With news of fresh Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, bushmeat vendors in Nigeria have called on the Federal Government to tighten measures aimed at preventing a resurgence of the epidepmic in Nigeria.
The businesses of bushmeat vendors in Nigeria, where meat sourced from feral animals is a delicacy across the country, were particularly hit by lack of patronage during the Ebola epidemic in 2014.
This was a result of the fear that wild animals and bush meat could carry the deadly virus, which according to health officials originated from baboons and bats.
During the Ebola outbreak in Nigeria in 2014, health officials advised Nigerians to stay off bushmeat as a precaution.
But bushmeat vendors at the time complained about the adverse effect on their source of livelihood.
Some of them told newsmen that with the current economic downturn, the return of Ebola would be disastrous for them.
At the popular bushmeat market located at the Ibadan end of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, some sellers said they are actually praying against Ebola.
According to them, during the last outbreak, some of them became indebted to hunters who supplied the animals.
One of our correspondents found out that each bush meat vendor in that location sells N7,000 worth of meat daily. But because the meat is perishable, the women face the risk of a major loss if they do not sell a prepared animal in two days.
One of the traders, Mrs. Mariam Amoo, said, “In 2014, People stayed away because of the expert advice that Ebola could be transmitted through animals. It affected our business badly.
“Most of our customers are high class people and even monarchs. In 2014, those who were brave enough to buy bought antelope for as low as N3,000 when in actual fact, it should cost between N15,000 and N20,000. So our business was affected and we will not pray for such thing again.”
Another seller of the product, a woman who identified herself simply as Moronfolu, said another outbreak of Ebola would kill the bush meat industry.
“If there is another outbreak of the disease, many people could decide to permanently stay away from buying bush meat even when we are declared Ebola-free. This is a business we have been doing for many years and we have no other means of livelihood. We pay our hunters every week for the animals they supply,” she said.
But a buyer of the product, Timothy Okunola, told our correspondent that since government had yet to declare outbreak of the disease in Nigeria, he would continue to buy the product.
“People appreciate it more than money because you cannot get it everywhere. It is a special delicacy,” he said.
In Osogbo, the feeling is the same. A hunter, Mr. Adeoye Ogunbunmi, said even though he knew that bush meat did not spread Ebola in 2014, a fresh outbreak of the disease would still do no one any good economically.
He said, “Like every reasonable person, we don’t pray for a fresh outbreak of Ebola in Nigeria. Everybody was scared, people refused to shake hands with their friends.
“But the bushmeat business would be destroyed if it comes back. Our appeal to the Federal Government is to monitor our borders very well and test everybody coming in. By doing that we won’t experience Ebola again here.”
A bushmeat vendor in the state, Mrs. Bose Ogunwale, said even though there are some customers who would not stop eating the meat if it is banned for whatever reason, the Federal Government must do everything to ensure there is no new outbreak.
She said, “Our business is bushmeat and no matter what, a fresh outbreak will affect us. That is why we are not praying for it.
“There are other jobs we can do if we are stopped from selling bushmeat but it would not be as good as this.”
The bushmeat sellers one of our correspondents spoke with in Kwara State, also expressed the fear that they might be plunged into economic hardship worse than what they are already experiencing in the country.
Some of them fear the Federal Government might simply ban bushmeat out of precaution.
They say rather than do this, government should concentrate on ensuring there is no outbreak again.
One of such vendors, Tanko Ibrahim, who sells bush meat along the old Ilorin-Jebba Road, told one of our correspondents that if there is an outbreak, he would simply give up selling bushmeat and take to farming because he might not be able to make ends meet.
According to him, he was a farmer before but chose to sell bushmeat because he was afraid of herdsmen attacks on farms.
Another bush-meat seller who operates along the same route, Nasiru Alao, also expressed fear that he might not be able to feed his family if people are advised to stay off bushmeat to prevent Ebola outbreak and infection.
He said if such a ban takes place, he would simply become a labourer, the job he left when he was not making ends meet.
A bush meat seller along Ilorin-Ajase Ipo Road, Kehinde Ajapa, said he might even resort to selling herbal products if the Federal Government bans bushmeat sales and consumption to prevent Ebola.
Another vendor, Yusuf Oladimeji, said the only option to make ends meet would be to go into fishing and farming if such a step is taken by the Federal Government.
However, some patrons of bushmeat vendors said they would continue to eat bushmeat in spite of the outbreak of Ebola in Congo. Their reason is that DR Congo is far away from Nigeria for them to worry. They added that it was unlikely that any animal from there would migrate to Nigerian bush.
Some of such customers like Halima Kunle, Khadirat Jumoh and Hussein Olesin, said no outbreak would deter them from enjoying the delicacy.
In Ogun State, one of our correspondents was told by bushmeat vendors that as soon as news of a fresh outbreak of Ebola in DR Congo filtered in, sellers in the state became prayerful, urging the government to make extra effort to prevent its spread to the country.
They are calling on the Federal Government to provide necessary medical personnel and essentials at major entry points -airports and land borders – to carry out necessary tests on both foreigners and citizens returning to the country, especially from the country where Ebola resurgence has been recorded.
Leader of the bushmeat sellers at Brewery area of Abeokuta, Alhaja Bilqis Adebayo, said she actually became afraid when she got the news that Ebola resurfaced in DR Congo.
She said, “The last time a Liberian brought the disease here and infected some Nigerians, the government banned bushmeat, it really affected our business, as our customers stopped coming.
“I want to appeal to the Government to be proactive. Medical personnel and necessary equipment should be deployed in our borders.”
Another bushmeat seller, Adijat Kareem, who said she is also apprehensive, explained that even during the last outbreak in Nigeria, no one who patronised bushmeat vendors contacted the disease.
She insisted that traders like her are providing an essential service that must be taken into consideration by the government.
She said, “I have been in this business for about 25 years, and none of our customers has contacted the Ebola virus. I don’t believe that one can contact Ebola virus from bush meat.”
One of her colleagues, Saka Abideen, said apart from selling the meat, he does not eat beef but only bushmeat.
He said, “I am a lover of bushmeat and I have been eating it for over 10 years. It is quite delicious and has this unique taste. I won’t stop eating it Ebola or no Ebola.”