For many residents of Lagos State, the Oko- Oba abattoir at Agege is a solution to their daily needs for protein. But to residents of the area and many who have businesses to do there, the meat market has different shades. New Telegraph’s investigation, spanning over two weeks, reveals that the abattoir is indeed, more than a meat market. OLUWATOSIN OMONIYI reports
Lagos abattoir, reputed as one of West African largest meat markets, sits on a massive expanse of land on the Oko-Oba Agege axis of the state. It is a highly disorganised market. Cows are set loose in the middle of the market with their dung becoming the carpet on which customers and traders tread.
It is even the platform that vehicles move on and footpad unto the cows themselves. From the slaughtering slab flows a thick and torrent shed of red turned brown blood. Every nook and cranny of abattoir is littered with dirt, cow bones, skin, dried intestines and other parts of animals.
All those are still bearable! The smell oozing out of the market to the outside world and most especially to the residents surrounding the place can simply be best described as ‘terrible.’
The feeble hearted cannot control the nausea, especially after watching the process of slaughtering on the slab as well as the skinning and butchering of the cows to pieces.
It is definitely not a pleasant experience to the eyes and soul. All these are still normal parts of any abattoir market, perhaps. However, residents of the estates surrounding the market can no longer bear the pains and embarrassment the market has caused them.
They cannot cope being neighbours to the many nuisances the market is posing to them. For instance, residents of Sina Ogunbambo Estate have been crying out for the past two months against the smell, cow dung littering everywhere, which has flowed into their estates, in addition to the indiscriminate parking of trucks which block their entrances, cows breaking windscreens of their vehicles, break lights of their vehicles and in some cases, causing accidents for them.
The fearful aspect of their nightmares is the free movement of cows on the roads, leading to their streets and some estates. In most cases, according to the residents, the cows are always on the rampage, causing confusion for residents and passers-by.
Maria Oluwadarasimi, who has been living inside the estate for about 15 years, told New Telegraph that cows on the rampage and breathing in foul smell have become a phenomenon the residents will have to cope with especially for those who built their houses there.
“If I were to be a tenant, I have a choice to leave this environment at the expiration of my tenancy. But with the economic situation of the country, I have no choice,” she lamented.
Oluwadarasimi explained that the only problem the environment used to have was the foul smell which engulfed all the estates surrounding the abattoir and even passers-by.
She said the residents, especially in her estate, had written several letters to the Lagos State government on the issue of the foul smell. While that battle was still ongoing, herders and trucks full of cows began to litter everywhere – frontage of houses, cows carelessly on the rampage, dead cows on the floor with many buyers willing to buy, e.t.c. They took the centre stage.
“Then, I gave up the hope, realising that another long hard battle has just sprung up,” she said. Members of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) close to the abattoir have to abandon the front entrance of their church building for the back because of the disturbances of the cows.
Some of the congregants said they were always struggling to enter the street leading to their church on weekdays and Sundays. According to them, the street has become flooded with trucks and lorries full of cows.
Whereby it was not the trucks and lorries, it would be multitude of cows on procession into the abattoir. While these cows are proceeding, some would become wild, thereby injuring passers-by, destroying vehicles around.
They explained further that after several futile efforts were made, they resolved to be entering inside their church through the back on the other street- Mofolashayo Drive on Wasiu Olaofe Road. Living in the estate has become a nightmare for Njideka Arinze, who has been living there for nine years.
She said she was not enjoying the full benefit of living in an estate. According to her, benefits of an estate should include serenity and freedom of movement.
But since the realisation dawned on her that they are actually cohabiting with animals, she has restricted her children to only inside the compound. “Can you imagine what the trauma of living in here is like? I cannot send my kids on errand outside for fear of being trampled upon by a cow.
They cannot even enjoy riding bicycle within the estate. If the noise of the cattle breeders and their trucks is not disturbing you, then it would be some terrible smell and smoke emanating from inside abattoir or somewhere outside, choking the nose and lungs.
“It also hangs all over my apartment for some time. It is so bad that it is useless buying air fresher to diffuse the odour. It is nightmarish living here, especially, when you do not have a choice.
So, I plead with Lagos State government to look into our plight and do something urgently about it,” she said. Another resident/landlord, addressed simply as Tajudeen, told New Telegraph that he believed there was enough space inside the abattoir to accommodate the trucks full of cows if properly organised. “After all, abattoir is supposed to be mechanically operated,” he said.
Tajudeen highlighted some issues he termed as the headaches they are having being neighbours to the meat market. According to him, when they bring in the cattle, they come in with about 20 to 30 extra people, who most times, have no business with the cattle. These set of people, Tajudeen alleged, become motorcycle riders, pickpockets or turn robbers at night.
The man said he had to discipline one who actually confessed that he came to Lagos for greener pastures but when he could not find anything tangible to do, he started selling garden egg but it was not sustaining, so he added pickpocketing. “And he confessed that there were many of them in that business,” Tajudeen added.
Helen Sofela of Mileninum Estate said their main headache in that estate was the foul smell. “If only the state government will be kind enough to make the meat market odourless, I will appreciate it,” she said.
Blessing Ochei, a civil servant, wished the Lagos State government could make a slab over the flowing blood coming out of the meat market. She said it would be decent that way and, according to her, it shows sensitivity to their sensibilities.
The exposed washed blood, she believed, breeds all sort of unimaginable flies, roaches and offensive odour. “Whenever I have course to pass through that place, I try hard not to look at the flowing blood but what about the smell? I cannot control that,” she said.
Den of illegalities
When New Telegraph made some visits to the abattoir and its surroundings, it discovered many shoddiness and funny movements. It starts with offloading of the cattle from the trucks.
The merchants do this with much energy and wild control of the animals. It is drama time for offloading trucks of cattle. While pulling the cows down from the truck and they discover that one or a few are dead, they begin to shout orders at those who have wooden plank wheelbarrow to bring it to them. And in brisk movements, they whisk away the dead and stressed animals away.
While observing their activities, in a day, New Telegraph counted up to 12 dead and 14 stressed cows wheeled away. Second day, several stressed and a few dead and it went on like that until the fifth day that New Telegraph traced them inside abattoir from Fagba by railway side, where they lined up trucks full of cattle.
It was discovered that some of the stressed cows were quarantined for resuscitation and treatment while some of the dead ones were taken right inside the slaughtering slab and sorted out for quick sale to residents at giveaway prices. In fact, right from inside the truck that they discovered some dead cows, they began to look for quick buyers, who are mostly food vendors.
Like magic, buyers gathered in no time, ready to buy. They negotiated the dead cow(s) and after an agreed price, they look for a butcher, who is also readily available with knives, a gallon of water and polythene bag to spread on the floor, ready for the kill. It is more economical for Funmi Akinyemi, a food vendor, to buy meat of dead cows than buy the life ones.
She told New Telegraph that the dead cows were far cheaper and did not waste time in softening while cooking. Alice Kenechukwu, also a food vendor at the abattoir market, said she could not have been able to record much profit margin if it weren’t for the cheaper meatthe dead cows.
Kenechukwu revealed that most of the food vendors operating around abattoir hardly purchase the life cows as it involves much negotiation and argument. “But the breeders always beg us to buy the dead or stressed ones.
They usually sell the dead ones for as cheap as N15,000 if is the large one or N8,000 for an average cow. “The stressed ones go for as high as N30,000, N35,000 depending the size,” she said. Stella Odion said that there was nothing wrong with the dead cows so far it had not taken time they died or for as long as the stressed ones were still breathing.
“There is nothing wrong with the meat. It is the same as the ones just slaughtered. I guess the cause of their premature death is the way they are clustered inside the trucks bringing them down to Lagos.
Really, it’s a long distance of several hours,” she said. Well, buying dead meats within the surroundings of abattoir or seeing dead and stressed cows all over the place is no big deal any more for the residents.
What is big deal is the slaughtering in front of their estates, houses or on their streets. The residents find this very annoying and nauseating. “That they litter the whole street with their animals and even destroy our vehicles are not the only issues but most irritating issue is the sight of flowing blood right in front of our doorsteps.
That is what we did not bargain for,” Seni Owoduni, a baker and resident of Sina Ogunbambo Estate complained. For one of the landlords of the above-mentioned estates, it is a different kettle of fish entirely.
His bitter complaint is against Zapeak Wynny, a Chinese company, in the estate that processes animal intestines, trite (Towel or Shaki) in particular. According to him, the company that is well-fenced up, burns and boils in large quantity, animal intestines to the disturbance of residents.
“One part of my window has remained permanently shut because of the strong smoke coming out of that company. As you can see, it is directly opposite my house. Fresh air has ceased coming inside because of what they burn,” he said.
The landlord, who craved anonymity, added that although he was not sure of the effect on humans as he was not a doctor, he argued that it was bad to have such a factory within residential area.
Unfortunately, the company could not produce its environmental impact assessment. It is really an unfortunate situation we found ourselves in this part of the state,” he noted.
When New Telegraph visited the company, there was no machine in operation but there were dried intestines hung on the roof and several donkey hind legs. One of the company’s officials, who gave his name simply as Bashir, said they operated occasionally and that was due to the several complaints of residents.
He, however, revealed that the residents lacked the moral rights to complain as the company ‘settles’ them as compensation for the discomfort. “I don’t even know what they are complaining about. We give them something from time to time and they have been tolerating. So, I don’t understand why you are here now,” Bashir said.
By the railway side is a long row of shanties, otherwise known as ‘One-chance den’. It is a dwelling of many illegalities. The area boys living inside the shanties rob unsuspecting individuals of their belongings along this den; they also leave stranded, those robbed inside commercial buses at night at this dangerous zone that is not far from a police station. In the morning, majority of the rascals lazy around the shanties where they gather in clusters, squatting, talking, eating and smoking marijuana cigarette.
Some were seen weaving caps, mats and some pushing wheelbarrows of fruits like Dates, Tigereyes, and Garden eggs, etc. Going deeper into some of the shanties, they were seen in clusters lying on the floor, sleeping almost half naked on top of one another. Strong stench oozed out of the shanties. There were many food vendors from the three major tribes but mostly dominated by the northerners.
Out of these food vendors, a few segregated vendors cook according to order and specifications of select customers. New Telegraph learnt that some cook with Indian hemp as demanded or with special meat known only to the customers. The special meats New Telegraph gathered were human parts. The shanties were also known as secret market for selling dried human parts.
According to one of the food vendors, the people that bring in the ‘special meats’ for cooks are mostly truck drivers and some of the followers but she denied knowing the real nature of the meats.
“Truly, they bring in some dried meats demanding that I cook it separately for them of which they pay handsomely for but I don’t know if it is human meat or not. I observed that I make more money just within three days of serving them.
In a week, I could make up to N75, 000 of cooking this special meat. So, I resolved to stay put in cooking the special meats for them,” she said. One of the residents of the shanties known simply as Alhaji Shehu Kadir confirmed to New Telegraph that there was truly the market for human parts among them, “but, I am not one of them.
I only sell waist and pile herbal concoction here, and the proceeds from it, I send to my three wives and 13 children in Niger Republic.” Kadir also disclosed that there were usually gang clash and rape issues among them. According to him, the common sight by the railway is the littering of human bodies, which is a result of the gang clash or rape victims Kadir disclosed that apart from shady businesses going on by the railway side, the shanties also served as abodes for single mothers, who go out by day time and retire by night.
“Most of the children you see loitering around here aimlessly or begging for alms are the children of those single mothers. They care less about their children. Instead, they make use of them as bait to rob passersby or to beg for alms,” he said.
Dr. Kayode Oyeleye, a veterinary doctor, said consumption of dead animals of sort was not good for human health. “They pose serious health problems,” he stressed.
Unfortunately, majority of the animals are not inspected, which is a constant threat to health, according to him. He explained that many of those cows were sick; they harboured infections like tuberculosis, lung and kidney diseases.
“In fact, majority are worm infested. The safe haven for us is the intense heat applied during cooking. Those who love to eat intestines should be extracareful,” he warned.
Oyeleye said Nigerian abattoirs were not well maintained at all; they are rather used as revenue collection. He highlighted some of the problems to be poor maintenance as there was no proper regulation, no strict enforcement of rules and regulations, no freedom for veterinary doctors to have their says and ways in terms of clinical duties. Generally, abattoir is under the control of states but the states are not in control of it in terms of infrastructure.
The slaughtering slabs, he said, ought to be kept clean before and after slaughtering; there should also be strict regulation of time for slaughtering of animals on the slab and there should be availability of water at the slab.
“Nigerian abattoirs are a disgrace to the nation; it is a system that needs to be overhauled urgently. Unfortunately, no private abattoir to rival states owned,” he said. Oyeleye explained further that there were many unethical practices in most of the abattoirs that go unchecked.
He said: “In every 10 cows slaughtered for instance, there are three to four pregnant ones among them, which is highly unethical and this is so because they are not inspected.
No room for anti-mortem and post-mortem policies.” Another problem of abattoir that he pointed out was the butchers whom he said were supposed to condemn some animals either in parts or as a whole but butchers refused to do so for maximum profit.
He concluded that abattoir was not a place to burn or roast animals as it was common in some northern parts of the country, Maiduguri in particular. He explained that the practice of using tyre to burn cow skin as it was mostly practiced in Lagos abattoir was injurious to health. According to him, the use of tyre produces hydrocarbon, which is inimical to human health, “those mostly at risk are Ponmo (cow skin) eaters,” he said.
Lagos Ministry of Agric responds
The Lagos State Ministry of Agriculture through its Assistant Director, Public Affairs Unit, Tunbosun Ogunbanwo, denied knowledge of such activities at the abattoir. “They can never slaughter any sick or stressed cow in Lagos abattoir.
It can never happen. Rather, they take the dead ones to a pit and burn them off. Moreover, there are always veterinary doctors on ground. All those allegations are baseless,” he said.
In reaction to some questions raised, the Lagos State government said in a statement it had commenced the removal of shanties at Oko-Oba abattoir to ensure a healthy and hygienic abattoir condition in the state.
The Commissioner for Agriculture, Oluwatoyin Suarau, stated that the Lagos State government won’t relent in its effort to improve the hygienic condition of the market and not to hurt anyone.
“I want us all to see this administration’s initiatives as a way of sanitising and ensuring hygiene in the Red Meat Value Chain. We should not see this project as a government instrument to disrupt the activities of the market,” he said.
Suarau disclosed that the completion of the project would be at the advantage of the abattoir operators and Lagosians at large as the proposed project will usher in a mega city equipped abattoir with a standby clinic within the complex which can take care of the health of workers and other emergencies in the abattoir and also a mini market which will cater for some basic needs.
He further reiterated that the demolition was in collaboration with the Lagos State Task Force Team, adding that the present administration is committed to its all-inclusive system of government as an instrument to gaining all the dividend of democracy.
He therefore urged the stakeholders to be in full support of the project as their input in pointing out miscreants and illegal inhabitant of the abattoir was required in restoring sanity to the entire market.
The Permanent Secretary, Dr. Olayiwole Onasanya, who was also present at the event, spoke extensively on the significance of the upgrading of the market and stressed the need for the government to monitor and ensure a safe red meat market that will conform to the mega city status.
He stressed that every section of the market should vacate their belongings, as the construction would not be done in batches but at once. “The government will not remove the shanties in batches as this will make the government spend more,” he said.