This ancient market, situated in Dawaki town of Kanke local government area in Plateau state, has earned resounding fame across most parts of the North-east, North-west and South-south Nigeria as the country’s largest dog market.
Here, young and average dogs, mostly locally bred with visible signs of malnourishment are seen chained by mostly women who trek the almost two kilometre distance from Dawaki town or other Ngas speaking communities every Thursday ,to sell them off at a price. The market, originally established to focus on livestock, today boasts of having one of the largest and most lucrative baobab (Kuka) leaves section which when purchased in bulk, are often sold off in other parts of the state as well as other northern states like Kano, Kaduna and Borno. Though still a local market, Dawaki has become so fundamental that locals say it serves as a window that connects the North and South, Nigeria with other neighbouring Sub-Saharan African countries.
Dawaki, initially a family market
Dawaki market was established as a family market to meet the needs of an extended family as they gather on specific days to trade and exchange goods. The then traditional ruler in the area had established the market almost 300 years ago, according to the Chairman of Marketers Association in the area, Alh. Sule Maidoki. “Our grandparents met the market, our great grand parents also met the market, it has existed for over 300 years based on oral records,” he told some correspondents who were on a working visit to Dawaki.
Maidoki, a well respected man among the traders narrated as he took Newsmen on a tour, that the market used to be situated in the heart of what later became Dawaki village. It had gradually attracted people from neighbouring villages who began to build houses, leading to a congestion that eventually squeezed the market into a tight corner. This, he said was what warranted the need to relocate the market to its present location in 2016. The new site, situated along the highway and barely 46 kilometres to Tafawa Balewa local government area in Bauchi state, attracts natives and foreigners from other parts of the state, who visit weekly to buy and sell dogs and other commodities.
Presently, the new site lacks modern stalls, and traders often endure much during the rainy season, said the Secretary of the market, Yatem Jeftha Dauda. “Even the few stalls put together were blown off by the wind in April, and since then, efforts to build better stalls have not been successful,” he said.
Like a typical village market, most of the stalls are locally constructed by the traders with tree branches, zinc as well as thatch. Except for a few offices and warehouses built by the gate side which makes the market attractive from the outside, other structures are either uncompleted or locally made.
Maidoki who is also Ngas by tribe and the Auditor of the market association at the state level, explained that the notable market like the community, earned the name, ‘Dawaki’ (horses) due to its strategic location as the main spot where horse riders from Bauchi, Kano and other northern states in search of slaves to buy, used to converge during pre-colonial times. He further explained that as people began to build a life around the market, the entire town was then called Dawaki.
The Secretary of the market, Yatem Jeftha Dauda noted that though the market is an all year round one, it bustles more during the dry season. Other live stocks such as goats, sheep, pigs are sold in the market, but it is dog trading that propels all other business activities, as well as serves as the attracting force that pulls traders from Cross River state, and other South-south states to the market. Dog business also sends Kanke men as far as Niger Republic, Chad, and other northern states in search of dogs.
The traders from the South-south are often called Calabar traders who usually arrive at intervals in about 13 Lorries, “but when the rainy season is at its peak, they come in only about four Lorries on weekly basis. Sometimes they have a breakdown on the road and won’t arrive on the market day. But their customers will still wait for them with the dogs till the next day,” said Dauda.
The market often generates between N70,000-N100,000 every market day ,as every item brought in for trading is taxed. For each Jerry can of palm oil, the market collects revenue of N50 and the same amount is collected for each livestock brought into the market. “Due to the hardship, our agents sometimes give discounts. For instance, anyone who comes in with 10 dogs would be asked to pay for only five and in the case of those who sell fish and other petty items, we collect N50 from each trader. But this also depends on the season, and as usual we generate the most revenue from the dog sellers,” Dauda explained.
The Ngas men of Kanke are famous for their knack in native medicine and often travel to upper northern states such as Kano, Maiduguri and Katsina as well as countries like Chad and Niger Republic, to cure patients whose illnesses may have defied conventional medicine. “When they successfully nurse their patients back to health, they are usually rewarded with dogs. These dogs are brought back home to their wives to sell at the Dawaki market,” said Alhaji Sule Maidoki.
Though some men buy dogs and bring home from various parts of the country, often times, the dogs are given in exchange for the expertise of the Kanke people in traditional medicine. Once inside Dawaki market, the almost submissive barks that sound more like mourns, are heard from hundreds of dogs seen in chains. Again, the few dogs that bark are not aggressive to their handlers, passersby and strangers.
Though this calm disposition of the dogs when brought to the market is surprising and often unknown to many, the secret is linked to a mysterious cultural practice known among dog handlers of Kanke origin who are well-known to be great dog handlers as well as eaters.
Every Thursday, as early as 6:00 am, traders troop to the market, but business transaction often commences fully when the Calabar traders arrive. They usually come with hundreds of litres of palm oil to sell to their customers ,and then use the money to buy dogs and other animals in return.
It wasgathered that dog transaction alone in the market amounts to over N3 million weekly. Similarly, the Youth leader of Dawaki town who doubles as the Chairman, National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) in the market, Manshack Ubandoma, explained that the dog prices may range from between N7000-N15,000 depending on the weight and training of the animal. He, however said dogs trained for hunting are often more expensive than others, because they are usually trained to be more responsive and smarter.
One of the dog dealers, Mrs. Mutardang Gabwat who joined the business 15 years ago ,said she has trained her children, built a house and boosted her farming from proceeds of the business.
Gabwat explained that she often buys dogs from individuals with one or two who see no reason waiting for the Calabar traders. When she is able to gather dozens, she in turn sells to the traders from the South-south at a profit. “My weekly budget is about N200,000 and I buy over 20 dogs weekly and make a profit of N25,000 after reselling the dogs,” she said.
When asked why most of the local dog traders were women, she explained that, “That is to tell you that the women are standing up for themselves; no one wants to wait upon any man to do everything for her.”
She however described as unfortunate the fact that majority of their men who travel up north to purchase the dogs never return home, as they abandon their families to settle for new lives in those areas. “Some of them even get married and remain there ,so if the women at home don’t rise up to help themselves, how can they care for their children?” she stressed.
For every dog brought to Dawaki market, there are three likely fates it will meet; it will either end up in a soup pot or be sold and used as a pet or hunting dog. Lastly, it may travel all the way to Calabar in which case it may still meet the first or second fate.
As a popular delicacy among the Ngas people, dog meat to those who consume it is not only medicinal but could be used for protective charms and love portions. Gideon Gambo Goyoma, Chairman of dog sellers in the market, said though dog meat is not generally sold in food outlets out of respect for those who find it offensive, there are designated places around town and the market where the meat is sold. “Like donkey meat, there are certain places you can buy them in the market,” he said.
Goyoma explained that the over 200 registered dog sellers in the market have contributed immensely to the LG’s economy, adding that the Ngas people’s attachment to dog meat is probably due to the fact that it is the only delicacy that can be prepared without spices.
But it is the mystery of how the people are able to tame the dogs no matter how violent that has left many wondering. The Supervisor of the market, Idris Abubakar explained that, “the taming and instant transformation of the dogs is linked to some traditional secret only known to the handlers which cannot ordinarily be understood.”
“I have seen hostile dogs become friendly and follow their new masters willingly without resistance. The dogs are friendly to their handlers and passersby. No matter how violent or harsh a dog is, once it is brought here, it is transformed. They don’t bite anyone neither do they fight each other as expected of dogs,” he said.
Calabar traders arrive in style
By 2pm, while still at the market, a harrowing sound heralded with acclamation and cheers drew attention to the arrival of Calabar traders. The sight of the 911 lorry packed with metal dog cages and hidden jerry cans of palm oil ,came with a sigh of relief to many who had been waiting their arrival for hours. As the lorry navigated its way into the market, after the usual checks and paper works at the gate, dog traders who had earlier retired to other sections of the market, began to inch towards the spot where the lorry was expected to make a stop. Five young men languishing at the back of the lorry suddenly became alert as they exchanged pleasantries with other traders in the market.
The traders from Calabar, in addition to the palm oil, also bring brooms, oranges, vegetables and other commodities to sell to the people. They then use money earned from the sales to purchase other animals for onward transfer back home.
Chairman of the Calabar traders, Robert Aniedi said he has been in the business for about 10 years and therefore needs no lecture on the handling dogs. He however confines them each to a rusty looking cage made from iron bars, to make the long journey back to Calabar. Aniedi explained that what is now known as the ‘Calabar dream’ started by one person who brought palm oil to the market, sold to the people and decided to buy livestock in return.
He said, “I was introduced to the market by my brother about 10 years ago and I have been coming here ever since, at least twice a month to sell palm oil and buy dogs and goats in return.”
His lorry is usually packed with at least 50 jerry cans of 25 litres palm oil which he says he exhausts every market day. The long journey to Dawaki is however stressful, Aniedi said, “we usually leave Calabar by 12 noon on Wednesdays ,and spend about 24 hours on the road. Whenever we arrive, we finish all our transactions that same day and leave for Calabar immediately.”
With the dogs caged and locked, they are delivered in good health to other buyers in Calabar and other states of the South-south region. Aniedi who encourages others to join the business said, “it is very lucrative, I am able to make a profit of between N50,000-N100,000 per trip.”