Spotlight on Nigeria’s snake market

You want some snake meat? Or you need to buy live snakes to make some pepper soup?  Please, hurry down to the Badagry market and pick your choice.

It is a unique market offering special stuff. It holds on special days known only to those who care to know or those who have business to do there. It is not your conventional market in terms of content and character.

Welcome to Badagry Snake Market. It is arguably the biggest snake market in these climes. Tucked at a corner of the Badagry main market, it takes care of the needs of snake lovers. There, baskets and bags of different species and sizes of dried and fresh snakes are displayed and sold to enthusiastic buyers, who throng the place every market day.

Some of the buyers come from near and distant places. It was gathered that most of those who come to Badagry to buy snake meat are women who operate restaurants. However, some come to buy for personal or family use.

Investigation reveals that the snake market holds every eight days. But if it falls on a Sunday, it will be moved to the next day. It could not be ascertained why business is not done there on Sundays. One of the traders, who identified herself simply as Iya Azeez, said: “Na so we see am o. I don’t know why there is no market on Sundays here.”

A town and its history
When you talk about history, you talk about Badagry. It is a historic town, a town where history is made from one generation to another. Located in Lagos, about 30 minutes drive to the Republic of Benin, Badagry could also be described as the cradle of Christianity, western education and civilisation in Nigeria.

Nigeria’s first storey building is in Badagry. It was built in 1845 by the Anglican missionaries and it still stands by the marina till this day. In 1842, Rev. Bernard Freeman wrote another chapter of history in Badagry when he became the first person to preach the Christian religion in the town of history.

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Can any one talk about slave trade in West Africa without mentioning Badagry? History has is that about 500,000 human livestock were transported through Badagry to Brazil and elsewhere via the infamous Point of No Return, where slaves were kept for onward shipment abroad.

Inside the canine cuisine market
The reporter was at the snake market and witnessed brisk business going on there. You stop in your tracks as you step into the market to behold baskets and bags of fresh and dried snakes, among other creepy creatures. In fact, an eerie feeling enveloped the reporter when he saw the stacks of snake meat. But for the buyers and sellers, it was business as usual, as they went about their transaction like other traders. For them, snake is like any other meat; there is no fuss about it.

Both the sellers and buyers of snake meat begin to arrive the market early in the morning. In fact, if you do not get to the market early enough, you may not see any snake to buy because the demand is quite high.

For instance, the reporter got to the market at about 9.30am and almost everything had been sold out. Only a few baskets were on display and within minutes, they were gone too. The early callers were seen packing the coils of snakes into bags and baskets.

“If you really want to buy a large quantity of snakes, you must come early. You must be here not later than 7.00 in the morning. Otherwise, you may have to buy from retailers and the price will not be the same. The best time to come is from 6.00am,” explained one of the traders.

Snakes are not exactly cheap at the market. One large snake can cost up to N1400 while a small one can cost between N400 and N500. And if you want a live snake, you can place an order with one of the dealers and she will bring it to you the next market day.

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Investigations revealed that a large chunk of the snakes sold at the market were ‘imported’ from the neighbouring Togo and the Republic of Benin. Over the years, they have maintained steady supplies from their farms.

Apart from snakes, other special delicacies sold in the market include frogs, alligators, tortoise, snails, bush meat and dried fish.

In love with snakes
People really love snake meat; there is no doubt about it. And people attribute different kinds of taste to it. Some say snake meat tastes like fish; some say it is like chicken. Yet, others say it has a peculiar taste, something better tasted than described.

“If you have not tasted snake, you don’t know what you are missing. It is a tasty meal. I think it is better when prepared as pepper soup but you can also use it to prepare soup or stew. There is nothing like it. I’m in love with snake meat,” volunteered a young woman, who identified herself as Iya Lekan.

She said that she could not afford not coming to buy snakes every market day, otherwise her customers would not be happy with her. She added that business had been good.

Take this from Mr. Ebere Torti, an indigene of Abia State: “Sure, I do eat snake meat. It tastes like chicken. I eat it at a restaurant at Idimu, Lagos, at the cost of N300 per plate of snake pepper soup. They also do ‘point and kill’ which is sold for N1500. But when I was in the village I used to kill it by myself. I used to roast and eat the meat. In fact, I really like snake meat.”

When reminded about the poisonous venom said to be present in the bones of snakes, Ebere quipped: “People say that but I’ve not noticed such since I started eating snake.”

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Spiritual angle
But considering that, according to the biblical account, snake was the cause of the fall of man hence it was cursed by God, is it good for human consumption? Alhaji Abbas Egwu quipped: “There may be difference of opinions on this, but snake is not among the good things legislated for Muslims as food.”

Barrister Menay Haruna said: “There is no express provision in the Holy Koran prohibiting the eating of snake.

However, the Koran says we are permitted to eat all lawful and good food. Somewhere in the Hadith, the prophet was quoted to have prohibited the eating of any animal that has fangs. Snakes fall under this.”

Haruna added: “In brief, the prophet (SAW) said in a Hadith that the meat of all animals that survived on hunting others is unlawful; that is two categories – reptiles and some birds like hawk.”

Pastor Tony Ukaegbu submitted: “It would be improper to eat snake meat because of its spiritual implications. First, it is a cursed creature. Genesis 3 vs 1, 14 said: ‘And the Lord God said unto the serpent, because thou has done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, above every beast of the field, upon your belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life.’ Therefore, of all creatures that God created, it is only the serpent that God cursed because of its deceitful nature.”

Ukaegbu further said: “I may not know how snake meat tastes but I submit that it cannot be the best meat to be desired for eating. Also, in Acts 28 vs 3, the Bible said that a viper came out from the firewood that Paul and his colleagues were using to warm themselves and fastened on Paul’s hand. Paul shook off the viper into the fire; that would have been a good meat for him but he did not eat it.”

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