Friday Effiong wipes his face with the back of his palms to clean a simmering sweat as he struggles to separate the fleshy part of a cow leg from its bones with a machete. A customer awaits the product of this labour.
The impact of the heavy rain that fell that Tuesday morning was already telling on his face due to poor sales, but that did not discourage him from expressing his displeasure about the unhygienic condition of the Abak Central Abattoir in Akwa Ibom.
“As you can see, this is where we dump the wastes from the slaughterhouse,” Mr Effiong told PREMIUM TIMES, pointing at the gastric waste, about 20 metres high mixed with bones from slaughtered cattle that had been deposited for weeks and months.
He bemoaned the unhygienic environmental condition of the abattoir, pointing at the broken slabs and ceilings, saying they also do not have adequate water supply in the slaughterhouse.
“Even the septic tank here is bad, we need the government to help fix it,” he added.
Agriculture, forestry and land use account for about a quarter of the greenhouse gas emissions driving the devastating impacts of climate change in Africa. Although the largest agricultural emissions come from land conversion, such as clearing forests for farms, methane from livestock and rice production, and nitrous oxide from the use of synthetic fertilisers, little or no attention is paid to animal waste as a source of greenhouse gas.
In 2020, over 3 million cattle were slaughtered in Nigeria. However, slaughter-house wastes (a large proportion of which are faeces from emptied intestines) generated from abattoirs are oftentimes not disposed properly or recycled to prevent environmental hazards.
As the waste decomposes, harmful biogases are released. The two major greenhouse gases associated with slaughterhouses are methane and nitrous oxide.
According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a tonne of animal waste produces over 100 cubic metres of biogas has a concentration of 65 per cent methane (CH4) and 35 per cent carbon dioxide (CO2), both of which are among the five notorious greenhouse gases contributing to global warming.
The UNFCCC said methane has a potency of about 21 times that of carbon dioxide in terms of trapping atmospheric heat, translating to about 1500 cm3 of greenhouse gases emitted from dumpsite in every 15000 kg waste per day.
The Nigerian government in its updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) submitted to the UNFCCC in July last year proposed to mitigate four greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), as against the three GHG (CO2, CH4 and N2O) proposed in the previous NDC submitted.
However, there seems to be no clear implementation plans or effective regulations to curb GHG emissions from abattoirs across states in the country.
By implication, improper disposal of wastes from slaughterhouses and lack of climate-smart facilities in most abattoirs across the country pose public health risks, degrade the environment and also facilitate the emission of gases such as methane, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide among others, driving climate change effects.
Animal waste – emitters of greenhouse gases
Greenhouse gases are gases that absorb heat energy emitted from earth’s surface and reradiate it back to the ground causing the warming of the earth – global warming.
In the slaughterhouses visited by PREMIUM TIMES, it was observed that environments where these abattoirs are sited face air pollution— mostly from the roasting of cow skins, decomposing piled-up faeces, spilled blood and poor drainage systems. This makes workers and residents prone to zoonotic pathogens infection.
PREMIUM TIMES visited the Abak and Uyo Central abattoir, both in Akwa Ibom State, south-south Nigeria.
On entering these abattoirs, there is glaring evidence of a failed and a broken system that can be felt from the stench in the atmosphere.
This is largely due to a lack of effective and efficient slaughtering and processing facilities, inadequate clean water supplies, lack of refrigerators and facilities for the collection and storage of waste and absence of functional sewage or waste disposal systems, which contravenes the state’s “meat inspection law” that establishes the abattoir.
“For this law, the proper sanitary condition of the slaughterhouse shall be deemed not to be maintained if the slaughterhouse is not kept efficiently lighted, ventilated, cleansed, drained and provided with sufficient water supply or if any filth, refuse anything likely to affect the quality and cleanliness of the meat is allowed to remain therein,” states the Akwa Ibom state meat inspection law, chapter 84 (11 iii) seen by PREMIUM TIMES.
More butchers lament
Like Mr Effiong, Bright Emmanuel was seen opposite a large hip of cow faecal dumpsite. He was dripping in sweat as he tries to adjust the smoky firewood setup being used to roast cow skin.
“The thing don master me,” Mr Emmanuel said in pidgin language in response to the question of if he was disturbed by the unpleasant smells oozing out from the dump ground opposite him. “I don’t like the way the environment is because everywhere is dirty. We do pay tax to the Abak Local Government officials but we have been abandoned here. I wish the government could help evacuate all these things,” Mr Emmanuel added.
Even though a bore hole with high water tanks was spotted beside the slaughter house, he said they still do not have sufficient water to keep the slaughterhouse clean because of the lack of generator to power the borehole.
Another meat seller, Emmanuel Frank, popularly referred to as “Isantim”, who has been in the business for more than 25 years, said they usually dump their wastes within the slaughterhouse but they stopped after residents complained.
“… because of the people living here we do not dump the wastes around anymore. Whoever slaughters cows will go to dump their wastes anywhere,” he said.
Albert Robinson, who has been selling meat at the Abak Abattoir for more than a decade, said they cannot feel the government’s presence in their slaughter-house because they have been maintaining the place among themselves.
“We are the one cleaning this place, no assistance from the government. The government gave us water recently but they did not provide us with a generator to pump the water,” he said.
Mr Robinson said they do sell the bones from the slaughtered animals but they don’t have buyers for the faeces.
“If you go to the back of the slaughter-house you will see where we are dumping the cow poo,” he added.
Similar condition in Uyo Central Abattoir
“Who are you and where are you from?” Eyo Dan-Udo, the Uyo slaughterhouse’ chairman, queried on sighting this reporter.
This captured the attention of workers around him and attracted more onlookers to the spot. After several minutes of questioning, he finally agreed to be interviewed alongside his members.
“We slaughter between 50-60 cows here every day,” the chairman said, pointing at the butchers, who were busy dissecting the slaughtered cows for buyers to purchase.
Mr Dan-Eyo said they do try to make sure that wastes from the slaughterhouse are removed after the day’s work and that they make use of a wheelbarrow as well as other tools to do so. However, he said they lack major basic amenities and they are calling on the government to assist them in that regard.
“Over there we have some machinery that is supposed to work on all these things (waste disposal and processing) but because it is not working, we are waiting for the federal government to help us to restore it,” the chairman said.
With a modern outlook, the Uyo Central Abattoir and Livestock depot is arguably the biggest abattoir in Akwa Ibom State. Despite being sited at the heart of the state capital with major business activities, it lacks proper waste disposal and drainage systems.
The Saturday rain that fell when this reporter visited further exposed the poor state of the drainage pathways at the abattoir.
This reporter observed that the wastewater flowing out from the abattoir had nowhere to flow through because the drainage had been blocked by a high volume of gastric waste dumped within.
Due to a lack of sufficient water supply, workers at the slaughterhouse were seen bathing and cleaning themselves with the cow dung polluted stagnant water by the entrance to the abattoir, making them highly susceptible to zoonotic pathogens infection.
By the slaughterhouse entrance is a piled-up waste of cow dung. Workers were seen emptying basins of waste collected from the slaughterhouse and cruising through the stagnant water barefooted to the dump site.
Elizabeth Udobor, the veterinarian in charge of the Uyo Central abattoir, corroborated Mr Dan-Eyo. She said they are asking the government to provide them with a bio digester system so as to enable the proper recycling of wastes from the slaughterhouse.
“For now, what we are doing is that a tractor comes to pack the wastes to the farm for agricultural purposes,” she said.
Mrs Udobor explained that there is a flaring unit at the abattoir, and by the time they are able to process the wastes into cooking gas it will minimise the cost for the workers.
“It is costly to maintain the drainage over here, they spend a lot of money to remove the wastes from the drainages but if they are able to install the bio digester system it will help a lot,” she said.
The Akwa Ibom Commissioner for Agriculture, Offiong Offor, who oversees the activities of the abattoirs in the state, did not provide detailed response to our questions. She later said in a short message that, “There is water in the Abattoir, there are slaughtering facilities, there is also a functional sewage system which is properly disposed,” and promised to call back. She did not.
Threat of Zoonotic diseases
Ms Udobor, the veterinarian, explained that at the abattoir people are prone to zoonotic diseases such as anthrax caused by the bacteria, bacillus anthracis among many others.
She explained that zoonotic disease (infection or disease that is transmissible from animals to humans under natural conditions) can be contracted by direct contact with the animals and inhalation.
She said she does get a terse response like “abeg disease no dey kill African man” from workers at the abattoir whenever she asked them to use protective kits like nose masks and others.
“We give them prevention tips, and ask them to go for regular checkup because if zoonotic infections are detected on time, it can be managed properly,” Mrs Udobor said.
She noted that a key challenge bedevilling them at the abattoir is the lack of a good drainage system which can be easily resolved if a bio digester system is installed.
“The overhead tank water system designed for this place is not working anymore, it has been down for a while,” she added.
Despite the glaring unhygienic practices at the abattoir, Michael Okon, pioneer chairman of the Uyo abattoir who oversees all the affairs of the slaughterhouse, said they are comfortable with the current state of the abattoir.
“I don’t want any problem, just leave the abattoir the way it is, I don’t want anything that will paint our state black in the press, especially now that our governor is vying for the presidency,” he said.
Analysis, through observation and interviews, by this newspaper revealed that the inadequate dumping of cow dung and other animal wastes materials, as well as the poor drainage system and lack of sufficient water erodes the environmental sanity of the communities where the Uyo and Abak abattoirs are sited.
Also, this newspaper was able to establish through interviews, that workers at both abattoirs are ignorant of the adverse environmental consequences of improper management of wastes generated from slaughterhouses.
All the meat sellers and butchers interviewed said they have not heard of the term greenhouse gases, global warming and even climate change.
Abattoir — “the untapped goldmine”
Adeniyi Sanyaolu, an environmental biologist at the University of Uyo, said if abattoirs are properly managed they would turn to a gold mine in every respect because of the industries that would spring up from the bye-products associated with the operations of abattoirs.
“Typical of us in Nigeria, we sit on a goldmine without realising it,” he said. “I know that if the Akwa Ibom state government moves in there and makes the abattoir what it should be, the butchers will be happy to pay. Their animals will be slaughtered hygienically and they will pay.”
However, the environmentalist said a poorly managed abattoir has many implications on the environment in different dimensions.
“Poor management of abattoir is not only peculiar to Akwa Ibom state, it is what stirs you in the face all over Nigeria,” Mr Sanyaolu said.
He said seepages from the open dumping of cattle intestinal wastes will lead to an increased bacterial load on the environment.
“Runoffs will wash these bacterial contents, which is a looming danger because if they should be an epidermis, particularly foodborne epidemic (Cholera) that could be a potential time bomb ticking,” Mr Sanyaolu added.
Due to the nature of the effluents from the abattoir, Mr Sanyaolu said activities of the abattoir erode infrastructures around the vicinity.
“When you look around the axis of the Uyo abattoir, the roads there are always in problem (bad shape), but if the place is properly managed, with good drainage and sewage systems, it will prolong the road infrastructure of the area,” the environmentalist said.
Support for this report was provided by the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID Africa) and it is made possible through funding support from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
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