Sokoto is noted for booming donkey business with an international border market at Ilela, a depot in the state capital as well as village markets in some of the local government areas.
Every Sunday, which is the market day for Ilela, the ‘Kara’ (livestock section) of the international market witnesses booming donkey business activities.
The market was a beehive of activities with middle men trying to outdo one another, errand boys who did minor jobs for a token, such as looking after donkeys sold to stop them from straying, while others engaged in marking the animals already sold for easy identification. The owners of such marked donkeys paid a token N20 for the service.
Transporters position their trailers at strategic locations waiting for buyers who come from different parts of the country.
Speaking with Daily Trust on Sunday, the Vice Chairman of Sokoto State Donkey and Horses Association, Ilela Market, Alhaji Mu’azu Gwadabawa, said they get over 1000 donkeys on Sundays from Abala, Gidan Iddar, Tawa, Agadez in Niger Republic, Mali as well as from within Sokoto and Kebbi states.
Alhaji Mu’azu, however, lamented that “The donkey business is no longer what it was a year ago due to the fall of the naira in the market which has affected our business. The Chinese buyers who patronize our donkeys very well insist on the same rate at which they used to buy our donkeys even though the high cost of the dollar has forced us to buy at higher prices. This has made our people to sell donkeys to them at a loss.
“As our people continued to incur heavy losses from sales to Chinese customers, they gradually had to bow out of the business,” he said.
The vice chairman lamented that over 90 percent of donkey businessmen are no longer in the business. “They have gone bankrupt,” he lamented.
“The business has now reduced to only 15-20 percent participation with mostly lgbo and Yoruba traders coming to buy the animals.
He said last Sunday, only 15 – 20 Canter trucks or trailers were loaded with the donkeys unlike before when large number of trailers leave the market on weekly basis to various destinations.
“The price of s donkey is now N30,000 – N50,000 and the smaller ones cost anything below N20,000,” he disclosed.
The donkey dealers also complained of numerous roadblocks on the roads which he alleged were additional expenses for their customers. ‘’They are made to settle those who mount such roadblocks before being allowed to pass. They collect as much as N3,000 from our people for a trailer load of donkeys before allowing them to pass.”
Daily Trust on Sunday was at another popular donkey market in the state, located in Bodinga Local Government Area where the donkey business takes place on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Friday being the bigger market day witnesses large supply of donkeys and customers who throng the section of the ‘Kara’ livestock market allocated to the donkey sales.
The chairman, Donkey Sellers Association, Bodinga Market, Murtala Mai Taki, also lamented that “business in the donkey market has dropped since last year when Chinese companies which patronized donkeys for their hide and skin stopped coming to buy them from us.”
“We don’t get much from the business now since prices of donkeys are low. Last year, a well fed donkey costs as much as N90,000 – N100,000 but now one can get the best donkey at N30,000 – N50,000,” he said.
Mai Taki said they get supply of donkeys from villages in the locality and other areas of the state.
He recalled that Bodinga donkey business started earlier than that of Sokoto town, adding that it was after the business became successful at Bodinga that people in Sokoto town started it.
“Our market is older than that of Sokoto that is why they still refer their bigger customers to Bodinga for large purchases, customers from Sokoto get as much as five Canter truck loads of donkeys on Friday market days,” he disclosed.
He said customers cut across those who need donkeys for domestic and agricultural activities and merchants who purchased them in good number to the eastern and some other parts of Nigeria for consumption.
“Those who purchase them for domestic and farm work use them for conveying manure to farms and farm produce back home during harvest. They also use them to fetch water for their families, collect clay or sand in the river, and haul heavy commodities to markets for sale,” he explained.
The chairman said Bodinga branch of the association has over 70 members, and the last time they got government’s support was during the last administration in the state.
Murtala said they require another plot of land for the business as they need to move the market from its present site which he described as very inconvenient. He also solicited for soft loan from Sokoto State government to boost their business.
He complained of what he described as unnecessary levies they pay at some checkpoints on market days.
Murtala said illela border market has the highest number of donkeys for sale. “We travel there to buy for our customers here in Bodinga,” he disclosed.
An individual trader can bring 30-40 donkeys, he added.
A donkey merchant from Gusau In Zamfara State, Musa Bala Gusau, who has 15 years in donkey supply business, said he patronizes Bodinga market weekly.
“I can afford two Canter truck loads of donkeys at N2 million every week which was N4 million – N 4.5 million last year,” he revealed.
Musa said: ‘’Though donkey is still available but the market is no longer favourable since Chinese people declined patronizing donkey for their skin.”
It was same story at the donkey depot in the Sokoto State. “Market was far better last year because of patronage from some Chinese firms who deal in donkey hide and skin and they paid good money for a donkey,” said a donkey dealer, Aminu Attahiru, who has spent 20 years in the business.
He added: “We sold a donkey for N80,000-N100,000 last year but this year you can get the best and biggest donkey at N50,000 – almost half of the price of last year. One can even get a N15,000-N20,000 donkey in the market today.”
He recalled that last year, trailer loads of donkeys worth millions of naira were frequently transported from the depot in Sokoto and major markets of Ilela and Tangaza Local Government Areas of the state.
On the drop in number of donkeys at the Sokoto depot, the dealer said the business had shifted base to village markets across the state.
“Our agents go to village markets because donkey owners no longer transport their animals to Sokoto for sale, they prefer to take them to village markets where it is more conducive, fetch better money and save them cost of transportation,” he explained.
He added: “Our agents who attend village markets to purchase donkeys for customers from the southern and eastern parts of Nigeria also get them in good number at such markets and they transport them to Sokoto depot here for the onward journey to their respective destinations.”
According to the dealer, the agents mostly go to Gwadabawa, Illela, Gada, Sokoto, Achida, Tangaza and Tambuwal local government areas where the villagers bring out their donkeys in large numbers for sale.
Daily Trust learnt that some agents and middlemen go to villages on the Nigeria\Niger Republic border to buy donkeys.
It was also discovered that in the rural areas, especially among peasant farmers, motorcycles have taken over some of the work done with donkeys.
“Nowadays, some farmers prefer to convey manure to farms, fetch water, get animal feeds, and convey farm produce to their homes during harvesting season on motorcycles. They also use it to collect sand and clay which they use to build houses,” a donkey dealer Nasiru Aliyu stated.
He, however, added that “Donkeys carry more load than motorcycles only that motorcycle is faster and saves cost of regular feeding and donkey maintenance.”
Alhaji Aminu said the donkey and horse dealers’ associations need support from government to boost their trade.
“During Wamakko’s administration, we were given a donation of N1 million but since then we have not received any support from government,” he stated.
He solicited for support, such as loan, for the members of the association to support their business, which he lamented “is now in a trying moment.”
A donkey merchant, Abubakar Sabo Wajake, said “donkeys are still available just that the business is taking place more at village markets.”
He gave the different breed of donkeys available in the state to include Auraki, Goho, Duna, Jangora, Fari Asasan and Akaza among others.
At the donkey market, accessories which go with the animal are also sold.
They include takunkumi (mouth cover) dabaibayi (a rope which restricts straying by donkeys), gindi (a rope for tying a donkey to a place), tagazai (a twine used to drag the donkey to the desired destination) and kahu which serves as cushion or seat for a donkey rider.
Mohammed Ibrahim, a donkey accessories merchant, who has spent 10 years in the business, decried low patronage due to dwindling donkey business at Sokoto depot.
“I used to make N10,000 on Friday market days as many people came to transact donkey business then, but now I hardly make N2,000,” he stated.
Ibrahim also attributed the poor sales at the Sokoto depot to the shift of donkey business to village markets.