The seizure of poisonous cowhide popularly known as ponmo in Lagos State last week is causing panic among residents of the state and across the country. This is the second time in three months that such is happening. In May, the Lagos State task force on Special Offences and the police seized 30 tonnes of poisonous ponmo worth N10 million, following a raid on a cowhide processing factory at College Road in the state’s Igando area.
State Commissioner for Agriculture Oluwatoyin Suarau said at that time that six suspects were arrested over the incident. With that dust yet to settle, Lagos State government again confiscated a truckload of poisonous ponmo last week at Ijegun, in Alimosho Local Government Area.
Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture Dr Olayiwole Onasanya, who described the cowhide as Ebola ponmo, said it was imported into the country by some ‘unscrupulous individuals’. Onasanya said officials of the state government were informed about the matter after the police from Ikotun division intercepted the truck. The permanent secretary also said the cowhide was preserved with chemicals to serve as a leather material, but it was being sold for human consumption. he added that relevant agencies such as the Lagos State Waste Management Authority and environmental health officers were duly informed of the discovery.
The ministry advised residents to be vigilant and report any suspected sales of unwholesome food items to the nearest local government secretariat or the state ministry of agriculture. He further stated that the ministry would investigate how the poisonous ponmo got into the market, as well as dislodge factories and abattoirs producing them.
Already, the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) has closed down three factories that specialise in importing hides into the country for consumption as ponmo. It is very unfortunate that this crime involves fake ponmo, a prominent feature in most delicacies in the country, especially the South-west region. A lot of people consume it. It is sheer wickedness for anyone to endanger the lives of many people in a bid to make money. There are allegations that the imported hide preserved with embalming fluids such as formalin, which are not safe for human consumption.
There is no telling how many people have contracted diseases or even died due to the consumption of these ponmo. The authorities should not take this issue lightly. What happened to the first set of people that were arrested? Serious action must be taken against them. All those involved in this wicked criminal act must be properly dealt with. It is sad that barely three months after the last discovery, another one was made. That is an indication that the channel through which it is brought in has not been blocked.
A proper investigation must be conducted to find out exactly where these hides come from and those behind the importation. Also, NAFDAC should embark on a special inspection of ponmo in the market and ensure that all those that are poisoned are destroyed to save the lives of citizens. Consumers should also be sensitized on the dangers of consuming ponmo that was preserved with embalming fluid. They should also be told what to look out for while purchasing the item. It is surprising that the ponmo consumed in this country is imported. Ordinarily one would have expected that we had enough for consumption and even exportation. But since the product is now being imported, NAFDAC should involve Immigration and Customs to ensure proper checks at the borders so that the poisoned ones do not find their way into the country.
This is a wakeup call on NAFDAC to step up work because aside ponmo, there are other items in the market that are being preserved with chemicals that are harmful to humans. Traders need to be sensitised on the dangers of such practice and routine inspections should be carried out where anyone found wanting is arrested and made to face the law.