How was your childhood?
I enrolled at primary school in 1962. I was in Primary 5 in 1966 when the then Sardauna of Sokoto (Alhaji Ahmadu Bello) was killed. I had to stop school due to the crisis to start a business. It was in 1977 that I completed primary school education because of the crisis and the civil war. The crisis disrupted my education and it was much later that I was able to continue. I was appointed as a classroom teacher in 1977/78. Then I went to a vocational school known as Artisan Training School. After completing my training there in about one and a half years, I became a builder. From there, I moved to the Primary Health Care Department in the old Bauchi State. My father was married to three women and he had four children. I’m the first child and two of us are left. I’m 65 years old and I was born in Gombe State. I remember that I was six years old when Nigeria got independence.
Would you say you enjoyed your growing up?
Of course, I had a memorable childhood. Everything was cheap and easy to come by. People ate the kind of meals they desired. During my primary school, I used to be given two kobo for breakfast and it was more than enough. One pound was the highest denomination then. The cost of living was essentially cheap for both the poor and the wealthy.
How did you become a hunter?
I grew up following my father to the bush to hunt. My late grandfather was chief hunter in Gombe, likewise my father. So it was only obvious that I would become a successful hunter and the chief hunter in the state. Since my childhood, I have been involved in hunting. I was only fortunate to have been educated to a comfortable extent.
Was that your dream? Did you grow up knowing that was what you would do?
That was my dream. The type of life my father and grandfather lived was highly instrumental to my dream of one day becoming a chief hunter. I’m my father’s first son. So it was clear I would succeed him. He had also seen the interest and zeal of a great hunter in me.
How did you learn to shoot?
My father taught me how to shoot. I was also taught by elders who identified my willingness to learn. I freely joined other hunters so that I could learn to shoot. I had opportunities of getting personal training. That was how I mastered the act of shooting with bow and arrow, as well as gun. I used to have targets on a tree, if I hit them, I got rewarded and sometimes, I could be flogged for not hitting the targets.
What are the scariest or most fearful experiences you have had while in the bush?
Oftentimes, we don’t depend on Gombe bushes alone. So years ago, we travelled to Zangazanga in Adamawa State to hunt. My father was the chief hunter at that time; it was after the Sardauna was killed. I never knew that a lion was behind us. My attention was on something else when suddenly the lion appeared from behind, I can’t explain how I managed to escape from the lion as my concentration was on something else.
Have there been near-death experiences?
Of course, it is almost impossible for there not to be near-death experiences when you have other people wielding guns, and bows and arrows in search of animals. One could be mistaken for an animal. There is what we call ‘Buntu’ bat in Hausa; it is used to prepare traditional protective medicine and it is worn on the head because animals like lion, antelope, and buffalo are usually attracted to a bat. Once we wear it, we look like a bat. A hunter nearly killed his colleague because he looked like a bat. But God is so kind; he narrowly missed him. Immediately he realised that he could have killed his colleague, he kept asking, “Did I kill you, did I kill you?” He was extremely afraid that he could have killed his colleague.
Does being at the end of another hunter’s bullet scare you?
That is part of the dangers of our profession but I’m never scared. I can never be scared as the chief of hunters. However, I try to be cautious. But I have stayed away from the bush because I’m getting old and the bushes around Gombe are fast disappearing, so the big animals are no longer there but my members are actively involved in it. But when I was active, I wasn’t scared of the bullets or arrows from my colleagues.
How do you guard against such?
We try as much as possible to take preventive measures to guard against any eventuality but if it happens, there are medicines that we will prepare to forestall further harm. Once we apply it, the effect of the shooting is reduced to the barest minimum.
What kind of animals do you hunt?
I like to hunt lions, buffaloes, chimpanzees, gorillas, antelopes and so on. There are so many animals that I like to hunt because of their economic benefits, market values and the prestige that such will yield you as a hunter.
What is the biggest animal you have ever hunted or killed?
I have hunted so many wild animals, but amongst the biggest and most remarkable is lion.
What was the experience like?
It was about 20 years ago; usually we travel as far as Adamawa, Bauchi and Cameroon. I saw the animal first, and I chose to hide so that it wouldn’t know that there was someone around. I shot it from afar. Lions have a funny way of not falling after being shot. You need to cautiously approach it, bearing your gun to ensure that it is weak, as it may be waiting for you to devour you. So until it falls, it is not over. So immediately, I reloaded as I noticed that it was still standing. Then I used the gun to push it and it collapsed on the ground. As I couldn’t carry it, I had to invite people to come help me carry it to a place where I was able to get a vehicle to take it to a nearby market, where I sold it. I sold it for a really good price then; although, I can’t remember the exact amount I sold it. I can’t forget the experience.
Animal rights activists will hate you for what you do as it can be regarded as cruelty to animal, what do you think about this?
I have never met them in my years of experience but usually we used to hide once we heard about them as they were capable of disrupting our business. Even when I go to Cameroon, we use charms to make sure that they do not see us. We are not happy about their activities because they tend to want to stop us from earning our daily bread. When we see them, we hide so that they won’t disturb us.
Have you ever pitied an animal you killed?
Never! I have never felt such emotions towards an animal; instead, I’m very excited about every animal I kill because it means that I have got what I want. Every catch makes you excited as a hunter, fulfilled as a father and satisfied as a businessman who sells. I can’t attach such emotions to my source of daily bread.
Does the job have seasons that animals are hard to come by? How do you survive during such seasons?
Rainy season is usually a time that animals come for farmers’ crops. However, there is no season that you cannot get a good catch. What is important is your ability to target well and remain focused. But overtime, I have realised that animals tend to come out more during rainy season because they consume crops.
What special rituals do you perform before going inside the bush to hunt?
There are so many traditional medicines that we usually use. Some, we use at home before embarking on the journey; some others, we apply in the bush. We drink some, and there are others that we burn as incense to attract the animals. This ritual brings them closer to you as a hunter.
Do you have charms you rely on?
Of course, there are (charms I rely on). The things I just mentioned to you now are charms that help you as a hunter and they are potent. There are charms that can make me invincible to you, you can’t see me and also you won’t be able to know I’m close to you. We employ such to make ourselves invisible to the animals. Some render the animals powerless as they just stand still, without doing anything. Some others will help you to kill them. Some animals can just keep following you until you shoot at them. Such charms simply attract animals to you in such a way that they call them from afar towards your direction.
Urbanisation is sweeping across many parts of the country and that threatens hunters’ job, are you afraid that soon, there might be few bushes and animals for hunters?
Well, that is already beginning to manifest. My people go as far as Yankari, Adamawa and some parts of Cameroon to hunt because Gombe bushes are fast disappearing due to the level of urbanisation going on in the state. Sometime ago, my people also went to Sambisa; yes, the one you know as Boko Haram hideout, to fight Boko Haram and they succeeded. As you can see, government is trying as much as possible to bring us closer due to our perceived usefulness to national peace and safety. So we are not afraid at all that bushes are now giving way to development and reducing our chances of earning a living as there are better prospects. Some years ago, we caught Boko Haram members in Dadin Kowa and handed them over to the Nigerian Army. Recently, we have caught criminals, kidnappers and handed them over to the police. This year alone, we have caught six kidnappers in Pindiga and we handed them over to the police.
In some states where there is insecurity or problems with killer herdsmen, hunters have come out to say they will protect the people, what makes them think they are capable of facing criminals?
It’s simply because we have some certain powers that help us to do extraordinary things. We have what is known as ‘laya’ in Hausa, which helps us to disappear and we won’t be seen. There are so many functions of ‘laya’. With ‘laya’, even if you shoot at a hunter, it will not penetrate their body. It will not allow the bullet of their enemy to cause them harm whatsoever. This and many more give us the confidence that we can face Boko Haram and other criminal agents without any fear of death.
There have been rumours that the Federal Government plans to revoke gun licences in the country, including legally acquired ones. Will you be scared should the government take this direction in future?
Actually if it is true, we will meet with the government to explain how it will be impossible to fight insurgency without our weapons, going by our enormous impact in stemming the tide of insecurity in northern Nigeria. We hope it is just a rumour as it will be a colossal error to seize all weapons that have been of benefit in defending our people against attacks. I will advise other state governors to team up with their local hunters like it is being done in Gombe, in order to resolve the security problems. As a hunter, you go inside bushes and most of them serve as hideouts. A hunter can report to security agencies about a suspected hideout and arrests will be made. Government should give hunters the required recognition.
As the chief hunter in Gombe, do you have time for your family?
(Smiles) I have just one wife. I have 11 children.
What advice do you have for youths?
Education is very vital, they should be properly lettered. As you know, we don’t have enough animals in the bush; I would have asked as many that are interested in joining us in hunting to do so and team up with us instead of joining bad gangs.
How do you recruit members?
We have forms; if you come, we give you identity card. Our form costs N200 and identity card goes for N1,000. But we don’t just recruit people. In the form which is to be filled, there is space for your community head to sign and attest to your good conduct. If he declines, it is obvious you have a terrible character and we won’t admit you.
If you were not a hunter, what else would you be doing?
As you already know, hunting is my first love, but if I were not hunting, I would be farming. Both are related; they both give satisfaction through the pocket and the stomach.