It was 4:05 pm on November 9, Alhaji Ali Mohammed, a cattle trader, just returned from Asri (one of the five daily prayers observed by Muslims) at a prayer ground within the Oluwanisola Cattle Market, also known as Kara Market, located around the Long Bridge area of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. He reclined on the wooden wall of a makeshift shelter seemingly gazing at some of his cows. He was lost in thoughts, reminiscing about past years of bountiful sales as a cattle dealer.
On sighting our correspondent, he sat up, cross-legged, believing that a potential customer was approaching. He had been in the scorching sun for hours without seeing any potential buyer. Several years back, things were good for Mohammed. With the profit he made from his cattle business, he married a new wife and the size of his family increased to 24, with some of his children in higher institutions. He also stocked his herd with better breeds and employed more herders, thus earning an enviable status among his counterparts in the market.
But all of that changed when COVID-19 struck in 2020. The nationwide lockdown enforced by the Federal Government to reduce the spread of the deadly virus not only restricted movement within the country but also stifled commercial activities. The cattle market was shut for several months, herders became redundant and debts, mostly from customers who bought cows on credit and made payment after selling to meat sellers and other retailers in different markets in Lagos and Ogun states, mounted. Like other dealers, Mohammed downsized to enable him to meet up with his financial obligations to his family.
Before the onset of the pandemic, the nation had been under the grip of an economic downturn. The National Bureau of Statistics, in its Consumer Price Index in October, said the inflation rate fell marginally by 0.38 per cent from 17.01 per cent in August even though the prices of consumer goods have continued to rise.
“The prices of cows have multiplied. I have been selling cows for over 20 years and it has not been this bad. The problem is affecting everybody in the market. By this time (November) two years ago, the market was filled up with cows and customers willing to buy. The market was busy. But you can see how it (the market) is now: there are fewer customers and they only buy one or two small cows,” Mohammed, who is now head of cattle dealers in the market, told .
The decreasing value of the naira in the exchange market has also increased the price of cattle, most of which are imported from neighbouring countries such as Chad and the Niger Republic to make for the inadequacies of the Nigerian livestock industry struggling to feed Nigeria’s growing population due to banditry, cattle rustling and activities of Boko Haram insurgents in the North. Livestock traders play a significant role in the distribution of meat to meet the demand across the country. The volume of meat consumed in Nigeria annually stood at 360,000 tonnes as of 2014, according to the Federal Government. A former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, in May 2014, disclosed that annual meat consumption in Nigeria was projected to increase to 1.3 million tonnes by 2050. It was gathered that a mature bull from the Abure species, which cost between N300,000 to N500,000 in 2019, now costs between N800,000 to N1m in the market. A medium-sized cow costs between N400,000 to N700,000 while a small cow costs between N250,000 to N300,000.
“A fully-grown cow was sold at about N500,000 around this time (November) in 2019. Now, it is sold for as high as N1,500,000. A lorry can take 20, 30, or 35 cows, depending on their size. In 2019, the exchange rate of 5,000 CFA Franc was not more than N2,500 but now, it has risen to N4,850. When I go to the Nigerien, Chadian, or Cameroonian borders with naira, I have to convert the money to CFA Franc and pay the Customs duties of the country.
“We buy most of the cows from neighbouring countries. It does not mean that we don’t have cows in Nigeria, but they are not enough to feed the growing population. Also, there are crises in the North where most of the cows bred in Nigeria come from. Cattle rearers cannot take the cows to the bushes to graze because rustlers could attack them,” Mohammed added.
learnt that in addition to levies paid by cow dealers to government authorities for loading and unloading cows at different locations, the traders face harassment from touts who extort money from them under the disguise of working for local government authorities. Any refusal was usually met with physical assaults that could result in permanent injuries or death.
“We face multiple levies. As I speak, we have a case in court over the matter. We know that when we load the cows in Maiduguri, for example, we pay tax to the relevant local government authority, and we also pay to the local government authority where we offload. But we are always accosted by people on the roads who collect money from us, claiming to be working for the government.
“When we lose N100,000 to illegal levy collectors, how are we supposed to recoup that loss if we don’t add it to the cost of the cows? If the government can stabilise the naira, we would be happy. Things are expensive now and it is affecting us and our families,” the market leader said.
The coast of transportation amid bad roads is also part of the problems facing the cattle dealers. Decrying the high cost of transportation, another cattle dealer, Alhaji Hamzat Saidu, said it costs between N750,000 to N800,000 to convey a trailer-load of cows from the North to the South. He added that it used to be between N100,000 and N120,000 in 2018.
Saidu stated, “It is not easy to sell a cow these days. Sometimes, I could go a week without selling a single cow because of the price of the cow. The prices of feed for the cows are expensive. In fact, it costs more to feed a mature cow than a human being. It costs N1,500 to feed a cow per day; in one year, that is over N500,000. The fattened cows cost between N1m and N1.2m. If you visit the market in December, you won’t find a medium-sized cow that would be sold for less than N800,000. In 2018, it did not cost up to N500,000. My family is also affected. Sometimes, I don’t go home to see my family for about a month due to poor sales.
“In 2018, it was different. We bought cows at cheap rates and sold them in the market at cheap rates. I had 15 workers in 2018 but I can only manage eight workers now. We are struggling with insecurity and multiple levies. We need security. We also want the relevant authorities to look into the issue of multiple levies because it is killing our business. In 2019, we had more cows, about 25,000, but now, we have about 20,000.”
Corroborating Saidu’s concern over insecurity, another cattle dealer based in the North, Muhammed Usman, said he and his workers were left quaking in their boots each time they had to supply cows from the crisis-ridden region. To him, travelling to states under attack by Boko Haram fighters was like signing one’s death warrant as some of his colleagues had lost their lives to bloody attacks.
“We face a lot of problems but the most challenging one is the issue of insecurity in the North-East and the northern part of the country generally. Our cows are rustled and bandits don’t allow our cows to be conveyed to the South. Even if we have the money to travel, we are always afraid that we might not return alive. It is like sacrificing one’s life.
“Touts working for politicians also extort us; one of my uncles was beaten to death. When we consider what it costs us to buy cows from the North, Niger and Chad, we add it to the price of the cows we sell. Customers complain but it is not our fault. Things have changed,” said Usman, an accounting and finance graduate of Kebbi State Polytechnic, Birnin Kebbi, who ventured into the cattle business 26 years ago.
For Nafiu Bello, the cattle business in Gombe State had been everything but profitable in the last one year. With customers grumbling over the unending increase in the price of food items, he and some of his colleagues decided to look elsewhere to increase sales.
“We have not experienced anything like this before. A big cow was sold for between N300,000 to N400,000 in 2019. But now, the difference is wide! It costs as much as N800,000. Our customers in Nigeria have been complaining about the price, so we sell some of the cows outside Nigeria to make more profit,” he told
Lamenting his loss to extortion on the road, Bello said taking longer routes free from touts was the way to go.
“We no longer travel through Adamawa and Taraba to move our cows to Akwa Ibom, Abia, and Rivers. We go through Kano, Abuja, and Okene because if we don’t, N300,000 would not be enough to settle the people who extort us. So, we prefer to pay an extra N100,000 as the cost of transportation,” he noted.
In Katsina, cattle sellers lamented the struggle to feed their families since the state government shut livestock markets about three months ago to check banditry.
“When the market was shut, I had to look for something else to do to feed my family,” Kabir Dabai, one of the dealers who supply cows from Katsina and to Port Harcourt in Rivers State, told our correspondent.
“We need the government to repair the roads, especially from Abuja to Niger State. It should also address the multiple levies in the South-East and South-South,” he added.
Some other traders at the Kara Market told how they adopted different strategies, including getting signals from owners of stolen cows from different locations, to prevent rustled cows from the North into the market.
Usman said, “We do not get stolen cows in this market. Cattle rustling is a thing of the mind; nobody was born a criminal. Immediately we see something of such or similar to that (stolen cow), we hold the cattle. If a stolen cow is brought here, we will know immediately and the person who brought the cow will be arrested. We have agents in the North from where the cows are conveyed to other states.
“When the cows arrive at Kara Market, there is an agent and the vehicle that conveyed the cows has a number. This helps us to know that the cows came from a particular state and the owner. There are different people involved in offloading the cows and we know them. The cows are marked with numbers by their owners. So, when the cows arrive at Kara, we can tell who the owners are. We have not had any incident regarding someone bringing stolen cows to Kara. Sometimes, they (cattle thieves) may want to sell the cows as quickly as possible. If a cow is supposed to be sold for N100, 000 and the seller is asking for N50, 000 or N70, 000, one would know that something is wrong.”
He stated that the procedure for joining the market as a cattle dealer was a bit long, adding that first they had to know the source of one’s animals.
The cattle dealer said, “If a person claims to have bought his cows from a particular market, we would know because we have people in almost every market, and without the person’s notice, we would call to verify. If a person comes to Kara market and says he wants to sell cows, we would check the individual thoroughly and if we are not satisfied, we would look at them as hasty and ask them questions; we would also question their driver too.”
The Serkin Fulani (head of the Fulani) in the Kara Market, Abubakar Dan Ali, corroborated Usman’s claim, adding that some of the herders were also culpable.
Narrating his experience, Ali said he lost 30 cows to a herder who fled with them in 2015.
He said, “We tell them (herders) to watch over the cows well. We don’t leave the cows under the watch of one herder; we pair him with a partner known to us to check any intent to flee with the cows. We had an incident when a herder fled with some cows. We traced him through the tracks to Sango but could not find the cows. I reported the matter to Miyetti Allah (Cattle Breeders Association) and the boy (herder) was caught. But out of 31 cows, only one was recovered.’’
In 2016, the Amalgamated Union of Foodstuff and Cattle Dealers of Nigeria threatened to embark on an indefinite strike over alleged extortion across the country. It said its members of the union were made to part with money at various security checkpoints on major federal highways.
But the situation has not improved as the union said it was inundated with complaints from its members over extortion, insecurity and bad infrastructure threatening their livelihood.
“Our members are seriously complaining,” the General Secretary of the union, Ahmed Alaramma, told on Friday.
“We buy cattle and foodstuff with our money and transport them from the North to the South but we are not safe. When we think we have escaped from kidnappers, some boys, the so-called task force, collect illegal levies from us in every part of Nigeria.
“We are appealing to the Federal Government to intervene. Before one can move cows from Adamawa State to Rivers or Cross Rivers states, one might need up to N450,000 to spend on illegal levies. Also, the roads are really bad,” he added.
With a population estimated to be over 200 million Nigeria is the seventh-highest consumer of meat, behind Brazil, Pakistan, Indonesia, the United States, India and China, according to data from worldpopulationreview.com. With the falling value of the naira, many Nigerians can no longer afford to buy cows.
“We used to buy an average-sized cow at the cost of N180,000 or N200,000. But now, it is sold at N300,000 to N400,000. I was told that the biggest cows with big horns cost between N800,000 and N1m; it’s not reasonable. We used to buy three cows for Sallah but with the current price, we can only afford one,” a businessman, Shittu Yakubu, told our correspondent.
On his part, a butcher, Bashiru Kolawole, lamented that the continuous rise in the price of cattle was taking a toll on his business as many of his customers were considering alternative to cow meat.
Kolawole said, “In 2018, I used to buy about 10 cows but I can’t afford more than four now because of the situation in the country; things are expensive. I have children and I don’t have any other business. I am not happy about it.”
To make ends meet, amid low patronage lingering, the dealers are forced to sell their cows at giveaway prices, a cattle dealer, who identified himself as Ibrahim, said.
“People buy cows but not like before because of the problems in the country. Road transportation is high. Moving cows from Kebbi, Sokoto or Kano to Lagos is expensive due to the distance. Some of the cows even come from the Niger Republic and Cameroon and when the cows arrive, the owners calculate their expenses and these reflect in the prices of the cows. It is the same thing all over the country.
“When patronage is low, we are forced to sell our cows at cheap prices. But when we do that, we lose. Some of us who cannot cope with the situation have stopped selling at the market while others are trying their best to look for customers. We need the state government to help us fix the road. We need water. We need electricity. We don’t have good roads too,” he added.
The challenges facing the trade have also taken a toll on the availability and supply of beef for consumption by households. Worried about the situation, the Minister of Defence, Major General Bashir Magashi (retd.) said the adverse effect of various security challenges in the country on food security signalled a new dimension of threat.
“Regrettably, the prevalence of these threats has continued to endanger not only national security and economic growth but also food security. In particular, food security has been adversely affected, with the attendant rise in the prices of foodstuffs across the country which portends a new dimension of threat.
“This makes it imperative for the various security agencies in the country to continue to collaborate to tackle these menaces to create an enabling atmosphere for economic activities to thrive and to attract Foreign Direct Investment,” Magashi said while speaking in Abuja at the opening of a recent retreat for defence advisers/attaches organised by the Defence Intelligence Agency.
The situation has also drawn the attention of the international community with the Food and Agriculture Organisation raising the alarm that over 12 million Nigerians were faced with hunger due to insecurity and the COVID-19 pandemic. FAO said that the United Nations food security and nutrition analysis conducted in 20 states in October showed that insecurity and COVID-19 forced 12 million Nigerians into hunger.
It said about 19 per cent of affected households were in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states due to ongoing insecurity in the North-East and the lingering economic impact of COVID-19, noting that the number of people in critical or worse phases of food insecurity might increase to about 16.9 million.
Decrying the rising inflation rate in Nigeria and its impact on access to food, the President of the African Development Bank Group, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, last month said, “Inflation in Nigeria is high, at 16 per cent or more. Of course, the biggest share of the consumer price index is the price of food, at almost 65 per cent. So, if we can drive down the price of food, of course, we can drive down inflation.”
A professor of Agricultural Economics at the Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, Ala Ahmed, described the situation as dire, adding that markets in the northern parts had been shut for safety reasons.
Ahmed stated, “This is a serious problem most especially in the northern parts. Many of the livestock markets are being closed because of banditry. When bandits steal livestock, they take the animals to the same markets. Many of the markets in Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara and Katsina that are close to forests have been closed. You can imagine; if livestock markets are closed, there is going to be scarcity and when there is scarcity, the price will go up.’’
To tackle the challenges, some experts propounded that ranching and biotechnology-the application of scientific use of living organisms or substances from such organisms to develop microorganisms for specific uses in animal husbandry–were effective options.
A professor of agricultural economics at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu State, Mrs Anthonia Achike, posited that the methods could reduce the risk of losing human lives during the transnational and interstate movement of livestock.
“This calls for well-articulated feasibility and viability studies. Precisely, there should be a comparative profitability analysis of the two scenarios. Ordinarily, one can easily say yes that ranching with biotechnology is a better option, but this is a cost-intensive option that needs to be properly investigated with appropriate data and checking the availability and accessibility of the biotechnology facilities.
“On the other hand, considering the precious and priceless nature of life, I will choose the option of ranching with biotechnology because the current alarming nature of insecurity variables has high-cost implications that no level of profit can erode. One needs to be alive to do the business,” Achike added.
In the same vein, an associate professor of agricultural economics at the Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo State, Dr Agharese Osifo, said, “Ranching is the only way to go. Nigeria already has the technology; there is a research institute based in Zaria, the National Animal Production Research Institute, and it is part of the agricultural complex at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. Incidentally, Nigeria is one of the countries with the highest number of cattle herds but we are far away from modern ranching and technology, including biotechnology.
“The security challenges we are facing now have serious implications on food security. Specifically, farmers cannot go to their farms because of the fear of attacks by bandits. We are all witnesses to the fact that in the North-East region, people were slaughtered by Boko Haram and ISWAP.”
In his contribution, a professor in the Department of Economics and Development Studies, Covenant University, Ota, Ogun State, Evans Osabuohien, attributed the rising inflation to the disconnect between supply and demand, adding the situation had been worsened by the deplorable condition of major roads in the country.
Osabuohien said, “Every Nigerian with conscience knows that inflation is increasing. Even when the price of the dollar to the naira is reducing, the price of food is not. It is because supply is not meeting up to the demand; we are not producing enough to meet up with demands. There is also the issue of bad roads which is affecting the cost of transporting food items.’’
Also, a security analyst, Ben Okezie, advised the Federal Government to scale up measures to counter operations of bandits and other criminals across the country to ensure the safe movement of commodities.
Okezie noted, “In the absence of this approach, the state of insecurity may not turn the corner. There is no way the current spate of insecurity won’t affect many things in the market and what eventually gets to our dining tables. It is the responsibility of the government to do the needful and to ensure that agricultural products are protected by security agents in communities. There should be more police personnel in operational areas, than in administrative areas. Security agencies should know how to strategise to police our forests.”