In spite of the fact that Ponmo, a delicacy made from hides and skin has been popularised mostly by the people of the South West, it has no nutritional value, Miss Yemisi Olowookere, a Nutritionist at Garki Hospital General Hospital, Abuja, said. “Its continous consumption has continue to generate concerns on its adverse effect on the tanning and leather industry in the country,’’ Olowookere said. Olowookere said that Ponmo only appeals to the taste buds when properly prepared and has no nutritional benefits. According to her, Ponmo, is basically cow skin that has been processed to look similar to beef which is sold in the markets and an important ingredient in the preparation of several stews in various cultures.
“Most Nigerians love Ponmo so much that some believe a good day’s meal is incomplete without it; Ponmo is a regular sight at parties and several public outings, served in different forms. “It would be quite shocking for some people to know that Ponmo contains little or next to nothing in terms of nutritional value,’’ Olowookere said. She said the classification of Ponmo was based on their mode of preparation and colour, adding that some are white, cream and brown. Olowookere raised concerns over some of the health status of some of the animals killed, which must have been ill and undergoing treatments. He noted that rearers sometimes ignore such situation and will go ahead to kill them, leaving the buyers vulnerable to chemicals in the animal skin.
“Some of the animals because of the ailments, they are usually given injection which contains chemicals. “People don’t allow these chemicals to complete its cycle and be removed from the body; they sometimes go ahead to kill these animals. “So, if you consume the ponmo, the tendency is that you are consuming the chemicals directly because the skin part of the animal retains most of the harmful substances,’’ Olowokere said. She warned Nigerians to be careful with consuming ponmo as the cow skins are usually not prepared in the best conditions. Olowookere said before the ponmo was brought to the market, a lot of different unhygienic substances such as trash, wood, charcoal, rubber tyres and so on, are thrown into the furnace to sustain the blazing heat.
She, however advised that it was best to eat fish rather than ponmo. Mr Yakub Matanmi, Chairman, Ponmo Dealers Association, Mushin Market said that the consumption of cow’s skin has been an age-long practice which no government could stop. He said that the survival of countless people such as the butcher, cleaner and seller depends on the product. “I don’t think the government can just stop the consumption of ponmo, so many things will go wrong.
“It is from this business the sellers, cleaners and butchers get to make a living and send our children to school, if you say we should start selling it as leather, we may not make as much profit. “But if eventually the product is banned totally by the government, there is really nothing we can do about it, but that will definitely be the end of our business,” he said. Matanmi said that the volume of ponmo-consumed daily across the country could not be calculated, as more low-income earners and also wealthy people use it. The former Minister of Agriculture, Mr Akinwunmi Adesina, last year said that the Federal government might have concluded plans to discourage the consumption of the popular delicacy. Adesina told stakeholders at a seminar that the primary consumption of livestock products might need to be reduced because of the need to promote the use of hides and skin for leather production.
For Mr Jacob Akwubilo, Head of the Leather Products Sellers Association, Lagos Mainland, a ban on the product could make leather products cheaper. Akwubilo urged the government to look into the availability of other sources for leather production, like snakes and fish skins to augment for the shortfall caused by the direct consumption of cow skin. While a NEPC report says the export of leather products like bags, shoes, was 63 million dollars in 2014, government still lack statistics on the consumption of some items in the country according to Mr Emmanuel Cobham, Director-General, Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA). In Anambra, the former President of Shoe Manufacturers Association of Anambra State (SMAAS), Mr Leonard Ogbonna, said that the leather industry could create 50,000 jobs if properly harnessed in Anambra.
Ogbonna said that each of the 7,000 members of the SMAAS could take 10 persons (youths) each on apprenticeship and mentorship. The Director-General of Onitsha Chamber of Commerce, Mr Dominick Ajibo, noted that revival of the tannery and leather industries would go a long way to boost the foreign exchange earnings of the country. Ajibo noted that it would create jobs for most youths presently roaming the streets and neighbourhoods aimlessly.
In Aba, Abia State, the Chairman of the Leather Product Manufacturers Association, Abia state, Mr Okechukwu Williams, identified the sourcing of quality leather, importation of leather products, funding and infrastructure as their biggest challenges. Innocent Ejiofor a butcher said that although he sells Ponmo regularly, he cannot state the quantity sold and eaten in tonnes. Another butcher Linus Udenwa also said large quantities of Ponmo are sold on regular basis but he could state the value in billions or millions.
“I just calculate my gain based on the quantity I sell every day, I can’t say the value of what everyone else sells,” he said. Chimaobi Amaechi, a butcher in the Eke Onuwa market in Owerri, Imo State, stated that about 30 cows are slaughtered daily at the market. He added that if the state had a working leather industry, the amount consumed would have been greatly reduced In Abakaliki, the executive secretary of Ebonyi Chamber of Commerce, Mines and Agriculture, Mr Obiora Odono said that the absence of tanneries was responsible for growth of ponmo trade in the state. Obiora said that absence of tannery or leather industries in Ebonyi since creation in 1996 had led to the thriving ponmo trade in the state.
Obiora described absence of leather industries in the state as a major setback to the quest for socioeconomic development of the state. Mrs Gladys Igwe, an Economics teacher in a private secondary School, called on the government to create an enabling environment for the establishment of leather industries in order to reduce the quantity of the product consumed by people as food. On their part, butchers in Enugu said that ponmo was mainly used for consumption in the coal city and not for leather production. Meanwhile, investigations revealed that security challenges in Borno, has crippled the hides and skin business in the state. While the state-owned shoe-making and hides tannery firm, Neital Nig. Ltd, has been grappling with problems, the bustle that used to characterize the premises of the Maiduguri Central abattoir is completely gone, especially after the blast that rocked the place some time ago. Alhaji Usman Tomsu, the General Manager of the Maiduguri Neital Nigeria Ltd, lamented the predicament of the company.
He said the outfit established in 1982, comprised of Finished Leather and Shoe-making sections. Tomsu added that after operating for 10 years without making profit, it went comatose. “In just one major export, our financial report recorded N112 million, as at then. “But because of the persistent security challenges, we had to close down our operations. “We no longer get skin from our abattoirs, just as constant power outage resulted in further setback to the company”, said Tomsu.
Alhaji Baba Maizannah, the Manager of Borno Abbattior, said the state government had spent about N164 million on rehabilitation of the Maiduguri Central Abattoir, to improve cleanliness in the slaughter- house. In the area of hides and skin delicacy ponmo business still flourishes as usual, especially with the major hides and skin customers like Neital company closing shop.
Hajiya Fatima Mubarak, a restaurant operator in Maiduguri, said she spent about N50, 000 monthly, buying ‘ponmo’ for customers who normally come to eat ‘amala’ food. “I am a Yoruba woman; the people who patronise ponmo are mostly my tribesmen and women; Borno people do not buy ‘ponmo’. “I am making good sales of ponmo; if I buy N50,000 worth of it, I am sure of N150, 000 profit,” she said. Malam Haruna Isa, a ponmo seller in ‘Biafra Market’ of Bulabulin area in Maiduguri, said his customers were mostly restaurant operators.
“The business is very lucrative, even though Borno people do not patronise ponmo. “Our market is outside Borno; sometimes we travel to Kano,Kaduna, Lokoja, Umuahia and other places in the south,” he said. Investigations in Damaturu, the Yobe capital however, indicated low patronage of the hides and skin delicacy.
Ponmo is not a popular menu here among the indigenous communities; only few people from other parts of the country patronisze the sellers,” said Hajiya Aisha Mohammed, a housewife in Damaturu Dr Rabiu Miko, a Veterinary Doctor in Jigawa Mininstry of Agriculture, said, “Hides and skins delicacy is delicious but there are a lot of hazards in consuming it,” he said. Miko said the animals with skin diseases were normally sprayed or injected with chemicals.
“So there are instances where individuals can contact diseases since the animals were either sprayed or injected with chemicals when they are sick,” he said. According to him, ordinary boiling or cooking of the ponmo may not necessary kill the diseases. He stressed that since the skins contained very low nutritional value, if any, its consumption amounted to taking a risk for no just cause. He pointed out that, when compared, hides and skin had more economic than nutritional value.