Ponmo: Citizens’ defiance despite prohibition, warnings

Despite the government’s ban on ponmo, Nigerians have continued to consume the delicacy; SUNNY IDACHABA reports.

Nigerians and consumers of animal skin popularly known as ponmo woke up last week to yet another announcement by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development advising that, henceforth, its consumption alongside bush meat and smoked fish be suspended in the country because of the discovery of a disease known as anthrax in neighbouring Togo, Burkina Faso, and Ghana identifiable with the commodity.

Laudable as this concern may sound, it seems to have fallen on deaf ears as consumption and open display of the commodity continues in many markets and restaurants unabated. According to the permanent secretary of the ministry, Dr. Ernest Umakhihe, the disease is transferred from infected animals to humans and is naturally found in the soil and commonly affects domestic and wild animals.

The symptoms, he said, include flu, cough, fever, muscle aches and if not diagnosed and treated early, can lead to pneumonia, severe lung problems, difficulty in breathing, shock and ultimately death.

Intriguing is the frequency with which supervising authorities ban the consumption of this commodity that has somewhat become a staple food on the menu of many homes in Nigeria. Despite these repeated bans, the rate of consumption persists as investigation reveals that Nigerians are not taking the ban lightly.

It would be recalled that in the first tenure of immediate past President Muhammadu Buhari, this same commodity was outrightly banned from being consumed in the country. That was not the first time such a ban would be announced.

Previous bans

In 2014, the federal government, through then minister of agriculture and rural development, Akinwunmi Adesina, had announced that it planned to ban the consumption of ponmo when it called for regulations on the consumption and sales of the product.

He spoke at the third joint anniversary of the Animal Science Association of Nigeria and the Nigerian Institute of Animal Science held at the University of Ibadan.

Represented by the director of animal production and husbandry in the ministry, Dr. Ademola Raji, the minister had argued that stopping the consumption of the product would benefit animal farmers.

“I expect that competent regulations acceptable by all stakeholders would be developed so as to give credibility that our set standards for food safety are being implemented, which would eventually boost our value addition,” he said.

However, shortly after this announcement, Nigerians and consumers of ponmo took the fight to the social media where they vent their displeasure at the proposal, saying the action of the government was provocative.

That’s not all, in 2021, the federal government again said it was proposing a legislation that would permanently ban the consumption of ponmo this time around to revive the moribund tanneries.

The director general Nigerian Institute of Leather and Science Technology (NILEST), Zaria, Muhammad Yakubu had said. He noted that the legislation was necessary to revive the leather industry as according to him, the habit of eating animal skin which has no nutritional value should be stopped to save the industry and boost the nation’s economy even as he stressed that the institute, in collaboration with stakeholders the, would approach the national and state assemblies with a view to bringing out a legislation capable of placing a ban on ponmo consumption.

“To the best of my knowledge, Nigerians are the only people in the world that over-value skin as food; after all, ponmo has no nutritional value. At one point, there was a motion before the two chambers of the National Assembly, it was debated but I don’t know why and how the matter was thrown away.

“If we get our tanneries, our footwear and leather production working well in Nigeria, people would hardly get ponmo to buy and eat. When implemented fully, it would turn around most of the comatose tanneries and ginger greater output in production.”

According to him, the consumption of animal skin is partly responsible for the present comatose state of tanneries in Nigeria.


In the same vein, the National Agency for Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) had warned against the consumption of ponmo. NAFDAC had raised an alarm because of the importation of a toxic substance into ponmo, warning Nigerians to be careful as the delicacy laced with poisonous substance had found its way into the Nigerian food market.

According to the director-general, Professor Mojisola Adeyeye, “The consumption of imported hides treated with chemicals can be injurious to health.” She, therefore, warned that those hides were said to have been treated and imported ostensibly for industrial use, not to be consumed.

Despite these repeated warnings, the consumption of ponmo has not abated as there has been a nationwide verbal fight-back by local consumers and traders of the commodity.

Investigations have revealed that the continued consumption of this supposedly banned commodity is tied to so many factors.

According to Osimehin Tajudeen, a lover of ponmo, “It may not have any nutritional value as the government claimed, but its ‘nutritionlessness’ coupled with how it blends with certain soups is the reason for the wider appeal ponmo has on many consumers. We have been told that red meat is not good for an adult especially at a certain age, but nobody said ponmo has any adverse effect on human health apart from when NAFDAC said some imported ponmo carried certain poisonous substances. I can’t be restricted to eating only fish and chicken is way far expensive. Ponmo is the only way to go.”

An economist, Badmus King, told Blueprint Weekend that ponmo appeals to a sizable percentage of the population whose purchasing power has been on a steady decline due to high inflation and other negative macroeconomic factors in the country.  

“Inflation has been on a steady rise and income has not risen except for public servants, but even at that, inflation has eroded the value of their earnings. Ponmo comes in handy as a ready alternative to meat. If you recall, a kilo of meat that used to be N1, 200 in 2015 is now N3, 200 and there is no corresponding increase in wages. What do you expect?”

A nutritionist, Mrs. Cordelia Nweze, told this reporter that not everything about ponmo would be considered bad as it is a healthy alternative to some people with nutritional restrictions.

“Some people consume ponmo because of their supposed health benefits. This is contrary to the belief held in many quarters that animal skin has no health benefits. As a matter of fact, many health experts consider them a healthy alternative to beef.”

‘Proponents of ban are selfish’

A ponmo seller at the Gwarimpa market in Abuja who goes by the name Busari told Blueprint Weekend that the government simply doesn’t know what to say, that is why anytime they lack ideas, they vent their frustration on poor people.

“What concerns them with what people chose to eat” he asked.

Speaking in half baked English, he said, “As far as I am concerned, they are busy bodies looking into what does not concern them.”

When reminded that the consumption of animal skin affects the footwear industry, he asked, “Are the makers of shoes, bags complaining that they cannot see the raw materials to buy? What those ones need are not the ones we sell as ponmo here in Nigeria. The footwear and bags industries buy their raw materials from Chad, Niger or Mali. The local cows and goat skins we sell here in Nigeria cannot affect footwear manufacturing. They are just lying,” he said bluntly.

‘Ban inappropriate’

While lending his voice to the said ban of ponmo, the managing director of Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise (CPPE) Muda Yusuf said it was not appropriate to call for the ban of ponmo.

“It is unfair and insensitive to call for a ban on something that is produced locally. It is even more insensitive because ponmo is consumed more by the poor than the rich.”

Yusuf said, “Those who produce animal hides reserve have the choice to sell to whomever they wish to sell to. In other words, sales should be determined by market forces.”

Currently, hides are mainly used for footwear, upholstery and leather goods. Skins on the other hand are used for clothing, particularly as coats, gloves, leather goods and footwear. It is also used for book binding. With about 61 million units, Nigeria has the largest resource of goat skin and kidskin in Africa representing 46% and 18% of the total in West Africa and Africa, respectively.

Ponmo in local parlance is the skin of animals, particularly cattle prepared into soup, assorted meat and stew. It is a delicacy eaten in many parts of the country, but more in the Yoruba-speaking areas, but has largely been adopted into the menu of most Nigerians.

Since it has become a major staple food component in most meals, it is not clear how the government intends to enforce any ban on the commodity. Is it through legislation or enforcement? Time shall tell.