There is scarcely any household in Nigeria that does not have parents that provide family dinner with roasted chicken or beef, also known as Suya. Suya is mostly a night-time operation, and it is commonly served with onion, tomato, and pepper, however some go so far as to serve the roasted skewered meat with fried corn flour, also known as ‘masa.’ Suya, has become a large business over the years, mostly derived from cows and founded by northerners but now enjoyed by all, as patronage at Suya places by Nigerians across the country is considered as the new normal, while others refer to it as ‘the new fast food.’
Meanwhile, an investigation has shown the unscrupulous business practices of these Suya or meat dealers, namely how deceased animals are purchased, skinned, fully seasoned, skewered, and sold to unsuspecting Nigerians for food. This tragic practice is what caused tangible tension in Umueze, Umuakanu town in Umuahia North Local Government Area of Abia State, around a year ago, after seven members from the same family died after eating the famed Suya BBQ. It could also explain why four of seven youngsters died in Abia State after supposedly consuming Suya. Even more alarming, these deaths occurred after the Federal Government passed the Meat Hygienic Act, which aimed to control the operations of abattoirs in the country.
Many Nigerians don’t care about the source of the meat they buy in markets.
Using the Karu, Abuja abattoir as a case study, it was confirmed that, contrary to the general principle of inspecting and certifying all animals meant to be slaughtered, some of those usually brought in and butchered, as observed during a visit, are not thoroughly checked before and after being killed, despite the fact that of a veterinary doctor stationed at the facility. Indeed, investigations have revealed that some infectious diseases afflicting Nigerians may be traced back to unsanitary meat processing practices at abattoirs. But, as profitable as the beef business is, it also has drawbacks, given the slew of difficulties associated with getting animals from sellers to abattoirs and, finally, to consumers’ dinner tables.
As per the findings, the majority of Nigerians are unconcerned about the origin of the meat they buy in markets or at Suya establishments, nor are they concerned about the cooked or fried meat they buy from food sellers. The failure to ensure that defined standards are met in the meat processing process has resulted in a vicious cycle of selling dead animal products and growing zoonoses penetration into homes, leaving society vulnerable. While some Suya vendors stick to their guns, others prefer dead cows, chickens, and goats, among other animals, to cook their delights because they are less expensive than live ones. Further inquiry indicated that some of these animals, which typically die as a result of underlying diseases, are usually stacked outside abattoirs and sold to Suya merchants and other meat vendors who are interested.
Not every cow that dies gets buried. It may be sold cheaper.
According to some butchers in Karu, when cows die in the abattoir, they are not always buried; some are preserved, taken out later, and sold cheaper to Suya sellers or other purchasers in need of beef. According to John Tama (not his real name), who claims to work in the abattoir, selling meat from dead animals is not unique to them, but is also observed in other abattoirs surrounding Abuja and in other states across the country. Although the business is not popular, he claims it is very profitable because dead cows, among other animals, are acquired on a regular basis, attracting what he calls cool money, adding that it is a business of choice.
Another abattoir worker, who appeared to have in-depth knowledge of the meat black market, told our reporter that many abattoirs around the country lacked health care professionals and veterinary doctors to determine the health status of cows and other animals butchered for sale to the public. According to him, the sale of dead and sick animals had gone overlooked due to a lack of health personnel. Even if there are health officials, he claims that the processing, cleanliness, slaughtering, handling, and movement of meat fall short of norms.
Anyone who sells dead livestock should be punished.
Experts also stated that efforts to stop the spread of zoonosis may continue to fail because private persons and organizations benefiting from the industry may make it impossible for the government to succeed. Akpem Terese Shadrach, a veterinary doctor and the founder of Mobovet Nigeria Limited, Vet Konect, has urged the government to pass legislation that will allow livestock producers to get economic compensation if their animals are lost. Farouk Rabiu Mudi, President of the All-Farmers Association, also spoke out against the sale of beef from deceased livestock, threatening to punish anyone involved. He urged the government to form committees and task forces to oversee meat processing in Nigerian abattoirs.