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Meet Ekene Aleke Obayi, the first Igbo herdswoman

In a country that has defined open cattle rearing as a means of oppression,  Ekene Aleke Obayi of Nguru community, Nsukka Local Government Area of Enugu State has decided to change the narrative.

She is a woman whose life is defined by determination, zeal and energy. She believes in the time-honoured axiom that what a man can do, a woman can also do, sometimes even better.

After her National Service, having graduated from the Department of Archaeology and Tourism, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, she took up a self-employed job of cattle rearing.

Not satisfied with this, she went into full-time cow herding, which has earned her the nickname, ‘herdswoman’. Or rather ” the Igbo herdswoman”.

WITHIN NIGERIA reporter caught up with her in her town, Nguru Nsukka where he had hearty chat with her where she explained what she has been up to lately.

Mrs Obayi carrying new born cattle

The genesis of my cattle rearing adventure
Cattle-rearing is a family business that has been in my husband’s family for some years now. The business had almost gone comatose before I took it upon myself to revive it.

My father-in law who is now late was the only one doing cow-rearing in the whole community. After his death, my husband took over the business. But my husband had an accident in December 2019.

So, in order to sustain the business, I continued the cow-rearing in January 2020 using the little money I saved from my service. Before I went into the business, I thought it was going to be stressful, but to my greatest surprise, there was no stress in it.

How other people relate with me

When I started cow-herding, many people in my community saw me as doing something very much unusual. Women are not known for that kind of animal-rearing, especially Igbo women.

Some time ago, about two years, when I took my cows to Obimo community some 15 kilometres away from my community, people there came out en masse to attack me, thinking that I am a Fulani woman because, according to them, Fulani herdsmen have being destroying their farmlands.

I told them in our dialect that I am not a Fulani woman but an Igbo. They were so much surprised that many of them thought I have charms to control my movement. Some of them started asking me if I had learned the craft from Fulani people because our people believe strongly that it is only Fulani people that can rear cow very well.

Myths in cow rearing

Cow rearing especially in this part of the world is shrouded in myths and belief systems. Many people believe that to rear cow very well, you must have charm but this is not true. My experience in the business has told me that this is superstitious belief.

Cow rearing is another aspect of Agriculture. Why should be shrouded with superstition? Agreed that our brothers, the Fulani herdsmen carry charms to protect themselves inside bush, but that doesn’t mean anybody engaging in cow rearing must carry charms.

Mrs. Obayi in the midst of her cows

Since you take care of your cows very well, they will not have any health issue. Again many people think that cow-rearing is an exclusive reserve for men, but experience has proven that anybody can engage in that business.

Also, it is believed that those who rear cows are naturally wicked especially for allowing the animals damage farmlands. But I can tell you that it is only Fulani herdsmen that allow their vows to damage people’s farm lands intentionally.

Although my cows had once damaged people’s farm crops, we resolved the issue amicably. This is because it was not done intentionally. Secondly, I equally have farm land there. We take the cows gently to streams to drink water and to the grasses to eat but do not have problem with anybody.

Reasons for Fulani herdsmen clash with community dwellers

Fulani herdsmen’s attack has become a recurring decimal in so many communities, not only in Igbo land but other places.

Firstly, let me say that the reason for this is because these herdsmen do not understand our language and so may not know what we are telling them to do.

Again, they go with a very large number of cows which sometimes they find difficult to control. Lastly, they go with weapons, precisely AK-47 rifles, which they use at the slightest provocation.

When the above reasons are taken into consideration, you will agree with me that this herdsmen attack in their host community will continue to fester. I had the same experience when my cattle damaged some farmland two years ago.

Mrs. Obayi in the midst of her cows inside her ranch

Challenges and prospects of cow rearing

Like any other animal-rearing business, cow-rearing is full of risks. Sometimes, your cow will die. More so, it is very demanding as we take our cows round for grazing and drinking water.

I don’t support the idea of RUGA, which the Federal Government of Nigeria is proposing.

This is because it will lead to Fulani herdsmen colonising many areas to the detriment of the land owners.

I will like to train many people especially women both within and outside this state so that they will see that cow-rearing is not an exclusive preserve of men.

I want our women to engage themselves on the business because it is lucrative. If we have so many men and women who are into the business, there will be no need for us to depend on Fulani herdsmen to buy cow either for meat or ceremony like funeral.

Presently, I have at least 59 cows but I need to have at least one hundred and fifty. Nguru my community is so large that it can contain over 1000 cows. Cow-rearing is capital intensive business. I need like N50m to boost my business. There are about three categories of cow.

A good, sizeable cow is not less than N300,000. I have ranch where I keep my cattle but it is a tough task for me. Again, we have Igbo native cows which of course you know is very expensive and gives birth rarely.

In the next 10 years or thereabout, I will like to see cow-rearing grow so large that we have no need for Fulani herdsmen to supply us their cows. I will also like to have my own cattle ranch so that I will stop wandering about with these animals inside bushes.

If I have enough capital to get more cows and expand my cow rearing business, I don’t think there will be any need for me to look for white collar job again. Rather I will employ more hands in the business and I will be fulfilled both financially and otherwise.