Last week, members of the Borno State Livestock Traders Association and the National Association of Butchers (NASB) threatened to shut down sales of livestock in the state in protest against the ban on their business by the Nigerian military.
About five months ago, after the formation of Operation Last Hold, another fighting component of the ongoing counterinsurgency operation in northeast Nigeria, the theatre command in Maiduguri ordered the ban on importation and sales of livestock in Maiduguri Cattle Market.
The reason given was that most cows and sheep sold at the market belonged to Boko Haram fighters.
The military said Boko Haram usually used local vendors to flock in stolen cows for sale in markets around Borno and Yobe states in exchange for cash or food items that are usually taken back to them in their hideouts.
Only cows sourced within the communities around Maiduguri are allowed for sale at the Maiduguri cattle market, which is one of the largest in the country.
The military also directed even the locally sourced cows can only be sold with its permission.
To ensure the ban does not have too much negative consequences, the Borno state government set up a committee for the cattle market to also ensure no stolen or Boko Haram rustled cows are sold.
Part of the committee’s job is to ensure that any cow brought into the market is held for at least three days before it is put up for sale. This process, the committee said, will enable the market confirm the cows were not stolen.
“For five months running we have not seen a single cow or sheep that has been stolen or brought in on behalf of Boko Haram, despite the claims of the military,” said Sayina Buba, who heads the government committee on Maiduguri cattle markets.
The ban on importation has crippled the business of animal husbandry, butchery and sales of beef in Borno State. The local traders said they have been forced out of business as many of them, especially those who benefit from the value chain effects of the livestock sales, find it difficult to make ends meet.
The traders have become more worried when they noticed that other cattle markets in Kukareta, Gaidam and Potiskum all in Yobe State, which had been issued similar ban, are now allowed to import cows even from outside Nigeria.
Currently, according to Mr. Buba, there are thousands of cows in Chad and Niger denied entry into the Maiduguri market by the military.
It was for that reason that the livestock traders moved to embark on a peaceful protest by shutting down the markets until the military lifts the ban on importation of cows and other livestock into the market.
Muhammad Klia, the chairman of the Borno Livestock Traders Association, said, “the decision of the army to ban transporters from bringing in cows into Borno State is unfair, and not well thought out because one does not cut off his or her leg because one of the toes has become jaundiced.
“It is an unfair decision because this is what our livelihoods depend on and now there is rising demands of animals in the state,” he added.
“They said there are people coming into the market with cows stolen by Boko Haram and we stood with the government committee to ensure every cow is screened before sales. And for over five months now, no single cow that was marked stolen was sold here.
“We have our Civilian JTF, Police, Vigilante and even the military and other security operatives attached to provide civic protection in the market. If there is any form of nefarious activities as acclaimed by the military, they will be the first to know,” he said
“So we decided to embark on protest by closing down the market last week, but the government intervened and calmed us down. But we may have to go on with the protest in due course especially now that the Sallah period is around the corner and there is no animal to be sold.”
Idris Muhammad, one of the members of the aggrieved group and an international livestock trader, told journalists that his business has since been liquidated due to the inability to transport his cattle and rams from Chad to Borno State.
Mr. Muhammed explained that the period of Eid el-Kabir (Sallah) they transport more than 200, 000 cattle and sheep. But with the ban, most of them are left in debts as they could not import after ordering for rams ahead the festive seasons.
Shakarama Ali, who bears the title Sarkin Kasuwa (Chief of Cattle Market), urged the state government and the military to consider the plight of ordinary law abiding people, stressing that a blanket treatment such as ban on importation and sales of cows from outside the borders only paints everyone as Boko Haram members
“I am appealing to them to reconsider their decision for the benefit of all citizens,” he said.
“The other side of the ban is that, it even gives the Boko Haram chance to take the supposed stolen cows to other states where they could be sold; rather than bringing it here where we have a committee that scrutinizes cows for three days before allowing them to be put up for sales.”
Speaking to PREMIUM TIMES, Sayina Buba, who chairs the government market committee, said the military must understand that the means of livelihood of traders in livestock industry is being threatened.
“What is key here is that thousands of livestock dealers, as well as their value chain employees in Borno State are out of Job.
“The military told us that they are suspecting that some cows are being rustled by Boko Haram. But we told them that whoever comes with a cattle in this market it has to spend three days until it satisfied all investigation before being issued a clearance letter by the committee.
The chairman insisted that the claims of the military about Boko Haram sending in stolen cows are not verifiable.
“The so-called ban on cows to prevent Boko Haram was supposed to checkmate all forms of nefarious activities in the cattle market,” he said.
“But the military must not punish the people because of baseless and perceived rumors. They should justify their claims by fishing out those involved in cow rustling,” said Mr. Buba.
“We in Borno State that used to pride ourselves as having the largest markets with the best stocks, are now going to get our cattle from Konduga, Jere and the metropolis. Most cattle you see in this market were those from the neighboring villages not more than 15 kilometers away.
“The Chadian marketers told those that they had over 160,000 cows in the Gamboru-Ngala border for the Sallah but due to the ban, they could not bring their animals to the state,” he said.
He lamented that the prices of animals in the state has since tripled due to the inability of traders to bring in their animals into the state.
He pleaded with the military to “reconsider the ban on importation of livestock, just like they have apparently done to sister markets in Yobe state, because of the El-Kabir, where animals would be on high demands in the state.”
Reacting to the issue, Onyema Nwachukwu, a Deputy Director Army Public Relations (DDAPR), denied the claims that the military’s action was deliberately stifling businesses in the state.
“What we did was to shut down some illegal cattle markets where Boko Haram were selling rustled livestock, because funds made from the sales of these cattle were going back to empower Boko Haram,” said Mr. Onyema, a colonel of the Nigerian Army.
“These illegal markets were shut down, not because we want to stop anybody from doing business, rather we are the ones promoting socio-economic development in the country.
“If anybody is telling you that we are shutting down their businesses that person is wrong. It should be the other way round, it is because we are here that they are able to do business,” he said.
Regardless, the excuses given by the military justifying the ‘ban’ on livestock importation, people like Ba’abba Abdullahi, whose entire livelihood lies on helping to load and offload livestock from trucks at the Maiduguri Cattle Market, said they were out of business and the effect is telling negatively on their families.
“For the past eight years, my work here in this market is to help offload and load cows and sheep in trucks, and I am paid daily for that service,” he said.
“In the past, I used to earn between N4, 000 and N3, 500 every day and from that I make savings for my children’s education and we feed ourselves with the rest. But today I consider it a lucky day if I go home with N300 because there are no animals to offload.”
On whether he would be able to slaughter animal during the coming Sallah celebration, the 36-year-old labourer said “I dare not dream about slaughtering even a goat this year, because I can barely feed my family.”