What Suya Consumers Don’t Know

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Suya been prepared

Suya meat is growing in popularity among Nigerians but consumers hardly know about the inherent health hazards

|  By Chinwe Okafor  |  Nov. 18, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

AT night fall, Yakubu Adamu, who sells suya at Agboju market, Festac town, Lagos State, fans the flames of charcoal grills under naked light bulbs. The resultant smoke accompanied with the smell of spices and cooking meat arouses the taste of anyone around the area. His stand is a popular joint for commuters, motorists and passers-by, every evening at the market. He told Realnews that he has been roasting suya for a long time on the same spot. Indeed, Adamu is well-known in the area and people always await his arrival every evening.

“The food sells itself and whoever has the money will come and buy. I like to sell my suya on a fixed price; so that when people want to buy, I tell them. It is from N200, and so there is no question of buying lower than that.” But Sanusi Hassan, another suya vendor in a bar at Okota, Lagos State, said he sells for as low as N100 because all fingers are not equal. “I sell to people as they want because meat is good for everybody, and if it is too expensive, many will not be able to buy it.

“Before now, I used to open my business in the morning just like any other businessman to sell to customers but I have discovered that people do not usually consider it necessary to relax and eat suya at that time but they visit the restaurant at lunch hour to eat solid food. But, when they close from work for the day, they look out for relaxation places such as Suya spots or bars to cool off the hectic time in the office. This made me to adjust to the new trend in order to meet up with the demand,” Hassan said.

A suya spot
A suya spot

According to him, it is now becoming a common pattern to see suya spots attached to relaxation houses because this adds great value to the evening hour social engagements when friends and acquaintances relax with some drinks and even buy the meat home for their loved ones. “I started the business sometime in 2004 in Kaduna but it was not an easy task due to inadequate capital. The first time I roasted my suya, I shared one ram with nine people who have been in the business before me. I was given a small part of the meat because the money I contributed was small, but as time went on, I started developing my business with the profit made from it before I relocated to Lagos. He said that the demand for the product differs from city to city, explaining that big cities like Lagos, Abuja, and Port- Harcourt attract high demand than the remote places.

Hassan said: “My income increased appreciably when I relocated to Lagos in 2010 and this has added colour to my suya business. Any serious- minded suya businessman can conveniently save big money if the person spends wisely because no matter how much additional cost is incurred in running the suya business in terms of buying the needed equipment which include, foil paper or newspaper for wrapping, fuel, garnishing ingredients such as tomatoes, cabbage, onion, pepper and others, the seller must recover the expenses and still make attractive profit because the more attractive your suya is, the more money customers pay to eat.

The method of grilling the suya makes it a delicacy of some sort to most Nigerians who eat it. Gozie Ezeofia, loves eating suya. He said he eats suya very often and that it has remained his favorite dinner whenever he was traveling. “I love spicy foods and this makes me have a constant burning of the tongue. I’ve eaten succulent beef cubes, lightly seasoned and it typically costs around 200 naira for a stick and can be made with beef and chicken cuts, as well as bits of kidney, liver and gizzard.” Suya is one delicacy that has defied racial boundaries, as even foreigners relish it as much as Nigerians, but how safe is the local grill?

Uche Ogbanufe, a dietician, said that the use of local grill in which charcoal and kerosene are used openly to roast could be a source of hazard to the consumer. She said that suya is a good meal if the right grill is used devoid of fumes from coal and kerosene. “Meat is a source of protein and sometimes the suya seller, often referred to as ‘Mallam’, grills the chicken, fish and sometimes goat meat, depending on the demand of the clients in the locality where the stock is traded. Ali Usiholo, a doctor in University of Benin Teaching Hospital, UBTH, said that cavemen ancestors consumed grilled meats because some contents of saturated fats were being reduced during the process giving results to lean meat.

Chicken suya on display
Chicken suya on display

“Using open flames to grill meat leads to the production of chemicals called carcinogens which cause cancer in the body. They can be biological, physical, radiation or chemical and particularly exert their effects on people who are most sensitive to them. The most important is colonic cancer, which is the cancer of the large intestine. This colonic cancer in human beings is mostly caused as a result of people’s dietary habit,” Usiholo said. Accoding to him, the sanitary condition of suya preparation depends on where the consumer buys from. If for instance, a suya spot is close to a toilet, diseases can be spread and one can easily contract them but if one is buying it in a mall where it has been packaged, he or she might be safe.

But the question is, how many people would want to go all the way to buy suya in a mall for a price that is higher than what it is sold for in an open market? He said that one has to also consider where the meat is gotten from because the mallams slaughter the cows and prepare them as suya, such meat can be infected with tapeworms, pinworms or whipworms and these can be passed on to humans. “Ideally, veterinary doctors are supposed to inspect the animals and do so again after the animals have been slaughtered before declaring the meat safe for consumption. This is supposed to be done for all animals and the meat sold in the market. This is sometimes done in the abattoirs in Benin City.

“Some of these mallams could be carriers of diseases like typhoid. They don’t usually suffer from it but they are capable of infecting others through sneezing and coughing or doing their business without washing their hands. Therefore, those who deal on foods ought to get clean bills of health from the relevant authorities before trading in consumables.” He added that people should be more concerned about where they eat or buy food from and areas where they are sold should be regulated. These are the things the federal government should look into, but the truth is, can all these be done in Nigeria?

Despite these odds, however, suya business in some parts of the country is one fast-moving enterprise which enjoys a wide patronage especially in the major cities where social life is on a fast lane. From the East to the West, North to South, the enterprise is acquiring a significance through patronage at the roadside, hotels and the green areas of the metropolis where many enterprise managements employ men or contract them to make the delicacy which is a shish kebab-like food popular in West Africa, originally from the Hausa people of northern Cameroon, Nigeria and Niger.

It is generally made with skewered beef, fish or chicken. The meat is rubbed-in with a dry spice mix containing groundnut powder, cayenne pepper, ginger, paprika and onion powder. It is often served with spices, sliced onions, tomatoes, cabbages and other vegetables depending on the consumer.

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