kara market

A Day In Lagos Cattle Market

KaraMany may not know how lucrative the cattle business is in Nigeria but Nigerians eat beef on a daily basis notwithstanding how tough the economy has become lately.

In developing countries, this business has been left in the hands of the so called illiterates, unlearned nomads. However, these people wield so much influence and power because of the economy they control.

Meanwhile, the cattle business controls a value chain which has employed millions making profits on a daily basis. This chain include the cattle breeders, hay sellers, middle men, butchers, cattle sellers, transporters, market administrators, ticket sellers, food vendors at the market, POS operators, rope sellers and many others who make a daily living from the cattle market. Of course the revenue along this chain runs into several millions on a daily basis.

We were in the home of one of our church leaders. It was after an early Sunday morning rain and we all needed some warmth.

Hot water was prepared for me to have my bathe, at least to warm myself from the teeth gnashing cold. I was chatting with my younger sister on whatsapp who was giving me a report about my 80 years old mum who had taken ill and was rushed to the hospital on Wednesday 26, August 2020.

While she gave me the rundown of my mum’s state, I left my phone in the living room of our host to go for a hot bathe. In the bathroom, the Lord spoke to me, “You are going to Lagos this week”.

I knew that the Lord was asking me to go to Lagos. So I replied, “Of course, Lord, I must go to see her”. I then called my wife to share what God just spoken to me. Her response was assuring, “If He has instructed you to go, He would provide resources”. Amen was my answer.

After the shower, my teenage son rushed into the living room and handed me his phone so I could answer my call (I had put one of my sim cards into his phone earlier so he could use the data on it to browse the internet).

My younger sister was on the line. The next statement rattled me, “Iya Oni ti dake o”. Iya Oni (that was the name we called my mum by) has passed on. Then she began to cry. I tried consoling her but it was futile.

The news took me into the blank mode but my consolation was that the good Lord had prepared my mind ahead, not just that Sunday morning but since I heard about her sickness.

It is obvious now that I had to be in Lagos for preparation to bury her. My phone started ringing. My uncle who is the only brother my mum had wanted to know when I was coming to Lagos.

My wife and I set out for Lagos. The journey wasn’t a big deal; normal bad roads, endless police check points, a lot of detours and all of that. We got to Lagos at some minutes past 8pm.

The burial was slated for 4th September, 2020 and as our Nigerian culture, a cow, at least, must go down. I was the one saddled with the responsibility of going to the cow market with my brother in-law and another neighbour.

We decided to go to the cow market at the Berger area of Lagos along the Lagos–Ibadan expressway. That market called Kara market in my estimation, is the largest cattle market in Lagos and Ogun States. We got there early enough before the place got rowdy.

We drove into the market and we were directed by one of the men at the first car park at entrance of the market. We didn’t know that we were being ushered into a system structured in a way that you cannot wriggle yourself out as long as you want to get a cow out of the market.

The young man who ushered us to park at a particular spot told us that the market was already full that we should park at the entrance so that it would be easier to leave. We believed but later discovered that the market was still as free as free can be.

We got out of the car, a man approached and greeted us as if he had known us since Adam. He introduced himself as a butcher. He said he would give us the best of service.

We told him that we didn’t need a butcher because we had one already contracted. He refused to back off inspite of our insistence. So we left him, why not? He could make a good company.

Meanwhile, the educated people of this world look at these people as illiterates, disorganised and lacking management skills probably because they have not been trained in former management schools, but a visit to their market space made me see otherwise.

These people are so organised that you cannot break their protocol as long as you want to get a cow out of their market; they must have learnt through the ropes.

The system is in layers and stages which you must go through to have a successful bargain.

While we walked into the market, another young man met us who also claimed to be a butcher. While he went ahead of us, I discovered that he wore a T-shirt bearing the insignia of butchers’ association. That was when my head went into adjustment mode. I called my brother in-law aside and told him that we need to be smart here because of the two men following us.

I told him that we must keep extra money aside for unforeseen expenses. He concurred. As we adjusted our thoughts, an elderly man in his fifties surfaced from nowhere and told us that he could get us a good bargain.

Before we could say, “Jesus is Lord”. He had started bargaining on our behalf. His bargaining was way off our budget, more than thrice.

My first shocker was that he asked us for any Naira note. I gave him N50 and I wondered why he asked for the money. He collected the money and gave it to one of the cow sellers and began to haggle with him. The cow seller refused his offer and returned the money. We went to another cow seller and he repeated the same process conversing in the Hausa language with his clients. I could speak a bit of the language in bargaining, I understand a little Hausa.

The old cow seller, a man of about 70 years of age or more who is Fulani bluntly refused his offer but our “contractor” stood his ground calling me his brother who needed a cow for “prayers”.

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That was the back-breaker”. The old man exclaimed, “Adu’a!” (prayer!). To ba damu ai (no problem), a ma… (but then, your offer is too low). While the old man was contemplating, our contractor asked us for N4,000, I gave him without hesitation thinking it was part of payment for the cow.

The old man kept refusing but our contractor insisted that was his last offer asking that the cow should be removed from the pen. A young man appeared from nowhere, tied a rope on the neck of the animal and pulled it out of the fold.

All this while, the two butchers who followed us there stood a distance away like hyenas waiting for the lion to fall an antelope. Our contractor was dutiful in his self-appointed assignment.

It was time to pay and I was told that I could use point of sale (PoS) machine to make payment or do a bank transfer. We were ushered into a makeshift shop where a young Fulani man was busy with calculation and the PoS machine. He promptly gave me his account number which I transferred the money into.

My concern was that, what if the payment didn’t go through and I have gone with the cow? As if reading my mind, our contractor told me that there is no way one would scam the market.

After making the transfer, I was asked for a balance of N4,000 to which I asked what it was for. I was told that the N4,000 that I earlier gave was for la’ada. What! What is la’ada? They told me that it was more like acceptance fee by the cow seller or something like that.

I got angry and told our contractor that he should have told me earlier because he just asked to give him money without spelling out the purpose. Pesin nor dey spend money like that nah, I told him. He explained that it was normal to pay it.

The young man who pulled the cow out of the fold was paid for his service. I had thought that he was a cow boy working for the old Fulani man but I was told that, that is what he does for a living. Wow! What a job! I didn’t like it but I had to pay him N1,000. He had asked for N2,000.

We were asked to go and bring our vehicle (thank God we came with our own vehicle, we would have paid the transportation fee through our nose) from the car park at the entrance of the market. The caretaker of the park was paid N100 which he was very grateful for. He would, considering the economic situation of the country and the deadly poverty level in the society.

We were told that we would buy rope to tie the cow which cost N300. I gave the rope seller N500 who absconded with my N200 balance.

As the transaction continues, I had to keep paying at every stage. This time we had to pay those who tied and put the cow into the vehicle. This would cost us N1,500; a job that took fewer than a minute or two.

They asked for N2,500. Seriously, I felt cheated but I had to pay because I needed their service. We couldn’t have done it ourselves anyway. These people leave you with no choice.

Cow tied, vehicle ready to move. Then another series of payments came up. The man who was our self-appointed contractor or intermediary asked me to give him anything I felt like giving him. Indeed, he did a good job. I gave him N2,000 which he appreciated. I am sure that he will still get paid by the cow seller.

The first butcher who met us at the entrance wanted to get something too. That’s when my temperature was going to rise but I kept my cool. Why do you want me to pay you for not doing anything for me? Anyway, I gave him N500 with my eyes high up.

Our contractor then told me that we will pay for ticket at the entrance and also pay market fee.

As we made to leave, an elderly man above sixty years who had been following us from the fold where we took our cow from came to me and introduced himself as the “Seriki” (chief) of the market and asked me to give him anything I wished. Again I gave him N2,000 and I was glad I did because he had been very helpful. He was Fulani or Hausa, he spoke scanty Yoruba language.

As we approached the main entrance, a young man who was sitting under an umbrella with another man stood up to wave us down. My in-law who was driving wanted to zoom off but I told him to wait and let’s see how it goes. The young man was polite, he is Yoruba. He looked into the vehicle, saw the cow and told us that the ticket was N300. I asked him why and he said that I wouldn’t need to pay if I wasn’t carrying a cow but now I have to pay.

About 100 metres from him, another young man flagged us down and asked for N11,000, we paid him and he issued us a ticket like the other young man. He too is Yoruba. We drove out of the market heaving a sigh of relief.

Traffic was light being Thursday morning and the fact that we left home early.

One thing caught my attention here; the cow sellers are predominantly Hausa/Fulani while those who manage the market are Yoruba. They did their businesses smoothly and freely, money is the major factor.

Meanwhile, the government needs to do something about the market to make it a world class market and better organised in terms of infrastructure; electricity, water supply, road etc.

In all, a total of over N25,000 apart from the cost of purchasing the animal went into different hands in the market. This is a skill one may not learn in a formal institution but on a daily basis the accumulation of such amount from every buyer may run into millions of Naira.

With better infrastructure in place, the country would make more revenue and of course more jobs would be created.

*Report by Immanuel O. Adeyomoye

Post Author: Tayo Olanipekun