The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control has closed down three factories that specialise in importing hides into the country for human consumption as ponmo.
The three factories are located on Unity Avenue, Ijagemo; Sosanya Street, Ijegun; and Adedayo Ayodeji Street, WAZOBIA Bus Stop, Abaranje, all in the Alimosho Local Government Area of Lagos State.
It was learnt that residents of Adedayo Ayodeji Street had protested the continued activities of one of the factories in their area, saying the stench from the hide processing was unbearable.
The Deputy Director, Intelligence Unit, NAFDAC, Mr Francis Ononiwu, on Tuesday said one Isaac Nwaebo was arrested because he tampered with the agency’s seal on his premises.
He added that when the NAFDAC officials visited Nwaebo’s business premises the previous week, they discovered large quantity of hide, but only saw a handful of the item during Tuesday’s inspection of the facility.
Ononiwu stated that the agency would do everything within its power to ensure that such activities were nipped in the bud.
“When we first called at Nwaebo’s factory last week, there was a large quantity of hides; it appeared as if he just had his delivery. We decided to lock up the place and placed our seal on the door. When we came to check the place on Tuesday, the hides had all been removed. He has to explain how and why the hides disappeared from the place we locked up.
“There are so many imported hide factories in Lagos. The hides are preserved with the same chemical used for embalming corpses. They are not safe for human consumption. We have been fighting them and we will get to them anywhere they are.”
Some residents of Unity Avenue, Ijagemo, alleged that water from their boreholes was no longer safe for drinking due to the underground pollution as a result of the activities the factory.
According to them, they are living in fear of an imminent outbreak of disease, noting that whenever the factory was discharging the imported hides from trucks, the entire community would be enveloped by an offensive odour as if from a morgue.
The residents, who pleaded not to be named, told our correspondent that the factory usually burns and washes the hides in the open environment, adding that they had now resorted to drinking sachet water and fetching water from other communities for other domestic uses.
In a letter to the Director General, NAFDAC, Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye, dated May 17, 2019, the residents pleaded with the agency to visit the factory with a view to stopping its activities.
The letter titled, ‘Re: Imported hide factory operating on Unity Avenue, Ijagemo’, alleged that the product from the factory was poisonous to human health.
The letter read in part, “For your information, each time they are discharging the hides from the trucks, the whole community smells like a mortuary.
“They burn and wash the hides in the environment; therefore, the air we breathe in is poisoned, while the wastewater from the washed hide sinks into the aquifer to pollute our boreholes.”
It was gathered that activities in the factory had been suspended.
A resident told our correspondent that the Nigeria Customs Service allegedly seized some containers meant for the factory at the port, adding that the seizure was the reason why the factory had been idle for a while.
An employee of Superstars Nursery/Primary School in the area said the proprietress, Mrs I. Awotedu, had a private discussion with the owner of the factory, one Mrs Esther Nwaebo, on how she could manage the situation by discharging her goods at night when the pupils would have been home.
She stated that the pupil population had declined as many parents had withdrawn their children from the school to avoid the possible outbreak of diseases.
She said, “Many parents have withdrawn their children from the school, because of the stench emanating from the factory, which is located besides the school.
“I complained about the matter to our madam and she is not happy about it. She said she would meet with the owner of the factory again when she returns to Nigeria.
“The school was established before the factory. I heard that the factory had been closed down before it was recently reopened. I don’t know how it managed to reopen without the knowledge of the authorities.”
A man, who claimed to be a driver at the factory, said there was nothing wrong with the business, noting that more than 80 per cent of the residents of the area had been eating the ponmo coming out of the factory.
He said he had not heard of any health issue caused by the consumption of the ponmo.
The man, who did not give his name, stated, “There is no side effect in consuming the hides. I have been living here for eight years and I have not seen anybody that has been killed by the stench or consumption of the animal skin. Anybody who complains of having an infection after eating the imported ponmo is a liar.
“I usually convey the product from the port to the factory; I also take it to different destinations and I eat it too.
“Whenever people start succeeding in their business, others will complain; they will want the business to close down. I am a Christian, I don’t support evil. The skins are imported as hides; more than 80 per cent of the residents eat this ponmo. How many people have died since they have been eating it?
“There are more than 10 of such factories in different parts of Lagos State. The companies pay Customs duty and the goods are cleared from the port.”
Esther told PUNCH Metro that she inherited the business from her grandmother, noting that she was not selling ponmo for human consumption, but deals in hides, which are mixed with corn after preparation to feed chickens and pigs.
She said, “I don’t sell ponmo; what we do is hide. When we dry the hides, people who produce milk usually buy from us for their local milk production. Some of the buyers use the product to feed chickens and pigs. The ones people eat are the local ponmo, usually called ponmo Ijebu. They come from the North, especially Niger and Sokoto states.
“This place has been in existence for more than 25 years. I inherited it from my grandmother. There was no other house when we built this factory; my grandmother gave life to this place. If someone meets somebody in a place and wants to push her out, it is really bad. We have chemicals that we use to deodorise the environment.”