…Officials, experts trade blame
By Christian Nwokocha, Sunday Agbo, Patrick Egwu, Phil Okose & Ifunanya Uzoeghe
The people of South-Eastern states are currently gripped with fear over the sordid and unhygienic state of abattoirs located in the geo-political zone.
Orient Daily investigations reveal that residents and consumers of beef and assorted meats of Ogbeukwu in Idemili South Local Government of Anambra State, their counterpart in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, Ariaria market a suburb in Aba, Abia State, Owerri and Enugu and other locations across the south-eastern states, where abattoirs are located share similar concerns over the health hazards posed by these slaughter houses.
Orient Daily’s visits to some of the abattoirs across Igboland showed that many unsuspecting meat consumers across the major cities, townships and other communities that take regular delivery of products may have been eating unhygienic meats due to the awful condition of abattoirs and slaughtering slabs where they were processed.
Besides the issue of dirty abattoir environment which appeared to be deeply entrenched in the Nigerian system, there is equally concern over the health of animals butchered in some of these abattoir, the unhygienic exposure of meats during the killing and butchering processes up to transportation to various markets.
Commercial meat transporters and porters daily head to various markets to supply butchered meats to customers in rickety commercial vehicles, dirty wheel barrows, motorcycles, tricycles, large basins and even on shoulders. Perhaps, what many do not know is that the unhygienic meats in flight might end up in their pots or plates.
Ogbeukwu abattoir, Orient Daily investigation showed, topped the chat in the ranking of filthy slaughter facilities in the Onitsha metropolis and suburbs. On a typical day after the rush hours of animal slaughtering and meat processing, a visitor to the facility is assaulted by offensive odour oozing out of the abattoir or welcomed by swarm of flies that regularly feast on remains of animals that dotted the dirty environment.
Indeed, not many a first-time visitor to the slaughter house usually survive throwing up when assaulted by the putrefied stench emanating from pool of dirty and stagnant water that filled the area or the gory sight of the charred animal gore and dung; mountain of refuse; missiles of flying bone fragments, innards and blood spatter as well as feasting flies.
Our findings show that butchers and other abattoir workers at such facilities hardly follow the slaughterhouse rules, such as wearing hand gloves, dedicated uniform or overall to distinguish and protect them according to task. They equally do not care about protecting the meat either. Cows and goats are usually slaughtered and processed almost at the spot of the blood, intestinal waste and dung of previous slaughters. Very few of the workers wear rubber boots; many of them are either in bathroom slippers or other flimsy soles while an even more daring breed wade barefooted in the sea of blood, dung and bone fragments.
“The fact is that if you decide to take time off to visit these abattoirs and see for yourself the kind of environment where these meats we all enjoy in our houses and restaurants are processed, you may stop eating meat because you will feel sick to the stomach after seeing the place and how they handle the animals and the meat,” a meat merchant at Onitsha relief market who gave his name as Ifeanyi disclosed.
On why he buys them and sells to unsuspecting consumers, Ifeanyi replied: “What do you want me to do? I’m a business man and my job is to buy my goods and sell to people that demand for it. It’s up to government to put the place in order and make sure that they handle the meats well”.
Besides their growing fears over the safety conditions of meats sold to unsuspecting consumers from the slaughter house, Orient Daily learnt that the lives of the residents in the area are in danger as result of the increasing health hazards they face due to constant assault of black smokes (carbon monoxide) and foul air in their houses.
According to sources, who reside in the areas where the abattoirs are located, some families who couldn’t withstand the stench and smoke emanating from the nearby slaughter house, had parked out of the area while those who could not afford to relocate are still trapped alongside property owners.
“The butchers keep burning tyres to treat goats without minding that those living around the slaughter ground are affected by the smoke and foul odour. We are treating malaria and other ailments almost every week because of the bad smoke we inhale”, laments a resident who identified herself as Miss Mmesoma Ukaoha.
Another resident, Chibuike disclosed that as a result of the smoke in the neighbourhood, he is forced to keep painting and repainting his apartment because of the soot the smoke drops on the walls. He doesn’t even feel comfortable in the house after the effort.
For Miss Chisom Ella, the government should chase the operators of the abattoirs away from people’s comfortable zones. “I think slaughter houses should be sited far away from residential houses because the odour that oozes from there is nothing to write home about, they make life uncomfortable for people living nearby”, she stressed.
Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Anambra State Butchers Association, Chief Felix Obuchukwu Ikenga, has denied allegations that some abattoirs in the state are dirty and should be sealed.
Ikenga while responding to allegations on the state of abattoirs in Onitsha area even boasted: “hold me responsible for any dirty abattoir seen in the state”.
“There is no dirty abattoir in the state but if you know tell me where it is. People who wash the 35 slaughter houses in the state are being paid through the chairmen of the various slaughter houses scattered in the state” he stated.
The Anambra butchers boss claimed that his regime has sanitised the system and restored abattoir facilities to globally acceptable standard. His words: “If some were dirty before I came in, no one is dirty since I became the state chairman for about six years plus now. I have finished my first tenure of four years and I was re-elected for second tenure which I have stayed for two years plus now.
“We have water boreholes in each of the 35 approved abattoirs and the state government dug the boreholes for us. So, whoever says that the abattoirs are not clean is only trying to tarnish our image. I inspect the slabs of the slaughter houses every three months. Those that need government attention, I recommend to the Hon. Commissioner for Agriculture, Afam Mbanefo, and if it is the one he will repair he repairs and if it is not he will give us money to repair it”.
The Chairman of United Butchers, Onitsha Main market, Mr. Jude Okoli corroborated the state chairman, saying, “our sis even the neatest and best abattoir in the Southeast.
“We kill mature cows here in the main market. We don’t talk of neatness because we are more than neat, and you can see it because you are physically here at the abattoir. It is well equipped by the colonial masters that built it, channelling the water from the slab to the River Niger.
“I installed a borehole, renovated the building and iron barriers were also installed to prevent the cows from plunging into the river. We don’t kill cows that are not inspected by the government.”
According to him, as part of effort to ensure that meats supplied to the markets meet our standard, “we impound any meat slaughtered outside this abattoir because the cow may not be inspected for disease and we don’t slaughter donkeys here.”
However, investigations by this paper show that the claims of upholding sanitary standard at the abattoirs is largely on paper as those involved in the daily routine of meat butchering, hardly pay attention to laid down rules or sanitary procedures.
A butcher, who craved for anonymity for fear that he could lose his job if he tells the truth, confessed that some of them suffer health hazards due to exposure to the filthy environments.
“The environment is not conducive for us at all, people pour trash in our slaughter ground and we too suffer frequent health problems. We have even gone to the extent of making a law that no one should pour trash there or defaulters pay an amount of money as fine, yet it didn’t bring the desired solution to the problem. Concerning the smoke that comes out while burning goats for sale, we don’t have any other place or option other than that. If government will provide a better place for us, better,” he said.
Patricia Chukwura, health and sanitary inspector from Idemili South Local Government Area, where one of the odious abattoirs that serve Onitsha metropolis is located, claimed that they try to educate butchers and management of the facility on the importance of cleanliness and carrying out their jobs in healthy environment.
She, however, did not explain why the council or the state government has not sealed the facility for their inability to meet the required sanitary standard.
Ebonyians have called on the state government to expedite action in the completion of the meat market under construction by the Governor David Umahi-led administration.
Orient Daily spoke with some butchers at the popular Gariki meat market where the state cemetery is located opposite Ogoja. They urged the Umahi administration to provide a befitting place for them.
A woman, who deals on cow meat at slaughter house Gariki, Mrs. Ifenyinwa Ugoeze, expressed satisfaction with the condition of the abattoir but called for the slaughter house to be separated from the cemetery.
She also called on the relevant government agencies to extend the ongoing water recirculation to the meat houses in the state, stating that the only factor that can aid the sanitary condition of abattoirs in the state is the provision of regular water supply.
“This remains one of the oldest slaughter houses in Abakaliki. Cattle are killed here every day, even goats. I cannot say the environment is not clean, but much need to be done both by government and the public to improve on the sanitary condition of the place.
“Under this condition, there are certain dirt you cannot avoid. Yes, the maggots are something we cannot avoid now. We thank the state government for building a new meat market. We believe that on the completion of the new meat market the sanitary condition will improve.
“I will humbly advise the Ebonyi State government to ensure that the new abattoir should be adequately provided with water. In fact, I urge the state to speed up action on the project because the cemetery and the slaughter house cannot be in the same place.”
A customer at the meat market, Mr. Ifeanyi Mbam, who spoke to Orient Daily said that it is God that has been protecting them from contracting diseases from the meat market.
“Our lives is in the hands of God. There is outbreak of disease every day. I think if death was to come because of what we see from the slaughter house environment, many of us and our children would have died.
“I think that people should not always wait for the government for everything. Hygiene is a personal thing. Those who use the slaughter house should also learn to keep it clean. It is a matter of attitude and mindset”, he noted.
At the meat house in the popular Effium market in Ohaukwu Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, the leader of the butchers, Mr. Okefi Solomon, called on the government to not only focus on the rebuilding of the meat market in the capital city, but also extend the gesture to the rural markets.
“We the butchers, want the government to help us provide everything we need in this slaughter house. Many people have used this slaughter house before I joined them. It is as old as Effium community, but no new facilities have been provided for it.
“We have many challenges here. We roast killed goats most often inside the slaughter house because there is no special area designated for it. The smoke during the roasting affects the roof. This weakens and destroys it.
“Sometime in the past, some officials from the Ebonyi State Ministry of Environment were here in Effium to assess the condition of the slaughter house following what the government called ‘imminent hazards’ in the slaughter house, but at the end of it, nothing was done. We hope that one day, Effium community will be remembered by the government, especially ensuring that our environment is kept clean”, he said.
Investigations by Orient Daily show that the current situation at some abattoirs in Enugu is a far cry from global best practice in slaughter houses. In Enugu for instance, the situation is not the same as some of the abattoirs visited have one hygienic lapse or the other.
At the Mami abattoir located at the 82 Division of the Nigerian Army, the whole environment looked hygienic and clean as two cleaners were seen sweeping the slaughter area and washing tables used for butchering and processing of cow meat.
Every day, more than 30 cows are slaughtered at the abattoir as early as 8 am with buyers and consumers from within and beyond the metropolis trooping to the market to buy meat. Some of the buyers include restaurants, eateries, hotels, small chain sellers and housewives.
On weekends, patronage is usually high as the number of cows killed and processed are higher compared to those killed between Monday and Wednesday.
“The number is usually high on weekends,” said Chibuike Okenna, a butcher and meat seller at the abattoir. “Like today (Sunday), we butchered more than 30 cows and everything was sold off because people normally come in their numbers very early in the morning. But from Monday to Wednesday, the number is lesser because people don’t come to buy like on weekends,” he said.
On the sanitary and hygienic conditions of the abattoirs during the slaughter of cows, Chibuike said that the abattoir is always clean as two different set of cleaners are employed to wash the floor, tables, buckets, equipment and dispose of the cow dung at the end of each day’s business.
“As you can see now, the tables are clean even the floor where the cows are slaughtered were washed thoroughly. They (cleaners and washers) do it immediately the customers have concluded their transactions. If you come tomorrow early in the morning, you will see that here will be as clean as anything. That is the way we operate here,” he said.
Another butcher at the Mami abattoir who refused to give his name when asked about the hygienic level of the abattoir, said officials of the medical department of the 82 Division of the Nigerian Army often embark on investigative and on-the-spot assessment visits to the scene where the cows are slaughtered to ensure that high level of hygiene is maintained.
“They (health officials) always come here to assess things for themselves and make sure that everything is in order. They ask us questions, take photographs and sometimes give us hand gloves to wear in processing the cows,” he said.
A public health expert in the state, Dr. Nnanna Obi, said the government should set up monitoring teams or sanitary agents for regular visit to abattoirs in the state as a way of ensuring high level of hygiene in those places.
“This call is very necessary because this has to do with what we eat and consume almost daily. If you visit some of these slaughter houses you will see what I am talking about. Some of them are just unhygienic and these can cause some health challenges to the public if urgent steps are not taken to ensure proper hygienic standards. The government through the Ministry of Health should take up this call urgently by setting up monitoring teams to visit and assess these abattoirs in the state,” he said.
The head of the butchers and abattoirs association refused to speak with our Correspondent, directing him to obtain a permit from the army hierarchy in the barracks.
However, investigations by Orient Daily showed that none of the butchers and other abattoir workers adhere to slaughterhouse rules and safety measures. None of them wore gloves, marked uniform or overall to distinguish and protect them while processing the cows.
At the slaughter house abattoir located along slaughter road in Nsukka, some of the butchers process the meat in unsanitary conditions. In some cases, they do not care about protecting the meat that customers buy either. Thus, cows are slaughtered and processed in the blood, intestinal waste and dung of previous slaughters.
Indeed, few workers wore rubber boots, many of them are in bathroom slippers while an even more daring breed wade barefooted in the sea of blood, dung and bone fragments.
“This place is nothing to write home about as you can see how unkempt this environment is,” said Nneoma Okechi, a customer who came to buy meat at the abattoir. We often complain to them but nothing is done. “This is just unlike the other abattoirs I visit whenever I travel,” she added.
Two major abattoirs in Imo State, Owerri abattoir behind Shoprite complex and Afor-Ogbe abattoir located in Ogbe, Ahiazu Mbaise Local Government Area, more than 50 kilometres to the state capital Owerri, are in bad shape and capable of generating health challenges to meat consumers across the state, Orient Daily investigations reveal.
The Owerri abattoir built and commissioned on July 31, 1997 by the former military administrator of Imo State Col. Tanko Zubairo, has suffered degradation following the inability of the state government to upgrade the facility or ensure its maintenance.
Mr. Ben Iroh, a butcher told Orient Daily that cow slaughterers at the facility have resorted to hiring young men daily to dispose cow bloods dungs and cleanup the floors in a bid to maintain hygienic environment.
He said that veterinary doctors visit the slaughter house to ensure that no cow goes down for slaughtering without being examined.
He delivered the punchline: “The (Imo) butchers are worried because Governor Rochas Okorocha has given us quit notice without telling us where he wants us to relocate to. It can be dangerous if you ask butchers to quit abattoir without providing an alternative place. The implication is that butchers can slaughter cows in private places where veterinary doctors may not be opportune to ascertain the health status of the cows being slaughtered”, he said.
Checks at Afor-Ogbe abattoir shows that the facility is largely unkept, despite its proximity to new estates behind Owerri Mall where Shoprite is domiciled. Cow blood and dungs are spread all over the premises.
Cletus Onwuegbule, former chairman of Ahiazu Local Government Area, disclosed that the abattoir was abandoned for more than seven years until 2016 when he hired tractors to clear accumulated cow dungs at the site.
“I am shocked that the place has gone bad again less than one year I cleared the abattoir”, Onwuegbule said.
The President of Imo State Cattle Dealers, Chief Eze Onyeukwu told Orient Daily that the poor state of the abattoir is a source of worry to them because they had severally drawn the attention of the state government to the situation without any action.
He called on the state government to build standard abattoirs in the state, saying they contribute significantly to the economy of the state.
“We’re not comfortable with the situation here. As you can see, no road, no slab and the other little effort we are making here is what is keeping this place a bit safe. But I can tell you that we are really suffering here. Go and check the building, the slab here was constructed about 20 years ago by a military administrator of this state in the past, Tanko Zubairo. By then, it was a modern slaughter and Zubairo never made any promise on whether he would build or not. He just decided that humanity deserved a better dealing and built it without our knowledge and it has served the purpose since then.
“But considering the higher number of animals that are slaughtered here every day, this slaughter is no longer in a good shape to be used like that anymore and we have brought this to the notice of the state government for close to seven years now but no action.
“It is amazing that as we contribute to the economy of the state and employ the services of youths, the government does not care about us. We are still calling on the state government to fulfil its promise of last seven years and we don’t care about the location,” he said.
When contacted, the director of Veterinary Services in the Imo State Ministry of Agriculture, Dr. Nwagu, declined to speak on the matter. He, however, advised our correspondent to get clearance from the permanent secretary of the ministry before he could address the matter. All efforts to speak with the permanent secretary failed because she was not on her duty post several times our correspondent visited her office.
But speaking with Orient Daily, a retired director of Veterinary Services in Imo State Ministry of Agriculture, Dr. Basil Izuagba, described abattoirs in the state as an eyesore, saying the way the meat is conveyed to the market is unhygienic as it exposes the meat to flies and other insects within the markets.
Izuagba, who is also a veterinary doctor, now in private practice, lamented that Nigeria has not been able to export its meat to other countries because the international experts are not satisfied with the standard of meat processed in Nigeria. According to him, meat consumed in Nigeria falls short of international standard. “Apart from the filthy and dirty environment, the animals slaughtered daily in these abattoirs are not thoroughly inspected and examined by qualified and registered veterinarians.
“The meat is often conveyed from abattoirs to other places with dirty wheelbarrows and rickety vehicles which constitute health hazard to the consumers.”
Izuagba, who lamented that the state government had not shown sufficient interest in providing the infrastructure, said “the building itself, the access road and the upkeep of the environment, these are critical assets of the meat sale programme.”
He expressed concern over the quality of technical training and service provided in the livestock sub-sector, saying the government had not shown sufficient interest in engaging the services of trained personnel whose duties involved the ante-mortem and post mortem examination of the meat.
He advocated the employment of veterinary personnel at the abattoirs for thorough animal inspection and provision of hygienic meat conveyor vehicles because as he puts it “meat inspection is the area that demands professionals. It’s not just an all comers’ affair because the inspection will involve specific organs that will give you the general overview of the condition of the entire carcass.
“So, if somebody who is not sufficiently trained goes into the job, he is bound to compromise because he will come under pressure from the butchers which is not supposed to be.
“A situation where the government sends its own people who are not professionals to go there and collect revenue, you find out that the meat inspection is compromised”.
He warned that the people of the state were susceptible to zoonotic diseases such as tuberculosis and other life-threatening ones. Except the government wakes up to its duties, the implication of the unhealthy practices, he stated, is that what is sent to the markets in the name of meat is very unwholesome and poses health risk.
Orient Daily recalls that the appalling state of abattoirs across the country has continued to raise eyebrows in many quarters with veterinary experts issuing frequent warnings over the health risks of the unhealthy abattoir facilities where meats sold in the markets are processed.
A veterinary doctor who spoke on the condition of anonymity, painted a grim picture of the situation in Onitsha abattoir and others across the state, stressing that what obtains in those facilities were nothing close to standard.
“Apart from the unhygienic environment which should be a major concern to all of us, they slaughter sick, distressed animals and the way some people transport the animals is not hygienic”, he said.
Dr. Mobolaji Alao, chairman, Nigerian Veterinary Medical Association, Lagos State Chapter, also declared recently that many diseases that come from infected animals to human beings are contracted through meats consumed.
Alao, who is also a veterinary doctor, explained that illnesses such as typhoid and tuberculosis could be tied to unhygienic meat. “Part of the reasons why cases of typhoid fever keep increasing because what causes typhoid is the bacteria called Salmonella Typhi and this bacteria is everywhere, especially in unhygienic places.
“Another disease like tuberculosis is common in cattle and pigs and that is where some people contact these things. Even infertility also comes from these animals too and that is why these ailments are prevalent everywhere and still increasing. The effects of having substandard or unhygienic abattoirs are enormous and that is why we need to rescue 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. But when you eat meat that is wholesome, you will get all the benefits of eating meat.”
Dr. Rotimi Adesanya, a family, child and public health physician, also warned that there are many health effects of eating meat from unhygienic abattoirs and slaughter houses.
“Having meat from unhygienic places can predispose the person to various infections, like tapeworm, which can be from cow meat, and such could have been detected during examination of the animal by a veterinary doctor. Also, house flies and some other flies could bring fecal matter on the meat and some flies even leave their larvae on the meat when they perch on it,” he said.
Health experts also want government to rein in and ensure that order on hygienic processing of meats is enforced and ante-mortem and post-mortem examinations carried out effectively.
“It is in this process that pregnant animals or those with infections are screened out because it is wrong to slaughter an animal that is pregnant, but you see that happening in some abattoirs and they sell the foetus to dog breeders and other buyers who use it to make food. From the way an animal is breathing, you could tell if it has tuberculosis, and some are even dead on arrival. These are the things these tests should reveal,” said Alao.
Then, there is equally the issue of compromised vet doctors who issue clearance for unfit animals to be slaughtered in exchange for gratifications. For instance, Mr. Ikenga disclosed that state veterinary officers issue them license to kill cow and that “every cow must be inspected to ensure that it is good for consumption by a veterinary doctor.”
However, there are no indications that some cows and other animals usually killed are certified unfit for human consumption and returned to their owners from the slaughter houses in the state. Our findings show that almost all animals supplied to the abattoir are slaughtered and processed for market supplies regardless of their health status.
Alao insists that besides ensuring that some unfit animals are screened out if they are found unfit for consumption, there should be a compensatory policy put in place that would empower veterinary doctors to issue a ticket after condemning a carcass.
According to him, “that would deter others from bringing cows with infections and it will ensure that infected animals are not brought to the place because butchers would know that presenting a distressed cow attracts a fine. As a multiplier effect, cattle sellers would be constrained to only bring healthy animals to the lairage.”
A Director of Veterinary Services in the Enugu State Ministry of Agriculture, Dr. Emmanuel Onyeka, wants a national meat law that would promote meat inspection and hygiene in Nigeria and make the country qualify for meat exports. “I feel we need to have a national law on meat inspection and hygiene, which would improve ours to international standard so that our meat will qualify and the WTO will allow us to export our meats to foreign countries because with the standard we have in Nigeria now, we cannot export our meat. So, we need to upgrade the level of meat inspection and meat hygiene by having a national law.”
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