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Herders Are Increasingly Coming Under Attack In Northern Borno

Cattle herders in the northern part of Nigeria are increasingly coming under attack by terrorists attempting to rustle their cows. Bappa was shot on the outskirts of Gubio town as he took his cattle out to graze. He has lived with shrapnel in his head ever since.

As Bappa Tambaya, 57, moved around with his cattle as they grazed, he was attacked by armed men he thinks were members of the Boko Haram terror group. 

The incident occurred in March, outside of Gubio town in the northern part of Borno State, northeast Nigeria

The attack was an attempt to steal cattle and valuable properties. This is a crime frequently carried out by terrorists in the region, locals say.

Before the attack, Bappa sat resting under a tree with his cattle after a long day of grazing them. He was exhausted and planned to rest before heading home.  

“I covered my eyes with my hat and a few minutes later, I overheard people approaching me on motorbikes,” Bappa said. 

He jumped up, grabbing his hat, then quickly carried his bow and arrow.

He saw four people on two bikes, each bike carrying two people, their heads covered with scarves. 

Bappa did not realise someone had sneaked up behind him, until he opened fire with a shotgun.  He felt the pain of something piercing his head.

“I became dizzy because of the pain in my head but I managed to shoot my arrow aimlessly on two of the bikes,” he said. 

Bappa was sure the arrows had hit some of them because they fled immediately. 

“I lost consciousness after shooting my blessed arrow. I fell to the ground and blood covered me,” he said.

Rustling and kidnapping

He suspects the culprits were from Boko Haram, the terrorists who have plunged the north east into turmoil for the last 14 years. 

Others agree. “Our people are constantly living with fear because of the Boko Haram terror in the northern areas,” Boyi Dauda, a friend of Bappa’s told HumAngle. 

“They are attacking herders and rustling cattle frequently and sometimes they kidnap and demand for ransom in millions,” he added.

According to Boyi, many have died as a result of the herder and terrorist encounter. This, in addition to the farmer-herder crises that have plagued the central part of the country, is worrying.


Bappa’s cattle all dispersed at the sound of the gun, and everywhere became chaotic. 

Some of the cows found their way home, but without their herder and separated from the herd, many went missing. 

When they spotted the cows arriving back home without their herder, Bappa’s family members searched for him. 

They found him under the tree, covered with blood.  According to Bappa, his family thought he was dead until they came closer and heard him breathing. They rushed him home. 

Examining him, they found many shotgun pellets in his head, and the wounds kept on gushing blood. But all they had to treat him was traditional medicine.


One week later, his condition failed to improve so they took him to a hospital in Maiduguri.

“I was hospitalised and got treated at the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital,” Bappa says. 

He recovered over the course of a month, but he is still afraid to go back to his remote village. He is not satisfied with his health even after all the treatment, which has cost them about N300,000 so far. 

Bappa knows there are still fragments of metal still in his head. In addition to the excruciating pain, he can feel a bulge in the area every time he touches it. When he complained to health workers at the hospital where he was treated, they confirmed what he knew. 

But they told him it will cost about N350,000 to undergo surgery to remove it. He cannot afford this, he says.

“My head hurts constantly and my veins pull my right eye.”

While bearing the excruciating pains, his right eye began to blur gradually, and in a matter of weeks, he stopped seeing with the eye.

Bappa’s right eye is completely blinded as a result of the shrapnel in his head. Photo: Usman Abba Zanna/HumAngle.

“I can’t see now and the shrapnel in my brain is getting deeper into my head. I am afraid it will touch my brain if I don’t get treatment,” Bappa said. 

Bappa now lives in Shuwari V IDP camp where herders who fled their communities live in Maiduguri. 


Some of his cattle that went missing were recovered a week later.

Bappa’s family, his two wives and 11 children, were affected by his health condition. They have all fled to Maiduguri, leaving their herds in the hands of their relatives. 

Living with the injury and having no money to go for the expensive surgery has affected Bappa’s occupation as a herder, which has also affected the stability of his family’s well being. 

“I really want to go back because I am not doing anything here at the camp. It is the injury that is holding me back and lack of money is delaying me to access surgery,” he said. 

It is best for Bappa and his family to return to their rural area because here at the camp, there is no food assistance for arrivals like them. 

Cattle rustling is an infamous practice carried out by Boko Haram in the northern part of Borno and it has greatly affected the herders community in the region. 

The Nigerian Army was reported to have said that it killed some Boko Haram cattle rustlers at Mairari village in Monguno local government area.

In other parts of the country, HumAngle has reported similar rustling activities carried out by terrorists at the Kurya-Madaro community of Zamfara, in the northwest. 

Another form of crime committed by the terrorists in Borno is the kidnapping of herders for ransom. HumAngle has reported the release of some herders including five children after families raised three million naira for their ransom. 

Collectively, the two crimes have devastated the peace and security of herders in the northern part of Borno, displacing thousands of them. 

In previous years, thousands of herders in the area fled to Maiduguri, the state’s capital, and have been living in makeshift camps like the Shuwari V IDP camp.

According to the chairman of the Shuwari V IDP camp, Zanna Rebo Boderi, 2,309 herders who fled the northern part of Borno settled at the camp in the period when they were initially displaced seven years ago.

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Usman Abba Zanna

Usman is a multimedia journalist covering conflict, humanitarian crises, development, and peace in the Lake Chad region. He is also a media and conflict management consultant.

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