Jude Okoro, Calabar The Federal Government has decried the incessant communal clashes between Ukelle community in Yala Local Government Area of Cross River State and their Izzi neighbours in Ebonyi State. The government said crisis has not only affected the farming communities, but has far-reaching consequences on food security in the country. Read also: Anambra…
•The meat increases libido, reduces reproductive organ diseases – Experts
•The Chinese connection
Obinna Odogwu, Abakaliki ([email protected]gmail.com)
The domestication of donkeys, according to findings, started more than 5,000 years ago. And the beast, like the horse, is considered one of man’s closest allies in the animal kingdom. It is humble, energetic and loyal; it can, indeed, go the extra mile for its ‘friend.’
However, over the years, as the world became more industrialised, the reliance on donkeys for the execution of day-to-day tasks dropped drastically in many parts of the world. So, technology inadvertently brought new challenges for donkeys.
The new world did not bring relief to the animal neither did it promote its population growth as it has become raw material for industries. Put differently, donkeys are now slaughtered for industrial uses.
When slaughtered, the bone is used for the production of ceramic plates, cups, spoons and other kitchen utensils. The blood meal is used for the production of domestic animal feeds, while the flesh serves as protein in some climes.
Given the high rate of hunger around the globe occasioned by food insecurity, many people now see donkeys as a cheap source of meat.
In China, for example, donkey hide is in high demand because, according to reports, the Chinese use it for the production of traditional medicine.
Donkey hide, Daily Sun gathered, produces a rubbery, gelatine-like substance known in China as ejiao, when it is boiled. The ejiao has enormous medicinal value and, therefore, it is processed into gelatinous bars, pills or tonics that are used to treat medical conditions such as insomnia, dizziness, nose-bleeding and dry cough.
The users, especially the Chinese, believe it is also an anti-ageing agent. Moreover, it is believed to increase libido and reduce the chances of developing reproductive organ diseases among post-menopausal women.
For these reasons, the donkey population around the globe is drastically decreasing, especially in the western world and China, where demand for the beast is high. Hence, manufacturers are turning to Africa for donkey bones, blood meal and hide.
Inside Ezzamgbo donkey (jaki) market
Every morning, scores of donkeys, known as Jaki in local parlance, are slaughtered at Nkwo Jaki Market in Ezzamgbo, Ohaukwu Local Government Area of Ebonyi State.
Buyers from different parts of the country, especially the North Central, line up early for different parts of the donkey, excluding the Chinese merchants, who trade mainly in the animal’s hide.
Every day, the market, located along the Enugu-Abakaliki Expressway, is busy. Daily Sun gathered that towards afternoon each day, when the pressure in the market has reduced, the traders begin to dry of the blood meal, bones and other parts, ahead of the following day’s business.
When our correspondent visited the market recently, it was a beehive of activities. About 98 per cent of the butchers were women.
In the Nkwo Jaki Market, there is division of labour. The few men in their midst are responsible for killing the beast, extracting its hide and cutting the meat into chunks, while the women do the rest.
One of the butchers in the market, Mrs. Esther Umeh, hails from Mgbo community in Ohaukwu council area.
In a chat with Daily Sun, she disclosed that, given how lucrative the business was, she relocated from Lagos State with her family to Ebonyi, her home state.
“This is my second year in this business. I started when the demand for donkey hide became high. In fact, we relocated from Ikeja, the capital of Lagos State, to Ebonyi State because of this business,” she said.
She disclosed that the high demand for the hide came shortly after the Ebonyi State government contracted a group of veterinary doctors to certify the safety of donkey meat for human consumption. The result, according to her, indicated that “donkey meat is free of diseases and can qualify as white meat.”
“Few months later, some Chinese came here and were buying the hides in large quantity. They said that they used it in the production of some drugs and vaccines.
“That opened a bigger business for us. On a good day, we slaughter about four trailerloads of donkeys. The major part needed by the Chinese is the hide.
“Here, donkey does not have a fixed prize; it depends on the size. A big donkey goes for about N40,000 while the small one goes for between N10,000 and N20,000,” she said.
Negative business policies
Just when the business has begun to boom, the Ebonyi State government and the authorities of Ohaukwu Local Government Area have reportedly introduced negative policies that could negatively affect the fortunes of the butchers.
Mrs. Umeh told Daily Sun that, since the state government discovered that donkey business was a goldmine, it stopped the Chinese merchants from coming to the market and engaged contractors to serve as middlemen between the buyers and the sellers.
The butchers alleged that the government agents not only collect taxes but also intimidated them and have taken over the business, thereby denying them the gains they would have made.
“Donkey hide is far more expensive than the meat. When the business started, the hide was sold for N60,000 but now it’s N12,000. There are bad government policies that caused it. There are contractors who act as middlemen between us and the Chinese merchants and they pay some stipulated amount into government’s coffers.
“Before, the Chinese came to the market themselves, but now these middlemen buy and supply to them in the various hotels where they lodge. Sometimes, they convey the hides to the airports for the Chinese merchants. Unlike before, they now buy in kilogrammes, N3,000 per kilogramme.
“This policy has affected me negatively. Before, I used to slaughter about 12 donkeys per day but now I kill only two because of ‘bad market’ created by this negative policy” she lamented.
“Again, the bones are used in the production of ceramic plates, cups and other household wares, as well as in the production of feeds for animals. The blood meal is used in the production of feeds for chicken.”
The chairman of Organised Butchers’ Association in the area, Mr. Onwe Sunday Valentine, added that, apart from the engagement of contractors, some government officials have hijacked their business.
“Before, the business was booming. But it is no longer like that. This is because of the bad policy of the state government. The women in the business incur losses often and, because of that, we the owners of the business don’t get returns as before.
“The painful part is that government officials are now interested in the business. They have hijacked everything because they saw that it was a goldmine of sorts.
“Aside from the stones business in Mgbo, donkey business is the only source of revenue for our people in the entire Ohaukwu council area. But, instead of allowing poor people to earn their livelihood from it, government officials also compete with us.
“Even the state governor is also interested in the business and whatever happens here. He appointed some persons to collect tax but I do not know whether he monitors their activities here.
“They increased the tax collected on each donkey. As a result, the women make little or no gain. Before, government collected N150 per donkey but now it is N400. This is in addition to other taxes that women pay. At the end of the day, you realise that they make little or no gain, unlike before.
“Everybody is crying bitterly about it. I would like the governor to look into the over-taxation. I believe that some of those tax collectors are blackmailing the government by increasing the amount more than what the government stipulated.
“There was a time the donkey hide was sold between N52,000 and N57,000 each but now it has come down to between N8,000 and N12,000.”
Secretary, Ezzamgbo General Butchers’ Association, Mr. Amadi Okechukwu Emmanuel, lamented that the state government generates a lot of money from the market every month but they are yet to feel the impact.
“The state government generates about N3 million per month. But the problem we suffer is that we don’t feel the impact of government here despite the huge amount of money they generate from here.
“All these facilities you see here were put in place by us, using our private resources. We drilled the borehole, constructed the slab, built the slaughtering bay and constructed the drainage with our own money. Since the government takes from us, it is only proper that they do one or two things here for us.
“Due to much tax, some dealers in the business have been scared away. When you go to Lagos or northern Nigeria, you’ll buy it cheaper compared to what we sell here. Even with your transportation fare and other expenses, it is still cheaper in Lagos and in the North. The difference is that we slaughter in larger quantity here.
“Another challenge is that immigration officers most times harass and arrest the Chinese buyers alleging that they don’t have relevant permit to come to Nigeria. As a result, many of them were scared away.
“We sell the blood meal using the scales. Each kilogramme is sold for between N25 and N30,” he said.
Poor sanitation in Nkwo Jaki Market
The drainage channels in Nkwo Jaki Market were very dirty and smelly when the reporter visited. Maggots of different sizes were swimming in the filthy gutters.
Confronted on the poor level of sanitation in the slaughterhouse, some of the butchers, who craved anonymity for fear of victimisation, heaped the blame on government. They alleged that, despite the huge sums of money collected from the traders as tax every month, government placed little or no premium on sanitation in the market.
They accused government of being insensitive to their plight, alleging that they have over time been footing the bills on several needs in the market, which the government should have taken responsibility for.
When contacted on telephone, the chairman of Ohaukwu Local Government Area, Clement Oda, said that he was not aware of the allegations levelled against the state government.
He said: “I have not received any such complaint. Nobody has brought such matter to my table. These are serious allegations, which will require further inquiry.
“When they said government, it doesn’t really make much meaning. Talking about government suggests something complex. Somebody may have impersonated in the name of government, maybe creating interests in the name of government.
“You just told me now, I don’t think that the government I know and am part of will be part of an arrangement that can kill a local economy or will make it crumble. That is not part of our modus operandi. That is not how we work. At the local government level, I am not aware of such moves.
“The state government, which I know, cannot be part of an agenda or policy that will stifle business. I think there is need for further enquiry. Unfortunately, I have not received such complaints either by phone call or any means whatsoever.
“Whoever is making such allegations should be specific, not just bogus general allegations. Specifically, who are those agents of the government? We can start from there. If there is a syndicate that is perpetuating the fraud and giving us a bad name, it will give room to deal with the situation.
“The people making the allegations should be specific. However, I will investigate it.”