By Alloy Ayozie, Umuahia
Since the last quarter of 2021, eating of cow meat in Ohafia town, Ohafia LGA of Abia State has been boycotted by the natives.
The boycott, according to community sources was a peaceful way to protest alleged nefarious activities of herdsmen on Ohafia farmlands, which they lamented, resulted to destructions of their farm crops and led to poor farm harvests.
Total boycott of cow meat started around September, 2021 but has now been accepted as a way of life as indigenes of Ohafia and even residents living in the Abia North town now patronize dealers in fish, pork, goat and chicken, to serve as alternative to cow meat.
Investigation by The New Orientals showed that before the 2021 decision, there had been misunderstandings between farmers in many communities of Ohafia and herdsmen which in some cases threatened the peace of such communities.
The conflicts, as it was gathered, stemmed from the alleged destructions of crops by cows which caused low and poor agricultural yield.
Community sources at Elu Ohafia, Amaekpu, Ebem and Asaga communities of Ohafia said the decision to shun cow meat was a unanimous one among the natives, aimed at bringing a lasting solution to conflict between farmers and herdsmen.
They said it was a peaceful resolution which was agreed among natives. Before the boycott, a good number of cows were slaughtered for sale by butchers who made brisk sales, on daily basis.
The strategic location of Ohafia to neighboring towns like Abriba, Nkporo, Arochukwu, Ihechiowa, Bende, Ozu Abam, Igbere, Ututu etc , accounted for a high number of cows that went on sale, according to a local source.
A farmer in Ohafia who did not want his name in print alleged that compensations were not being paid for farmers’ crops that were damaged by cows and complained that some of them sourced loans from commercial banks, micro finance banks and even local co-operative groups to establish those farms that were destroyed by cows.
Several meetings involving representatives of farmers and some leaders of the herdsmen, to stop the menace did not achieve the desired results because after a few days of obedience, herdsmen again, allegedly entered people’s farms again, contrary to every existing agreement prohibiting grazing on farms.
It was gathered that during one of the earlier meetings held between farmers, community representatives before the ban, leaders of herdsmen were told to advise members not to graze on cultivated lands but to take their cattle to only thick forests that were not cultivated with crops.
This option, it was also gathered, was allegedly not adhered to by the herdsmen, resulting in the communal decision to shun cow meat. Another native revealed that during their findings, it was discovered that some herds of cattle seen on people’s farms in Ohafia actually belonged to businessmen of Southern extraction but managed for them by the herdsmen.
It was also discovered that some businessmen and politicians from the South East who owned some cattle, became emergency cattle dealers after they received many cows as gifts from their friends and well- washers.
These gifts, according to the source, came to the owners as birthday gifts, during marriage ceremonies of their daughters/sons or were brought by some persons seeking one favour or the other from the big politician or influential personality.
A recent travel to Ebem, the administrative headquarters of Ohafia LGA and Elu, the traditional headquarters of Ohafia by The New Oriental confirmed that fish, goat, chicken and pork meat staples are now served to customers in restaurants, beer parlours and also used to prepare foods at private homes.
During social events also, caterers provide different sources of protein to the menu served the guest, except cow meat. Instead of cow meat, “Azu Okporoko” (stock fish), goat meat, chicken meat are used in decking the top of food served and these practices seem to have achieved a concord among the people.
At Asaga, the famous hometown of the Maduekwe’s, Uma Ukpai’s and reputed for avalanche of educated bigwigs, the story is the same as observed by the paper. A food vendor at Ebem, who simply called herself Daughter of Presby said the ban of cow meat initially affected her business because there was shortage of meat as all available cold rooms and other small-scale dealers could not satisfy the number chicken and goat for to be used for meat. Not just that, they were also costly. But soon, people cashed into the gap and went into chicken and pig farming. More cold rooms where fishes are stocked also sprang up and now, consumption pattern has changed.
A motorcyclist, by name Kalu,who conveyed The New Oriental from Ebem to Asaga said the decision of the entire Ohafia indigenes has been paying off as destructions of farm crops have been drastically reduced.
Asked if the decision enjoyed any formal endorsement by traditional rulers prior to the boycott, Kalu disclosed that it was originated from some poor farmers who agreed among themselves to stop cooking with cow meat, to protest the destruction of their farms.
“Soon, other people began to emulate the farmers. That is how it gained this prominence and unanimity. No traditional ruler ordered his people to stop eating cows as some people could be made to believe.”
Also, a civil servant from Elu who owns a cassava and local beans (Aziama) farm at Elu Ohafia told the paper he recorded a good harvest in November and December 2021, a quick departure from his bad experience in 2019 and 2020.
“Ohafia people are accommodating, peaceful, loving and enterprising. We are hospitable to people no matter their states of origin. Unfortunately, our farmers were complaining about herdsmen activities. We did not receive compensation. I appreciate the peaceful idea of our people.”
Who owns the cows?
For Yaro Diko, a herdsman in an Abian community, more than half of cattle seen in Ohafia and neighborhood, are owned by businessmen from different parts of the South but managed by herdsmen from the North.
Diko, who could be in his early 20s as observed from his stature, told The New Oriental that most of the criminal allegations against herdsmen are not true. The diminutive Diko said no responsible herdsmen would deliberately march cattle into people’s farms with the aim of destroying them.
He acknowledged that cows under herders’ control sometimes stray into people’s farms ‘but we do our best to quickly chase them out so that they will not damage crops’. He lamented that in some instances, their cows were either stolen by some unknown persons.
Local cow (efi igbo) used for traditional gifts
During traditional retirement ceremony in Ohafia communities popularly known as Igbotonma or Igba Oto Omu which are usually celebrated in the last week of December of every year, cows are usually purchased to serve as a major source of meat.
Apart from that, children to celebrators, relatives, friends/well wishers and in-laws usually present livestock gifts to the retiring elder(s). But the dimensions of gift presentation with cows changed in 2021 edition in Ohafia as those who honoured their beloved elders went for Efi Igbo, an ancient cattle specie.
Though, costly in price and accessibility, Efi Igbo took the shine on the stage ahead of the hitherto conventional cattle. Nevertheless, relatives who could not go to Enugu or Edda in Ebonyi State to buy Efi Igbo, because of challenges of distance or exigency of duties, offered their own cow gifts, using cash equivalents in naira.
Cattle dealers, butchers appeal for understanding, lament policy may render them jobless
Some butchers in Umuahia, Abia State capital and some cattle dealers at Lokpanta, Umunneoachi LGA of Abia State who spoke to The New Oriental correspondent on the issue said they were totally against destruction of people’s farms or any violent attack against villagers by any suspected herdsman.
They frowned at such actions, describing them as threat to food security and economic survival of rural dwellers.
Although, those who spoke in this direction were unanimous in condemning negative actions of suspected herdsmen, they cautioned that it should not lead to a ban on selling and consumption of cow meat.
This position, according to some butchers interviewed at Isi gate, Orie Ugba, Ndoru, Ubani and some other markets in Umuahia, became imperative in drawing attention to the job loss crises and occupational dislocation that may befall the butchers if their businesses of selling meat is stopped.
Clinton Zubby and others who don’t want their names in print opined that banning of cow meat in communities had the capability of driving thousands of hundreds of youths into sudden unemployment and attendant economic hardship.
The butchers argued that rather than ban or boycott the commodity, any identified criminal operating as a herdsman to commit crimes be arrested, tried and jailed. The concerned butchers further suggested that identified be made to pay commensurate compensation for every farm crop confirmed to have been destroyed by cows owned by such suspect.
Also speaking, an indigene of Ibeku, Umuahia North LGA of Abia State who trades in live cow (name withheld) said the misbehavior of any individual should not be generalized to affect everyone in the cattle Industry.
The cattle mogul explained to our correspondent that ” The cow I buy come direct from the North. I don’t even buy from the rearers here in Abia State. I make orders from my customer who supply direct from the North. ”
“I sell to our people. That is, the butchers. Some of these butchers you see in the market are skilled and educated but because there is no job, they embraced butchering business to survive. As I tell you this, most of them are doing well. They have built houses, they a have children and are contributing to the development of their families.”
“So, I suggest that our people don’t take actions that may further render our youths jobless”, the cattle dealer said, while still pleading anonymity.
When we visited Umuahia Central Abattoir at Ubakala, Umuahia South, the Chairman of Butchers Association, and Pastor Bright Okpechi was not around.
But some butchers who were met on duty told the reporter to return on a new date to discuss the matter.