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Kara: Ogun abattoir where filth, flies are as common as meat

If you see the environment where they kill the meat people eat, you will not want to eat the meat,” Ogun State Commissioner for Environment, Abiodun Abudu-Balogun, remarked while speaking to Sunday PUNCH on the decrepit nature of many abattoirs in the Gateway State.

What is, however, worrisome is that many of such filthy slaughterhouses operate under the watch of the government – particularly state and local governments – that generate revenues from the facilities.

Oluwanisola Market is one of them. Tucked in the ambit of Kara, a sprawling settlement famous for cattle and ram sales along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, the market is everything but an abattoir.

From its muddy entrance and premises, the surroundings grossly lack in hygiene expected of a place where an edible as crucial as meat is processed and sold for the consumption of people in the state and neighbouring Lagos.

The facility contributes to the volume of meat consumed in Nigeria annually which stood at 360,000 tonnes yearly as of 2014, according to a former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina.

Adesina, now the President, African Development Bank, had in May 2014 stated that annual meat consumption in Nigeria was projected to increase to 1.3 million tonnes by 2050.

He said there was a need to ensure that the nation’s livestock sector ran effectively to meet the increasing demand for beef – cow meat.

“We need to invest in animal genetics, in artificial insemination and modernise our abattoirs in the country,” he added.

But more than six years on, Oluwanisola Market and many other abattoirs across the country still maintain their old, shabby and unkempt state.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations in its 2019 report on ‘The future of livestock in Nigeria’ stated that about 18.4 million heads of cattle are managed in the country, noting that 1.4 million tonnes of all kinds of meat are produced per year.

  The livestock sector constitutes a significant part of the agricultural sector, contributing around 1.7 per cent to Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product and about nine per cent to the agriculture value-added, says FAO.

A day at Oluwanisola Market

The tumultuous movement of cattle, vans, buses and motorcycles in and out of the market that Tuesday morning of November 3, 2020, could easily startle a first comer to the facility.

At a brisk pace, some porters whisked off meat stacked in wheelbarrows from the slaughterhouse to nearby sheds to sell. Others carried meat stuffed in dirty sacks and bowls for onward loading into waiting vehicles, including Eko Meat Vans which serve the teeming Lagos population daily.

It was a beehive of activity where almost everyone traded gleefully but cared less about the filthy environment.

Access to the open abattoir was free and unrestricted. A place that was supposed to be organised was crowded with butchers and visitors –mostly in rain boots – clustering around.

Cows butchered on the bare concrete floor mixed freely with blood and dung littering the expansive ground.

Indeed, the sight of unwholesome handling of meat in the noisome market is enough to put off ardent lovers of beef. Yet, several unsuspecting members of the public in Ogun and Lagos states have been consuming it daily since the market was established 30 years ago.

“I have been working here for 15 years and what you saw now could be said to be some kind of improvement,” a butcher, Odewale Oluwasegun, told our correspondent. “You can’t walk around this market, especially when it rains without having your rain boots on. The government can help us to rebuild this place to a modern market.”

Surprisingly, Oluwasegun does not believe the filthy surroundings could contaminate the meat, claiming that the cattle are examined before they are killed.

“We have a veterinary doctor who examines every cow before it is slaughtered. If it is sick, the doctor won’t allow it into the market,” he added.

Dirty surroundings despite huge revenue

For every cow slaughtered in the market, a sum of N2,500 is paid into the coffers of the management through ticketing, the investigation by Sunday PUNCH revealed.

The market’s General Secretary, Alhaji Babalola Akeweje, told our correspondent that 50 to 70 cows are killed at the slaughterhouse every day. That roughly amounts to a daily revenue of between N125,000 and N175,000 or N3.750m/N5.250m per month going by the N2,500 ticket fee per slaughtered cow. Per year, it means the management laughs all the way to the bank with about N45m or N63m.

The sum does not include ticket fees paid for live cows sold in the market every day, the number of which Akeweje did not disclose.

“We pay N2,500 for every cow slaughtered at the abattoir. If you buy a cow, you have to pay N2,000 ticket fee before taking it out of the market. All the money goes into the pocket of the market management but they also pay taxes to the government,” a meat seller, who identified himself simply as Ola, disclosed.

The Vice-Chairman, Owolowo Market, a section of Oluwanisola Market, Aliu Mutair, also confirmed the ticket fee but did not condemn the dirty environment in which he operates.

“We have challenges and our leaders are attending to them one after the other but I don’t see anything wrong in our environment,” he asserted.

“I have been selling meat here for 13 years. We pay N2,500 for each cow slaughtered. The management uses part of the money to clean the slaughterhouse and provide water. We have a borehole.”

Despite Mutair’s claim that all was well with the surroundings, he and his colleagues displayed meat on tables without any cover as flies feasted freely on it.

Many of their customers were not bothered by the unsavoury ambience either. To such customers, like David Mike, a worker in a Lagos hotel, filth is a norm in any abattoir.

Donning a blue shirt and three-quarter denim, Mike moved from one dingy shed to another, haggling over likely contaminated meat he would end up preparing for his customers.

“I have been buying meat in this slaughterhouse for five years now. I don’t care about how this place looks. All I am interested in is to get the beef and leave,” he said dismissively.

Market seeks govt intervention

Akeweje, told Sunday PUNCH that the facility operates with the consent of the state government, claiming that the management pays dues and taxes to the Ogun State Ministry of Agriculture, Ifo Local Government where the market is located and the National Inland Waterways Authority whose dam is used at the slaughterhouse.

Akeweje said, “The market is government-approved. If the government did not approve it, we can’t be working there for almost 30 years. We make every necessary payment to the government at federal, state and local government levels.

“Wherever the government generates revenues, they can render assistance there. So, the government can assist in renovating the market. We pay our dues regularly to the National Inland Waterways Authority, Ogun State Ministry of Agriculture and Ifo Local Government. We also pay taxes to Ogun State Inland Revenue Service but I can’t tell you the amount we pay.”

On the lack of hygiene at the slaughterhouse and its environs, Akeweje said he could not speak on it.

“I am the secretary but I have bosses. Some of them are in Lagos while others are not in Lagos,” he added.

In December 2015, the Veterinary Council of Nigeria raised the alarm that many Nigerians might be consuming meat that could be dangerous to their health, given the unhealthy state of abattoirs in the country.

The Registrar of the council, Dr. Marcus Avong, in December 2015 noted that there were only three standard abattoirs in Nigeria, located in Lagos, Borno and Nasarawa states, which he described as grossly inadequate for a population of 170 million people as of then.

Avong explained other slaughterhouses in the country featured lack of regulations for operations, unhygienic condition, inefficiency or thoroughness in the inspection of animals to ascertain the level of consumer safety, distasteful processing and improper transportation means — all of which pose a great danger to public health.

Health experts recommend standard practices

Commenting on the situations at Oluwanisola Market, Principal Nutritionist, Federal Medical Centre, Abeokuta, Ogun State, Mr Okunola Oladimeji, said the environment was not ideal for an abattoir.

He described an arrangement whereby all manner of people accesses the slaughterhouse without check as unsafe for meat consumption.

Oladimeji stated, “These are people whose personal hygiene may be zero. The environment and the way the meat is handled are terrible. It is an eyesore. People are not worried because there is no report of food poisoning that can be traced to meat bought from that abattoir. People think all is well but it is not.

“Many things are happening now. Currently, at the Federal Medical Centre in Abeokuta, there is an uprising in kidney disease and kidney failure in both youths and adults. It is a phenomenon and one can’t tell the actual cause.”

The nutritionist explained that meat processed in an untidy setting like that of Kara could be contaminated by pathogenic bacteria such as E.coli and salmonella.

He noted further that meat contains some contents, like water, prone to contamination and can make bacteria grow easily in it.

“That is why if you buy meat in the morning and it is not cooked or preserved, they will start changing colour some hours later. That means the bacteria have started growing. Meat comes with some certain bacteria waiting for the right environment and temperature to grow when you expose it,” he added.

Oladimeji, however, said the health risk posed by consumption of contaminated meat was reduced by overcooking common among many Nigerians.

He urged the government and corporate bodies to make drastic efforts to standardise meat production and distribution.

He said, “We do a lot of overcooking. That is why some of these bacteria get destroyed during cooking. We boil and fry meat and in the process, some of the bacteria get destroyed. But the bad news is that, when we overcook, we lose a lot of nutrients which could be beneficial to the body.

“Unfortunately, for those who use the meat for another purpose like suya (roasted meat) production, it is dangerous. Local and state governments need to do a lot of work in this regard. They need to do much more. The government should not fold their hands; we should take a critical look at this issue.

“I believe someday, government, corporate bodies or individuals would take a critical look at meat production, preservation and distribution and do something to improve that sector. There should be a standard method that people will have confidence in. There could be an online transaction whereby you buy meat and it is delivered to your doorstep through a rider so that there will be minimal handling.”

A former chairman, Nigerian Veterinary Medical Association, Lagos State Chapter, Dr. Mobolaji Alao, in an earlier interview with Saturday PUNCH stated that apart from the unhygienic environment characterising many abattoirs, over 61 per cent of all the pathogens come from animals, adding that illnesses such as typhoid and tuberculosis could be caused by unwholesome meat.

He said, “The effects of having substandard or unhygienic abattoirs are enormous and that is why we need to tackle the situation to avoid needless agony. We can reduce crowds in the hospital if we take care of this problem.”

He explained that slaughtering distressed animals might not be good for the body, because “when the animals are tired and exhausted, there are some chemicals that are released into their muscles, which make the meat not to be wholesome for consumption.”

A public health consultant at the Kogi State University Teaching Hospital, Anyigba, Dr Alabi Oladele, said poor handling of meat in abattoirs could lead to physical contamination by way of dust and flies; biological contamination such as microorganisms and chemical contamination, involving impurities such as magnesium, iron and lead.

He said biological contamination of meat could cause diseases such as staphylococcus aureus; gastroenteritis, typhoid fever, cholera, brucellosis, tuberculosis, Hepatitis A, B, C among others.

“Cooking will not remove physical objects such as dust impurities, sand and stone on the contaminated meat. Similarly, cooking won’t remove either biological contamination or chemical contamination. Cooking may kill the microorganisms but it doesn’t remove them,” the doctor added.

Oladele identified certain characteristics a standard abattoir must have to include a lairage for holding cattle before slaughtering and a perimeter fence to prevent free access to dogs and rodents.

According to him, the floor of the slaughterhouse should be waterproof and must have a reception, ante-mortem inspection unit as well as an isolation unit for sick/diseased animals.

He added, “There should also be a hanging section, bleeding/skinning section, fraying and dressing unit, meat inspection unit, cold chain section, dispatch unit, hides/skin rooms for the temporary storage of hides, offal room for emptying and cleaning of intestines, byproduct handling section, postmortem room, retention room, laboratory, sanitation facilities, drainage system, solid waste management, liquid waste management, the supply of water, electricity, veterinary office, safety requirements, toilets and changing rooms and staff welfare room.”

Govt to regulate, decongest slaughterhouse – Commissioners

Reacting to the unhygienic state of the slaughterhouse in Kara, Commissioner for Environment, Abudu-Balogun, noted that the state government was worried over the situation in the market and other areas.

He noted that it was a major health problem the government needed to deal with.

He stated “I won’t talk about Kara alone. Generally, the ministry of environment is coming up with a programme to regulate this issue of the slaughterhouse. We are just waiting for the governor’s approval.

“We are working on it because we have discovered that it is a major problem. Their environment and sanitation are so poor. It is not only Kara, I’m talking generally. We are coming up with a programme to regulate as regards the sanitation and the environment.

“In fact, we have been on it for the past two months. It is not something we are just starting. We have been meeting them (abattoir operators) and engaging them.”

The commissioner said the meat processors were supposed to have a meeting with the ministry on the lingering hygiene issues but was postponed due to the #EndSARS protests across the country last month. “We are really taking it up. It is not only in Kara. It is a general challenge everywhere,” he noted.

The Commissioner for Agriculture, Dr Samson Odedina, said the abattoir section of Kara would be decongested before the end of the year to ensure sanity, stating that some traders would be relocated to Ogere International Market.

He said a committee, comprising officials of the ministry and members of the butchers association, had been set up to facilitate the relocation.

Odedina confirmed that the ministry collects monthly dues from the butchers through the market management, admitting that it was the mandate of stakeholders, including the ministry, to ensure the hygiene of meat produced at the slaughterhouse for human consumption.

He said, “We are trying to relocate Kara to Ogere because the place is congested. Last week, we held a meeting with all the cattle associations, including the national association. The committee comprises 15 people and three of them are staff members of the ministry while others are stakeholders. This is to make sure we support the stakeholders to clean their business premises.

“So if we decongest the place, we can now move and clean the place up and restore all necessary facilities that will make the place clean. It is not as if we are closing the place up. It is to ensure that whoever is remaining there will be able to observe hygiene.

“We have the local government as well as other stakeholders to make sure the place is clean and we involve the most important stakeholder­—members of market association themselves, who are to ensure that the place is clean by maintaining weekly environmental sanitation.”

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