Nigeria: The Return of Jangali

2 August 2021

Jangali, or livestock tax, along with direct adult tax, haraji, were first abolished in those early giddy days of the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) rule in Kano and Kaduna states in 1980. It was at a time the socialist euphoria was wafting across those states. States had plenty coming from the Federation Account and the PRP governments felt they didn't need revenues from those taxes that they considered unjust and exploitative. In particular, Governor Abubakar Rimi of Kano State had decried those taxes as 'major pillars of feudal and colonial oppression and exploitation'. Thus in one fell swoop governors Abubakar Rimi and Balarabe Musa of Kano and Kaduna states decided to cancel those taxes. Not to be outdone all the other states, despite party differences, toed the line and also gradually cancelled the two taxes.

However, after so many years, now the grave implications of doing away with the taxes are just manifesting. Truly, direct taxation has surreptitiously returned in various ways, particularly in the form of the ubiquitous Value Added Tax (VAT), which everyone now pays at point of sales. But the jangali never returned and the loss was calamitous not only as a source of revenue to the state treasuries but also to the herding communities. In 1980, the loss of direct adult tax to Kano State treasury was estimated at about $8m and jangali about $4m which would total to about six billion Naira in today's rates.

It looked like a big relief to the herding communities to be liberated from the burden of this tax. Many celebrated its cancellation as a triumph of sorts, only to be faced with the stark realities as events unrolled. The herding communities realized that it was an empty victory. Not paying the jangali alienated them from the state and they became virtually on their own. To their chagrin they realised that the various interventions they enjoyed during the jangali regime vanished, one after the other. Then the state was diligently providing various life-saving services to the herders. The herds, mostly cattle but including other ruminants such as goats and sheep, were getting free inoculation and other ancillary veterinary medical services from the state. The herders were protected from the iniquities of harassment by rustlers. And when they ran into problems with farmers, as they were wont to, the state made decisive interventions to settle matters amicably.

Now the herders have become more or less orphans in many states of the federation, hardly attracting any government support despite the immense contribution of their wealth to the overall national economy. To worsen matters they earned the label of kidnappers and robbers, due perhaps to the misdemeanours of some of them, and thus became unwanted guests in many parts of Nigeria. Some states of the federation such as Benue and Ondo, even enacted laws specifically to restrict movements of herders in their domains.

What to do with the herding community has now become a major issue of debate at many fora. Should herders be allowed to continue their age-old seasonal marches to the South, causing major irritation to the crop farmers, particularly in those areas where land is a very scarce commodity? If not, how can we settle them with their herds in a manner that would both be profitable to them and the nation?

One would expect the states in the far-north to be at the vanguard of ameliorating the condition of herders since most of them originate from there. Admittedly, there are many schemes now going on in these states to resettle herders in various forms of fixtures, with the availability of water and fodder, to encourage a more settled life. I have noted, recently, that Yobe State has struck a notch higher by re-introducing jangali, believing that it would be a firm bridge between the government and the herding community. A few days ago I read that the Secretary to the Yobe State Government, Baba Mallam Wali, had unfurled Executive Order no 3 signed by Governor Mai Mala Buni, heralding the livestock tax in Yobe State.

Yobe State arguably has the largest livestock population in the country and their livestock markets perennially attract traders from across the West African region. The Potiskum cattle market is said to be the largest in West Africa. For this and many other sundry reasons, one can understand the resolve of the government to do something on the herders' dilemma. I understand that the rate is basic, N500 each on a cow and a lesser amount on other ruminants. I also understand that the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) was part of the process. In fact, I hear that MACBAN was even the ones that suggested the tax.

I hope Yobe State will stick to their side of the bargain of using the collected tax for the good of the herders. In addition, modern, digital methods must be deployed in the collection process, avoiding the use of tax collectors who could be difficult to supervise and would have the tendency to appropriate the collection for personal use.

I guess the neighbouring states of Borno, Jigawa, Bauchi, Adamawa and even Kano, all known to have large herders' communities will be watching events with keen interest. For the jangali regime to succeed, all these contiguous states must be brought on board.

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