By Johnstone Kpilaakaa
VOM, NIGERIA—At first glance, there seems to be nothing wrong with the slaughter slab located near a stream in Vwang, Jos South local government area of Plateau state. A closer look would however reveal that the abattoir, where the meat consumed daily by residents is processed, is a breeding ground for diseases.
Over the years, residents of Vwang have continued to make use of the facility despite the health risks. The contract awarded for the construction of a modern abattoir in 2020 failed to materialise.
For visitors and regular faces, the ominous plume of dark smoke, accompanied by the pungent scent of burning animal hide, announces that an abattoir is nearby – it is a beehive of activities, regardless of the state of the infrastructure.
Each morning, cows and goats are dragged to the slaughter slab — killed and prepared for meat but without passing through the hygienic procedures. The slaughterhouse at Vwang village is a makeshift structure that has no facilities that modern abattoirs should boast of.
From Monday to Saturday, Baba Mai Tio, an elderly butcher and others like him, get busy processing the animals in a rather filthy environment. At the makeshift slaughter slab, there is no veterinary doctor to assess the quality of the animals before they are slaughtered.
“We don’t have the facilities or equipment to adhere to a standardised procedure; we simply process the animals as they are brought in,” says Baba Mai Tio as he wipes his hands on his dirty and blood-stained shirt.
“We are aware that due to lack of standard facilities and equipment what we do is sometimes dangerous, but we have to do what we can do,” he adds. “Hopefully, if this abattoir is completed and sensitisation is carried out, I am sure that several butchers will utilise the facility.” But his hope of seeing a standard abattoir is fast fading as the project has not received attention since 2021.
According to a veterinarian at the National Veterinary Research Institute, Vom, pre-slaughter care takes about six to 12 hours to ensure the quality of meat.
This is, however, missing in Vwang village. As animals are dismembered, butchers take the remains to the stream to wash the meat, exposing the product to possible contamination and infection. They also release animal waste into the water, which causes contamination.
Sometimes, residents collect the waste for use on their farms. “During festive periods like Christmas, we have a higher number of animals to slaughter, but on regular days like today, the number is lower,” says Sunday Dung, another butcher, as he disposes of some of the animal waste into the nearby bushes.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) manual for the slaughter of small ruminant animals in developing nations states that “the siting of slaughter premises near waterlogged areas must be avoided.
“Evidently, such sites can raise sanitation problems as in the breeding of mosquitoes and stagnation of wastes. Location near watercourses or inland bodies of water such as rivers, lakes and lagoons is also unadvisable,” the FAO recommends.
From the makeshift abattoirs to the chef’s pot
Despite not meeting up with the standard practices, meat from the filthy abattoir ends up in a plate of food at restaurants.
Pam Ruth, who runs a local restaurant at Tya Andavco market in Vwang villages sources meet from the slaughter slab. At her restaurant, as many as 30 customers feed there daily.
“I typically wake up early to meet with the butchers right after they’ve returned from slaughtering to obtain the best cuts,” Ruth says in Hausa while placing a piece of beef onto a plate for a customer.
Ruth says she didn’t know animals have to be assessed before they are slaughtered and processed for meat. “For me, I just buy meat and cook and serve my customers,” she says with a carefree expression on her face.
According to a medical doctor Habiba Momoh, the head of the animal health department at the Federal College of Animal Health and Production Technology, Vom, (FCAHPT), “the practices in these (illegal or makeshift) slaughterhouses give rise to serious health risks for consumers and butchers alike, as diseased, deceased, and pregnant animals can be processed without proper oversight.”
An advisory by the National Centre for Disease Control and Prevention also warns that “slaughtering sick animals can expose the anthrax spores which humans can inhale which will cause severe manifestations of the disease.”
In July, the Plateau government announced that two communities in the state were hit by suspected cases of anthrax disease.
Although the names of the communities were not mentioned, Gyang Bere, the state’s director of press and public affairs, said samples were sent to the National Veterinary Research Institute, Vom—the parent institution of FCAHPT— for investigation. The outcome of the investigation has not been made public.
Several butchers at Vwang who spoke to this reporter said that the community has never had an abattoir that follows the processes outlined by Dr Momoh.
Tya Andavco Slaughterhouse: Forgotten millions, taken over by tall grasses
In 2020, ₦20 million was allocated for the construction of an abattoir at Tya Andavco Market— the largest market in Vwang, under the supervision of the Federal College of Animal Health and Production Technology, Vom.
According to GovSpend, a civic tech platform that tracks and analyses federal government spending in Nigeria, ₦6 million was released as an initial payment to the contractor, Alushi Integrated Business Limited, in December 2021.
However, about two years later, the project has been abandoned. When this reporter inquired about the abattoir during a visit in October 2023, a resident who did not want to be named did not know about it.
“Hmm! I don’t know of any abattoir in this community. If you are looking for meat, you can ask the men sitting over there,” she gestured towards a nearby slab. “That’s where they sometimes slaughter animals.”
About six other residents that we asked were also unaware. Even the local fixer was in the dark about the supposed abattoir. As they continued their search, a distant sight caught their attention: a building nestled amidst tall grasses with a green roof.
“This must be the abattoir,” the reporter surmised, offering a glimmer of hope in their quest. Amid the grasses lies the decaying signage that provides a summary of the project. “We finally found it,” the fixer exclaimed, expressing relief after about a 30-minute search.
In January 2021, when Tracka, BudgIT’s social accountability initiative, tracked the project, the building was at lintel level: “This project has been ABANDONED by the contractor,” the report stated.
Two years later, the building appears nearly finished from the outside, featuring a pristine cream coat on the walls, a vibrant green roof crowned with a solar panel, and a water tank standing resolutely by its side. However, a step beyond the entrance reveals a contrasting narrative.
Amid the dust and cobwebs that shroud the building’s interior, Chung Davou* who was employed by Alushi Integrated Business Limited as the security guard, said, “The project got to this current level two years ago (2021) but since then no work has continued inside the building.”
Aside from the ₦6 million initial payment made to the contractor, no follow-up disbursement has been recorded by GovSpend.
“It was an exciting initiative when we learned about it. However, we have not been carried along with the project, so we do not know exactly what is going on,” says one butcher,” who opted to remain anonymous. “When the contractor is done, I am sure he will hand it over to the college, and then to the community.”
Location falls short of FAO’s standard
Unlike the makeshift slaughter slabs in Vwang, the abandoned abattoir is situated quite a distance from the riverside. But it is cited right amid the bus park and Tya Adavco market, a deviation from global best practices.
“Slaughterhouses are best sited on the outskirts of a town or village, at a distance from built-up areas,” according to the FAO manual.
“This is to prevent possible inconvenience to dwelling-places either by way of pollution from slaughter wastes or by way of nuisance from noise, stench or the presence of scavenging animals such as vultures, stray dogs, etc.”
However, Philip Chung, a resident, argues that the location makes commuting easier. “Since it is in the middle of the market, it’s easier to get the meat to the consumers. If it is located far from here, it will be difficult to distribute it,” Chung retorts.
Alushi & FCAHPT declined to comment
Federal College of Animal Health and Production Technology, which is the supervisory agency for the project, is not forthcoming about why the contract is stalled.
When asked, Momoh, an administrative staff of FCAHPT declined to comment in the absence of the provost. “I am not sure about the project,” Dr Momoh said.
However, the security guard at the abandoned project recalled that a few months after completing the painting and roofing of the abattoir, the contractors returned to collect some of the remaining construction materials. “I don’t know exactly what the issue is. I’ve not been paid my salary for several months,” he said.
When we contacted Nathaniel Manga, the director of Alushi Integrated Business Limited, via a phone call said that he was unavailable to respond to questions regarding the project. “Can we meet tomorrow?—that is Wednesday—I am in Abuja at the moment, I will reach out to you once I am in Jos,” he said.
However, Manga did not honour the appointment and he also did not respond to follow-up messages and calls.
Residents call for action
Baba Mai Tio believes that the completion of the project would facilitate butchers’ work and promote good practices.
“We will be glad to leave the old and unbefitting slab that we have been using for years to the new one if it is completed,” he said. “We can be sure that our animals are prepared in a very clean and hygienic place.”
On his part, Dung says a new era in the practice of animal butchering would be heralded if the government could release funds to finish the abattoir. “If this building is working, we would also be proud of the work that we do and can do things the right way,” he said.
For Ruth, a new abattoir will guarantee public health, especially for residents of Vwang village and beyond. “Our health is important, but many times we take things for granted by not looking at where our animals are killed and how the meat is processed,” she said.
“But if they have pity on us and finish this work, we will be happy that the health of our people is guaranteed.”