By Henry Akubuiro
At the Ilela border in Sokoto, between Nigeria and Niger Republic, a thriving livestock market dating back to the 18th Century could be found. There, exotic animals like donkeys and camels are traded by dealers from both countries. Konni, on the side of Niger Republic, is just a few kilometers away, accessible by motorcycle.
The donkeys, especially, are not only used for farming purposes by the buyers here. Some are used for the lucrative smuggling business from Niger to Nigeria. The Nigerian Senate estimates that the country loses about N7 trillion annually through smuggling across the border, a fact admitted by Customs officials who said smugglers now resort to donkeys and camels to ferry goods across the Ilela border using bush paths.
But, if the current efforts by stakeholders in the donkey business work out, these leakages will soon be a thing of the past and donkey business may rival cattle business in commercial viability, and become a veritable source of income to locals in many parts of the country.
The Federal Government of Nigeria stands to gain over $2 billion in revenue annually as stakeholders dealing in donkey business and its derivatives have made a significant move to help standardise and regulate the agriculture sub-sector to boost the Nigerian economy, in line with government’s quest to diversify an economy heavily dependent on oil.
Recently, the Donkey Dealers’ Association of Nigeria organised a sensitisation and town hall meeting in Abakaliki, the Ebonyi State capital, aimed at stopping unauthorised exportation of donkey derivatives and smuggling of donkey skin.
Mr. Ifeanyi Dike is the national chairman of the Donkey Dealers Association of Nigeria. He noted while inaugurating the Ebonyi State chapter of the association, in his address of welcome, that the initiative was aimed at encouraging dealers and other stakeholders on the need to abide by the stipulated laws of the Nigerian Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS), to stop indiscriminate killing of donkeys, as well as encourage breeding of donkeys through ranching and pasture production to stop its extinction.
Dike affirmed that, if the stakeholders abide by the rules, “the Nigerian government will rake in over $2 billion annually and create employment opportunities for the teeming population of jobless Nigerians, stop the distortion in the business and improve the donkey value chain.’’
He noted that government had so feared extinction of the donkey species that it once planned to ban business in donkey skin and derivatives: “It got to a point that the donkey population in Nigeria began to reduce as a result of high demand of donkey skin. This particular trend attracted the attention of the National Assembly in 2018, where a public hearing was held, and a 10-year jail term was slammed on anyone caught with donkey skin or derivatives.
“Our association, NAQS, and the National Animal Production and Research Institute (NAPRI) contended that, instead of a blanket ban of donkey skin, we are going to support the breeding of donkeys to stop the much-feared extinction. It was based on that that the Federal Government marshalled various regulatory policies in trade of donkey hide and business. We are making things to work the way the Federal Government wants them to work. We want regulations, breeding, and pasture.”
Dike, therefore, warned the stakeholders against violating the rules, adding that anyone who violated the rules would face appropriate sanctions from government.
He said: “I will like some of our people here to know that the Federal Government is watching us and once you go contrary to their policy they have the right to take action, nobody can fight the government. So we are pledging our support to NAQS, which is the regulatory agency, that we will abide by the regulatory policy of the federal government and at the same time they should look into us and see the areas we have challenges.”
Dr. Nehemiah Yila, the South East zonal coordinator of the NAQS, added the government would support a regulated business in donkey derivatives but would take severe measures against violators of the rules.
According to him, “We are a law enforcement agency, and we want the stakeholders to comply with the rules and regulations in doing agro-business. The government has said they should stop indiscriminate slaughtering of donkeys, because it is going into extinction, so they must stop it. They must do ranching. Whatever that is the position of government we will enforce it.”
He emphasised that, if the business was properly regulated, government revenue would definitely improve, but when smugglers were allowed to take away these goods, the government would have been deprived of the revenue. “So, it is better to follow government regulations to move the nation forward,” said Yila.
The highlight of the meeting was the inauguration of Mrs. Chinenye Eze as the chairperson of the Ebonyi State chapter of the Donkey Dealers’ Association. Mrs. Eze, in her remarks, pledged to lead with honesty and fidelity to the operating rules set by the Federal Government.
She said: “We are going to put everything in place in order to ensure that we abide by the rules so as not to attract the wrath of the government,” just as she pleaded with the government to support them in any way and to release some of their seized goods.
In a chat with Daily Sun, Dike said the group was formed after realising that “this business can thrive, if major regulatory policies are followed, and that is why the association has come in collaboration with the NAQS and it has paid full support to this robust regulatory policy to avoid donkeys going into extinction.”
The demand for the hide of donkey, he added, “has posed a big threat to the donkey population. There is a high demand for it in China.”
Besides, the Dike-led association has been sensitising Nigerians that they can actually farm donkeys like goats.
“We have been able to do this in the rural areas. We are also soliciting the support of the federal government in building a Class B, if not A, abattoir and ranch pastures. All these things are feasible, if we have the political will. Donkey Dealers’ Association has it as a plan to increase and encourage the breeding and ranching of donkeys and pastures. If cows cannot go into extinction, I wonder why there is a morbid fear that donkeys will go into extinction.
“Another plus for rearing donkeys is that it isn’t a violent animal. So, like goats or sheep, you can raise it at home. It is not only important in your farm, using it to convey loads or in tilling, but donkey hide contains a component called gelatin, which is in high demand. It is a major earner of foreign exchange, if corporate bodies and the government will pay attention,” he said.
If you are thinking of starting a donkey business, make sure it doesn’t take donkey years. Its economic value chain is a lure.