Hassan Yusuf is the Ardo of Baruten, or Chief of Fulani of Baruten Local Government Area of Kwara State. In this interview in Ilesa Baruba – one of the four districts making up the local government, which is largely agrarian and shares an extensive border with Benin Republic, he opens up on the impact of the removal of oil subsidy on the Kara international cattle market, its impact on ordinary pastoralists, and sheds light on the cattle routes which have been blocked in many areas nationwide, but hardly so in Benin Republic. He explains why farmer/herder conflicts are rare in Benin Republic, the special laws or regulations which guide grazing in Benin, the Fulani mastery of bushes, paths and forests, and more. In sum, he provides insight into one aspect of life in a neglected border region.
Comment on the impact of subsidy removal on Kara international market?
The removal of subsidy has been spoken about for long, right from the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. The subsidy removal is having impact here in the rural area, especially among our people in the rural areas – the cattle breeders, cattle dealers and sellers. Initially, a cow costs N300,000 but now it costs N400,000 because if you purchase a cow of N300,000 from here and you are taking it to Lagos, you have to consider many things. Before, we were paying N6,200 for each cow transported to Lagos. But now, the same cow costs N10,420 to be transported to Lagos, including the revenue, that is, the quarantine, produce, state revenue, local govt revenue, federal revenue all paid on the highway. That amount covers all of that. The federal government has decided to remove the subsidy. If we see that we cannot sell our cows, we push it to Benin Republic and sell, so that we will have money. During the time of the cashless policy early this year, we took our cattle to Benin Republic, and collected their money. The more the rate of petrol goes up, the more the cost of cows will go up. Protein will soon go beyond the reach of the average Nigerian. Very soon, they will be cutting meat at the rate of N200, N300. They have started at Shaki in Oyo State. There is a place I ate last week at Shaki, and a piece of meat cost N300.
How many cows does a trailer contain?
A single trailer which has ten tyres, contains almost 45 cows, some contain 50, some 35. But it is according to the size of the cow because there is a lorry that can only carry 25-30 cows, owing to the size of the cow. We have some big bulls that can occupy a space meant for three cows because of their size. The prices of the cows vary. We have cows of N650,000, N700,000, even at times N800,000 to N1m. Those are the ones we call Turka. A big Turka of up to 500kg costs a million Naira. Now, it will cost higher.
For instance, a set of cows formerly sold for N300,000 now costs N400,000. You spend N10,000 for transit up to Lagos. Then there is the issue of loading and offloading and feeding, because if you take the cow to Lagos, you may not dispose of it on that day. It can take three or four days before you sell it. You will also buy food. You cannot take something to the market and still take it out from the market to go and graze. You obtain the food and feed it there in the market.
What are the herdsmen—the local cattle breeders, going through at this time?
- Security challenges will soon end – Gov Buni
- Pastoralists need training in modern rearing methods – Ardo of Baruten
On Monday, being the market day, there were arguments between the drivers and the pastoralists. In some areas, they pay N6,000 or N7,000 to transport their cows down to the market from various areas within the local government. When it is taken to Kara market, the driver will request for double the previous amount. The herder will be alarmed because they are not aware of the removal of subsidy. Fulani are aware that the price of petroleum has increased but they are not aware of the subsidy. They don’t know what that means. Many commodities such as animal drugs and salt have seen a rise in cost. Even the labourers taking care of cows are asking for additional reduction of months because after five months, it’s one cow that’s given to them. It’s not money that they receive. If you are patient and you go to somebody as a labourer, and you spend five to eight years with him, at least every year you have two cows with extra two months. The labourers are asking for three months now. They are saying that since everything has changed on account of the subsidy, they too will change.
If they rear cows, they are given a cow after five months. By the time they are shown the cow, maybe the cow will be almost three or five months old. It depends on the area the labourer works. A labourer suffers most in the typical forest. There, they used to give labourers a cow of six months. You go for five months. The cow will now be eleven months old. That is a one-year-old cow. If the cow is healthy, you will be talking of N150, 000. Some sell it. Some buy cloth, some sheep, some get married, others rear for more months and buy motorcycles. Some rear for a period of two years in order to get money to start a business. Now, they say if they gather the money, it will not be enough for them to establish another business. So, they are seeking a reduction of months, instead of five months, let it be four months.
The okada riders who bring a nomad at the rate of N500 from his camp to the market now charge N1,000, and the Fulani are complaining. The specific complaint is the cost of transportation. The nomad is not aware that there has been an increase in the pump price of petrol. Initially, he pays between N2,500 and N2,700 for a trip from Chikanda to Ilesa Baruba. When they arrived, the rider said the charge was N5,500. They started exchanging blows from the garage down here, before I told the Fulani man that the price has changed. This is one of the challenges we have here.
Are there other impacts of subsidy removal on the market?
Drugs for the cattle have become costly. The price has doubled. Yesterday, I bought a drug for N14,200. Formerly, it costs N9,200. It’s for the treatment of Trypanosomiasis. Then, there are some antibiotics and materials such as tarpaulin, especially for the rainy season. It’s now very costly. The rope we use to tie cows is also very costly now. The tarpaulin is to protect the pastoralists.
It’s rainy season and farmers are cultivating the farms. There’s need for us to live peacefully and we have spoken to our people. At the time people are cultivating the farms, the cows will move away from where people are living. The labourers cannot have a home when they move with the cattle, it’s far away from home. They use the tarpaulin to create a mobile home. If they are moving again, they just take it and move together with it.
Comment on the access to information among the pastoralists who live in camps
Many of the nomads don’t have radios, but some have android phones. We have tried to create a platform where we alert our people on developments in the community. There is a person living in Abeokuta. His name is Aliyu Mohammed. He is Fulani and he reads newspapers and translates the news to Fulfulde via a WhatsApp platform. So, many Fulanis who cannot read and write hear his voice and know what is happening. He translates from English to Fulfulde. We, the traditional rulers give a token amount to him to take care of himself. We are encouraging our people to buy android phones, so they can receive these sorts of messages. Government wants to open an FM station for the Fulani. We are trying to make a contribution to buy the land. We are trying to see if some NGOs can assist as well. The Fulani from Cameroon do not understand our own Fulfulde dialect very well. But since it’s the same language, we are able to understand some words. We piece them together and achieve some understanding. But Aliyu speaks Fulfulde fluently, such that the Fulani in Ghana and Cameroon will easily understand what he is saying.
In your opinion what will be the long-term impact of the subsidy removal on Kara market?
What I see is that we will increase the price of our animals – goat, sheep and cows. We will increase because you cannot load your cow at the rate of N5,000 per cow and you are still expected to sell it at the same amount. It has to increase. What we are praying is that the removal of petrol subsidy should work for the people. Instead of them to use the money saved from subsidy to do something that can help the masses, they may divert it. That is our fear. But if subsidy is going to help, let it help the ordinary people.
Our market is an international market. If there are good roads here, people will come from distant places. Before, people come from Onitsha to buy cattle here but because of bad roads, they are no longer coming.
Are cattle still being brought from Sudan and Mali to Kara market, despite the crises in both countries?
Because of foreign exchange issues, they are not bringing cows now. Before, what they did was to bring cows here, from Mali, and sell. If they change the money to their country’s currency, they will make gain and there will also be gain in the exchange. Then when Nigeria’s money and theirs is equal in exchange rate, they come to Nigeria with cows, sell them and then buy motorcycles and go back with that. That motorcycle represents the gain for them.
Now, they don’t bring cows from Niger Republic or Mali because of the exchange rate. Only Benin Republic brings cows, and the cows from Benin are Nigerian cows. These are cows taken out of Nigeria to go and graze there because of the rich pasture land which we don’t have. They have large land for pasture. The government established the rural areas in a way quite different from Nigeria. There will be a portion of land about 50km long, and there won’t be a farm there. It’s mainly for cattle, that’s why they earn huge revenues from Nigeria for the cows that are brought in from Nigeria to graze. All the cattle in Benin Republic are from Nigeria. It’s only the very short cattle that are indigenous to Benin Republic.
It’s very difficult to hear of a fight between farmers and cattle herders in Benin. Their cattle routes are clearly demarcated. There is no farming there. If you see cattle on the land of the farmers, it means the farmers have harvested the crops. Then the cattle will go down there and graze.
Another problem there is the cashew tree. It comes seasonally. When it’s ripe, it will fall and the cattle will pick it. The cattle will chew the cashew and swallow the seed. The seed is what is important to the farmer in Benin Republic. They need it. This often brings fights, but not crops. They never fight over crops.
Before, we had grazing routes in Nigeria but the routes have been blocked. In those days, from Sokoto down to Ilorin, there is a cattle route without houses and without a single farm, which passes through Jebba. They have blocked it. We are 50 metres from the pole wire. Anywhere there is the pole wire, that is the route for cows. We leave from Sokoto, Kano down to Onitsha, Kwara, Lagos, going on foot. The route is still there.
How do the herders recognize the cattle routes?
It’s like a domestic animal at home. If you take it to your farm, office or business area, the domestic animal can return home by itself, because it knows the route. That is the same with the cows. For instance, I succeeded my father as chief of Fulani of Baruten. So, I met him with cattle. Some of the rearers decided to go because they said they don’t know me, and do not know my habits, saying they cannot work with me, that I should go and employ herders. I employed a herder that can take care of the cattle. They were strangers, not knowing the route the cattle should follow and I wanted to lead my cows to Benin Republic. I called somebody. He now described the route they will follow, that they will meet so and so river, there is a mountain, then you will see the route of the cow. That is the route of the cow. If you don’t block the cow, they will take you to where they used to sleep.
All the roads you see in Nigeria were made or formed by cattle before they were turned into modern roads. Our old men told us that from Sokoto down to Ilorin is a cattle route. My grandfather told me this when I was in secondary school. It’s the cattle route that government used to construct roads. It’s the cattle route they followed to construct the road from Lagos to Ilorin, and everywhere else.
No matter how bushy a place is, if cows pass through the place, it becomes a road. That is why cattle rustlers always follow the cattle routes to reach where they are going. That is why when the army wants to operate in that area, they carry the Fulani along. If it is a forest, we know the kind of food we take and it will not affect us. We have a natural gift that the Almighty gave to us. We normally know where there is water. If you take me to the bush now, just leave me there and I will tell you that if you move into this or that area, you will find water.
Will the removal of subsidy push some nomads to migrate to neighbouring countries?
Removal of subsidy will not lead to migration of Fulani out of Nigeria. It can only contribute a problem to the cattle market. It will not push people to distant areas because of the mode of transportation and the price. What makes Fulani to leave Nigeria are two things: One is injustice. If there is injustice, they will not stay there. For example, there is justice where we are now in Kwara State, especially the judiciary, they are fair as well as the traditional fathers. Some are biased or sentimental but not to the extent where somebody can complain. I have worked in the whole 16 local government areas and I have seen many traditional leaders, have met with them and discussed with them.
I don’t think the subsidy removal will affect our people. What will affect our people will be based on transportation, and it will affect those buyers that come to buy cattle.
We don’t use fuel for farming, we have our bulls. All my cows cultivate farms for me. I don’t like tractors. Only two cows are enough for me to work with.
Then, there are the female traders at kara market. There are those selling milk, wara and other things. They too have increased the cost for various items. Now, you cannot ask for rice of N150. The price has doubled. Now, a plate of rice costs N200. As for Fura de nono, the price remains the same. They don’t buy the milk, it is from their cattle, that’s why the price has remained the same. If the money will go up, it may be from the millet which is part of the meal.
What is the origin of Kara market?
Kara market started in 1999, during President Obasanjo’s first tenure. It moved from Oyo State. Whenever OPC and other groups began a conflict, all the people who came from foreign countries such as Burkina Faso, Mali and Benin to sell cows, at that time, will be attacked, killed and their monies taken. I used to attend some meetings. I was secretary to my father then. Government had constructed the Kara market here in Ilesa Baruba by that time. Then, the government had to move down to Shaki because of security issues here in Ilesa. When security improved here, our fathers had a meeting, and with one voice they agreed that the market should relocate here.
The cattle were brought from other countries. This is what makes it an international market. Cattle were brought from Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea Bissau, Togo, Algeria too. Algeria will bring it down to Niger Republic where there is a collection centre.
Let us now turn to the point you raised earlier about educating the pastoralists on modern methods of animal husbandry
The only problem we have now is we want government to come into our matter by giving us nomadic schools. Pastoralists are the ones who live with their cattle. They need to have nomadic schools extended to them. Let government give us technical education, how to increase our cattle, to train our children in modern rearing because soon the bush will finish. That is what is causing fights all over the place. The bush will finish, it is decreasing in size. Many lands have been sold. You can go for up to 500 kms, you will just see signboards indicating no grazing, and nothing has been planted there. They just don’t want to see the cattle. We have some grasses that are very important like elephant grasses. They can be stored. When they are cut, they can be preserved, and they provide nutrients to the animal. Now, there are some Fulani who grow feed for their animals. The training is not enough, it should be continuous. If the government can take 10 Fulani from a community to go for that training, when they come back, they will inform others. We need technical education, not education to become a banker, or chairman local government, give us ideas on the business we inherited from our forefathers. We have nowhere to go. You cannot fight a child you did not train. But a child you trained; you fight him. He knows nothing about carpentry or engineering. He only knows about cattle, and if there are no cattle, what do you expect? Trainings and workshops on how to produce large animal food will help a lot. Some will rely on that to be producing it and selling it because they can see many important grasses wasting in Nigeria.
Can you shed light on the ability of the Fulani to identify spots where water is likely to be found
By mere looking at an environment, they can also guess that there must be a town nearby. A Fulani man can tell you that rain will fall by 4am. The Almighty has given them a gift to read the weather. There is a type of bird that shows the Fulani that there is water in an area. That type of bird is called Sefdul. I don’t know the name in English. When the rain wants to fall, that bird will fly. They will go in groups. If they come from north to south, that shows the herder that it is time for him to go back to the north, and that there is enough pasture there.
So, when the rainy season is passing, the same bird will show the herder that he can move from this area to another area, because there is not enough water there but there is water ahead. So, Fulani normally follow the birds. It’s just like a cock; when it is 4.30am, it will crow to indicate that it is morning. Those Fulani follow those birds. Fulani that come from Kano, Katsina, Sokoto, Bauchi to graze here during the dry season, tend to follow the birds.
Yesterday, as I was speaking with you, the birds passed around 6.30pm. They number more than one thousand and they go in groups. It’s a sign for the Fulani to go back north because there won’t be a problem of water and grasses along the way. But if they did not see these birds, they will be calling relatives to ask if they have seen the birds. Everybody watches out for the bird. In Fulfulde, this ability to read or be guided by nature is called ‘Dockal Jommiroo’ or gift of the Almighty.