It’s all blood, rot in Kuje Abattoir located in Shadadi, a remote part of Kuje Area Council of the Federal Capital Territory. Inside, the ceiling is riddled with holes, the windows and walls too. A motorcycle sits at the door while two men wrestle to strap beef behind it. It’s the same story every day; the early morning slaughter and the bid to deliver supplies to markets.
The daily ritual begins at dawn. Every hand gets to work and the cows are slaughtered and prepared for the sale in markets. Sometimes there are 20 live cows, other times more. But recently the economy has taken a toll on the business, the chairman of the butchers explains. “Cows are now more expensive,” Ibrahim Garba, fortyish and wearing a sports jacket says. He, like most of his colleagues, has a lot to complain about.
Garba points at the floor where there are puddles of blood outside the small building that’s the abattoir. There are intestines, belly fats and other remains piled in heaps, all from slaughtered cows. It’s the way they have done things for a long time, heaping refuse outside until interested farmers pack them to use as manure. So the stink is always there, excreta and fresh blood in the air.
The butchers are upset that after they are done working they don’t have access to a washing area and the whole place remains dirty because there’s no water to use. “The borehole that was previously provided doesn’t work anymore and it hasn’t been repaired since,” Garba explains.
Another worker, Abubakar Musa says sometimes the place is left unwashed for days even though there are those assigned to wash it. “And during the raining season the dirt we pile up really looks terrible. You see worms crawling on the floors,” he adds.
Getting to the abattoir is quite an adventure. The road is one of the worst in Kuje Area Council, and then suddenly it isn’t a road anymore but a bush path. There are virtually no structures in sight, and then the abattoir emerges with men putting finishing touches to red meat.
Commuting to the abattoir is a big challenge for the men, but bigger for Basiru Ibrahim who is the unofficial transportation officer. He has been working in the abattoir for about 23 years now and resorted to transporting meat to the market when there wasn’t any help from the council.
“I had a car I used to use for transporting the meat. But it has broken down and I now use a motor cycle,” he says. He had always had the motorcycle and only stopped using it because the authorities don’t like that particular mode of transportation which leaves the meat exposed. But since the car packed up, the motorcycle became the only option. So they use nylon bags just to make the product they carry appear decent.
“The vehicle broke down because of the terrible nature of the road,” Ibrahim says, adding that with the fee of N500 they pay per cow, they deserve to be taken care of. “We butcher about 20 to 23 cattle daily. The least is when we butcher only 15.”
This is one of the abattoir’s major challenges, aside the deplorable state of the building. When Musa came eight years ago, the place was not “that bad.” The zinc roof was intact and so was the ceiling. But even then, there wasn’t any source of water except for the stream a small distance away. At a point water vendors were available and work was less hectic, but this too changed and it was back to the stream for them. There they wash their tools and bodies after the morning’s work.
The abattoir’s chairman who has worked in the place for 15 years explains that they really need the road and washing area to be repaired. “The floor is very filthy here,” he says.
The beef market has declined and Garba is not happy about this. He points a finger to higher cost of purchasing cattle, even though their prices range from N300,000, N200,000, to below a N100,000. But this is not their business, as butchers, sponsorship is thanks to their bosses, a group of businessmen who put money together and make an order from places like Lafia in Nasarawa State, Niger, Zamfara, Katsina and several other parts of the country.
But what do the butchers get paid for their hard work? “We are paid daily in cow tails,” Musa says. It’s what they take to the market and sell to put cash in their pockets, none of the meat or monetary payment. “One only gets the privilege of cash only as a boss’ act of generosity,” he adds.
So the business is a three-way affair. The bosses sponsor the cattle buy, the butchers prepare them for the market and other hands wait to sell at the beef.
Musa, the unofficial transporter of the abattoir’s meat had once threatened to ask their bosses to stop paying the N500 levy until conditions at the abattoir were improved. He has spent most of his life working in the place and takes the matter personal.
“The structure is falling. The structure we butcher the cows on is supposed to be bigger than it is with a drainage system running through. In this way, the blood wouldn’t form pools on the floor,” he explains, adding that they have reported to the Area Council about their plight as much as they can. But it was only a threat as he and his colleagues wait for help.