Eko Meat Van Scheme: Recalcitrant butchers winning the ‘war’?

• We’ll Rejig The Process Soon – Onasanya
The introduction of the Eko Meat Refrigerated Van Scheme and customised tricycles by the Lagos State government in 2008 came as a right step in the right direction, because of the dire need to bring sanity to the handling and distribution of meat in the state, as at that period.

The scheme was inaugurated as a Public and Private Sector Partnership (PPP) endeavor, with over 200 brand new meat vans to ensure the safety and wholesomeness of meat that is consumed by the public, through ethical and hygienic transportation.

The aim was to put a stop to open and unhygienic movement of meat on tricycles and motorcycles in many parts of the state, as meat that pass through such process is still largely exposed to flies and similar elements in the open markets, where they could be contaminated.

Its launch was remarkable, though butchers who were opposed to it, especially those on Lagos Island, vowed never to comply with government’s directive to distribute their product using the approved vans. Their grouse was that there were not enough of such vans, which made them expensive to hire since the vans were contracted to private operators.

The butchers, under the Umbrella of Lagos Island Associations, did not only take the state to court, the association even sponsored a paid advertisement on radio, informing their members to go about their normal businesses without any fear of intimidation or arrest by state government’s agents.

But with government’s zeal, through the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives then, headed by Prince Gbolahan Lawal, the ministry was able to address all issues that concern public health in the abattoirs.

The provision of the new law disallows anyone to convey meat from the abattoir to any part of Lagos State except in Eko Meat Vans, while the services of the vans had been contracted out.

A major breakthrough of the initiative was that it guaranteed wholesomeness in meat processing from the animal markets to the abattoir and onward transportation to the market.

Government was so concerned that it set up a task force to arrest people who still use motorcycles, wheelbarrows and other unhygienic means to transport meat.

But nine years down the lane, the butchers, like the proverbial dog appear to have gone back to their vomits, as the recommended mode of transportation is not totally observed across the abattoirs and slaughter slabs.

At present, the level of compliance in abattoirs is very poor. When The Guardian visited the Oko-Oba Abattoir and Lairage Complex, Agege, although some meat was seen being transported in meat vans, some people still carried meat on their heads, shoulders, in unwholesome sacks, nylons, motorcycles and dirty carts, while some put them on motorcycles, contrary to the law.

It was observed that with the mode of transporting the meat; they are still largely exposed to flies and similar elements in the open markets where they could be contaminated

As busy as the Saturday morning was, there were no sanitary inspectors on ground to ensure compliance with government’s directive.

The Guardian investigation revealed that the earlier position of some of the recalcitrant butchers might be responsible for the return to the traditional and unwholesome mode of transporting meat.

One major reason The Guardian learnt the butchers are still hiding behind is the cost of using the van. Though none of them was willing to disclose the actual cost of using the van, they claimed there is big difference in monetary terms if they use alternative means.

One other thing The Guardian observed is the state of the vehicles. It was observed that a good number of them are now rickety and couldn’t preserve meat as expected. Most times after loading, The Guardian learnt the vehicles develop fault and usually delay the butchers from getting to the market in good time to make sales. They believe that the use of tricycles and motorcycles would hasten their movement to beat their colleagues with whom they are operating in the same market.

Another reason for the failure, stakeholders say is due to the fact that the initiative is not a revolving scheme. They claimed it was not done in a way it can regenerate; adding that since it was the dream of the previous administration, the present administration has not really bought into the idea, hence the challenges it is facing at present.

But the state government denied some of the allegations. According to the
Permanent Secretary of the agric ministry, Dr. Olayiwole Onasanya, the scheme actually started with Air Cool in 2008, but was changed to Refrigerated Meat Van scheme in 2012.

He emphasised that no butcher dares to flout the law by using any means of transportation, noting that there is a Task Force responsible for clamping down on erring butchers and buyers, adding that whoever is apprehended loses his or her meat automatically.

“Even on the issue of illegal abattoirs, we face it headlong. I can promise you that by next year we will do something better. The recalcitrant butchers are not wining the war, it is very difficult for you to see people transporting meat in an unwholesome manner, it is rare to see it.

“The Eko Meat Van is everywhere, even from my own monitoring exercise. We have Task Force that is responsible for clamping down on erring butchers and buyers, whoever is apprehended loses his or her meat automatically,” he stated.

He noted that immediately the agreement ends next year, the scheme would be refocused. “Let me tell you, our new focus will be much better, we have done two types-Air Cool and Refrigerated Meat Vans, now we are going to make it a bigger and better transportation system. We will be introducing new vehicles to replace the rickety ones.

“The carcass we are transporting are very heavy and corrosive, which doesn’t make vehicles last, it can easily make the vehicles rickety. If a vehicle is carrying mattress and other light objects it will last. We have a time limit, which is from 2013 to 2018, so new vehicles would come in. Another thing we are doing is that carrying animals on cart will stop in the next three months; we will introduce a new vehicle that will be carrying them.”

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