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Tackling cattle rustling can check Nigeria’s insecurity, boost economy – Madueke

Kingsley Madueke is the Nigeria Research Coordinator for Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime (GITOC), and also a lecturer at the Centre for Conflict Management…

Kingsley Madueke is the Nigeria Research Coordinator for Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime (GITOC), and also a lecturer at the Centre for Conflict Management and Peace Studies, University of Jos.  

GITOC is an international think tank headquartered in Geneva that conducts cutting edge research on transnational organised crime, its impact on societies and how it intersects with conflict and instability as well as engages with relevant stakeholders to reduce the harms of organised crime and find sustainable solutions. In this interview he said tackling cow rustling in the nation can check the growing insecurity, and in effect boost the economy. Excerpts:  

Recently, you conducted a research for titled “Driving Destruction: Cattle rustling and instability in Nigeria”. What is the motivation?  

The motivation for the research came from a research initiative coordinated by the West Africa Observatory of GITOC entitled ‘Mapping illicit hubs in West Africa’. The research initiative seeks to map the regional illicit markets in West Africa (15 ECOWAS member states, plus Cameroon, Central African Republic and Chad). The aim of the exercise is to identify the key illicit hubs, hotspots, transit points and broader zones of criminality across the region and then explore how these intersect with instability dynamics. Hotspots are key hubs of illicit activity, whereas transit points are places like border crossings, transport and trade infrastructure nodes and so on that are leveraged for the trafficking of illicit commodities. And then crime zones are broader areas of criminality that may encompass a number of different hotspots or transit points. Nigeria featured prominently in the project.   

That study identified 280 hubs of illicit economies across 18 countries in West and Central Africa. Then, to each hub it applied the Illicit Economies and Instability Monitor (IEIM), a tool designed to assess the relative impact of the role played by illicit markets in fuelling conflict and instability. From this research, cattle rustling emerged as one of three illicit markets – alongside arms trafficking and kidnapping for ransom – which appeared far more commonly in hubs where illicit economies were identified to play a significant role as vectors of instability (‘high-scoring hubs’), than in hubs where illicit economies did not play a significant role in driving instability (‘low-scoring hubs’). Cattle rustling featured as a major market in high-scoring hubs three times more often than in low-scoring hubs.   

What was the scope of the study?

The fieldwork was conducted in eight local government areas (LGAs) across four states in Nigeria: Zamfara State (Zurmi and Maru LGAs) and Plateau State (Jos South and Barkin Ladi LGAs), identified as having the highest prevalence of cattle rustling; and Kwara State (Ilorin East and Baruten LGAs) and Oyo State (Orire and Ogbomosho North LGAs), identified to be key in the southward spread of cattle rustling.  

In addition, Oyo State was selected as a priority in part because this is where the regional vigilante force Amotekun was formed by state governors in the South-West in January 2020. The legislative bill establishing Amotekun highlighted cattle rustling, alongside kidnapping and armed robbery, as a main reasons for the establishment of the security outfit.  

Around 80 in-person and remote interviews and eight focus group discussions were conducted across the eight fieldwork locations with a range of stakeholders connected to cattle rustling, such as community leaders; victims of cattle rustling, including herders and their families; those involved at other levels of the livestock supply chain (e.g. workers in cattle markets); individuals involved in the illicit economy around cattle rustling; and academics and journalists familiar with the local and regional dynamics of cattle rustling.  

Tell us about the research findings.  

The research arrived at a good number of findings but the key among these findings are:  

-Cattle rustling and its impact on stability are conditioned by key local dynamics, including land management and distribution, longstanding conflicts and tensions, and national and local response strategies.  

-The effects of cattle rustling are felt well beyond the context in which it occurs: expansive supply chains, itinerant cattle rustling networks and the emergence of self defence groups all contribute to geographically diffuse harms.  

-If not constructively addressed, cattle rustling could spread to other parts of the country feeding into old tensions and fuelling new ones.  

-The effectiveness of response strategies in Nigeria, and the region more broadly, should be enhanced. Responses to date have largely employed uniform approaches, hindered by a lack of context-specific interventions.  

Who are they key actors and supply chain of this cow rustling?   

There are a range of actors involved in the supply chains of rustled cattle. The actors within the supply chains can be divided into three broad categories: cattle rustlers, middlemen and intermediaries, and buyers. Cattle rustlers are those who carry out the theft; middlemen and intermediaries include individuals who facilitate the sale of the cattle and market operators who collude with perpetrators, as well as the transporters who convey the cattle on trucks to markets. Finally, buyers include local and international dealers as well as butchers who buy cattle at far cheaper prices from large markets, such as the Illela cattle market in Sokoto State or the many ‘black cattle markets’ in remote locations in Zamfara, Kaduna and Katsina states.   

Considering the areas the research was conducted, how will you distinguish between the cow rustling in the North with that of the South West, and what are the security challenges they pose to each region?  

In the North West cattle rustling has contributed to instability through three main mechanisms. First, the violence associated with cattle rustling has led to thousands of deaths, large-scale displacement and the destruction of livelihoods. Second, it has polarised Hausa and Fulani communities, fuelling tensions and inter-communal violence. Finally, the growing sense of insecurity and fear generated by cattle rustling and the associated violence has led to the emergence of self-defence groups, forcing many communities to stockpile arms to defend themselves against armed bandits, thus fuelling arms trafficking supply chains. This has led to an increase in the availability of arms and multiplied the number of actors that can potentially engage in violence.  

In the North Central cattle rustling has become implicated in intergroup tensions between farming communities and pastoralist Fulani, as well as longstanding communal conflicts with strong religious connotations. Cattle rustling  has become a conflict strategy, both as mechanism for the procurement of arms, and – uniquely in Plateau State – as part of scorched-earth tactics. While not yet at the scale experienced in the North West, the dense intersection of cattle rustling with swelling ethnic tensions presents a significant risk factor for further violence.  

Although cattle rustling is more prevalent in northern Nigeria, as explained there has been an increasing southward diffusion of cattle rustling since around 2017. One of the main reasons for the southward spread of cattle rustling is the overall dwindling of cattle stock in northern Nigeria. This is due in part to rustling itself (as herds are depleted or displaced), but also to the effects of climate change and, more specifically, desertification.   

The dynamics of cattle rustling are different in the South West. Currently, the South West only experiences pockets of cattle theft, which remain rarer than in the north, and are typically associated with lower levels of violence. For example, while cattle rustling is not as prevalent in the South West as it is in the North West and North Central regions, the supply chains of stolen cattle extend southwards and over borders, particularly as regional price differences draw a significant proportion of cattle rustled in the north to markets in the south. The southern states that share boundaries with the North Central region act as transit points for stolen cattle being transported southwards. For example, Oyo is a major transit point for cattle coming from Kaduna and Zamfara through Kogi and Kwara. From Oyo, cattle are distributed to markets in Ogun and Lagos – states with above average beef consumption.  

Further, the movement of IDPs forcibly relocated through instability and loss of livelihoods linked to cattle rustling, and the wider activities of bandit groups, in areas of the North West is an important second-tier effect in the southwest. IDPs from Zamfara, Kaduna and Niger states have predominantly sought refuge in Kwara – a state that is part of the north central region but serves as the gateway to the southwest. This is exerting pressure on resources and can potentially intensify competition and increase the possibility of conflicts.  

By and large, your research linked a considerable proportion of instability in Nigeria to cow rustling, as well as propelling other criminal activities like arms trafficking and kidnapping. To what extent is that perspective correct?   

In the report, we illustrated the role of cattle rustling in fuelling instability by weaponising existing conflicts and multiplying armed actors. Across Nigeria, a main characteristic of cattle rustling, central to its close relationship with instability, is how the practice feeds into deeply entrenched group grievances. Additionally, the evolution over time of sustainable cattle rustling into destructive cattle rustling has positioned the practice as a key phenomenon undermining livelihoods, already made scarcer in a context of growing unemployment and poverty levels, as well as intensifying competition over scarce resources. While these are structural challenges requiring long-term response strategies, they provide crucial framing for more immediate responses.  

Cattle rustling are strongly linked to, and serve as a precursor to other illicit economies in Nigeria, particularly arms trafficking and kidnapping for ransom. Cattle rustling play a prominent role in swelling the proliferation of arms. In both Zamfara and Plateau, for example, actors involved in cattle rustling procure arms to steal cattle, perpetrating violence and engendering insecurity in the process. Field research in Maru LGA further suggests that bandits also use stolen cows to directly pay for hired weapons. In response to the growing threat of cattle rustling and the associated violence, self-defence groups have emerged to defend communities and, along with residents, stockpile arms. This has contributed to multiplying the number of actors buying weapons, swelling demand and creating a huge arms trafficking market.  

The arms market plays a pivotal role in fuelling violence in Nigeria. The Organized Crime Index 2021 ranks Nigeria’s arms smuggling market far higher than the average for West Africa, scoring eight in contrast to 5.5.80.   

Cattle rustling are also linked to kidnapping for ransom because the actors involved in cattle rustling have typically resorted to kidnapping when cattle rustling prove less lucrative. For example, in Zamfara a decline in incidents of cattle rustling amid depleting cattle stock and falling cattle prices has coincided with a sharp increase in incidents of kidnapping for ransom since 2019.  

What do you think should be done to resolve rustling and its attendant menace?  

For want of space, I cannot discuss all the recommendations in detail here. You can refer to the report for a more detailed analysis. I will provide a summary of the some key recommendations.   

First, there is a need to consolidate and harmonise ongoing state interventions. Cooperation and synergy between the various security agencies are essential. The police, military, DSS, NIS and NSCDC can benefit from information sharing and more structured strategic and tactical cooperation. In the long term, increasing the capacity of the police force, and its technical capability, should be a priority, enabling law enforcement rather than military responses to criminality.   

Second, there should be a framework to regulate vigilante groups and other self-help groups that are emerging across the country. Government should establish a viable institutional framework for regulating both state-initiated and community vigilantes, such as the Community Protection Guards in Zamfara. This should also include training on human rights, abuse of power, and how to stick to their mandates and rules of engagement. The need for a regulatory framework for vigilantes is part of ongoing recommendations that have been echoed by different civil society stakeholders, including the GI-TOC in an April 2022 report titled ‘The crime paradox: Illicit markets, violence and instability in Nigeria.’  

Third, there is a pressing need to couple securitised approaches with development-focused responses. Cattle rustling and the associated violence and instability has destabilized livelihoods and displaced whole communities especially in the northwest and north central regions. There is a pressing need to address the humanitarian dimension of cattle rustling and instability. Particular attention should be paid to the welfare needs of IDPs by providing safe shelter, food and sanitation as well as basic amenities such as water, electricity and healthcare. Responses to cattle rustling and armed banditry in general have prioritised securitisation over addressing the fast-deteriorating humanitarian situation.  

Finally, government and other stakeholders should develop and implement interventions that target the whole of supply chains of rustled cattle. This means complementing ongoing law enforcement and military interventions with approaches that target a range of entry points in the cattle rustling supply chain. To date, responses have focused on the first link in the chain – namely, the perpetrators (predominantly armed bandits). While this is laudable, engaging with other links in the supply chain could enhance their success. In order to target the transporters, middlemen and buyers facilitating the movement and resale of stolen cattle, government should engage motor park unions, cattle dealers’ associations and commercial truck and lorry drivers to identify those who conduct businesses with cattle rustlers.  

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