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Lagos Abattoir: Where unhealthy cattle are slaughtered for public consumption (I)

A first time visitor to the Kara section of the Oko-Oba Abattoir, especially from its widest entry point, is most likely to be welcomed by…

A first time visitor to the Kara section of the Oko-Oba Abattoir, especially from its widest entry point, is most likely to be welcomed by the mooing of robust cattle of different sizes. But as one approaches the tail end of the sprawling open field, one is confronted with frail and haggard-looking cattle, some of which are in perpetual prostrate position. As a result of ill-health, they often depreciate in weight and sizes while a sea of mucus freely flows from their nostrils. While some of them still manage to eat the wheat and grass meant to keep them alive, others are just too weak to eat anything.
“We call these type Gurugu. They are as normal as other cattle you see standing there. They are kept separately because they had travelled far distances before arriving in Lagos. They have become exhausted. And most of them are cows. Nothing do them,” Alasa Momodu, a shabbily dressed cattle marketer who accosted this reporter, having mistaken him for a serious buyer, said.
Though Momodu and a host of his ilk confessed that they were not owners of the cattle or veterinarians, they spoke authoritatively on the fitness status of these cattle.  
Speaking further to Sunday Trust, Momodu and another marketer, Saidu Braima, said a big cow would cost between N120,000 and N150,000, depending on the size. They, however, betrayed their claim when they asked this reporter to pay N75,000 for the biggest size of the cattle that lay prostrate, popularly referred to as Gurugu.
Asked why there is a difference in prices if the gurugu were of the same level of fitness with others, Momodu could not offer a coherent answer. He, however, repeated his earlier assertion that the gurugu were simply exhausted as a result of long journey. When further asked if the cattle lying prostrate could be fit the following day so as to increase their market value, Momodu looked perplexed and became irritated.
“Oga, if una wan buy, tell me, and if na question una wan ask, I no get your time. My own is to sell and commot. All these your questions don do,” he said, as he made a gestured to leave.    
As this reporter tried to explain to Momodu why there was the need to ask more questions, two women were paying for two Gurugu (one white, the other brown). After payment, they quickly ordered for a wooden wheelbarrow, otherwise known as Omolanke to help them convey the helpless Gurugu out of sight. With that development, Momodu became lively again.
“You see what I am saying? Those who are serious are already buying their own. I told you the animals are healthy; they are not sick. As you see those women, they are taking the cows to the slaughter slab. Oga if you get your money, you fit buy am,” Momodu said triumphantly.
Again, asked if he had forgotten that veterinarians were on the slab and may not allow the women to slaughter the cows because they really didn’t look fit, Momodu said the doctors had much to do, hence, nothing would stop the women from slaughtering the cows on the slab. He added that one was free to find out what the women would do with the cows at the slab. He, however, declined to go to the slab, saying he was working on a shift and won’t be able to abandon his duty. But Braima agreed to go, as according to him, he was combining cart-pushing and cow-marketing. True to their claim, both women and their Gurugu successfully made their way out of the Kara market.

Gurugu are slaughtered for human consumption
Braima said that before now, many people only bought the Gurugu for private use, not commercial purposes. He further explained that that was the major reason why the veterinarians on the slaughter slab did not inspect such animals. He, however, added that events in recent times had shown that some people now buy for commercial purposes. This, he said, is most common among food vendors who come in a group of two or three to buy and later share the meats among themselves. He said they seemed to have found it cheaper and profit-driven than when they buy directly from commercial meat vendors.
He said that buyers could either take the animals home or bring them for slaughter at the slab. “For those who may want to slaughter at the slab, they will have to pay the Omolanke pusher the sum of N500, then N300 for the land owners at the gate, and N1, 300 for the Lagos State government. Buyers have to pay the government for the maintenance of the slab. It does not end there; you will also pay N500 to the vulcaniser who will pump air into the slaughtered cow and N500 to those who will scrape off the cow’s hair with hot water. Everything is about N3,100,” Braima said.
This claim was confirmed at the gate leading to the Kara exit, where three young men were seen collecting N300 and issuing tickets to buyers who wished to pass through the gate with their cattle. The wheelbarrow pushers were also busy in their part of the business as they took those who paid their bills to the slaughter slab without hindrance.
Braima further disclosed that the best time to slaughter the Gurugu without any disturbance from the veterinarians starts from 11 am till late in the afternoon, as the rate of cows being slaughtered would have reduced and many of the veterinarians would be tired, thereby making it all-comers-affair.
True to Braima’s revelation, at 12:45 pm, butchers and their customers were having a field day on the slab as there was no veterinarian on sight. The two Gurugu being led to the slab were surrounded by a host of shabbily dressed young men parading themselves as butchers. They were quickly loaded into a wheelbarrow without any resistance, quite unlike the healthy cattle that would always put up reasonable resistance on the way to the slab. The two unhealthy animals were subsequently slaughtered as if they were actually waiting for the butchers’ knives to end their precarious journey on earth.
While the unwholesome business lasted, there was no veterinarian to examine, crosscheck or even make recommendations concerning the slaughtered animals. It was observed that more Gurugu were brought in and slaughtered by different buyers without hindrance.
 
Barred from talking to journalists
When Sunday Trust visited the makeshift office of the veterinary doctors, one of them, who was about to remove his blood-stained laboratory coat, and who refused to disclose his name, said he was not permitted to speak to journalists. He directed me to their boss, one Dr Idris at the main office. Idris also refused to speak on their role at the abattoir.
“Let me give you a note to the Lagos State government secretariat at Block 5, Alausa. That is where the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperative is. You can tell the Permanent Secretary your mission. However, if I have his go-ahead, I will talk to you. We are under them,” he said.
The veterinarians are not the only people keeping tight lips on the activities going on at the abattoir. Officers of the Harmony Abattoir Management Company (HAMC), one of the contracting firms supervising the abattoir also refused to speak.
While setting up a 17-man task force on the abattoir in February 2012, the state Commissioner for Agriculture and Co-operative, Prince Gbolahan Lawal said government had mandated the HAMC to abolish slaughtering on the slab within six months because it had observed that its mechanised slaughtering facility at the abattoir was not fully utilised. But 20 months after that marching order, slaughtering activities on the slab had remained the same.
 
Managing the situation
Though Kolawole Olatunji, outgoing General Manager of the Lagos State Animal Market Oko-Oba Abattoir (another contracting firm managing the abattoir for the state government) said his agency’s supervisory role did not cover the fitness or otherwise of the cattle being slaughtered at the abattoir, he nonetheless insisted that the health and state of the abattoir was conducive for inhabitants. He also vouched on the hygienic status of the meat being sold to the public.
“If the veterinary doctors discover that an animal is sick and is not fit for consumption, they condemn it. If you go to the slaughter’s slab now you will see them there. You will see the way they condemn these cows,” Olatuji said.  
He added, “Quarantine issue is supposed to be handled by the government, but due to budgetary matters we learnt they have not been able to do it here. The veterinary doctors do isolate the sick animals for treatment.”
Olatunji’s contract with the Lagos State government had expired. He actually spoke to this reporter few hours before he left office as the General Manager of the abattoir. His firm was in charge of sanitary and general environmental cleaning of the abattoir. For 10 years, Olatunji said they had improved the sanitary state of the abattoir. However, the reality on ground contradicted his claim.
“Our general sanitation in the abattoir is very good. Our stakeholders comply with the rules and regulations of environmental sanitation. Every Thursday, proper sanitation is being carried out by the stakeholders. Nobody opens a shop, nobody sells foods or does anything until 10, O’ clock. The people clean and collate the waste while LAWMA and PSP people will come and carry it away,” Olatunji said.
When asked to comment on the indiscriminate cattle dung littered all over the abattoir, Olatunji passed the buck to the state government. “As for the dung being discharged by the cattle, that is a management issue being handled by the state government. But we have casual labourers that clean the market on a daily basis. They cart the dirt away in their wheelbarrows,” he said.  
On whether the atmosphere at the abattoir is actually conducive for business transaction and human habitation, Olatunji was diplomatic in his response, saying, “The environmental issue in this market is a continuous and routine exercise. If you do it one day and you refuse to do it the other day, when you come here tomorrow, you won’t be able to stay and do anything here. So for us, the environment is conducive for transaction and living.”
 
Health and environmental hazards
Beyond Olatunji’s diplomatic responses, the sanitary state of the Lagos State Abattoir, Oko-Oba, remains an eyesore. The abattoir stinks.
The abattoir’s expansive entrance along Old Abeokuta Motor Road offers a first time visitor a serene environment up to the point where the HMAC, banks and the veterinarians’ main offices are situated. But from the “blood frying spot” to the water vendor serving the slaughter slab to the slab itself, then to Kara, the Laraige, the unofficial dumpsites, cattle dung spots, as well as the stinking canal that passes through the abattoir, not a few will doubt Olatunji’s claim of improving the abattoir sanitary situation in the last 10 years. For instance, at the slaughter slab, Sunday Trust observed that some women who treat cattle waste and faeces were doing so with bare hands.
Also, it was observed that meats meant for human consumption were kept on bare floor for willing buyers, while the water being used to scrape the hair off the slaughtered cattle and flush their faeces still splashed through the same floor where the meat was openly displayed. All manner of people, wearing dirty and tattered clothes were seen handling and participating in the butchering process, even as some people still use wooden and rickety wheelbarrows to convey the meats out of the slab as against the approved tricycle introduced by the state government. All of these went on without a veterinarian or any of Olatunji’s men to checkmate the excesses of the people.
The commercial water spot serving the slaughter slab is also filthy. The vicinity, right from the spot where the water vendors always queue up to where the tap itself is located and the water is fetched, all caked in dirt. Many of the jerry-cans being used to fetch the water and the water pipes connecting the tap with the jerry-cans are also in grime.
The situation is not different at the Lairage where unsold cattle are meant to be accommodated. A path leading to the Lairage from the northern axis also wallows in murky and stinking water. The dung site is not better either.  Long trucks and trailers conveying cattle wade through the murky dumpsite after offloading their stock.
Food canteens within this area are not better. Most of the food vendors visited and their customers seemed less concerned about the environment within which the foods are prepared. They appear to be concerned with the meals – eat and go.
The canal passing through the abattoir has become a dumpsite of all sorts to of waste, often thrown in it by squatters and inhabitants of the abattoir. Though the canal is smaller in size, it, however, connects with a larger one situated at the back of the abattoir. The bigger canal, having received a large chunk of its waste from the abattoir canal, often smells terribly, leaving residents of neighbouring streets, especially in New Oko-Oba, Old Oko-Oba, Orile-Agege, Hamzat Augusto Street and Millennium Estate, which shares the same fence with the abattoir, to battle health hazards associated with air pollution.
 “My brother, you don’t need to ask questions about whether or not this place smells. As you can perceive yourself, the whole place is a mess. We can hardly breathe in our rooms sometimes in the night because of the terrible odour coming from the canal. We have made several appeals to the state government, but nothing much have been done. When my rent expires, I can assure you that my family and I will leave this place,” Adisa Kazeem, a resident of Hamzat Augusto, New Oko-Oba, Agege said.
Incredibly, some women who apparently engage in the sale of used sack bags were seen within the murky water of the big canal, washing with bare hands and spreading out such bags in the sun. When Sunday Trust approached the women to know why they engage in such a risky job, none of them was willing to talk; instead, they simply carried on with their work.
To be continued next week

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