Mr. Segun Ajetumobi, a retired teacher based in Akure, Ondo State, had lived his youthful days as a active lover of different varieties of bush meat.
His passion for this delicacy also made his wife and children to fall in love with eating bush meat. Now old and all the children grown up with some of them living outside the country, Ajetunmobi’s love for the soup cooked with meat gotten from these wildlives wanes not. Recently, his first son, Damola, who lives in California, United States of America, visited Nigeria.
So he travelled down to Akure to see his parents. At dinner time in the evening, the table was set and the prayer said, Damola asked his mother politely “I hope this soup is not cooked with bush meat as usual?” When his mother answered in the affirmative, Damola stormed out of the house like a boy stung by wasp, crying for help. He has not completely forgiven his parents for what he called “attempted murder”.
Bashiru Bejide, a hunter who lives in Ilorin, Kwara State, returned from his hunting adventure about three months ago after he had killed three deer, one antelope and five grass-cutters, called Mama Aduke Eleran on phone, who lives in Eyenkorin near Ilorin, to come cart the games he had killed in the farm. Very unusual of Mama Aduke, she reluctantly told Bejide that she would only make the trip down to his house the following day.
On her arrival in the morning, Bejide was shell shocked by her readiness to under-price the animals he had thought would net him huge financial returns. Bejide was forced to ask his bush meat customer of decades what warranted her lack of interest, hence the giveaway price she wanted to pay for the meat.
To his chagrin, the woman told him that bush meat market has fallen due to a killer-disease called Ebola. She narrated to him how people now see them, bush meat dealers in the country, as those who willfully go about killing people in the name of selling meat. She added that she only honoured his call being an old partner.
She told Bejide bluntly that if he agrees to sell the animals at the price she earlier told him that she would salt-dry and keep them hoping that the stigma, which Ebola disease has given bush meat consumption in Nigeria would soon end.
Short of words, Bejide told her bluntly that he would rather give out all the meat to friends and kinsmen in the neighbourhood than to sell at the price that could barely fetch him the money he spent on buying pellets and gunpowder for his gun.
Despite the fact that the World Health Organisation, WHO, has certified Nigeria as Ebola-free nation consumers of bush meat are yet to begin patronizing the delicacy that has been seen notoriously nutritious by many for ages across Africa.
Bush meat is eaten in almost every towns and villages in Africa from pre-colonial days till now, waves of civilization notwithstanding. With the drastic drop in the patronage of bush meat market, some hunters and marketers as well are seen lamenting the doom that has ravaged their once prized commodity bush meat.
The medically confirmed link between Ebola Virus and some wild lives such as bat, monkey, gorilla and chimpanzee has grounded the once sprawling market of bush meat in Nigeria to a screeching halt. And the stigmatization of this cherished delicacy lingers even after the country has been cleared of any health threat as a result of the disease.
Akpan Idoresi, who lives in Abak, Akwa Ibom State and buys bush meat from major dealers from Oron, Ikot Abasi, said the lull has gone and the business is gradually rising again. “The only problem affecting bush meat business is this rainy season. It is difficult to capture many wild lives as is the case during dry season. Business is better now than before.
Though when the disease was the hit in town people were afraid to patronize us, because they were afraid of having the disease from bush meat as reported.” He noted that he has being selling bush meat and palm wine for decades. To him, it is difficult to believe that eating bush meat could ever cause Ebola.
He said he has not heard of such complaint in all the years he has been in the business. On the contrary, he added that people are still eating chicken without posing any health threat to them or the society. Most Nigerians, who are lovers of this delicacy like Idoresi, are still skeptical.
However, many will stop at nothing to buttress the argument that bush meat consumption is indeed too dangerous for human health. This category of people noted that all the animals indicted as carriers of this deadly disease are migratory. They noted that though the disease was first discovered in Central Africa in its outbreak in the 70s but resurfaced mostly in West Africa this year.
They added that since the animals medically considered as vectors for the disease move from place without any notice of relocation, it is safe to abstain from the consumption of bush meat. Saturday Mirror gathered that the sale of bush meat has not bounced back in all the markets scattered across the country.
Mama Kazeem, a bush meat marketer in Ota, Ogun State, who claimed she inherited the business from her late mother, said since the rumour that Ebola disease is found in some wild animals which are eaten as bush meat many people have abstained from its consumption.
She added that the news that the country is now Ebola-free has not changed anything, because the price still remains relatively low as it was while the fear of the life-taking disease was very pronounced in the country. Some Nigerians, however, have resolved never to stop eating the delicacy despite the link that medical experts claimed it has with the Ebola Virus. One of them, who pleaded anonymity, said “I cannot do without bush meat.
It has always been my delicacy right from my childhood days as a ‘bush boy’. I still eat it anytime I feel like eating it.” To him, eating or abstaining from it is nothing but “a thing of the mind.” Another man, whose view corroborated the argument above, said “Nothing, not even Ebola or something deadlier, can stop me from eating bush meat.”
According to him, those bandying the rumour are only being mischievous. Like those that are making their money from selling bush meat mostly along with palm wine or locally brewed gin, called Ogogoro, he noted that those who know the taste of real meal never abstained from eating it for once.
Some ardent lovers of this famous African delicacy blamed Western conspiracy for the sudden and orchestrated advice to drop the habit of eating this all time delicious meat that has been relished for generations. They claimed that the consumption of bush meat cut across social class, because both rich and poor eat bush meat, one of the best African delicacies.
Though many people agreed to the fact that indeed the outbreak of Ebola disease forced the bush meat business to nosedive but noted that the trade picked again after Nigeria is certified as an Ebola- free nation. Bush meat marketers on Balogun Street, Lagos Island, in a chat with Saturday Mirror, said they have stopped selling the bush meat ever since the Ebola disease broke and spread across West Africa like bush fire during dry season.
They added that though Nigeria has been certified Ebola-free nation by World Health Organisation, WHO, but most of their customers still dread buying their once cherished meat because of its link with the spread of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD).
To a trader, who simply identified herself as Iya Shekinat, she said she stopped selling bush meat because many simply see them as people who are selling what will bring humans like them to early grave. On what she now does to keep herself in trade, she said “I’m now selling dry fish. And I don’t think I’m in a hurry to return to bush meat business.” However, some of them noted that they do supply some customers who specially request for bush meat.
“We only buy bush meat now for those who order for it. They tell us the type of meat they want such as cobra, antelope, grass-cutter among others and the quantity. We’ll buy the bush meat and supply those that requested for it.
Besides that, we don’t buy bush meat for sale, especially here in Lagos again.” Ayo Ogunniyi, a local hunter based in Ile-Ife, Osun State, told Saturday Mirror that he still embarks on his regular hunting expedition to the vast forest where he kills all manners of wild lives for his domestic need and also for sale. According to Ogunniyi, his regular customers who come from cities like Osogbo and Ibadan still visit him to buy bush meat which they supply to their customers who scattered across cities in the South West, Nigeria, and Benin City.
When Saturday Mirror asked if he has stopped his wife from cooking assorted bush meat for his domestic meal, he said “I have no reason to stop eating bush meat at home. We cook it in soup, sauce and drink palm wine with it like the days of old.
Ebola or not, we relish bush meat delicacy daily in my house except we run out of it, which rarely happens.” A senior lecturer in medicine at the Ekiti State University, EKSU and Honorary Consultant Physician/Cardiologist at Ekiti State University Teaching Hospital, EKSUTH, when asked if Nigerians could eat bush meat now that the country has been certified Ebola-free, said “Ebola index case in Nigeria was traced to an infected traveller from Liberia. Though, the zoonotic aspect of transmission is well documented in other countries but not in Nigeria.”
The doctor, who said his name should not be mentioned because of the sensitivity of the Ebola case and the nature of his job as a civil servant, added that “Ordinarily, Nigeria should be in post-epidemic surveillance phase, which will include the forest surveillance of recognised zoonotic host like bats and monkeys. This is definitely insufficient to conclude abstinence from eating bush meat.”
It would be recalled that Ebola Virus Disease, which has claimed thousands of lives in West Africa especially in Liberia and Sierra Leone, was brought to Nigeria through a Liberian Diplomat, Patrick Sawyer, who later died of the disease in a Lagos hospital.
Also, the disease killed a consultant doctor, Dr Stella Ameyo Adadevoh, who attended to Sawyer, when he was rushed to the hospital from the airport when he landed in Nigeria. Bush meat, being one of the sources through which the disease spreads, medical experts have advised people to reduce if not total abstinence from it consumption, at least till the cure is found for the disease.
Meanwhile, while waiting for the generally accepted drug to cure the disease, many watchers of the dangers the disease have done bush meat business in Nigeria, noted that except government take proactive measure in saving the collapse of bush meat trade in the country, one of the enduring African legacies may be gone forever.
To these people, if no concerted effort is made by government at all levels in the country, the warning to dread bush meat intake may soon crash the business beyond redemption. This, they concluded, should be done without delay.