As early as 6.30am, the boys who carry out the major job at The Cable Butcher had converged at the abattoir. Though there are other abattoirs in the town, the Cable Market abattoir in Asaba is the largest in the state capital. It is located a few meters away from the River Niger. At about 6.45am, our reporter began the journey for the first time to visit the abattoir. A new structure was ongoing at the site. Engineering works were on, depicting a building in progress.
A few youths were on ground who were not actually busy as at the time of the visit. Some of the youths were hanging around, some changing their clothes while others were clearing the site for the day’s work to begin. Our reporter was monitoring all movements as the people pulled in from different routes.
At about 7.20am, a man emerged with a Bible and had a fellowship with the boys who had gathered waiting for the chairman to arrive. But prior to the arrival of the preacher, our reporter had made inquisition about the chairman and he was told he would be arriving a few minutes to 8.00am. And so the fellowship was held and offering collected.
As soon as the preacher concluded his ministering, the chairman arrived. He was tall, dark and a hefty man. That was the description given by one of the butchers when our reporter arrived the abattoir. And immediately he emerged from his car, a prophet was not needed to know the chairman of the United Butchers Association.
Immediately he arrived, the cows were pulled from the where they were kept, dragged up and brought down by the professional butchers. At one point of the abattoir, some were busy burning the cows, some using tyre, others using wood while a larger percentage of the youths were busy slaughtering the cows and putting their parts in different places and the blood flowed freely on the ground.
The place literally became red as the blood poured. The cows were slaughtered with superlative expertise. While some were burning, others were using ropes to bring the cows to the place of slaughter, the other set was involved in slaughtering the animals and putting their parts in order. There was perfect division of labour among the butchers. Everybody was engaged as the business began in earnest.
ASABA ABATTOIR NEGLECTED BY GOVERNMENT
The chairman, Victor Okwudili, told our reporter that over 200 youths are involved in the slaughter business. According to him, the youths earn their living at the abattoir. But he was more concerned about the state of the abattoir. Being a government abattoir and paying regular revenue to government on a daily basis, he is uncomfortable with the state of the abattoir where animals are slaughtered for human consumption.
He told our reporter that the place is neglected by the government, though a structure is on ground indicating a renovation of the environment. He is still unhappy that the place is not receiving the needed assistance from the government. The butchers pay to both state and local governments in the state capital.
He said over 10 cows are slaughtered daily and they service two markets, Cable and Ogbeogonogo in Asaba. For him, any other abattoir in Asaba is illegal. On the health status of the cows, Okwudili said his abattoir does not slaughter unhealthy animals, adding that veterinary doctors usually ascertain the health status of the animals before they are slaughtered.
He frowned at some of the butchers who use tyre to burn their cows, saying a wood section has been created and as notice of two months has been given to all those using tyre to begin using wood. He agreed that using wood is unhealthy for human consumption.
SICK, DEAD ANIMALS SLAUGHTERED IN EDO ABATTOIRS
From Benin the capital of Edo state, our reporter visited some abattoirs in the metropolitan local government areas. Her visit revealed some of the operators are running foul of the expected environmental health practices. Her findings showed that government abattoirs are major culprits in keeping unhealthy environment as their abattoirs at the time of visit were in horrible states.
A former chairman of the Edo State Butchers Association, Mr. Sunny Omokaro, who said he has been in the business for more than 30 years, explained why government abattoirs are in a mess. He blamed the government for not living up to its responsibilities. He said: “They refuse to put a round peg in a round hole. Governor Obaseki, at assumption of office, banned the association, forming a committee where he stylishly used to empower his cousin who is a novice in the abattoir business. All he does is to extort money from people. He doesn’t care if the system is functioning or not.”
The former chairman also lamented the shortage of veterinary doctors in the state. “There are many illegal abattoirs in the state. Nobody monitors their activities. The number of veterinary doctors is not enough to go round. In these illegal abattoirs, all manner of atrocities are committed. They slaughter animals that are sick, even dead ones. They do not care what the health implications would be.”
Omokaro used the opportunity to call on local government chairmen who generate revenue on daily basis to rise to their responsibilities while advising the general public to always patronise recognized abattoirs.
He, however, cautioned some of the inspection officers who he alleged only go round the abattoirs to collect inspection fees of N400 per cow slaughtered and sometimes a certain amount ranging from N2000 to N4000 to allow the operators slaughter animals that are certified not fit for human consumption.
Confirming some of the allegations made by Omokaro, a veterinary doctor who pleaded not to be named, said: “We don’t have control over government abattoirs the way we do in private ones. For the private ones, we start with them from site selection to the construction of the abattoir. We ensure that all requirements for a standard abattoir are met. They more often abide by the rules unlike the government abattoirs. More so, we don’t have enough manpower. The task is enormous that the few veterinary doctors cannot do even half of it. Operators leverage on this fact to carry out their illicit business”.
However, there seems to be a sharp difference in the practices of the private abattoirs and that of the governments. The environment is clean and workers have a different mentality. According to the veterinary doctor on ground, “we carry out both pre-mortem and post-mortem inspections in the abattoir. Some of them visited include Unity abattoir, Bob Izua abattoir and Sunny Omokaro abattoir.
AGBOR ABATTOIR VERY DISGUSTING
A visit by The Saturday Pointer to some of the abattoirs in Agbor, Ika South local government area of Delta state leaves a bitter memory of disgust, repulsion, displeasure and worry.
This is indeed, occasioned by the unhygienic state of the abattoir where heaps of refuse regularly battles for space with the sea of heads that visit the abattoir daily from within and outside the neighbouring communities.
Aside the poor sanitary condition of the abattoirs, the non- adherence to the approved standard in the preparation of the meat by regulatory agencies is also, a major source of concern as our correspondent walked round the abattoirs.
At the popular Musa Market for instance where over 20 cows had at about 7:30 am when our correspondent visited passed through the butcher’s knife, some of the butchers were spotted roasting some of the meat, particularly goats with condemned tyres, just as the smoke oozing out from the burns littered the surroundings.
The Chairman, Ika Butchers Association, Comrade Azuka Kifordu, said: “My brother, I can tell you that the state of our abattoir is okay in terms of cleanliness. However, I must tell you that we are saddled with lots of challenges. The government is not ready to help us, yet we pay revenue to the council.
“Look around, whatever you can see here is a product of our self helps. There is no government presence here. We don’t have public borehole, no toilet. The only borehole here is privately owned and the water is very expensive.”
SOME LEVEL OF SANITY IN ONITSHA ABATTOIRS
From Onitsha, the commercial centre of Anambra state, our reporter visited United Main Market Butchers where he observed that the operators maintained some level of sanity in the environment where the business is carried out. Chairman of the union, Mr. Jude Okoli, spoke on the quality control measure of their product stating that they are the best abattoirs union throughout the state.
Mr. Okoli said veterinary doctors from Onitsha North local government area visit their slaughter house every morning before they slaughter cows, noting that the doctors collect essential parts of the cow meat which they test before the meat is sold to their customers.
The veterinary doctors inspect the environment and how the product is packaged for their customers, just as he stated that within the slaughter site the floor is tiled, borehole water is provided and neat tables in order to make their product attractive to customers.
Chief Bennett Nsude, one of the patrons of the union and former President of National Union of Butchers Anambra state, hinted that his union is working tirelessly to ensure that the environment where they operate is kept clean.
He said that their product is always available for their customers in affordable rate and pleaded with the state government to assist them in renovating their slaughter house, provide light and give them sense of belonging in as much as they have been striving alone to secure a conducive environment for their business.
While, the Chairman of Obosi Abattoir Union Mr. Omezie Anyaoku who took our correspondent round their slaughter House explained that as far as meat as an edible product is concerned, they have never compromised the standard provided for them by the public health personnel.
A public health expert at the Oshimili South local government area in Delta state agreed with the chairman of the Asaba butchers association. He told our reporter that the Cable abattoir has nothing to write home about. As a public health expert, he described the abattoir as unhygienic and should not be used for slaughter of animals to be consumed by humans. He added that the butchers in the abattoir pay revenue to government but the local government has not attended to their needs in commensurate measure.
THE ALLEGATION OF CANCER FROM COWS ROASTED WITH TYRES
He supported the fact that using tyre to roast cows is wrong. It is not hygienic for human consumption. He, however, said the argument that chemical from the tyres is part of the cause of cancer has not received medical blessings. Also, Dr. Diai Charles, Director of Veterinary Services in Delta state ministry of agriculture, said the possibility of cancer traced to unhealthy animal is yet to be verified by science. He said though there are chemicals that trigger abnormal growth in humans, he, however, said it is not attributed to eating cow meat roasted with tyre.
But Dr. Uche Okolie, a private veterinary doctor in Asaba, disagreed with Dr. Diai. For her, there is a link between cancer and the chemical from tyre. She said: “The theology for cancer is so broad. It has so many causes. You can’t narrow it down to one. Some cancers are genetic. Some are environmental. Chemical, when diffused into food we eat, can cause cancer.
“Some say metals used to preserve food can cause cancer. Using tyres to burn meat is not right at all. “The chemicals from the tyre sip into the meat and when consumed it has effect on our health. That is where I will correlate it with cancer. It is not a good practice at all.”
DONKEY AS PART OF MEAT FOR CONSUMERS
The Oshimili South health personnel agreed that donkey is for transportation and not to be eaten. It does not have the nutritional value needed by the body. He said the butchers add it to the main cow meat and sell it along because it is cheap. He expressed dissatisfaction with the way people buy donkey meat not minding that is a beast of burden. For him, it should be condemned.
But Dr. Mrs. Uche Okolie, a veterinary doctor in Asaba, insisted that donkey should be looked at from the perspective of aesthetics not whether it is good to be eaten or not. For her, some people eat donkey and they have no problem with it while some say it should not be consumed, saying since it is a beast of burden it should not be eaten.
But for her, the key issue is aesthetics but there is nothing wrong “if you consume donkey. It won’t kill you. The issue to be considered is how healthy is that donkey and in what environment was it slaughtered. That is my point, not really about the animal in question but about the hygiene surrounding where the animal is slaughtered.”
MEAT WITHOUT FLIES AROUND IS SUSPECT
The health expert in Oshimili South insisted not all meat that should be consumed. He argued that any meat that does not attract flies should not be consumed. His argument is that such meat is a suspect. It must have been injected with preservatives. And flies are sensitive to such chemicals and such meat is not good for human consumption.
He said: “As the flies move along, any meat or substance that is not inviting, they run away from it. You don’t drop meat on the ground and flies will not fly around it. It must have a problem for flies to run away from it. Such meat should not be bought nor consumed. Some of such meat are sold at night or smuggled into the market and people go for them unknown to them.”
THE POLITICAL WILL TO CHANGE THE SYSTEM
For him, the problem why things do not work is the political will to make desirable impacts. Beside the will to change the status quo, he condemned political interference from politicians. He said: “Political interference does not allow us to work. You will make arrest today, before you know what is happening, somebody will come and say release him, he is my man.”
Many abattoirs, he argued, do not meet prescribed standard of operation. “We hold them down but before the next day they have been approved and started operation against our wish. So, we are handicapped. Again, we are not well equipped to work. We, health workers, do not have operational vehicles to work. We cannot be spending our money to do government work. Since we came into this office, we have been spending our money in buying uniform for ourselves. So, it is difficult to monitor all that happens in all the abattoirs in Asaba.”
He said government should show interest in the welfare of her people. It should develop the will to address needs and provide necessary funding for jobs to be well done. Infrastructures needed to be provided for the abattoirs in Asaba to function optimally.
REGULATING THE BUSINESS OF ABATTOIR IN DELTA
Dr. Diai Charles, the Director of Veterinary Services of the State Ministry of Agriculture, gave a clear view of the business of abattoir and the public health of consumers. In his analysis, he said most cattle that people consume on daily basis are transported from the North. In a step by step analysis, he said no cattle enter the state without the going through the veterinary officers of the state ministry of agriculture.
He said there are control posts set in all the entry points to the state. He said: “We have officers at the control posts whose responsibility is to check the animals coming into the state. These officers stop the trailers carrying the cattle and examine them. At these checks, we ensure that diseased animals are not transported into the state. The sick ones are identified and removed while others are allowed to move on.”
According to him, condemned animals are removed, taken to the police station, reports are made and the animal is buried in the presence of the owner who also bears the cost. He described this process as ante-mortem inspection. He added that this action is taken before the animal is slaughtered. As soon as the ante-mortem process is concluded, the animals are no longer fed outside since they are now meant for slaughter.
Dr. Diai further gave insights into why some meats are strong while others are tender. He said before the animals are slaughtered, they need be allowed to rest. He explained that because most animals are slaughtered without enough rest, that is why their meat is strong, while those which were allowed to rest, their meat is tender and soft.
He said veterinary doctors are specially trained to detect faults in animals. And when these faults are detected, they are handled appropriately. Only seeing the animal, the veterinary doctor can easily detect if there are faults or not.
He, however, said there is some level of leniency in the application of the law on faulty or diseased animals. Prior to this period of economic challenges, the entire animal is removed even if it is a single part of the animal that is diseased. But with economic reasons, it is only the area that has fault that is removed from the animal and buried in the presence of the owner.
But is there possibility of smuggling sick animals into the state without passing through the checks at the control posts? Dr. Diai agreed to this. He expressed worry saying: “You can’t rule out smuggling cow into the state. Some times before they get to the control post they discharge and enter into the bush, pass through the bush and enter the state. At other times, you want to stop them, they will beat the control post. Some enter the state at night when our men are not on duty.”
For Dr. Mrs. Uche Okolie, the hygienic nature of the meat people consume is of utmost importance. She said there are some diseases in animals that are passed to humans when uncooked food is consumed. But when the food or meat pass through heat or high temperature, the virus is destroyed.
She said: “Heat plays a great role in destroying the pathogens. That is why we encourage people that if you buy meat and you are not sure of its health, cook it well so that the heat could destroy most of those pathogens that cause diseases. There is something we call zoonotic diseases, these are diseases that are transmitted from animals to man. Tuberculosis for instance, is a zoonotic disease.”
She said there is supposed to be meat inspection from veterinary officers. “There is supposed to be a routine inspection of meat. In developed countries, when you bring some meat, they will tell you this meat is condemned. It’s not fit for human consumption. But we know here in Nigeria, anything goes. You go to the abattoirs, some diseased animals are brought in, some with tuberculous and running nose. Some have worms in their bodies. When people consume this meat, they can pick the infection. So, meat inspection should play a great role.
“Again, an animal might be clean but because of the environment where it is slaughtered is dirty, some do tyre burning, you know what tire contains, chemicals, some do it in dirty grounds, now the meat becomes even more contaminated. The animal may be healthy but the environment where it is slaughtered can lead to contamination.”