Politics: Let ponmo be Daily Parrot

Govt should address Nigeria’s major problems instead of thinking of banning this popular delicacy. Ponmo ko lo kan.

Like other bad news, the report that the Federal Government was contemplating banning ponmo came as a rude shock to millions of the delicacy’s lovers. This is not the first time that such proposal would be made public, though. I do not know the time it all started, but I know that sometimes in the 80s and 90s, we were told the imperative of banning the delicacy. I remember I had at least reacted to the proposal with an article titled ‘Ponmo for life’. In that article, I made it abundantly clear that as for me and my household, nothing can separate us from ponmo. Not sickness or anxiety; or ban; not even affluence because I love ponmo not necessarily because I am poor but because I chose to love it. I still stand by that decision.

It would appear that the Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of Leather and Science Technology (NILEST), Zaria, Prof. Muhammad Yakubu, stirred the hornet’s nest this time around when he said that the institute and other stakeholders would be approaching the National Assembly and state governments for a legislation to ban the consumption of cow skin. This, according to him is necessary to revive the moribund tanneries and leather industry in the country.

I thought Yakubu was going to tell us something different from the usual puerile reasons those before him had given for the ban. But he didn’t. As usual with Nigerian officials, he merely recycled the old and better-forgotten reasons: em, en, ponmo has no nutritional value. We have always heard that and it never took the proponents of that position far.

By the way, why do we like to recycle bad things in Nigeria? There is nothing Nigerian public officials would not recycle, except those things that would add value to our lives. They recycle worn-out excuses over anything under the sun. Remember the fuel subsidy debate. That was how they kept on trying to force subsidy withdrawal down our throats, telling us what they consider its advantages without telling us why their country that God gave crude oil must be importing petroleum products. Our public officials even recycle themselves when it is clear that many of them are unfit for their various positions. But we have not succeeded in recycling waste to wealth. We cannot recycle garbage to give us the much needed electricity and so on.

Sorry for that digression. It was called for, though.

As I was saying, Yakubu said when we eat ponmo, we are merely exercising our jaws. That we gain nothing from the exercise. Hear him: “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. ”

I dare say that it is fallacy to say that “Nigerians are the only people in the world that overvalue skin as food”, as Yakubu tried to make us believe. There are other places where ponmo is delicacy. At least Google told me so: “Cow skin/Cowhide also known as kpomo is the covering of a cow processed and used for cooking many delicacies in West African countries like Nigeria, Ghana, Togo, Cameroon, etc, and also in West Indian and the Caribbean.”

Even if Yakubu was right that we are the only ponmo-loving people in the world, what is wrong with that? What is wrong in believing in something and standing by that decision, irrespective of whether we are the only people in the world that believe in it or not?

Read Also: Seven reasons to avoid eating Ponmo

But ultimately it turned out that it is not for any altruistic love for the rest of us that Yakubu wants ponmo banned. Rather, he and his co-travellers want to kill our dear ponmo to save their own livelihood. Yakubu said our love for ponmo is partly why tanneries in the country are comatose. “If we get our tanneries, our footwear and leather production working well in Nigeria, people will hardly get ponmo to buy and eat”, he said. I wouldn’t blame Yakubu for advancing his personal interest. After all,

the NILEST that he heads was set up to promote leather production in the country, in line with provisions of the Agricultural Research Institute Act of 1975. What I detest is his attempt to kill our own joy so he and his co-travellers could be happy.

The truth of the matter is that Yakubu and Co. can never go far. Like their predecessors, they would soon meet a brick wall. This is because, even among the elite, the proposal to ban ponmo cannot fly. One, the ban, if ever there is anything of such, will not work. Just as the puerile arguments for subsidy removal (for a crude producing country that imports refined petroleum products), we have been hearing news about what the proponents of the ban call the bad aspects of ponmo. It’s like calling a dog a bad name in order to hang it. More importantly, are we saying there are no billionaires in this country today who cannot do without ponmo? The fact of the matter is that ponmo has grades. I have the locus to speak on it. I have eaten ponmo and I have eaten ponmo. So, I know what I am talking about.

Further research indeed makes me understand that ponmo “is a good weight loss meat that is unique with less calories and tastes nice when properly cooked in dishes.” To this, I can testify. There was this popular joint on the old Oregun Road (now Kudirat Abiola Way) some years ago, where we used to relax after a hectic day’s job. The woman who owned the joint was selling only ponmo which we usually washed down with whatever drink we bought. The woman deserved a national award for her dexterity in preparing the cow skin. It was so well cooked and garnished with pepper and other condiments. It was so tantalising that the joint attracted even managers of companies and other executives on the fairly eyebrow road. As a matter of fact, hardly would you get to the place without buying the ponmo, whether it was in your original plan or not because of the open invitation that the display of the delicacy offered from the show glass where it was tantalisingly displayed. As big as the show glass was, the contents would almost always be exhausted by about 7 o’clock in the evening. I used to think that a beer joint cannot fetch money without pepper soup until I tasted the Oregun Road experience. The thing is for you not to taste it. Once you did, you got hooked to it. In our days as children, our parents would tell us that such experience could teach a child to steal!

Be that as it may, it is clear from public reactions to the depressing news that the Buhari government does not need any expert to tell it never to contemplate banning ponmo unless the government wants to think or behave like someone who plucks leaves and puts in his mouth in the presence of the deaf. Such a person is courting the trouble of the deaf (eni ja ewe senu penren, iyen  lo nwa ijongbon odi). Whoever has seen the deaf in an angry mode will agree that that is not the best of troubles to court.

I know that there are issues with the way ponmo is processed in some places. The tyres they use in preparing it, which could make people susceptible to cancer and so on. But beheading is not the solution to headache. To ban ponmo on account of such crudity would be like killing a fly with a sledge hammer. It is analogous to calling for a ban on vehicles because of road crashes. Several other edibles are treated in the same unhygienic and crude manner. I often see the way cassava flour, yam flour, etc are dried on bare concrete by the roadside whenever I am travelling. What the situation calls for is continual enlightenment on how to better process these items to make them safe for human consumption.

Meanwhile, those who want ponmo banned should understand one thing: and that is that each time they contemplate it, they never go far; in no time the matter fizzles out. Nigerians see it as storm in a tea cup. As a matter of fact, the more they keep telling Nigerians what they consider to be the disadvantages of the delicacy, the more ponmo continues to get more converts. There must be something beyond the ordinary to this.

I seize this opportunity to assure my fellow ponmo lovers that our popular delicacy is king in its own right; even if it does not wear a crown. And no man born by a woman, or who dropped from the sky or sprang up from the soil can ban it. Ponmo ko lo kan. Nigeria has so many problems that require more urgent attention. Even if it means going barefooted to preserve the sanctity of ponmo, we are ready to go barefooted.

Anyone whose existence of ponmo is threatening his or her life or livelihood should creatively think of an alternative to it as source of raw materials for their job. This is the age where creativity makes all the difference. If cow skin is no longer available to make shoes, they should look for something else or perish. They should not kill our delicacy in the process of finding a way out of their own predicament.

Yakubu himself seemed to recognise what he and his colleagues are up against when he said that, “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.” I can assure him; this one too would be thrown away. If the poorest country in the world bans ponmo, what then would be the fate of the millions who cannot afford something else?

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