t you think that was partly responsible for the inability for government to reach out?
Maybe but that is his culture, he will never sit in a place and wait for alms.
Is it condescending, he feels that it is not worth it?
That is his nature because he is not a weak person, he is always a very powerful person, he is always a person who relies on himself for everything by himself, he has never relied on government for anything and government has never done anything to the pastoralists from social amenities. Security is for everybody, once the government provides security, security affects everybody. So they must be part of the security arrangement because they are Nigerians. But in terms of social amenities provisions, they have never, they don’t know anything, they are never used to getting anything from government, they are always on their own living in the forest, depending on themselves, depending on the cow solely, selling the cow for everything they want to do for their lives, getting the children married out, going to the hospital, everything, it is from the cow, this is their life. There has never been a time when compensation or any form of support was extended to the pastoralist to my knowledge.
When you talk about neglect, what about the nomadic school established by the military government?
Let me tell you, not only the nomadic schools, we have about 415 grazing reserves spread across the northern part of the country, all of them put together covering about an area of about five million hectares of land. Out of this number, some grazing reserves are being developed, dams were provided, nomadic schools have been constructed, veterinary clinics, even milk collection centres were being put up in some of these grazing reserves.
It means certain efforts were made
Certain efforts were made by the government and by intervention from within and outside the country but because of the neglect, all these things were allowed to get dilapidated, today nothing works in the grazing reserves, all the dams are silted. Go to Wase Grazing Reserve in Plateau State, I realised that there were about 18 dams that don’t work, they are all silted. So if you go to any grazing reserve that enjoyed intervention in the past, you will realise that all those infrastructures that were in place in those areas have dilapidated. The dams are silted, the nomadic schools are dilapidated, where they are okay, no teachers, and the veterinary clinics are no longer there, milk collection centres are not there, and nothing works in the grazing reserves. Not only that; even the grass that is being taken care of by the rainfall, natural endowment, is now giving way to unpalatable ones. Do you know why? Because the cows normally come out from the dry season very hungry looking for food, emaciated, so in the first, second, third week of rain, immediately the new grasses begin to come out, the cows will be forced to be feasting on them and by feasting on them, they remove them from their roots, so the grasses are not allowed to grow and drop seeds for next season; so this process made the grazing reserves become bare, no grass that can be consumed by the cow, no water, no veterinary services, how do we expect the pastoralists to live there and see their only source of livelihood dying, so they have to move from one place to the other looking for green pastures and you cannot blame them for that because as far as they are concerned this is the only thing they know, this is the only thing they saw their forefathers do and they inherited. Up till today that we live in this era of development, these guys are still living in the past because there was no attempt to modernise their trade, there was no attempt to educate them, there was no attempt to give them concern and social amenities, so today what is happening is frustration among the pastoralist society, it is loss of sense of belonging among the pastoralist society and crime and criminality is very much affecting them and affecting their wealth at the same time. We see them as victims from the culprits that most of the public is looking at them because they are the sole owners of the cows in the country. Today our statistics show us that over three million cows have been lost due to cattle rustling and criminalities because I always say before one or two personalities are kidnapped either on the main road or in the communities, I am telling you, believe you me hundreds of pastoralists are being kidnapped on a daily basis.
But what is there in the open is that they are the kidnappers and then sometimes, are there some kidnappers among them?
Definitely, they said “an idle mind/man is the devil’s workshop”. I told you earlier these guys are not educated and if you take away the entire cow of their family, what do you expect them to do tomorrow because they have no education and they have no any other skills apart from the cattle rearing and if you take away the entire cows, what do you expect them to become? With the exuberance, the lack of education and poverty coming to add up and sometimes the influence of drugs.
What about the allegations that they carry AK47 rifles, they buy them at high cost and what are the remedial measures?
You see, this thing started as a result of the unmanaged farmer-herder conflict because it was not managed very well it gave rise to a small scale cattle rustling, then from that it developed into large scale and industrial scale cattle rustling. When these criminals grow in sophistication they migrated to kidnapping because it is easier to kidnap human beings, get him to stay in one place and get liquid cash rather than taking the cow, roaming the wild, suffering to get them disposed and where even you dispose them, you get a cow that is selling maybe for N200,000 the buyer will, may be, take it for N50,000 or N30,000. So they suffer before they get the cows disposed. So when they grew in sophistication they migrated to kidnapping, from kidnapping, banditry emerged as a result of the establishment of vigilante group in Katsina and Zamfara states in those years back.
In other climes even in Nigeria even in newspapers, you see Hausa-Fulani; is it a misnomer, it is not really real definition of what is…
No, it is never a misnomer because today if you go to Kano area, hardly can you find a hardcore Fulani man because of the cross breeding, intermarriage between the Hausas and the Fulanis, you can hardly find a Hausa man who has no Fulani linage in his parental this thing.
But they have been killing themselves in Zamfara and in Katsina and other places. Where is the problem?
In some places even Fulanis against Fulanis, Fulanis as farmers on one hand and Fulanis as pastoralist on the other hand. Go to Katsina, Katsina is a Fulani dominated state, so you see Fulanis as farmers, sometimes fighting with Fulanis as herders. Look at what is recently taking place in Taraba today, Fulanis killing the same Fulanis that they call Zamfarawa and Katsina who are in Taraba, they see them as criminals, so they went after them and killed them. And last two days I have also been informed that these guys are also taking revenge of what was done on them; so it is really a complicated issue, it is highly complicated issue.
From 2015 when the incumbent administration came in, there were high expectations that some of these anomalies will be corrected, where is the missing link because we have heard of RUGA, we have heard of livestock transformation, we have also heard of reclaiming the grazing routes and all that. Where are we?
Well, we are still where we are. There was very high hope when this administration came on board because we see Muhammadu Buhari as one of those who knows the challenges of the pastoralists because when he was in PTF he has done a lot of things. He has done a lot of things to develop the grazing reserves and provide a lot of infrastructure, so there was a lot of hope when Buhari came in as the president, so we thought maybe this will be the end of our predicament. But then, you know politics as it is, it turned out the other way round because Buhari was so much attacked by politicians because he is a Fulani man so the attack was so much, we believe that was what stopped Buhari from doing anything for the pastoralist because whatever issue his administration touches on providing projects to the pastoralists, that intention is always faced with a lot of challenges.
Mostly from the south and mostly from the south dominated media. We as an association or we as a group of Fulanis, we believe we have become battleground for politicians simply because Buhari is a Fulani man, so those guys outside who want to spoil the name of the Fulanis always, they started by spoiling our good name by always mentioning criminal Fulani herdsmen, from there Fulani kidnappers, from there Fulani bandits.
But don’t you think that the president is also maybe a victim, maybe he was twisted, he was blackmailed into not actually doing some of these things?
Exactly, that is what I am trying to tell you, he has been blackmailed.
But he didn’t wield the big stick as chief executive and commander-in-chief.
He didn’t, that was the surprise we always have, he didn’t; so he succumbed to these pressures. When they talk about RUGA started, you can imagine the pressure, you can bear me witness, the enormous pressure that dominated, so the federal government had to stop it. When it becomes cattle colony, it also becomes something else that the pastoralists, Buhari wanted to take land for Fulani, jihad and what have you; all these types, a lot of useless things were being attributed to those intentions, so as a government they also rescinded. Later the national livestock transformation plan came, that what was succeeded to some extent.
Okay, there were some successes, like where and where?
There was because monies have been released to some of the governments, like the government of Katsina state, Gombe state, Adamawa state, including my state Yobe. In Yobe now, where I am, the livestock village is taking off now because a lot of dams are being constructed, settlement for the pastoralists, pasture is being provided, so a lot of things are going on in Nasari Grazing Reserve in Yobe state. So I believe the same thing is also going on, taking place in Adamawa and other places that have enjoyed both the intervention of the national livestock transformation plan. But then, even at that, how do you expect a livestock centre in Adamawa that has the capacity of maybe containing not more than 20, 000 or 30,000 cows, to serve the purpose of about over two million cows in Adamawa state. So all we are saying is that the National Livestock Transformation Plan is okay as a model, at least the pastoralists will now begin to see how to transform into a modernized system of animal husbandry.
How are your members fairing in states that they have banned grazing, they have banned night movement of cattle, how are your members fairing?
It’s terrible, take Benue for example. I just saw yesterday how that governor is talking badly about the Fulanis that he is not going to support a Fulani candidate and all that, it is really unfortunate.
But are they safe in areas where they are allowed to graze, maybe in the border lands?
There is nowhere a pastoralist is safe today in the country, it is only a risk he is taking. As I speak to you now, about 15 per cent of the pastoralists have moved out of this country.
How will this affect the economy, the protein economy of Nigeria?
It will definitely affect the protein economy of Nigeria in the very near future because the cows as I speak to you now, the pastoralists have lost about three million cows as a result of cattle rustling and about 15 per cent of their number are moving out of the country and they will continue to move out because the cow is the only thing they have as their only source of livelihood.
We are approaching election and I heard that some of you were in Niger state, what are you taking to the table to negotiate with candidates or you’ve already endorsed one?
We have never endorsed and we are not going to endorse until when we present to them with our seven point demand that is here. Our demand first on the issue of security, our second demand is on victim support because we have never been assisted in any form. Number three, education of the pastoralist youths and the adult education given to the pastoralist adults. Not only that, skill acquisition centres being provided for our pastoralists because they have to move from cattle rearing only to diversify to other skills as well. In the event the cattle are taken by bandits, you will have somewhere to also fallback to. So, we have education, we have livestock development while we requested for the establishment of a livestock ministry away from the ministry of agriculture like what is obtained in most of the West African countries. Or at worse, creating of an office of the state minister for agriculture because the challenges of livestock today is more than the one that can be handled by a mere animal husbandry department under the federal ministry of agriculture.And number five, we also spoke on the national livestock transformation plan and also requested the government to develop the existing grazing reserves that we have as a prelude to settlement.
These are the responsibilities of the state government and the state governments are not up to their responsibilities as far as livestock is concerned. Go and see their budget, in almost all the state government, you almost see a zero budget for livestock including the federal government.
Then the ethnic profiling and media bias against our members, these are part of the federal and state budget provision I spoke about now. So, these are the seven issues that we presented to each and every aspirant.
We have to listen to them, we have to know how their manifesto is going to carry along the pastoralist challenges in the country before we sit down, analyze, decide on what candidate we will go for.