Deadly persistence of cattle-rustling

Date: 2015-05-16

In cattle rustling, the gap between minor violence and full-scale war is very narrow as herdsmen face mounting insecurity. Who are the rustlers, and how have they become so powerful that security forces can't tackle them?

In the last few years, crimes related to cattle rustling have increased across many states. Gunmen with automatic weapons storm settlements, with a misplaced sense of military fraternity, killing them and taking cattle away. In 2013, armed gunmen stormed the commercial farm owed by Vice President Namadi Sambo, along Birnin Gwari road in Kaduna State and took away over 1,000 cattle worth more than N100 million. In a similar incident, another group of rustlers invaded the farm of the Emir of Zazzau, Alhaji Shehu Idris, in Zaria and made away with over 200 cattle worth millions of naira.

Robberies in high-profile farms, along with constant reports of ruthless killing of cattle owners, left the herdsmen between the devil and the deep blue sea: between the farmers and the diabolic rustlers. The situation today has left many herdsmen without cattle.

Prompted by incessant cattle robbery cases, the former Inspector General of police, Suleiman Abba, constituted a "Task Force on Cattle Rustling and Associated Crimes" to checkmate the rising crime in all the six geopolitical zones of the country.

The task force is saddled with preemptive intelligence gathering, anti-cattle rustling and allied crimes patrols and the operations, as well as the investigation and possible prosecution of the reported incidents of cattle rustling. But not much has been heard since then as the attacks continue to mount.

Benue, Plateau, Kwara, Nasarawa, Taraba and the federal capital territory (FCT) are fast becoming safe havens for crime warlords hell bent in wiping out the age long traditional occupation of the Fulani.

Daily reports of cattle rustling in these states raise many questions seeking answers: if all the cattle are rustled, what next? Who are these rustlers? Who are the buyers of these stolen cattle? And why have they become powerful? Are the robbers more tactical in the crime than security forces fighting them? Or are there untouchable masked men behind them? Alhaji Haruna Boro Hussaini is the chairman of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, Plateau State chapter. He told Weekly Trust on Wednesday that between 2013 and 2015, 28,000 cattle have been rustled and 264 herdsmen have been killed by rustlers. He worries that they have completely become helpless as the security forces cannot stop the carnage.

"I just have to tell you the truth; our security forces are not helping us at all. Even if we report to them where our cattle have been taken to or where the rustlers are, the response we get from them is that they cannot go there," he lamented.

Hussaini warns that if adequate measures are not taken to forestall the crime, the situation might snowball into something that the country will take many years and resources to control with devastating consequences. "Some of our young men are now moving around without cattle because they have been robbed. What do you think people like them will do in the future? They will begin to commit crimes," Hussaini opined.

Currently, Wase, Langtang, Riyom local governments of Plateau state are the major hotspots for cattle rustling. While Hussaini seems not to know the identity of who the rustlers are in the state, his kinsmen in Benue State do.

Dr. Garus Gololo is the secretary Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, Benue state chapter. In a telephone interview with Weekly Trust, he stressed that the major perpetrators in Benue are well-known particularly along the Katsina-Ala axis.

"There is a man in Katsina-Ala who has a group of agile young men working for him. They rustle cattle and take it to the town. We have reported this issue to the divisional police authority, but it seems they are afraid of him. We petitioned the police headquarters in Abuja where we were referred to the cattle rustling unit at the AIG Office in Benue. When the investigating team went to Katsina-Ala, a group of armed young men came in a white Toyota Starlet and killed them including one Ardo (a Fulani chieftain). As I speak with you, over 500 stolen cattle are still in the market. The owners have been killed. Even those who were arrested over the incident are still in Benue, not yet transferred to Abuja," he stated.

Dr. Gololo said they have lost 2,500 Fulani herdsmen and 8,680 cattle in the last one year mostly in Katsina-Ala. He stressed that the sponsor owns a fleet of vehicles that transports stolen cattle to the eastern part of the country.

As the Fulani in Benue State face excruciating pain in the face of known rustlers amidst inaction by the relevant authority to deal with the crimes, the situation in Nasarawa State is degenerating into systematic kidnappings and demand of ransoms in millions of naira by Fulani who have lost their entire means of livelihood to rustlers, a situation Haruna Boro of Plateau foresaw.

Nasarawa State has been on the frontline of ethnic violence and hostilities in the last two years, particularly in the northern and southern senatorial districts. Some of these crises also involve farmers and cattle-owners.

While some of the ethnic tensions are calming down, there are growing pockets of cattle robbery across the state. Over 70 herdsmen died and 25,000 cattle were stolen, according to the officials of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria in the state. The number is rising daily.

Mohammed Hussain is the Secretary of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria in Nasarawa State. He mentioned six tribes from the north-central, including some elements of their Fulani kinsmen involved in cattle rustling in Nigeria. He also fingered some of the butchers across the country as the major buyers of these stolen animals.

Some of these cattle, when stolen, are also moved from one state to another. They are usually loaded in vehicles by night and transported to different markets across southern states in the country. "We as an association don't have any mechanism to check animals in transit, so it is very difficult to track some of these animals. What we did at our level is to put together a vigilante group to assist our members in recovering some of their stolen animals, but the growing cases are overwhelming us," he said.

He blamed the security forces for their inability to prosecute the criminals as some of them go free without serious punishment to deter them.

"Right now the situation is bad. Our Ardo are targeted for assassination because they report such cases. Once criminals are released on bail by the police, they go after whoever has given the information. People are at the moment so afraid to even inform the police when they know those involved in the crime. We have lost some leaders as a result of reporting or giving information on rustling activities," the state secretary noted in an emotional tone.

Mohammed is sad that nobody is being seriously prosecuted. "Once you take them to the police, they will be released on bail. The police are not helping matters." Angrily, he stressed, "When the cattle are finished, human beings will now eat themselves. I am serious. Quote me: when there is no meat in Nigeria, people will now begin to eat human beings. It will happen because we may likely lose 40 million cattle in the next two years if the trend is not halted."

Hussain gave insight into the current trends in Nasarawa State: "Something happening now is that those criminal rustlers dislodged in Birnin Gwari in Kaduna State, Sokoto and Zamfara states by the military have now rushed down to Nasarawa State. I'm giving you this new information: They have stated kidnapping. They will kidnap a Fulani man and keep him in the bush and demand for millions. They have kidnapped one of our sisters in the last six days in Nasarawa local government area and they are demanding for N10 million."

He advised the incoming government to take serious measures against cattle rustling. He also wants the authorities to institute control measures in cattle markets to check cattle that are brought in and he also advocated for stringent laws. In Abuja, the nation's capital, there have been frequent cases in some of the six area councils.

Abdullahi Adamu Madawaki, Chairman of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, Abuja Chapter, told Weekly Trust that seven herdsmen have been killed in the FCT and over 1,500 cattle stolen. The number keeps growing, according to him. “Our people have been receiving calls from these robbers every day, asking us to keep certain amount of money—usually in millions-or face death. They can storm your settlement even in broad day light," he said.

He expressed concern that Fulani in Gwagwalada, Kuje and some parts of Bwari are under constant threats by armed groups. Madawaki appealed to the incoming government to take cattle-rustling as a serious crime before it gives rise to other grievous problems. Similarly in Kwara State, Usman Adamu the state Chairman of Myetti Allah, attributes their problems to the activities of local armed vigilante.

In a telephone interview with Weekly Trust, Adamu said that over 150 herdsmen have so far been killed while about 1,650 cattle whisked away. "Some members of the vigilante group here are also involved in the crime. We have made several attempts to ensure that those who are involved are severely punished. But these people get away with lighter sentences. In most cases they go free," he said.

The Fulani face a bleak future as their ages-old occupation comes under sustained attack daily. Unless there are adequate measures taken to address the deadly, growing development, more problems will arise and possibly destabilise the nation.

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