Ijebu igbo, a historical town in Ijebu North Local Government Area, Ogun State, is fast becoming a popular destination for hardworking jobless graduates desirous of legitimate income. For some years now, the community which thrives on processing and sales of edible cow skin known locally as ponmo, has become a fertile ground for unemployed individuals within and outside the state to become business owners and employers of labour. Traders, majorly women, besiege Oke Agbo and surrounding communities littered with bukas (the outlets where the processing and sales of the product are done) for acquisition and onward transportation to different parts of the country. INNOCENT DURU, who visited the area, wonders what fate awaits the hordes of traders involved in the business and the huge population that depend on it as meat source with a plan in place by the Federal Government to ban the consumption of ponmo in the country in order to revive the leather industry, particularly now that unemployment and poverty rates are going through the roof.
ABIBAT Jimoh, a graduate of Business Administration from Ogun State Government owned Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), ilived in misery and penury after completing her studies in 2001. Many years after completing her education and the compulsory one-year National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), she combed the nooks and crannies of Ogun and neigbouring states foremployment to no avail. All she could get were ad hoc jobs that paid her pittance.
At some point, she got introduced to ponmo business but she turned it down, waving it off as a business for old and uneducated women. She, however, had a change of mind after some time and decided to give the business a try, and that marked a turning point in her life.
She said: “I am happy doing this business. I am now an employer of labour and no more a job seeker.
“Interestingly, there are many graduates involved in this business here in Ijebu Igbo. We learnt the trade from our elders who didn’t hesitate to put us through.”
Exuding joy over her transformation from a job seeker to a business owner, she said: “I have people working in my buka (outlet) as you can see, and I pay them on a daily basis.
“People who earn a living from each buka are many and they include people who fetch water, transporters who help to deliver the ponmo to different locations, wood sellers, women who help to count the ponmo and many others.
“Some go home with as much as N4,000 on a daily basis depending on the volume of what they do.”
Sadia, a graduate of Tai Solarin College of Education, now Tai Solarin University of Education, also had a depressing experience searching for a paid job.
“I graduated from Tai Solarin in 2008. I took up teaching jobs at different times in private schools but the salaries were too poor and were not coming regularly. Some of the schools were paying between N8,000 and N10, 000. The little I was getting I spent on transportation,” she recalled.
Explaining why she ventured into ponmo business after everything else failed, she said: “The cost of fish and meat is outrageous and ponmo comes as a cheap alternative.
“If you buy N3,000 meat to make a pot of soup for your family, it will almost be finished after one or two meals. The same applies to fish. But if you buy N1,000 worth of ponmo, it will stay for a long time.
“I am happy that I ventured into the business because there is no way I would not make money on a daily basis.”
Also sharing her experience, another university graduate, who gave her name as Sola Ogun, said the business has grown beyond what it was many years ago. She said even medical doctors and other professionals are involved in the business.
Ogun said: “A doctor comes every 10 days to buy from me. I also have a headmistress who comes from Sango Ota to buy and resell. There are even people in the UK and other foreign countries that I supply. Sometime last month when there was a hiccup in air travel in Nigeria, it was through Ghana that they took the ponmo to the UK if you have N56 million to be able to buy a container. It is a good business that helps people to earn a living.
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There were more revelations about how the ponmo business has been empowering unemployed graduates when our correspondent encountered another graduate, Aliu Adewale, who also expressed joy doing the business.
Adewale said: “I have been doing this business for some time now and I find it rewarding. It is a business that employs many people because it has so many levels of processing.
“It is not something that one person can do singlehandedly. Sorting of cow skin is a business on its own.
“The cow skin comes in containers and a container contains a minimum of 4,000 pieces. Containers carrying small sizes of cow skin cost over N25 million each.
“Some people prepare them dry and send them abroad. But I don’t export mine. Women come from places like Ondo, Lagos, Ibadan and so on to buy it.
“The dry one is even sold in some supermarkets. The number of women involved in this business is very high.”
Quantifying the natives involved in the business, he said: “Fifty per cent of our people are into the business. There are people who only travel to the north and other places like the Sudan to bring in the cow skin.
“Another set of people will go and buy from them and process it and another set will come toIjebu Igbo from different locations to buy it.
“The cows that are killed in Nigeria are not enough to meet the quantity of ponmo that we process, so people go outside Nigeria to get it.
“Besides the amount of sunshine in Nigeria cannot be compared with what obtains in the Sudan. The intensity of sunshine in their country makes their cow skin to be different from ours.”
Outside Ijebu Igbo, the number of graduates that are reaping from ponmo business is staggering. Faith, who plies her trade in Ikorodu area of Lagos, has moved from supplying people in different parts of the country to sending her wares abroad.
“I I deal in fried dry ponmo,” she said. “I have been doing this business for the past five years. I supply people within and outside Lagos, including Canada.
“The dry ponmo does not smell and has a long shelf life. I get orders from outside Nigeria and use the money I make from it to take care of my children and also support my husband.
“I supply ponmo to no fewer than seven states in Nigeria.”
Protest over plan by FG to ban ponmo consumption
There has been growing concern among Ijebu Igbo and other traders since the Federal Government said, last week, that it was planning a legislation aimed at banning the consumption of ponmo in the country to revive the leather industry.
There are fears among the people that their means of livelihood, which is one of the mainstays of the community, is on the verge ofbeing aborted.
Many of the natives avoided comments on the issue as they feared our correspondent was a government official who had come to compound their fears. Many of them would not even take the risk of speaking anonymously or even on the phone.
But Abibat Jimoh, one of the few respondents who braved the odds, said: “If they ban the sales and consumption of ponmo, the number of people that they would send into early graves would be too many, because the number earning a living from the sales of ponmo is innumerable.
“Just check all the markets in the Southwest and tell me if there is any place where you will not see women selling raw ponmo.
“Aside from those selling raw ponmo, there are those who only sell peppered ones for a living aside from restaurants, eateries and food vendors that also add it to their business.
“Apart from the business angle, people who don’t want to eat beef prefer to eat ponmo. Poor families who cannot afford to buy fish and meat now depend on ponmo. What do they expect such people to eat if they ban ponmo?”
Also speaking, Aliu said: “I don’t buy into the idea of the government ban ning ponmo because of the leather industry. It is a wrong thought.
“If they want to produce leather, they shouldgo and buy cow skin and leave us to buying cow skin for the purpose of producing ponmo.
“The argument that it is not nutritious is also out of place. There is no time when you go to a hospital and you are told that you have a certain kind of illness because you are eating ponmo.”
Aliu fears that if the government bans the consumption of ponmo, it will affect the economy of many people not only in Ijebu Igbo but across the Southwest and beyond.
She said: “It will affect poor women selling in the markets and earning a living through it. It will also affect transporters because many women travel as early as 2am in order to be in Lagos by 5am.
“On many occasions, you will find 18-seater buses fully occupied by women leaving for different states to go and sell ponmo. It is the same transporters that will bring them back after they finish their business.
“Transporters make a lot of money from this, and it is when they make money that they will be able to buy things for their families.”
He added: “Ponmo is the only thing that the poor can afford to buy now. If the government should ban ponmo, what do they expect the common man to eat?
“Ponmo is very economical. Many people use it for their parties. If you want to buy a ram now, they will be telling you that the price is N60,000. But with N15, 000 ponmo, the pot will be full. It is very economical.
For Faith, the federal government’s statement is anti-people.
She said: “People are opting for ponmo because it is not expensive. If they say they want to ban ponmo, what alternative are they bringing to the table?
“The reason why more people consume ponmo now is because prices of fish and meat are out of reach. Is ponmo the problem that is facing Nigerians now?
“Thousands of people will be out of work if the government goes ahead to carry out its threat.
“You cannot be thinking of reviving the leather industry by taking hordes of the citizens out of job.
“Aside from people who are selling it, banning ponmo will also leave many people without meat in their food.”
Herbal practitioner also knocks FG
A herbal medicine practitioner and Director of Adelite Herbal Clinic, Adetola Soyemi, in a post circulating on social media, said the Nigerian government is being confused over the demand for cow-skin in leather and food source. “Both are sine qua non in the economic stability of the country. Nevertheless, I will choose cow skin as ponmo higher than as leather making, because food comes first in the essential needs of man.
“The DG of leather agency said ponmo is worthless. How did he come about that? Why do we play politics with everything in this country? Why?
“I don’t agree with the reason given by the FG at all. They say that some chemicals can pile in the skin of the cow and may cause harm. How?
“This can only be possible in plants, and after a period of time, the chemicals are used up. If the leather industries need leather, they should establish their own ranch and possibly train more nomads.
“Ponmo is very healthy, contains low level protein. What will adults gain from that? High level proteins are cheese, milk, chicken… these are even worse, only good for children but injurious to adults.
“Increasing fat also is associated with rich protein. The protein in ponmo contains collagen, which is for strong bone and skin tissue formations. A lot of people suffer from chronic bone pains; most of them have low collagen.
Read Also: NAFDAC warns against consumption of animal hides, Ponmo
“Ponmo is highly recommended to sundry, soak in water and wash ponmo to reduce the level of contaminants.
“It is best to remove the hair and boil it properly before consumption.
“Ponmo is a good weight loss substitute that is unique with fewer calories and tastes nice when properly cooked in dishes.”
“However, Ponmo has unsaturated fats too but not as high as red meat and other high proteinous meat. Laboratory analysis on these meats reveals the presence of high unsaturated fat and cholesterol.
“This fat is high enough to form dangerous clumsy blocks on the blood vessels.It is due to this that I have so much kicked against the consumption of red meats among our aged and middle aged men.
“Therefore, ponmo is recommended because it is health friendly for those that wish to live long.
“FG needs to give facts to back their claim. There must be some ingredients or chemicals they must name to prove that cow skin is not good for consumption. Come up with scientific facts!
NBA Chief threatens to sue FG
The Chairman of NBA-SPIDEL, Dr Onyekachi Ubani has threatened to drag the Federal Government to court if they make good their threat to ban the chewable delicacy known as ponmo in the country as reported in the news.
Dr Ubani insists that ponmo is the common delicacy that is mostly enjoyed by the citizens due to its affordability. Fish, meat and other proteins have become very expensive and thus unaffordable by the common man in Nigeria.
He wondered why our leaders derive so much pleasure in inflicting pain and agony on the common man in every aspect of governance. He queried why and how the government always goes against the things the common man derives pleasure in?
“The truth is that ponmo remains the most constant meat-like substance in stews and soups in many kitchens, and it beats our imagination that every government in Nigeria always plans to take away that substance from their dining tables.
While politicians and rich Nigerians chew all manner of proteins in every of their sumptuous meals with their loved ones, they have become restless and jealous of the only thing that the common man chews while eating their meals of “affliction”.
“Is such government pronouncement and policy of banning ponmo fair and just? The health danger of ponmo is yet to be proved conclusively within the scientific community.
“Besides, no Nigerian has died and it is announced that ponmo was responsible. So what are they talking about?”
Dr Ubani advised the government to desist from the threat and ensure that such wicked and callous policy does not see the light of the day.
However, he said, if they fail and refuse to abide with this free advice, they should be prepared for a prolonged legal suit that may end up in the Supreme Court on the illegal ban.
“I shall be prepared to undertake this public interest case on behalf of millions of Nigerians who consider this delicacy too palatable to be taken off their meal table, more so when it remains the only affordable substance that has a semblance of meat and fish while enjoying it.
“A word is enough for the wise,” he concluded.
The Federal Government last week said it was proposing a legislation to ban the consumption of animal skin, known locally as ponmo, to revive tanneries.
The Director-General, Nigerian Institute of Leather and Science Technology, NILEST, Zaria, Muhammad Yakubu, said this in Abuja on Sunday.
NILEST was set up to promote leather production as provided in the Agricultural Research Institute Act of 1975. The institute conducts research on the production andproducts of leather and the utilisation of local tanning materials in the country.
Yakubu, who said the litigation was necessary to revive the comatose leather industry in the country, said the habit of eating animal skin, which has no nutritional value, should be stopped to save the industry and boost the nation’s economy.
The Director-General added that the institute, in collaboration with stakeholders in the industry, would approach the National Assembly and state governments to bring out legislation banning ponmo consumption.
He said: “To the best of my knowledge, Nigerians are the only people in the world that overvalue skin as food. After all, ponmo has no nutritional value.
“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.”
He also said the current National Leather Policy had addressed some fundamental problems of the sector.
Yakubu said: “If we get our tanneries, our footwear and leather production working well in Nigeria, people will hardly get ponmo to buy and eat.
“When implemented fully, it would turn around most of the comatose tanneries and ginger greater output in production.”
Unemployment and poverty figures in the country have continued to nosedive over the years.
Statista, an online platform in a post said: “In 2022, the unemployment rate in Nigeria is estimated to reach 33 per cent. This figure was projected at 32.5 per cent in the preceding year.
“Chronological data show that the unemployment rate in Nigeria rose constantly in the past years. In the fourth quarter of 2020, over 33 per cent of the labour force was unemployed, according to the Nigerian methodology.
yakubu and ubani
On the poverty level in the country, the World Bank in March said that the number of poor Nigerians is projected to hit 95.1 million in 2022.
The bank made this known in its poverty assessment report titled ‘A Better Future for All Nigerians: 2022 Nigeria Poverty Assessment’.
The report noted that COVID-19 crisis is driving up Nigeria’s poverty rate, pushing more than 5 million additional people into poverty by 2022.
With real per capita GDP growth being negative in all sectors in 2020, the bank said poverty is projected to have deepened for the current poor, while those households that were just above the poverty line prior to the COVID-19 crisis would be likely to fall into poverty.
“Were the crisis not to have hit (the counterfactual scenario), the poverty headcount rate would be forecast to remain virtually unchanged, with the number of poor people set to rise from 82.9 million in 2018/19 to 85.2 million in 2020 and 90.0 million in 2022, due largely to natural population growth,” the bank said.
“Given the effects of the crisis, however, the poverty headcount rate is instead projected to jump from 40.1 per cent in 2018/19 to 42.0 per cent in 2020 and 42.6 per cent in 2022, implying that the number of poor people was 89.0 million in 2020 and would be 95.1 million in 2022.
“Taking the difference between these two scenarios, the crisis alone is projected to have driven an additional 3.8 million Nigerians into poverty in 2020, with an additional 5.1 million living in poverty by 2022.”
The report noted that Nigeria’s growth performance was declining even before the COVID-19 crisis.
“Between 2000 and 2014, it noted that Nigeria enjoyed a period of sustained expansion, during which the economy grew by around 7 per cent per year, outstripping the estimated annual population growth rate of 2.6 percent.
“Yet real GDP growth dropped to 2.7 per cent in 2015, then -1.6 per cent in 2016, as the decline in global oil prices induced Nigeria’s first recession in almost two decades.
“Growth has not recovered subsequently,” the bank said.