ABUJA — Mr Olufemi Aluko, of the Faculty of Clinical Sciences, Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) , Ile-Ife, says Nigeria is losing out in the pack of countries competing for the 75 billion dollar global leather industry because of ponmo consumption. Aluko blamed the situation on the country’s neglect of the leather products industry in favour of oil production and consumption of its hides and skin as ponmo. The don cited global industry report as confirming the situation urged the nation’s policy drivers to refocus on the sector as it holds great potential for export earning and employment. As we strive to diversify the nation’s economy I advised the Federal Government to create sound, supportive and transparent policies that will revive leather goods industries in Nigeria. Aluko said, “Nigerian leather goods businesses must develop procedures to ensure developed markets where products are compliant with environmental and social responsibility requirements as well as international satndards.’’ The lecturer explained that the formal leather goods industry had declined almost to extinction which could only be revived by transparent business policies. According to him, the formal leather goods sector must be revived particularly to supply the domestic, regional and international markets. He said that considerable hard work would be required by the public and private sectors in coordination for the sector to make considerable further progress but this is necessary as we refocus our economy and use of our abundant hides and skins for leather products rather than for consumption as `ponmo’. The lecturer added that economic growth and employment benefits from the sector were potentially considerable. “Nigeria is, globally, perhaps the most important exporter of light leather. “ The leather tanning sector has made remarkable progress in recent years as it has progressed from export of raw and wet blue leather to finished leather.’’ 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 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 with 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 of 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. Another seller in Oyingbo market, who declined to give his identity said that the demand for the product was higher than the usual beef, because it was cheaper and used for more purposes. He said that the product was popular among all tribes, thus a ban on it would affect a lot of people, including the consumers. The former Minister of Agriculture, Mr Akinwunmi Adesina, last year said that the Federal government, may have concluded plans to discourage the consumption of the popular delicacy. Adesina told stakeholders at a seminar that the primary consumption of livestock products may 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). He said there is need to get the statistics of the consumption of the product, in comparison with the current volume of leather production and exports in the country. “The government should also consider the local market, because they are the highest stakeholders, as their survival depends on it. “In an economy, decisions should not be taken on a one-sided note, but where the major economic policy or decision may affect or bite the more. “However, there may be a need to simply discourage the consumption to a level, to earn some foreign exchange for the nation through more leather exports,’’Cobham said. 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. “We make our trainee masters of their own after a minimal period of two years. “What we want is that the Federal and Anambra government to partner with us in terms of establishing a functional tannery in Anambra as well as provide us with funding for machineries for working and polishing of our leather work,’’ he said. Ogbonna noted that leather they use usually come from the north; adding: “Nigeria has the best quality of leather, which can survive hard use and variation of weather condition; especially those from Kano’’. “We in Onitsha have the skills and the technical know-how; but we lack machineries to work on the leathers to improve it to a very refined standard that will match the Italian type,’’ he said. However, the Chairman of United Butchers Association of Main Market Onitsha, Chief John Nweze said that the love and demand for “ponmo’’ meat keep rising by the day. Nweze alleged that some of their customer recently discovered that ponmo meat was a rich source of dietary fibre and contains little fat or protein as it is found in other parts of meat. “There is an ever growing demand for ponmo and today you hardly have unsold ponmo meat except if it was not well roasted; while the quantity of ponmo meat sold in our abattoir each day would be over N400,000,’’ he said. 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. “Yes, the Federal Government can start by building and giving soft loans to people wishing to set-up tanneries and once this is done; there should be ban on import of leather works to safe-guard these budding industries. “While there should be sensitization for our people to see the need to take to other sources of meat available and affordable in their localities,’’ he said In Aba, Abia 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. “Being in the leather value chain, we work with leather as the key material for our production but we cannot access leather from Kano tanneries because they prefer to export their leather. “This is because they enjoy the Export Expansion Grant (EEG) which gives them more benefit than selling to us. “We use mostly imported leather here. A large quantity of this imported leather is left over brought to us. At the end of the day, its quality affects the quality of our work,” he said. Williams said that the large quantity of leather which they use cannot be quantified stressing that with 16, 658 members in the workforce, the quantity is very high. He said that the quality of leather they get from abroad is not as good as the quality of Nigerian –made leather which is not synthetic as the foreign products from China. He, however, said that the federal government was reviewing the EEG granted these tanneries and expressed hope that from the review, the new policy will give them access to Nigerian leather. “We expect that at the end of the review, the revised policy from the review will encourage the local marketing of locally made leather goods so that we can produce leather works like shoes, bags and belts that have good quality,’’ he said. Williams said that operators in the sector do0 not expect government to give them money but to make policies that would assist them to grow the industry. He also said that they require government’s intervention by way of providing them with infrastructure, equipment and loan facilities to improve their work and increase their productivity. Williams also called on the government to support investors who want to invest in the sector and to check importation of leather products in order to encourage and grow the local leather industry. In Imo, there are no state Tanneries or leather industries. The only shoe industry in the state was closed down in 2014, since then no leather products have been produced in the state. 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 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 major setback to the quest for socioeconomic development of the state. He said absence of tanneries were affecting establishment of functional shoe, belt and bag industries that use leather as major raw material. The executive secretary said the quantity of ponmo sold in the state could not be quantified but noted that the trade was a source of self employment to many. “The quantity of ponmo sold and consumed in the state cannot be quantified because dealers do not keep daily record of their sales. “But one thing is certain; the trade is lucrative as it engages both the young, old, the educated and illiterates,’’ Obiora said. He called on the Ebonyi government to initiate a policy that would encourage the establishment of leather industries to discourage the consumption hides and skin as ponmo in meals. “If the state establishes a working leather industry, the amount consumed by humans in meals would be greatly reduced and channelled into the manufacturing industries,’’ he added. Meanwhile, some dealers in the product at New Market Road, Enugu including Eugene Igbokwe, Vincent Anigor and John Onwe said that although they sold the product regularly, they could not state the quantity sold or consumed in tonnes. The residents of Umuahia have expressed the need for proper government regulation of the consumption of ponmo to check the waste of the product, which is an essential raw material for leader manufacturing industry. A cross-section of the people said that the use of ponmo as ingredient for soup and stew by many families had adverse effected the future of leader production in the country. Chief Augustine Okoro, a dealer in leather and bags, said that the consumption of ponmo had resulted in the scarcity and high cost of leather materials. A meat sealer in the Umuahia, Anthony Okereke, said that he could not explain the quantity of the product sold on a daily basis in tonnes, adding “I can only say that I make between N20,000 and N30,000 daily’’. “I do not sell in tonnes because the item is purchased mostly by women for soup making and not for industrial purposes. “If we are selling to leather manufacturers for industrial use, maybe we would be dealing in tonnes, but we retail the product, mostly to women and bachelors for consumption,’’ Okereke said. Speaking in the same vein, Mr Christopher Igwe, a butcher, said that the absence of leather manufacturing industries in Umuahia “makes the consumption of ponmo inevitable’’. 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. The butchers said that the government used to send those that will come and buy the skins from them but now they do not see those people again. The secretary of the Abakpa Abbattoir, Mr Ignatius Onwukwe said that the days were gone when companies used to come and buy the skins for company use. “As much as I know as the secretary of this abattoir. We sale the skins for those that used it for ponmo and it makes it cheaper. “Besides, we used to sale the skin based on the sides of the cow and that makes the prices to vary. “We used to sell them from 10000 to 17000 depending on the market demand for the day and the use of the skin for consumption brings attendant high cost of leather in the market. A female butcher at the Abakpa Market, Mrs Cecilia Agbo said traders used to go to the abattoir at Abakpa to buy the skin and use it to produce ponmo. “Before now the industries used to buy the skin for leather production which was far better than what is now. “Agbo recalls that at that time some group of people used to come and buy it for the company production of leather but today we do not see those people anymore at the abattoir,” she said. Another woman butcher from Agbani Enugu, Mrs Elizabeth Igwesi said that when companies used to buy the product its earned them a lot of money because the companies paid higher prices for hides and skin. “As am talking to you now, I do not think that there is any company in the state or beyond that buys the skins for production of leather as they used to. We the traders are the ones that buy the cow Skins from the abattoirs to produce Ponmo for human consumption,” she said. 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. “The company had been moribund for nearly two decades, until Gov. Kashim Shettima injected funds into it in 2013, to jump-start its operations. “The over N500 million returned profit recorded by Neital Nigeria Ltd in the 2013 fiscal year, was the first major profit made since its establishment 32 years ago. “With all necessary equipment in place, we gave ourselves a target of generating at least one million dollars profit in the two years of our resumption of full operations, that is from 2013 to 2015. “Following that intervention, Neital resumed operations and went into export of finished leathers to Italy and Spain, intensifying sales of finished leather in Nigeria, in addition to production and sales of shoes. “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. “We are determined to resuscitate the industry as soon as the insecurity bedeviling our dear state is over,” 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. Maizannah said that the improvement had led to an increase in the numbers of rams, cattle, sheep, goat and camels being slaughtered daily, from 160 to about 250. The Manager said gesture further boosted the capacity to preserve animal skin for consumption and use by hides and skin companies. “Unfortunately, the insurgency problem has badly affected businesses activities in the areas of skin production for shoe companies, bones for plate making, and preservation of blood for animal feeds. “We usually make about N400, 000 monthly in the sale of cow, cattle, rams, sheep and camel skin weekly, but due to the insurgency, the business virtually crippled. “Most of our veterans usually travel outside the state to sell animals skin, because the Maiduguri Neital company that used to patronise us, has losed its operations because of Boko-Haram insurgency,” he said. 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 sells 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. Malam Abubakar Maifata, Chairman of Hides and Skin Dealers Association in Gombe said the state exported over 50 tons of hides and skin worth over N4 million weekly to Italy and Southern part of Nigeria. Maifata said that the skins were being exported in different forms, namely fresh for consumption, or dry for production of shoes, bags and belts. According to him, there is need for the States and the Federal Government to come in by establishing tanneries that will process the skins to create job opportunities and generate revenue for the country. Alhaji Abdullahi Dan-Ila, State Chairman, Butchers Association, said hides and skin business was contributing to the growth of the economy. He said that they had introduced new preservation method which had helped in reducing losses. “After removing all the dirt and washing, we cut them into pieces and fry instead of drying,” he said. He said they packaged the skins in 10kg and 25kg bags, with the former selling for N35,000 and the latter, N75, 000. Meanwhile, some Gombe residents, were of the view that hides and skin meat (ponmo) should not be part of daily menu because it had no nutritional value. One of such persons, Mr Musa Daniel, said most people eat the delicacy because it was cheaper. “With little amount, you can have it, and so you continue deceiving yourself that you are eating meat,” he said Another respondent, Malam Yahaya Salihu, said, government should develop a policy to promote the use of hides and skin for leather to discourage its consumption. “Government should liaise with butchers Association to help in controlling the conversion of hide in to ponmo,” he suggested. Mr Gabriel Unenda, an economist in Yola, also urged the Federal government to harness the potentials of the hides and skin as a key source of revenue generation. Unenda, a Director-General of a private consultancy firm in Yola, said that the various components the skin, could be turned to many other items, through the use of technology. “Apart from normal household delicacy (ponmo), it could be turn into powder for preservation, medicine, and many other things. Alhaji Wada Ishiaku, a cattle dealer in Yola, advised Nigerians to make ponmo a household delicacy “if government people do want it. Ishiaku noted that an increase in demand could further increase its market value, which is good for the economy of those dealing in it. “I am not educated, but I hear that ponmo is rich in mineral salt and iron, adding that the body system required such components for survival.’’ 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 Abdullahi Danlitti, a meat seller, concurred, saying “due to cultural differences, ‘ponmo’ meat, unlike in the south and some parts of Northern Nigeria, has very low patronage. “The communities here rely on red meat, cow, goat and sheep head, instead of ponmo,” he added. The butcher said cow, sheep and goat skins were mostly sold to skin merchants, who sold same to tanneries in Kano. Babagana Alkali, another Damaturu resident, said with the abundance of livestock in the state, the issue of turning ‘hides and skin’ into a ‘delicacy’, did not arise. “You cannot serve important guests in your house with ‘ponmo’ meat, or make the mistake of serving same during occasions; it is foreign and not in our culture,” he remarked. 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. Miko, however, said it would be difficult for the government to stop people from consuming ‘ponmo’, and therefore advised that the National Leather Research Institute, Zaria, be equipped to sensitize members of the public on its financial rather than nutritional value. Also , the Chief Butcher of Dutse modern abattoir, Malam Ado Pawa, said that about 10 to 15 cows and 30 to 40 sheep and goats, were slaughtered daily in the abattoir. Pawa said 80 per cent of the hides and skins were consumed as delicacy by people. The Chief Butcher, therefore, urged the government to ban the consumption of the skins, and encourage its export for revenue generation. In Bauchi, the General Manager of the state–owned Bauchi Meat Factory, Dr Alkasim Ibrahim, said that the company produces 10,000 kg of hides and skin monthly when fully operational, slaughtering 250 cattle. According to him, the skins are supplied mainly to leather companies across the country. According to him, the biological value of protein obtained from “Kpomo“ is suspect because leather is almost pure collagen.” According to him, Collagen is a natural component of skin that protects, nourishes and firms the skin He, however, stated that banning “kponmo“ in order to produce more leather would cause an economic loss to the livestock sector. Prof. Sarah Anyanwu, the Head of Economics department, University of Abuja, said government would generate more revenue if the hides and skins products popularly known as ‘ponmo’ was processed into leather. Anyanwu said that it would be better to export the hides and skins and get foreign exchange than eat the product as local delicacy called `ponmo’. According to her, the product would be better used as raw material for making bags, shoes, foot mats and many more. “I do not see anything that people get from eating it because it adds no nutritional value to our health,” she said. She further reiterated that the country was not gaining much from the consumption and sale of ‘ponmo’ . Anyanwu therefore advised that it should be channeled to something that would add value to the revenue generation of the country. Mr Okoroafo Chinedu, of Chidi Best restaurant, in the area said he made lots of profit from the sales of ‘ponmo’. ” I sell ponmo because people like eating it. It is not as cheap as they say because a small piece goes for N150 compared to a piece of beef which is N50. Also speaking, Mrs Ngozi Edeh, a Ponmo’ seller at Muda lawal Market said that demand was high due to regular consumption of the delicacy. She said that many people preferred to include ‘ponmo’ in vegetable soup and were not bothered about its nutritional value.
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