Shua Arab herdsmen don’t graze cattle into trouble spots
By Tony Nwankwo
Jubrin Yaya is Sultan, Shua Arabs, Lagos State. He operated as a herdsman for twelve years before now employing herdsmen himself. In this interview, the Maiduguri -born Shua Arab speaks on the danger armed herdsmen pose to society and what can be done to check the menace.
There is tension now in Nigeria as a result of the activities of cattle rearers in parts of the country. As a leader of your people, the Shua Arabs, what do you say?
The problem between cattle rearers and farmers, which was even rampant in the North, is well known to us. It is a matter that should be left to the government of the states and traditional rulers. We will ask that traditional rulers find a way to create a safe passage for cattle rearers and their cattle. That is my advise to Fulani cattle rearers, which I am part of, although I am Shua Arab. For our people of Shua Arab, our herdsmen operate in Borno, Yobe and Yola. We don’t bring our cattle for grazing in southern Nigeria. However, if we detect a fat cattle, we can send them for sale in the southern market. It is the Fulani cattle rearers that come to Yorubaland, Igbo land and even they go as far as Cotonou and even some parts of Ghana, to graze their cattle. The Shua Arab don’t come to the south of Nigeria, we operate in the North. So, I will advise the Fulani herdsmen who come to the South not to allow little children as herdsmen, they should ensure that only adults, mature men are entrusted with the task of taking the cattle for grazing. This is because if you send little boys to follow the cattle, instead of leading the cattle, they follow them, and may not know when the cows enter someone’s farms. The little boys can lead the cattle in the forest, but not on farmlands. Meanwhile, if they are grazing on planted fields, they should ensure that only experienced adults handle the cattle to ensure they don’t damage people’s crops. That is how we handle the cattle in Maiduguri. If the herd is grazing near the village, it is expected that experienced adults should handle them, but when they enter the forests, away from people’s farms, we allow children to graze the cattle.
You are saying there is a difference between Shua Arab herdsmen and Fulani herdsmen?
We are the same, but we differ in language and a little bit of customs. The cattle rearers are the same, the way they operate is the same way we operate. Don’t forget we also are farmers. That is the reason during our farming season, we don’t allow little boys to lead the cows, because there is also the possibility of small boys following the cows and so the cattle can stray into farms. It happens even in our own farms and we don’t accept it. Also farmers should be patient with cattle rearers, because if you produce guinea corn, maize, yam, etc, you need meat to enjoy the meals. They go hand-in-hand. Also you who own the cows, you can’t simply kill one and eat the meat from morning till night. So, cow meat and farm produce should go together.
You celebrated the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari at the polls last year. Then you confirmed you own cattle and you have herdsmen. Today, these herdsmen carry AK47 rifles. What is the purpose of these heavy weapons with which they commit atrocities: killing people, raping women, robbing people, etc?
It is very unfortunate for cattle rearers to carry weapons, talkless of heavy weapons like AK47. Herdsmen are not supposed to carry weapons, they carry sticks. If people see cattle rearers carrying weapons like AK47, they should report to the police or army, so they can be arrested, investigated and prosecuted. They should not carry weapons. I have a farm in Minna, Niger State, if I see cattle rearers there with AK47, I will call security agencies to arrest them. It should not be tolerated.
Who supplies these weapons?
I don’t know. It seems a very new development. In the past, cattle rearers only carried arrows, ada (machete) and sticks as they moved from forest to forest. That is all they were entitled to. They are not expected to carry guns. Those herdsmen who carry guns are thieves. People should check them. The police should arrest them and ask them how they acquired such sophisticated weapons. Security people should arrest their sponsors and ask them how they acquired the weapons. It is dangerous and they use these weapons to commit all kinds of crimes: murder, rape and armed robbery.
Now there are three bills before the National Assembly, seeking that state governments provide grazing land or ranches for these violent group. How far can these bills go?
If they pursue the matter successfully it will be good. You should understand that in the world now, there are few countries that still engage herdsmen. Only the countries of Nigeria, Chad, Cameroun and Sudan that still have cattle rearers. In America, one man can have one million cows, but he provides them with grass under an enclosure. It is only in Africa that people follow cattle to graze from place to place. If you are moving from place to place and in the process start killing people, how can those people accept you to come back and graze in their land I, personally wouldn’t sanction that. If you come to my community and you carry arms and kill the people I will not allow you any further access, because you are dangerous.
So, what is your advise to members of the National Assembly (the Senate and Members of the House of Reps.) on these bills?
My advise to the Senators and Members of the House of Representatives is to try to get a grazing route for the cattle rearers. If there is no route where cattle can pass, it cannot be good, because they must go somewhere with these cattle. We should tell ourselves the truth, there is no way cattle cannot get rearers. But what we do condemn are those herdsmen who carry weapons and terrorise people. That is not good. Nowadays, if you go to Maiduguri and someone greets you, you say, ‘are you a Maiduguri man?’, the response you get is, ‘no, he is a Boko Haram’. It is very painful. It is the same thing they want to bring to the South by these irresponsible acts. To me, it is bad. I will never support cattle rearers to carry heavy weapons. I will want my fellow owners of cattle to do something about this. I am Sultan of Shua Arab, I will advise the Sariki of Fulani, so we can do something about it. Let him call his people together. If, for instance, I have a cow and I employ you as herdsman, if you follow my cow and I see that no cow is missing, none has been killed, and you the cattle rearer is coming home to my house with expensive clothes or cash, I should ask you how you got the money to buy the clothes or the money you are spending. I must ask you the question: “You are following my cows, you go and come back, my cows are intact, you never asked me for money for your further upkeep and tomorrow, you come home with N5,000, N10,000 or N50,000, I will ask how you got it”. My fellow leaders should be able to ask such questions to their cattle rearers. ‘My cows are intact, you are sleeping in my house, yet you are bringing such money in, I must ask you how you get it. I know that as far back as 1958, government was collecting taxes from us cattle rearers. Then I was in the bush. I was following cows. They were collecting 50 kobo for each cow. If you have 100 cows you multiply those by 50 kobo, the same if 10, you pay for those, if you had one, the same thing. Farmers were paying N1 for each person and N2 for husband and wife. Then there was no money as such, and there was little fuel.
There is this thinking by many people that the little stick carried by herdsmen has magical powers. Is this true?
(laughter) I have been a cattle rearer myself, and I can tell you there is no magic in the stick. I was a cattle rearer for 12 years. I will follow cattle from Maiduguri to Enugu on foot. From Minna to Ibadan, I did the journey with cattle. Then there was no trailers as you have them now, not many vehicles as they are today. We trek the whole distance. From Chad Republic, we buy cows and take them to Ibadan, all the journey on foot. We travel to Warri, Port Harcourt, sometimes you spend three to four months before you get to your destination. I followed cow from Ogbomosho to bring them to Ibadan.
You supported Buhari for President last year. What can say about the ‘change’ he promised Nigerians?
It is difficult to repair what has been damaged. By the time Buhari came to power, there was no security in Nigeria, no road, no hospitals, no money. Now he has managed to retrieve money from corrupt people. As at now, the Senators and Members of the House are not cooperating with him. See the Budget that was sent for more than three months, nothing has been done about it. He is supposed to sign it. Normally, whenever things like this happens, they are expected to meet with the President to plead with him to sign it into law. If there is anything they want to add in the Budget or remove from it, they should sit together to iron it out. The way they are operating, they are killing the country. He is President, he can give money for projects with or without the approval of these people, but he wants to follow the law. My advise however to Buhari is that he should cooperate with the National Assembly men so that the common man will not continue to suffer. I am only advising, I have no power like them, they are in government, but I am outside the government.