By Christy Anyanwu and Olakunle Olafioye
Dealers and consumers of cow hide and skin popularly known as ponmo in Nigeria are in for a tough challenge that may throw them out of business, as well as take the delicacy off the menu table of most homes.
Ponmo, a major Nigerian delicacy and major substitute for fish and meat to the vast majority of Nigerian masses has again caught the attention of the government. The Federal Government said it is considering placing a ban on the consumption of cow skin as part of its drive to revive tanneries in the country.
Director General, Nigerian Institute of Leather and Science Technology, NILEST, Zaria, Muhammad Yakubu, who gave the hint recently said that NILEST, in collaboration with stakeholders in the industry, would approach the National Assembly and state governments to bring out legislation banning the consumption of cow skin in the country.
The NILEST boss who noted that the current National Leather Policy had addressed some fundamental problems of the sector said that when implemented fully, it would turn around most of the comatose tanneries and ginger greater output in production.
According to him, “if we get our tanneries, our footwear and leather production working well in Nigeria, people will hardly get ponmo to buy and eat. To the best of my knowledge, Nigerians are the only people in the world that overvalue (cow) skin as food, after all, ponmo has no nutritional value.”
The plan by the government to ban ponmo has remained a recurring refrain in Nigeria.
The DG NILEST also noted this in his address, when he said, “at one point, there was a motion before the two chambers of the National Assembly, it was debated, but I don’t know how the matter was thrown away.”
But in spite of the failure by successive governments to make good the threat, dealers and consumers of cow hide would not want to take chances as many of them who spoke to Sunday Sun vowed to resist the move.
A dealer, Mrs Ronke Adekoya, said that the proposed ban on the consumption of ponmo has once again accentuated the anti-masses’ stance of successive governments in Nigeria.
“Our leaders are always looking for ways to frustrate lives out of the masses in this country. The same set of leaders who failed to provide employment opportunity for their people is the same set of people placing all manners of obstacles on people’s means of livelihood.
“They have banned Okada, they have taken over all major markets, rebuilt them in the name of modernizing them and allocated same to their family members who rent them out exorbitantly. They are now turning their attention on ponmo,” Mrs Adekoya lamented.
Another ponmo dealer who identified herself as Iyabo Lukman at Lawanson market in Lagos took a swipe at the government, saying the leaders in the country are nursing ringworm while allowing leprosy to fester.
According to her, “our leaders should look inward to solving the problems of this country. Ponmo is not a problem, but a blessing to Nigeria. They said it has no nutritional value, but you are happy and contented after eating ponmo or mere seeing ponmo as part of the delicacy in your soup.
“That is the only meat the low income earners don’t joke about. The price of fish has soared even beyond the reach of the poor. The frozen fish which was once at the reach of the people and normally eaten by low income earners is now in the range of N2,500-N3,500. So you can see reason people don’t joke with ponmo. Though the price of ponmo has equally risen compared to previous years, it’s still relatively cheaper compared to prices of meat and fish. With as low as N200 you can buy ponmo, but hardly will you get to buy meat or fish for as low as N500,” she pointed out.
Alhaja Sadat Bello, a trader at Idi-Araba Market is of the opinion that if the government would consider banning the consumption of cow hide because of its low nutritional value, then the government should as well go ahead to proscribe the consumption of meat, which she noted, was not safe for people above 40 years.
“All those who mooted the idea of banning ponmo are enemies of the common people. That is the meat for the common man now. In fact, ponmo is the only hope of the common people when it comes to the preparation of soup. It’s just that the current administration does not have the interest of the masses at heart. If not why would anyone consider banning ponmo which is the only thing they can afford to prepare their soup with.
“The ponmo of N300 was what we sold for N100 few years ago. Back then N50 worth of ponmo was big enough to serve a family’s course of meal, but now even N500 worth of ponmo may not be enough for a course of meal.
“If they are thinking of banning ponmo they should also ban the consumption of red meat. We were told that once you are 40 years we should not eat red meat that it is dangerous to our health,” she said.
Consumers of cow skin are equally agitated over the proposed ban on the consumption of ponmo.
A civil servant in Lagos, Uzoma Chijioke, said that the report of the proposal to ban the consumption of cow skin is never in the interest of the masses, including himself, saying that he prefers eating ponmo to eating either meat or chicken. “Ponmo is something I don’t joke about over the years as a teenager and I’m now in my 50s. I cannot cook anything without adding ponmo. Any restaurant I go and ponmo is not available I simply leave and find another one. That is to tell you how much I cherish ponmo.
“Sincerely, I prefer ponmo to any kind of meat even chicken. When I heard ponmo is to be banned I had sleepless nights about the proposal. Although it is now more expensive, it is still the most affordable compared to meat, fish, chicken, turkey,” he said.
Besides affordability, ponmo consumers have other reasons for their penchant for cow skin.
While defending his decision to call for the ban of ponmo, the NILEST DG opined that Nigerians are the only people in the world that value cow skin as food, saying cow skin has no nutritional value.
But a dietitian, Mrs Mariam Hamzat said the claim that cow hide has no nutritional value is unfounded.
According to her, “ recently, findings have shown that cow hide which we know as ponmo here in Nigeria has some nutritional value although not as much as one can get from meat, fish and other protein sources and is essentially good for weight loss.
The reduced nutritient in ponmo makes it a good substitute for people who are watching their weight,” Mrs Hamzat noted.
Ponmo business is indeed a vast industry in Nigeria particular in Ijebu Igbo, Ogun State, where an approximately 50, 000 people are said be part of the chain of its production, Alhaja Anifa Lawal, a major dealer, claimed.
And banning the commodity, according to her, will result in more hardship for those in the business.
“We don’t really understand what interests the government in ponmo. This is not the first time the government will be coming up with all manners of excuses about ponmo. There was a time the government accused us of using tyres and other dangerous materials in the production of ponmo, which was not true. Nobody can stay close to where tyres are being burnt because of the dangerous smell that comes from it. Meanwhile, one needs to constantly check the ponmo when it’s being prepared so that it does not burn into ashes. So, how possible is that people will use tyres to prepare ponmo? Where do we even get the tyre from or why will you want to use tyre when it’s cheaper and safer to use firewood? The government is just trying to call the dog a bad name”, she exclaimed.
She, therefore, appealed to the government to discountenance the suggestion, saying that “people that will be rendered jobless will be far more than those that will ever be employed by tannery industry should the government concede to the suggestion.
“There are those whose job is to comb the country and even beyond in search of cow skin. These people will then supply dealers who buy in bulk from these merchants. Then, there are other people whose duty is to burn, wash it after it has been soaked in water and cut it into smaller sizes for those who will later sell it to the traders who will in turn sell it to the final consumers.
“In Ijebu-Igbo alone, which is considered to be the capital of ponmo business in the Southwest, nothing less than 50,000 people will be rendered jobless if the government heeds the suggestion.”