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Alhaji Gidado Siddiki
The South-East leader of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria and Sarkin Fulani, Anambra State, Alhaji Gidado Siddiki, in this interview with IKENNA OBIANERI, speaks about the planned implementation of the ban on cattle movement by the Anambra State Government and related issues
You appealed to Governor Chukwuma Soludo not to enforce the ban on open grazing in Anambra State. What is the current situation on your engagement with the governor on this issue?
The current situation is that we have not got any response from the governor. However, nobody has come to disturb us where we are doing our business. The governor said the government will start enforcing the ban from this September and this month has not ended, so we are watching and optimistic that the governor, as a man of the people, a God-fearing man, and we know that by this appeal we made to him, will reverse the decision.
How positive are you that the governor will heed your appeal?
We have appealed to the governor, and as we have appealed, we cannot force the governor to listen to us. We are only begging him to consider us. We are waiting for him to answer us. He may consider us and he may not, but we are optimistic that the governor will accede to our request. The governor may tell us to continue our business, with instructions not to go near people’s farms and trees. So, we are waiting to hear from him. But we are also telling our people that they should not take their cows to destroy people’s farmlands to avoid giving the government reasons to take another decision against us.
In case the governor does not grant your appeal, do your members have any Plan B on how to carry on with their business?
We have no Plan B. Having a Plan B means going for ranching and to do that we need the support of the government; it is not something we can do alone. So, our Plan B is still to appeal to the governor. We are his subjects too because we don’t know any other place apart from here. We voted for him and we are abiding by the rules governing the state. So, we are hopeful that he will consider our appeal.
How long have you been living and doing business in Anambra State?
I have been living in Anambra since 1986. I learnt this business from my father and I have been doing it from that time.
What was the experience like then in the 80s doing cattle business in Anambra State compared to now?
You know there are changes in everything. First and foremost, in those days, we used to spend N30 on transportation from Adamawa State down to Awka. That time, we used to also move cattle from Adamawa down to Anambra on foot; but now, that method is no more working; we now move cows in trailers to Anambra. So, there are changes now; the business then and now are not the same.
Now, there is so much suspicion between the indigenes and the herders. People now see us, herders, as a threat; but we are not a threat; we do this business legitimately. Despite the fact that as Nigerians one is free to do his legitimate business anywhere in the country, the indigenes still see us, herders, as not being part of them. This is a serious concern to us, because the situation was no so in those days. Today, the indigenes misconstrue us as “killer herdsmen” but we are not “killer herdsmen.” There is nothing like that. This is why there is suspicion everywhere. The trust people had in us in those days is no longer there now as a result of the activities of the people who have infiltrated us. We, the genuine herders, are not killer herdsmen.
Who are the killer herdsmen?
There is nothing like killer herdsmen; we don’t know them, they are not part of us. We carry out our business legitimately and according to the laws of the host communities.
How are you as a body dealing with the issue of killer herdsmen among you?
There is nothing like killer herdsmen. The ones they call killer herdsmen are not herdsmen, we don’t know them and we don’t know where they are coming from. You can only identify what is part of you. Those so-called killer herdsmen are not part of us. Let me say this, the Fulani are the most kidnapped tribe in Nigeria. Before they kidnap one person from other tribes, they would have kidnapped 10 Fulani and they are made to sell their cows to pay ransom. Because they know that the Fulani have cows, they go inside the bush and pick them, tell them to sell their cows and pay ransom. This is why in the next few years, cows will go into extinction in Nigeria.
So, none of these people who attack farmers is known to you or are your members?
You know this cattle rearing is a business anybody can do. So many Igbo people are rearing cows, even here in Anambra, I know a lot of them. But now if they say “killer herdsmen,” people only point the finger at Fulani herders, which is not proper. Herdsmen are businessmen, why are they calling us “killer herdsmen”? This is defamatory and derogatory. This profiling has made people to be suspecting us and it is not fair. We, the Fulani, we rear cows, but it is not only Fulani that do this business, every other tribe rears cows too.
The governor said the decision to start the implementation of the ban was taken after a meeting with your members. Were you at that meeting and what was your reaction?
I was at that meeting but who am I to stand before the governor and tell him to reconsider his position on the implementation of the ban, that it may not work? He is the governor and when he says something, we can only say we have heard and that we will go and meet our people to consider the position of the government.
After the meeting with the governor, how did you convey the message to your people and how did they react?
After the meeting, I called all our members and we sat together and I conveyed the message to them and I asked, “What do we do?” It was then that we arrived at the conclusion to go and appeal to the government to consider us.
You noted that if the ban is not reversed, it would affect your people’s source of income and survival in Anambra State. Does it mean that you may leave the state?
We cannot say anything yet until the government starts the enforcement. It is only when that is done that we will know if we will all sell everything we have and leave the state or not. But seriously, the implementation will affect our business and everybody knows that. And we want the Anambra State Government and the country in general to consider the people that are rearing cows. Ninety-nine per cent of us did not go to school and don’t know any other business apart from the rearing of cows. So, when you stop this business, what can we do? We are only appealing to the government to look at the policy once again. If they want us to modernise it, they should provide land for us, provide resources that we will use to do it in a modern way. But if they just stop us, we will suffer and we know that the governor will not want to see the Fulani people suffering in his state, because he is a God-fearing man. He knows everything we are saying here, he was the CBN governor; in fact, he deserves to rule this country. If you give him Nigeria, he can administer it effectively because he is capable.
How do you react to the argument that cattle business is your private business and you shouldn’t expect the government to provide you with land and other things to run the business?
We know that it is our personal business, but government is for everybody. When some things are beyond the reach of the citizens or they lack capacity, the government provides help for them. We are not saying that it is a must that the government does it; we are only appealing to them to consider us, because we are also their subjects.
Has your association even considered the merit of ranching?
This ranching they are talking about only exists in the dictionary. I have not seen where it is practised in Nigeria. Although, they say there is one ranch somewhere in Cross River State, we have never visited that place to see it. So, how can we do something that we don’t know? That is why we are appealing that we need to be trained. When they train us, we will know what is in ranching and from there we will start doing it.
What specific areas do you think this training should cover?
When they say ranching, we don’t know how it is done. From the training, we will be taught the meaning and concept of ranching and how it is to be done. From there, we will know what to do.
The experience we have is what we inherited from our forefathers. Our forefathers took cows from one place to another for grazing. If they saw a farmland, they didn’t go there; they took their cows to where there was no farmland to graze. And if their cows mistakenly entered into someone’s farmland, they looked for the person and negotiated how much they would pay for damages.
The immediate past administration created a committee called Cattle Menace Committee. What has been the impact of the committee on your members?
I was a member of that committee. This committee went a long way to bring cordiality between the host community and our people. The committee created room for access to all traditional rulers in Anambra State. The committee created a synergy among us, the host communities and the law enforcement agencies so as to ensure peaceful coexistence between the herders and the host communities. If a conflict occurs between the herders and the host community, we have the contacts of the president-generals of communities and the traditional rulers. We engage and seek solution to resolve the problem. I think that committee has done a lot in terms of maintaining peaceful coexistence between our people and the host communities.
If you are to advise the current government on the Cattle Menace Committee, what will it be?
I will advise the governor to reconstitute the committee and continue with it. The committee plays a regulatory function of ensuring that no cow destroys the crops of the host community and nobody kills cows of the herders and I think with this, there will be more sanity.
IPOB claimed that it has placed an embargo on consumption of beef from Fulani cows in the South-East. Has that affected the business of your people?
I don’t like talking about issues relating to the IPOB. What they are agitating for is beyond our capacity. When they say they have banned the consumption of Fulani cow meat, they are not banning it for only the Fulani. We are not the only ones that will talk about this issue; the South-East indigenes are more in this business and the ban will affect them more. We have over 50 abattoirs in Anambra State and it is the indigenes that are working there and they kill cows every day. These cows you see with us, over 80 per cent of them are owned by the Igbo. Also, over 70 per cent of us doing this business in Anambra are Igbo. So, if over 80 per cent of the cows belong to the Igbo, it means that 20 per cent are owned by outsiders. So, the 20 per cent owners can do nothing about IPOB’s directive; it is for the Igbo that are benefitting from the business to let IPOB understand that this is not the problem of the Fulani. We, as settlers, will be going beyond our boundary if we are the ones reacting to IPOB’s directive. The indigenes should start advising their brothers in IPOB to let them know that their policy will affect them their own people more.
What IPOB is saying is that they want to encourage the South-East people to start producing and consuming their local cows, called “efi Igbo”.
With the level of insecurity in the country, herders have started migrating to neighbouring countries and in the coming years, local cows will go into extinction in Nigeria and it will lead to the importation of cows, and it has started already. Such plans are not sustainable for now. This thing is beyond our capacity, anything IPOB, we don’t like to interfere.
How many cows will you say are being slaughtered in Anambra State on a daily basis?
Anambra is consuming over 100 cows every day and I am just being modest with this figure. Meanwhile, there is something happening now that we have noticed, and if the Federal Government does not take urgent steps now, a time will come when there will no longer be cows in Nigeria, especially the local cows. Our neighbouring countries are taking away all our cows. On a daily basis, Nigeria domestic cows are migrating into neighbouring countries and nothing is being done about it. The scarcity of cows has started already and that is why the price of beef is on the high side now.
Herdsmen are leaving the country with their cows. Herdsmen have suffered more than any other group, but they are being blamed for the insecurity in the country. And that is why when they see a safer country, they go and settle there. They are leaving in droves to Ghana, Benin Republic, Niger, Central African Republic, Cameroon and even Morocco. They feel more secured in those countries.
And these countries are welcoming them?
Yes. Any country they go to, they take the head count of their cows and allow them to move in. These countries only tell them to pay tax on their cows and this is economic advantage for the countries because they know that this is a business that will enhance their economy.
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