Garba Ubale, a renowned snake charmer in Zaria, Kaduna State, has no doubt, cut a niche for himself in the lucrative, but dangerous profession of charming snakes. In this interview with Mohammed Ismail, the snake charmer, who says he played a significant role in ridding the presidential villa of deadly snakes, noted that, snake venom, is one of the most expensive commodities in the world.
How did you venture into this line of business
As you know, my name is Garba Umar popularly called Ubale, the snake charmer. I was crowned the leader of archers of Maqera in Zariya Kingdom. Allah in his infinite mercy, has blessed me with the wherewithal of dealing with snakes using unorthodox and orthodox means, a feat that made me popular in Africa. I have visited many countries to acquire knowledge and character of snakes. Nigeria as a country, is proud of my feats in this unique area which only the brave can venture into.
People always shrink with exasperation whenever I tell them that my mother gave birth to me together with a snake. The circumstances of my birth was responsible for the successes and exploits I am making in this line of endeavour.
Many may find your claim of being born together with a snake strange because it defies both logic and scientific evidence, what would you say on this?
Like I said earlier, I was born together with a snake and that is why I grew up with snakes. People in my area can testify to this. I sleep with snakes and play with them and even eat food and drink water with them. I got everything in my life through the influence of snakes and of course, by the grace of Allah. I can confidently tell you that snakes are my best friends in this world. I hate seeing people kill snakes and even the snakes don’t want harm to come my way due to the level of trust between us. I obey their instructions and they obey mine and that is how we have being cohabiting all these years. The only difference between me and a snake is that I eat food on daily basis while snakes eat food once every week.
You said you have mastered snakes in both unorthodox and orthodox ways, can you shed more light on that?
I am fundamentally different from many snake charmers because I never joked with the special gift Allah has endowed me with. This inspired Ahmadu Bello University Zaria to give me the opportunity to engage students of Animal Science in the art of studying venomous and non-venomous animals and the chemistry of venom. You know, there is no lecturer that will catch a live snake during experiment and that is where my service comes handy. In fact, many Nigerian universities have, at one point or the other, sought my services whenever they are making research on snakes.
So how has this business sustained you and your family?
Before, I worked with ABU (Zaria) where we entered into a synergy with some experts like Professor Ibrahim Kaita, who is now the vice chancellor, Federal University Katsina. But I realised that working in that environment will not enable me attain my full potentials, so I quit.
Similarly, at another point in my life, the federal ministry of Health, during Abacha’s era, engaged my services to rid Plateau and parts of Gombe State, Kaltoungo and Billiri to be precise, from the menace of deadly snakes. I was engaged in the activity aimed at providing anti snake venom which was under the supervision of Dr. Abdul Salam Nasidi. That venture has proven crucial to me because I have learnt a lot and the team also learnt a lot from me because the counsels I gave were responsible for the successes recorded. I was able to formulate a powder which we named anti snake mentholated powder. If you suspect a snake in a place and you apply the powder, the snake will come out from its hiding place and the powder also kills the eggs of snakes. We started testing the powder in Abuja and environs and when we were satisfied with its efficacy, we were asked to apply it in Aso Villa. I, personally rid the villa of all the snakes. We spent one month taking snakes out of the villa. After our operations in the villa, we proceeded to Plateau and Gombe states and also rid them of snakes leading to significant reduction in incidents of snake bites. It is on record that incidences of snake bite have significantly reduced in Plateau and Gombe states.In your various encounters with snakes, which type of snake would you say gave you a raw deal?
There was a time a snake bit the mother in law of former president Olusegun Obasanjo, that is the mother of Stella Obasanjo. They went to many places looking for medication including western countries but the situation defies solution. So one day, I received a call from the presidency where I met Stella who instantly told me to attend to her aged mother. When I checked the snake bite, I discovered that 4 teeth of the snake got stuck inside her body. I instantly came to understand that the snake has some psychic powers which I told them. They asked me the solution and I asked them where did the snake bit the old women and they told me that the incident happened in Edo state. I told them that I will go and catch the snake. I went to Edo and I caught the snake and brought it to Abuja. One day after our return, the snake disappeared and went back to Edo state which prompted our journey back to the place. To cut the story short, the medication I gave to Obasanjo’s mother in law, was responsible for the healing of the snake bite.
How many snakes do you have at present?
At least, I have about 3,000 snakes despite the fact that white people do come to buy them. I also take such snakes to medical laboratories were venom is extracted. One surprising thing about snake venom is that, it is used in preparing anti snake venom which cures snake bites. It is because of this that anybody who is bitten three times by snakes and still remain alive will have a natural vaccine against snake bites. I want to use this medium to appeal to the president to constitute a research team to get the value of venom in the international market because according to our investigations, venom is costlier than gold in international market. If the sector is fully exploited, venom will constitute a foreign exchange earner for Nigeria’s economy.
What is responsible for the high value of venom at the international market?
One of the fundamental reasons is that it is from the venom that anti snake venom is produced and there is venom in most of the modern weapons in the market. There is such venom in bullets. So, those who know its value don’t joke with it.