Miyetti Allah, as an organisation, probably never rang as much a bell as it currently does, until the inglorious epiphany of criminal herders hiding under the Association’s cover. As an umbrella organisation of cattle breeders, the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, sometimes shortened to Miyetti Allah or MACBAN, was understandably at the forefront of defending the heinous seeds of blood, tears and sorrow planted by the criminal species of the Fulani herders already branded as terrorists internationally. The birth of Miyettin Allah was to cater to the welfare of entrepreneurs in the cattle breeding business and achieve wholesale interventions on disputes between them and crop farmers. However, because of the large share of the Fulani ethnic group in the cattle breeding value chain, either as animal owners or simply as employed shepherds across forests, the group invariably extends to accommodate other welfare demands of the tribe, such as in nomadic education.
Be that as it may, the Miyetti Allah Association seems to have no option but to accommodate the terrorist reputation trailing some of its nomadic members fingered in several acts of murder, rape, kidnapping and other acts of violence across the country. The heartrending notoriety of these criminals attracted the international community’s attention and resulted in the branding of the Fulani herders, the fourth deadliest terrorist organisation in the world, in 2015. The Nigerian government, also currently under the leadership of a member of the cattle breeders Association who is from the Fulani ethnic group, refused to toe the line of the international community in labelling the group as a terrorist organisation despite its many records of crimes and other atrocities. It also closed its ears to the desperate clamour by many distinguished Nigerians rhyming with the voices of the international community to identify them accurately as terrorists.
Over the years, Miyetti Allah enjoyed the protection of influential Nigerians who also ring-fenced them from the law’s wrath, even when guilty. With the current and immediate past country presidents serving as grand patrons and the Sultan of Sokoto leading its board of trustees, they possess enough leverage to live well above the law. For instance, the group leader enjoys a presidential-type convoy consisting of numerous SUVs, security personnel, custom plate number and an official seal indicating his position as the national president of the Miyetti Allah. While his presidential motorcade might not concern many Nigerians who are already conversant with the ease of abuse of such reserved executive privileges, much more disturbing is the plethora of provocative statements allegedly attributed to him.
One such dust-raising statement was that the Fulani ethnic group owns Nigeria and will rule the country forever. It was a statement that has reinforced other ethnic groups’ suspicions of a possible ongoing countrywide Fulanization programme. The present administration has also worsened the scepticism by giving the impression that criminal Fulani herders are untouchable through its body language. For instance, despite the hue and cry across the country over the horrifying atrocities of these internationally branded terrorists, the federal government seems more interested in reinforcing the grazing routes that would enable them to access every nook and cranny of the country. There are also several allegations that the police let go of several criminal herders upon hearing that they belong to the Fulani ethnic group or on the ‘Oga at the top’ instructions. Relative to the magnitude of the atrocities they perpetrate, it is rare to find them facing the ire of the justice system in comparative terms. Understandably, most cattle owners are top entrepreneurs, government officials and leading members of society, just like the president himself. On the other hand, the pastoralists are merely caretakers of their assets that they ought to defend and protect, sometimes without recourse to the severity of their crimes.
But Miyetti Allah is in a dilemma over the preponderance of criminal herders within its formation. It is doubtful, too, that the cultural organisation would diametrically endorse some of its members’ criminal behaviour. Yet, it has an organisational motherly duty to bring all its members together despite their outlying activities. Several in-depth investigations have revealed that much of the problem originated from the actions of rustlers pursuing and attacking genuine herders with deadly weapons. At the same time, the latter had no option but to procure and use similar arms in self-defence. Unfortunately, both groups belong to the same Fulani stock, and because of communication challenges, it is difficult for people from other cultures to spot their differences. But the public expects the organisation to do more work in identifying these criminal species in their midst and exposing them to the security agencies for necessary action rather than providing umbrella coverage for them in the guise of protecting the organisation’s interests. The organisation might even go further to accredit genuine pastoralists to identify themselves wherever the need arises. Again, Miyetti Allah should sanction some of its high-profile members using their political network to provide safe corridors for criminal elements within their midst.
The future of nomadic pastoralism worldwide is well known and appears to be the solution to the criminal threats by many members of the organisation. Modern stationary cattle breeding techniques are increasingly replacing archaic nomadic pastoralism. To date, the latter breeding technique survived on the back of lean production costs. The movement of ruminants provides a better escape from a climatic disaster such as droughts. Moving from one place to another minimizes the weighty cost of creating an appropriate enclosure for breeding their cattle. Yet, they also miss the demands of hygiene, packaging and perhaps high-quality milk and other dairy outputs. But that seeming production efficiency comes with gigantic third-party negative externalities such as the destruction of people’s farmlands, pollution of streams and water beds, spiking of deadly conflicts that have left many dead. Miyetti Allah does not seem bothered about these externalities and inconveniences of nomadic cattle breeding on other stakeholders.
Consequently, they kick against ranching and the laws prohibiting open cattle grazing, claiming it is rather expensive. They also warned against a potential increase in prices if various subnational governments insist on prohibiting open grazing of livestock. However, it is without a doubt that banning open grazing and curbing the state of conflicts between herders and crop farmers and the attendant criminality would lead to greater peace and provide a better environment for investors interested in ranching. Therefore, while there may be a short-term uptrend in cattle and dairy product prices, more entrepreneurs are likely to invest in the ranching business and its associated value chain over more extended periods. Nevertheless, while most of Miyetti Allah’s members are still adamant and insist on the open grazing of their cattle, some measure of advocacy on modern cattle rearing practices has commenced within its ranks.
The anti-open grazing laws spreading across the states in the country’s southern parts are a strong pushback against nomadic pastoralism and Miyetti Allah’s nationwide business and access into forests where some of its criminal members perpetrate mayhem. Following the intense frustrations, abuses, losses of persons and property in the hands of the criminal species of the Fulani herders, southern governors decided to close up the enterprise space and the leverage it provides for those atrocities. Virtually all the states in the country’s South now have properly enacted laws against open grazing of cattle. But Miyetti Allah has ferociously fought that emerging trend of enactments and expected subnational governments in the country’s northern parts to oppose it. Unfortunately, although most northern states have long suffered the torture of criminal herders even worse than those in the South, they have been reluctant to call on the group to rein in on its members. Part of the lethargy may lie in the umbilical connection between the dominant religion-based traditional leadership institutions led by the Sultan of Sokoto and political success in northern Nigeria. The Sultan, who happens to be the head of the Association’s trustees’ board, is also at the top of the hierarchy of traditional and religious institutions that considerably influence political outcomes across the country’s northern states through its control of the grassroots. The weak resistance to the ban on open grazing by the governors of states in the north of the country appears to be a massive betrayal of Miyetti Allah, who promptly asked its members to start pulling back from territories in the South. The federal government has also commenced pilot programmes in many northern states to successfully take off cattle reserves, ranching, and pastoralists’ resettlement as they return.
Although Miyetti Allah repeatedly claims it is ready for discussion on the open grazing of cattle, the organisation has continued to re-echo its unwillingness to comply with the law. But there is hardly any state government in the South willing to step back from fully implementing the law considered the most feasible strategy for containing the group’s criminal elements’ atrocities. Miyetti Allah’s boasts of defiance of the anti-open grazing rule are consistent with its proclaimed ownership of the country by the Fulani. To the extent that the ethnic group dominates and controls the country’s political structure, Miyetti Allah may be right about owning the land, metaphorically speaking. And perhaps to show how much power they exert in the country’s political establishment, they have vowed that no candidate of southern Nigerian origin will become president in 2023 if the anti-open grazing law subsists. They also oppose the regional security outfits such as the Amotekun in the Southwest and the independently operating Eastern Security Network [ESN] associated with the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra. Both organisations are also working hard to flush out the criminal species of Miyetti Allah members in the southern parts of Nigeria.
Finally, Miyetti Allah has much to gain by collaborating with its members to adopt modern cattle breeding techniques. First, it will remove the stains of terrorist identity brought upon it by many criminal elements in its midst. Second, it will widen the prospects for more investments into the cattle breeding business, a space where it already enjoys substantial first-mover advantages. Thirdly, although it might be more challenging in the short term, transitioning to modern techniques will result in an even larger operational scale, efficiencies, and financial benefits over more extended periods. Fourthly, it will most likely result in more significant structural and fiscal diversification for improved revenue and development in most states in the country’s northern parts, at least in the first instance.