‘Why Nigerians Prefer Smuggled Frozen Chickens’
THERE is no doubt that frozen foods have become a favourite daily staple amongst most Nigerians, and hardly a day goes by that the average Nigerian home doesn’t consume frozen chicken, turkey or fish.
Most buyers claim they are unaware that a ban has been placed on these food items but the sellers are very much aware but they do not care. According to most of them, the government was simply being wicked and didn’t want the poor Nigerian to survive.
The National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration Control (NAFDAC), has repeatedly sent out warnings to Nigerians to stop the consumption of these frozen foods, and have even gone as far as destroying seized goods, which they have described as dangerous to the human body as they contain several chemicals which were used in their preservation, which should not be consumed by any human.
A visit to the popular Mile 12 market in Lagos would confirm this very quickly. The shops where frozen food items are sold, span several kilometers and they are all thriving. Apart from frozen foods, they sell groundnut and vegetable oil, rice and imported pasta – all prohibited items, in broad daylight.
Speaking to one of the traders, Alhaja Olaitan Badmus who operates Opeyemi Frozen Foods in Mile 12 market blamed the government and accused them of wickedness and callousness. She asked if anybody had ever died from eating chicken or fish in the past. She claims that the government wanted to take foods from their table and was only trying to inflict untold hardships on poor Nigerians who could not afford to buy fresh fish and live chickens.
Most traders of frozen foods share this opinion. The owner of D Fish Shop Frozen Food in Lawanson, Surulere, who refused to give her name claimed that frozen foods is highly valued by many Nigerians because it is cheaper than meat and fresh fish.
According to her, with as little as N300 – N350, a family can get either meat or fish to prepare “concoction” to eat in a day. She said that the economy is very hard and they were helping to feed many families despite the harsh economic situation. She added that the Nigerian Customs ‘are enemies of progress,’ as they are making it very difficult for her to bring in her goods, as she is a direct importer.
She also pointed accusing fingers at the Nigerian police whose only job according to her, is to collect bribes from them. She lamented that she is charged as high as N500,000 per trip and this is affecting her business. When asked if she was aware of the ban of these goods by the Nigerian Customs as well as NAFDAC’s reports, she said she was aware but she believes that the live chicken sellers and some other detractors went to bribe NAFDAC to bring out damaging reports that ‘are not true’. She said Nigerians prefer frozen foods to meat because it is cheaper and more accessible and it is ‘healthier than red meat’.
The owner of Alubarika frozen Foods, also in Surulere who gave her name as Mama Tee, echoed the sentiments of others. There were several customers around her as she wielded her cutlass high in the air, cutting up several frozen chicken and fish and weighing them on a scale. She described the business as a very lucrative one and said she has no regret ever going into it.
As others previously said, she admitted they are enjoying high patronage because of its relative cheapness compared to beef and she insists that chicken and turkey taste better than meat. She said she is a direct importer but custom officers were making life difficult for her and other importers.
She added that she doesn’t transport her good herself as it is dangerous and they usually buy and give it to a transporter, who collects transport money and ‘custom’s money.’ She said the transporter knows where to pass and avoid and they know the right people to ‘tip.’
On whether she was aware of the ban that was in place, she answered that she was very much aware but wants the government to reconsider its stance as most Nigerians depend on frozen food to survive. When told of the health risks NAFDAC has warned Nigerians about concerning frozen foods, she vigorously denied it, asking the reporter if she had ever heard of the death of anyone that ate frozen chicken or fish.
A buyer at her store who gave her name as Mrs. Biodun Aruwajoye, told The Guardian that she would continue to buy frozen foods because that is what she could afford based on her salary. She lamented the rising cost of fresh fish and even beef and said they have gone out of reach of average Nigerians. She added that sometimes, when she is broke, she buys a half-kilo of turkey with less than N400 and she prepares a pot of stew for her family.
It was about 1.00pm when a visit was made to the live birds section in Ogba Retail Market, Lagos. There was not a single buyer around the shades, prompting the sellers to all jostle that the reporter should come to their stands to patronise them. The chickens come in different sizes, and so their prices vary, with cockerel going for higher price when compared with hens of the same size.
According to one of the sellers, Mrs. Dupe Johnson, sale of the chicken at this “ordinary period” is low. It is during the festive period of Christmas that high sales are recorded.
She reckoned that it is so because celebrating with live chicken is just one way some families make a difference in the normal way they live, and the festive period interesting. They also use them as gifts at this time. At ordinary times, higher sales are made more during weekends than other days. For any anybody who buys the bird and wants it slaughtered and cleaned in the market, additional N100 is collected.
She said that she buys from some medium scale poultry farmers and has often told them the issue of the high cost of the birds when compared with the frozen chicken that people buy. She noted that the farmers complain that the operational environment is not favourable to them, which adds to the cost. She reasoned that she has to make profit, as a middle person in the trade and that further pushes up the price.
However, there are others who do not even know that there is locally produced chicken in cold stores. Mrs. Agnes Udom is an example. She said: “I have not seen local chicken in the cold store. I don’t know that there is something like that. The local ones I know are the live ones, which to me are expensive.”
According to her, one can hardly get enough meat from a live chicken apart from the wings and thighs and this usually leads to quarrels among her kids. But with a kilo of frozen chicken, she gets the part she wants and it costs far less. She said she has no plans to go back to live chicken and said she would have patronised the Nigerian packaged frozen meat, but she discovered that it costs more than the smuggled ones.
A survey of the price of one live chicken shows that it costs double the price of one kilo of chicken or triple in the case of a live turkey. A live chicken ranges from N1, 200 – N1, 800, while a kilo of chicken costs between N650 – N700, while the same size of turkey costs about N850. The taste of a live chicken is quite different from the frozen one but for Mrs. Anita Igbokwe, that is where the advantage ends.
A visit to one of the departmental stores in Lagos shows that there are whole chickens produced by local farmers in the frozen foods section. They are well packaged and labeled according with their prices and sizes. Some of them even have the different parts also on sale. Shoppers who came there looked at their prices and walked away.
The question of the prices of the local chicken, whether live or frozen being higher is also evident in the price tags for the different sizes. For example, a kilogram of chicken of one the brands goes for N850, while there are higher prices for some other brands of the same size.