It is no longer news that the poisonous cow skin, popularly called ponmo, now abounds in the country, but what is, is that the ordinarily precious delicacy for many Nigerian homes has its source traced to the Republic of Benin.
Our correspondents scooped from the country’s next-door neighbors that there is a syndicate behind the deadly import, who ferry in the commodity into the country in disguise, mostly concealed among other goods.
Confirming the origin of the killer food item, the Area Controller of the Seme Command of the Nigeria Customs Service, Comptroller Mohammed Uba, told our reporter how the rotten commodity was intercepted.
He disclosed that the killer meat was imported through the Seme axis into the country, in disguised form.
According to him, “The meat was imported through Benin Republic border. As shown during destruction, the importer loaded the ponmo in the same kind of truck used for trade goods, making it look like a normal trade good coming to Nigeria.
“The importer deliberately concealed the ponmo in that manner to deceive our officers but was caught through intelligence. Our operations now are intelligence-driven and enable us to track offensive items capable of causing serious damage to our economic environment.”
The Customs boss revealed that “The method of concealment used for the rotten ponmo is fast becoming a trend for the dare-devil smugglers in bringing in contraband. For instance, smugglers now use customized vehicles belonging to corporate organizations to convey banned items. Some of them even use construction trucks but we have been trained on how to track them”.
Weeks after the Seme Area command destroyed a 20ft truck fully loaded with the rotten cow skin, most Nigerians are still expressing shock on the level of damage it would have caused if such item had entered the local market unchecked.
While some people are concerned about the economic implications of illegal imports coming into the country, others have expressed displeasure on the health implications of contaminated food items smuggled in by illicit traders desperate to make money at all costs.
Most worrisome is the fact that importers of what can be described as killer food items do so for personal gains, even to the detriment of unsuspecting Nigerians who consume such items daily.
Ponmo as meat is easily affordable by the masses in Nigeria and used in cooking assorted dishes like soup and stew in many homes. Though it does not have any known nutritional value like the real beef, the item is cheaper in the market than other types of meat and with many individuals, especially women, enjoy cooking with it. With just N100 a sizeable quantity can be procured.
During destruction of the rotten ponmo, it was observed that many journalists and some government officials, who came to witness the exercise, fled the scene, as offensive odor from the meat polluted the environment. Curiously, it was noticed that even with the horrible oozing stench, flies were not seen on the contaminated meat.
The Powerful Pen reporter learned that the chemical (formaldehyde) used in preserving the killer meat poses a serious danger not only to humans but to insects, as well as flies.
Our correspondent who visited two markets in Lagos, to find out how the Ponmo sellers get a supply of their meat, gathered that there are different sources of getting the item depending on the quality, quantity and amount of money involved.
One major source of supply includes buying the ponmo in large quantities directly from the abattoir where the cow is slaughtered in the open early in the morning and retail selling for small scale buyers.
This source of supply is obtainable only at the slaughter-house where there is fresh meat and the type of ponmo sold there comes with the skin. This type requires extra work of roasting it to clean the hairs.
Also, our correspondent learned that some ponmo sellers, who are mostly women, do not buy directly from the abattoir. Their source of supply comes from individuals they described as dealers.
These dealers according to them collect their money and supply them the meat as often as they want from a ready-made source. This type of ponmo is suspected to be the imported one, which on the surface looks very fresh, bigger and even thicker than the real beef meat.
Women who sell this type of ponmo said that most people are attracted to it because of the freshness and they do not need to roast it, as the meat is already clean.
The National Agency for Food, Drugs Administration Controller (NAFDAC) has also cautioned people on the dangers of consuming such an unwholesome food item.
Dr. NuraAudu of NAFDAC, who was among those who witnessed the destruction, explained that the ponmo seized by Customs was not suitable for human consumption.
According to Dr. Audu, during the examination, the agency discovered that the contaminated ponmo was preserved with formaldehyde, the same chemical used in preserving corpses and is dangerous to human health.
Investigation revealed that formaldehyde is not meant for direct human consumption but unfortunately, many people in Nigeria are indirectly consuming this harmful chemical today through food items.
Findings show that the most common health problems associated with exposure to formaldehyde in people include irritation of the eyes, nose and throat. This is because consumption of this harmful chemical causes damage to the lining of the nose and throat, which brings about watery eyes, and also burning sensations in the eyes, nose and throat in individuals exposed to it.
It was also revealed that exposure to formaldehyde results to health problems like coughing, wheezing, nausea, and even skin irritation in some cases, depending on the frequency of consumption.
There was a mild drama recently when two formations of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Tin Can Island Port command and the Federal Operations (FOU), Zone A, Ikeja, literally clashed in Apapa, Lagos, over the multiplicity of queries raised on imported goods by the service.
Assistant Comptroller General (ACG) of Customs, Mrs. Kaycee Ekekezie, Coordinator of Zone A, had visited the headquarters of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), on invitation. She came with her entourage, including the Controller, FOU, Ikeja, Comptroller Aliyu Mohammed; Controller of Administration, Zone A, Comptroller Tade Oguntade; Deputy Comptroller Enforcement, Tin Can Island Port command, Dera Nnadi, among others.
During question and answer session, Mr. Ugochukwu Nnadi of NAGAFF had raised a lot of issues requiring the ACG’s intervention. Among such was multiplicity of queries raised on goods through alerts and interception of containers by Customs without the owners’ knowledge.
On alerts, he pointed out that they usually come as Abuja alert, Enforcement alert, Comptroller General’s alert, Area Controller’s alert CPC alert, DC Admin alert, among others. He therefore wondered why the queries could not be harnessed into one to make things easy for consignees.
In his response, Deputy Comptroller Nnadi chose to dwell on the issue of interception of containers without the prior knowledge of the consignee, asserting that the law empowered Customs to do so for public safety.
He cited examples with cases of interception of containers that were stuffed with arms sometime ago originating from Turkey, saying he needed not to be told to be apprehensive of any of such a consignment emanating from that country.
To suspect such an import and intercept it, according to Nnadi, he would not require the permission of the cargo owner to carry out a forensic scrutiny of such an item.
Without allowing him to land, the Controller FOU, Comptroller Mohammed, told his junior colleague that he had failed to address the main question on multiple alerts and chose only to dwell on seizure of arms.
In his words, “My friend you have not addressed the issue of multiple alerts on goods. Why the many alerts on cargo? Answer that question instead of talking of arms. Let’s tell ourselves the truth, I’m an officer, at times we don’t get it right. There is no basis for alerts from here and there. It is totally wrong. Many of us do this with ulterior motives and it is not good.
This drew a lot of applause for him as he then urged ACG Ekekezie to address the matter as according to him, it was one of the sore points in the Customs/agents relationship.