We must commend The Nation newspaper for doing Lagos residents a great good with her expose on poisonous cow skin popularly called ponmo, which, sadly, is now a big business. It was vintage public interest journalism.
In a beautiful story by a good reporter, Sina Fadare, the newspaper on Saturday, April 27, Ponmo: Business sparks fear of epidemic in Lagos community shows how residents of College Road in Igando who have been at the receiving end of an offensive odour emitted by the poisonous substance for over a year raised the alarm. The story shows, in many ways, majority of what is wrong with us as a country. Lax regulation, regulators’ compromise, corrupt and inept government officials, external and internal saboteurs and plain wickedness of unscrupulous business people are all included in the saga. No wonder, Nigerians come down regularly with failed organs now perhaps more than ever in our history.
It saddens one further that the residents’ association had actually made a formal report to the local government which expectedly, but painfully, turned deaf ears to the complaint. As the story records, a council official alleged that some of the staff there feed fat on the business woman identified solely by the nom de guerre, Mama Ibeji. Twins in Yoruba mythology are known as harbingers of good fortune but not this woman who even had the audacity of querying the residents’ effrontery in challenging her over her poisonous business. A school, painfully, is sharing boundary with the building housing the poisonous ponmo. Five outlets in Cele, Egbe, Ijegun, Ikotun and Badagry were further identified as locations where the ponmo is on sale. Just imagine how many Lagosians, who, buffeted by poverty and depreciating lifestyle, would have opted for cheap ponmo to augment their meals without knowing they were buying poison.
Ponmo, cow skin, a member of integumentary system, is common delicacy especially among the Yoruba whose meals are mostly not complete without it. Interestingly, others in the country have come to relish and enjoy it as well. The ponmo in this story ostensibly was imported as raw materials for use in leather manufacturing companies allegedly by Lebanese companies with active connivance of some Nigerians as fronts. A senior veterinary doctor who I spoke with on this matter laid the blame at the doors of the quarantine department of the Federal Livestock Divisionwho are stationed at the border posts and were supposed to certify the ponmo as imported solely for use in leather companies.
The veterinary doctor also warned that when treated with acidic treatment or polish, the acid base on cow skin will kill whatever can grow on it and the polish make the hide smooth. “Such are not meant for consumption as chemicals and dye have been added,” the doctor concluded. The end result in future is cancer, which is on the rise in our country. This is what we are being exposed to as governments at all levels continually fail. Good enough, the Lagos State police command arrested six people in possession of the poisonous ponmo on Sunday, May 5 at the same address. So, the wicked people behind the commodity will not stop even when they’ve been exposed in a newspaper and that’s why our governments must tighten the nuts and bolts of food regulations more. We have borders that are perhaps, the most porous on earth, and our public health system in terms of food inspection is lax. Good enough that some of our abattoirs in Lagos have been given facelifts with modern facilities, are all animals inspected before slaughter? Let’s assume, they are, what about animals killed outside the abattoirs without veterinarians certifying them as fit for consumption? Do we still carry out food inspection like it was done years ago?
To further show how helpless citizens are, the Lagos State health commissioner merely issued a statement after the story was published warning residents about the discovery. But the statement had no telephone numbers for citizens to call for further enquiries neither did it tell how to identify the poisonous ponmo nor what to do if you had bought or consumed it. We don’t have public communication components yet to sensitize residents on the danger of consuming such ponmo, instead we are busy commissioning uncompleted projects or hosting people who are economical with the truth serving hagiography instead of critical praise. Too often, one is forced to ask, “What is the value of a Nigerian’s life?”
As someone who lives in an area close to the outlets of the poisonous ponmo, the simple solution is to abstain from eating it until further notice. But I ask Dr. Jide Idris, the Lagos State health commissioner, “When can I eat ponmo again?”