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Inside The Ancient Epe Fish Market Where Only Women Trade

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This is a look into the ancient Epe fish market also known as Oluwo market where only women trade.

Epe fish market

The fish market

Epe, Lagos community, has a popular fish market known as Oluwo market. TOPE OMOGBOLAGUN writes about the market’s ancient tradition of having only women traders

The hustling and bustling of traders and sellers and buyers that early morning at Epe fish market noticeably exposed its popularity in the axis. Though known as fish or sea-food market among residents, it’s popularly called Oluwo market and tucked in Aiyetoro town in Epe; a town and council area in Lagos.

The market is some metres away from the town and located at the seashore. Its entrance is as busy as every other market with buyers and sellers strolling in and out of the place. Vehicles are always packed in front of the market gate and there’s a car park inside the open space.

Online sources put the population of Epe at 181,409 during the 2006 census.

It is one of the riverine areas in Lagos state and the major occupation for the indigenous people is fishing. The town is known notable festivals such as Kayo-kayo, Ebi day, Epe Day, among others.

Buying and selling resume for the day early and close at 6.30pm. The day usually starts with traders assembling at the riverbank awaiting fishermen to deliver goods to them.

The Secretary of Oluwo Market, Mrs Remi Olukolu, told Sunday PUNCH that the market became popular because of the different sea and land creatures on sale. The traders have fishermen who supply them fishes. The women traders arrive early in the morning to collect fishes from the fishermen.

She said, “The people who trade at the place are mostly women. The market is for women. It operates in such a way that it allows for division of labour. We have fishermen onshore that catch the fishes and boatmen often deliver them to us. The boat riders are like dispatch riders.

“They help bring the fishes from the fishermen on water to us on the land. The fishermen package the fishes and other seafood like crabs, shrimps, prawns and others and send with each person’s name written on their package. The traders come early in the morning to collect their packages. There are retailers from other markets who come to Oluwo market to buy from the traders.’’

Oluwo market is derived from the Oluwo family that reportedly sold the land to the government after the market construction. It was observed that no male trades in the market except two Hausas who sell dry pepper, onions, and ginger at an edge towards one of the exits in the market.

Some traders who spoke to our correspondents said the market had been in existence for long without being able to attach a year to its start, stating that the non-trading of men in the market was long-standing.

A mix of culture, trade and tourism

Olukolu said, “This market is about four centuries old. It’s passed from one generation to the other. Most of use inherited the fish-selling trade from our parents. For instance, in my case, I took over the business from my mother. I was born into the business. Whenever I returned from school then, I would join her in the market until after my secondary school when I started the business fully.

“We hardly have male traders in the market. They sell elsewhere but not in the market. In fact, when we didn’t have any men trading with us, the market association decided that we should appoint the late Baba oja (market leader) to head the market. He used to be a fisherman before the appointment. He wasn’t trading in the market; he was only involved in administrative duties like attending to visitors, managing the people among other things.”

Another fish-seller in the market, Mrs Afusat Hassan, who has been selling in the market for over 20 years, also inherited the business from her mother.

Hassan narrated, “I have been in the market for 25 years. I sell different kinds of fishes like Wesafu, shinning nose, barracuda, red snapper, pangasius (obokun) and the popular wedding fish, eja osan, popularly known as knife fish among Nigerians and different kinds of fishes.”

Eja osan is one of the fishes available at the market. It’s called the wedding fish because in some states in the South-West, especially in Ijebu, Ogun State, it’s usually part of the wedding list from the bride’s parents.

She added, “They don’t have to carry the whole fish to the brides’ parents. They usually cut them in pieces and often smoked before it is taken to the bride’s father. The prices often vary from one location to the other but it is one of the most expensive fishes in the market. The smallest costs N10,000 and the big ones are between N50,000, N70,000, N100,000 and N150,000.’’

Hassan who is in her mid-fifties said, “My mother was doing the business before I was born. I took over the business and I have been in it since then. Since we have been selling in the market, men don’t trade. I don’t think there is any taboo about it. The market was left to women considering the way it started.”

Supporting Olukolu’s claim, the fish trader said the market started long ago and her grandparents traded there.

She said, “It’s a market passed from one generation to generation. We can’t say the exact year it started but it has long been in existence many years ago.”

Mrs Toyin Oluwole, who has been a trading in the market for over 35 years, said it would be difficult to fix an exact date to when the market started. She stated that the market could be as old as Epe itself. “We met the market as we grew up and many of us took over trading from our parents,” she told our correspondent.

Oluwole stated, “There is no type of fish you want in the market that you wouldn’t get. I sell any kind of fish and I have been in the business for over 35 years. Since I was young, I always came to the market to meet my mother at the fish market. This wasn’t the location of the market then. It was moved in 1990 to its current location. It used to be at marine side until it could no longer contain the influx of traders and buyers. It kept expanding and that was when it was moved to its present location. We have never had men sell in the market. They only serve as fishermen who sell fishes and sold to customers.”

The market also provides opportunity to learn about the culture of the Yoruba. Another trader, Mrs Sakirat Adedayo, talked about obokun (silver catfish), which she said must not be taken out of water to be sold.

Adedayo said, “Obokun is best sold alive in water. Once you brought it out of water and it has a direct touch with sunlight, the fish will die early which will result into loss for traders. Also, once taken outside of its natural habitat, it wouldn’t survive for long, else the reason for selling it at the riverbank. Once it dies, people will not buy and it would be a great loss to us. We always leave them inside the water. People usually come to the riverbank to buy them.”

A basket containing 12 fishes is sold between N10,000 and N120,000 depending on the size. Some were as tall as a four-year-old child once lifted off the basket.

“Once our fishermen deliver them, we sort them according to the size inside the baskets and sell them at the riverbank. Our customers already know where they buy them. Although there are frozen ones, people prefer to buy them at the riverbank,”
she said.

Adedayo said she and her elder sister inherited the business from their mother. “My mother is still alive but she is too old to do running around.’’

Asked why females dominate the market, she said, “We met it that way and I don’t think anything is attached to it. It’s a market that evolved and passed down from generation to generation.

Also speaking, the Iya Alaje of Oluwo market, Mrs Folashade Ojikutu, told our correspondent that she was born into the trade.

She said, “I have been in the market since I was in primary school. The market has existed for years even before the birth of my mother and grandmother. My mother gave birth to two children in the market and I am her last child. There are different kinds of fish, bush meat, goat meat and cow meat sold in the market.”

A food vendor who had been patronising the market for over 10 years identified only as Mrs Tawakalitu, said she buys everything she uses for her food preparation at the market.

She said, “My mother introduced me to the market because she was the one doing the business before I took over. I am a food vendor and buy fishes, snails and other seas foods at the market. The edibles don’t have fixed prices; they depend on the availability. I have been patronising the market for over 10 years.’’

The network of division of labour

The market observes division of labour in that most fisherman husbands of the traders supply fishes to their wives who in turn sell them. The market is populated by people from different tribes ranging indigenes of Epe, Ijebu to Ondo especially Ilaje and others.

The Iya Alaje noted that the division of labour in the market prescribed men to fish and women to sell.

Many of the traders claimed that the market was about four-century old as the Jakande administration relocated it to its current site.  Though Sunday PUNCH couldn’t verify the traders’ claim of the market’s four-century existence, most of them inherited the business from their mothers and noted that it might be as old as the town itself.

She said, “Indeed, you will hardly find men in the market. The men usually fish for us. Once they bring the fishes, they give to their wives, customers and head home.

My grandmother was one of the influential people in the market. Back then, whenever the fishermen needed to start a business, they would look for someone to sponsor them; like buy them equipment for fishing. Whoever sponsored them was the person they supplied fish till they finished paying the money.

“We have few men selling in the market then. It was the market women who went to meet Baba oja to be our leader. He was a fisherman and we found him to be reliable. He handled the administrative duties well before his death some weeks ago. We have yet to get a new baba oja.”

One of the fish sellers, Mrs Abidemi Awokoya, is also a wife of a fisherman. She told our correspondent that her husband has another job he does but supplies her fishes.

She said, “I have been selling in the market for over 10 years. I supply fishes to customers in Lekki, Victoria Island, Ijebu, Bariga and other places. My husband goes out to fish in the early hours of the day and I sell the fishes he gets. We then share the profit.’’

Awokoya, like other traders in the market, inherited the business from her mother.

Sunday PUNCH encountered an elderly woman popularly referred to as Iya Epe at the seashore She doesn’t sell fishes but assists buyers in cutting and cleaning fishes at the market. She charges money based on the size and fish cost.

She stated that she had been working in the market for over 15 years, adding “What I do is to help the traders cut the fishes and clean them. The influx of people into the market doesn’t allow people who sell fish to cut and clean the fishes.’’

“We charge from N200. For instance, if you buy a fish for N1,500, we are likely to help you clean it for N400. Also, the type of fish we clean depends on the price we charge. Fish with scales will cost more than the ones without scales. I make about N20,000 daily.”

A woman identified as Iya Ilaje is also another person who helps customers to clean their fishes.

She said, “I am from Ilaje in Ondo State. That’s why the people call me Iya Ilaje. My husband is a fisherman but I don’t sell fishes. I help people to cut and clean their fishes. If you want to dry them, I could help you smoke them too.”

She noted that the traders were mainly women, saying the development was not based on taboo but an age-long culture.

Olukolu noted that the market had evolved beyond only the sale of fishes, some traders sell kitchen wares and clothing items.

She added, “We sell snakes, bush meat, crayfish, snail, alligators and tilapia, Wasafu, Owere, Kuta and Okodo. There is no fish you want at market that you won’t find.”

Some traders at the market sell animals like antelopes, grass cutters, crocodiles, grass cutters and porcupines.

Another trader identified only as Mrs Sade, said hunters also supplied them animals killed during hunting.

Sade noted, “We buy from hunters and we sell to restaurant owners. We also sell to individuals for home cooking. There are retailers who buy from us and sell in the market.’’

One of the retailers who identified herself as Toyin said she used to buy bush meat from the traders and resell at Ajah. She said, “Once I buy it, I clean roast and take it to town to sell. There are days I make N30,000.’’

Plea for facelift

Ojikutu, who described the market as the commercial capital of fish business/trading in Lagos, noted that it was not in good shape.

“People come from Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Ogun and other parts of the country to buy from the market. It’s built during the Lateef Jakande administration. The last time any renovation was done in the market was when a part of the market collapsed and the council chairman renovated it. We want the government to help us turn it into an ultramodern market. When people hear of Epe, this market is the real Epe.”

Ojikutu further said she assumed her current position after she was chosen by the oracle.

She stated, “I attribute my position as the Iyalaje of Oluwo market to God. There are people who are older than me, yet the oracle chose me. I was the only one picked by the oracle among the market executives. I am the youngest of them all. This is the fourth year I am holding the position. Leadership in the market is mostly by appointments. They look for competent people within the market and choose them.’’

Also, a customer, Mrs Sope Aina, told Sunday PUNCH that she was thrilled by the several edible creatures she saw at the market as a first-time visitor.

She said, “I saw some fishes I have not seen in my life before; it’s awesome. If the market is properly maintained, it will generate huge revenue for the government.’’

In his comment, Chairman, Epe Local Government, Mr Adedoyin Adesanya, stated that men don’t trade in the market for it had been widely accepted as a market for women by the community.

He said, “The Oluwo market is for women, men don’t sell there. The market is a fish market. It is mostly for fishes. The reason men don’t trade in the market is because of the distribution chain in the market. The men are fishermen. They go to the river to fish and bring home fishes for the women to sell. That is the why you won’t see men selling there. Men are like the wholesalers of fishes and women are the retailers.”

According to him, the market is in a poor state because the council hardly generates any income from there.

Our correspondent who visited the market on a weekday observed that it opened early and didn’t close until 6:30pm. But the council chairman said it usually opens noon and closes 2pm on weekends.

He said, “We are not getting much revenue from the market. The state of the market is not good like that of other markets in Epe because it is not a major market. The market opens around 12pm and traders return home by 2pm. It is only on weekends or whenever there is a huge catch by the fishermen that they stay long in the market. The sellers don’t go to the market on time and the majority of them don’t pay tax that is why much attention has not been paid there.’’

***

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The Military Is Paying Today For Undermining The Police Yesterday By Abubakar Adam Ibrahim

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It is an oft-repeated assertion and is certainly true that the Nigerian military is overstretched and overwhelmed because the Nigerian Police is not pulling its weight.

The Police Force has been so debased that, as we have seen in recent attacks against police formations in the country, it does not have the aptitude to protect itself, not to talk of protecting the rest of us. What has not been talked about is how exactly we got here and how we could escape this god-awful situation.

Some military generals last week during a ‘Conference of State and Civil Society Actors on the Intersection of National Security and the Civic Space in Nigeria,’ organised by WISER and OSIWA at the Nigerian Army Resource Centre, touched on some of these issues with tender hands in velvet gloves.

It really was interesting listening to these soldiers speak about their relationship with the rest of the country. What comes through is a certain superciliousness about their standing in the scheme of things and a certain scorn about the standing of other demographics, such as the civilian population and especially civil society organisations. But perhaps no demographic is at the butt of this condescension like the Nigerian Police. What was even more painful to watch was the military’s failings to see the correlation between its actions over the years, the near-collapse of the Nigerian Police Force and the current entanglement Nigeria finds itself in.

At no point was this more glaring than during the comment session when a General blamed the civilian population for the persistence of Boko Haram in fermenting trouble in the country. With as much disdain as propriety would allow, he posed some rhetorical questions:

“Who gives Boko Haram food? Who gives them money?”

Valid questions by all considerations but inherently flawed. Flawed because they wilfully failed to take into consideration that the villagers, faced with an armed horde of murderous terrorists, and with no protection from the state, would be unqualified idiots not to comply with the demands of men with blood in their eyes pointing guns at them.

The most pertinent question this General failed to ask, out of mischief or a skewed perspective, is; who gives Boko Haram the weapons they use to massacre civilians and decimate Nigerian troops considering that a good percentage of the weapons the terrorists use today were seized from the Nigerian Army?

A lot has been said about the loss of a number of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, acquired at great cost and trouble, to Boko Haram, which the insurgents used to attack the military super camp in Mainok recently.

Conveniently, this General failed to explain how armed soldiers continue to lose military equipment to Boko Haram and expected unarmed, defenceless civilians not to surrender their food and possessions to the terrorists.

It was unfortunately the same attitude the military brought to its assessment of the problems created by Nigeria’s abysmal policing situation.

In his submission, for instance, one of the panellists, Maj. General EG Ode (rtd), spoke about how the failure of the police to perform its duties has forced the military into the civil space to engage in civil protection, which they are untrained for. Brig. General Saleh Bala (rtd), President of WISER, during my interview with him recently, captured this succinctly: “What business does an air force personnel have on an AMAC task force chasing vendors off the street?” he asked.

Today, the Nigerian military is involved in about 40 operations spread across the country primarily to secure civil spaces, mounting checkpoints and dealing with criminal elements the police should have been dealing with. What the military brings to these operations is their peculiar mindset. Armed with a hammer, everything does look like a nail to it. Thus, an out-of-school boy caught hawking sachet water on the street and a robber are often given a similar treatment.

But why did the police collapse so woefully that they now need the military to prop them up by taking part of the burden off them? The answer has everything to do with the military.

In the 1960s, the Nigerian Police was quite professional with the inherent efficiency of their colonial role models. When the military first inserted itself in the civil arena by overthrowing a democratically elected government in January 1966, the police investigation into the incidents of that night of January 15 remains until today a thing of pride.

But that moment that should have been the police’s finest hour also happened to be the death knell of the force.

First, the intrusion of the military in the civil space, its imposition and enforcement of curfews by itself relegated the police to a secondary force in their main area of operation. To consolidate their hold on power, soldiers patrolled the streets, controlled traffic, and terrified the populace into submission and compliance. They succeeded in emasculating not only the civilian populace but also the police who have to surrender their roles to the military.

In the first 13 years of uninterrupted military rule between 1966 and 1979, and the second stretch of military rule between 1983 and 1999, the police, stripped of their primary roles, became complacent and lost a lot of capacity. Police diligence made way for the crude efficiency of the military, who took over not only the government but also the civil space, shoving the police onto the kerb, reducing them to no more bystanders in the Nigerian State than the civilian population. The police suffered the neglect that would today render it the weightless husk it has become. Of course, in this state, mercantile police officers developed a comprehensive system of further undermining the force for personal gains as amply demonstrated by former police boss, Tafa Balogun’s car farm and massive loot.

It has been two decades since the return of civil rule. Enough time perhaps for the police to regain its mojo. But the lingering tragedy of Nigeria’s convoluted yet hasty return to democracy is the failure of various military regimes in their transition plans to account for the rebuild of the Police Force expected to fill in the gap that the withdrawal of the military from public space would create. The focus at the time was rebuilding a political culture without any thought to resuscitating the custodians of law and order.

And sadly, since the military withdrew from power, there has not been a deliberate effort to empower the police and restore professionalism within its ranks. Therefore, Nigeria has continued to trundle from one disaster to another starting from the civil unrests of the OPC in the South West, the Sharia riots in the North and the secessionists’ agitations in the South East and inevitably to Boko Haram, banditry, communal clashes, kidnappings and the total chaos we are in now.

So if today the police have remained incompetent, understaffed and lacking capacity and the military has to be called in to every village, every market and every traffic gridlock to deal with the situation while also fighting Boko Haram, it is only logical they would be asked to help fill a vacuum they themselves helped to create. Logical only in the sense of it being a short-term solution. But this country has a penchant for making short-term solutions everlasting.

Solving this problem is not rocket science. It is inconceivable to say Nigeria does not have the resources to rebuild the police, recruit and train a significant number of officers in instalments over years, create, train, equip and deploy Special Forces to deal with specific security challenges the country faces. One only needs to look at how much is frittered away in maintaining the political class and their various appendages who have now commandeered over half of what is left of the police force for their personal protection and bag-carrying duties at the expense of the rest of us.

With an army of unemployed youths eager for work, it is obvious that the only thing stopping the rebuild of the police is simply a chronic shortage of political will and long term planning.

 

Eid Mubarak! May Allah keep you all and your loved ones safe.

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Alhaji Alhaji ,Convener Igala In Focus Sue For Peace Among Igala Race,Felicitates With Muslims.

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Convener and coordinator Igala in focus,a WhatsApp platform that discuss the socio-economic and political developement of Igala nation,Kogi state in general,Alhaji Alhaji has enjoined the people of the area not allow their differences overrides the overall interest of the race.

He made this statement in his Sallah message to the people of Kogi east advising all and sundry to imbibe peace,and collective bargaining for the progress of the area.

The convener stressed the need to learn from the lessons of the holy month that preaches patience,love,kindness,tolerance, forgiveness and peaceful co-existence among mortals.

He advised the people of Kogi east to form a quorum to dare the next political dispensation and not to allow differences that can be resolved over shadow the interest of the race.

He said the area had learnt a lot from the political downturn in the last few years and paid dearly for it,saying the need to retrace our step is sancrosanct.

The coordinator congratulated the people of the area,Kogi state for witnessing this year’s event,and prayed for more years on the surface of earth.

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Eid Al-Fitr: Natasha Akpoti Felicitates with Muslim Faithfuls

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As muslim faithfuls all over the world marks this year’s end of ramadan fasting with eid al-fitr celebration, the former governorship candidate of the social democratic party in Kogi State, Barr.

Natasha Hadiza Akpoti felicitates with them on this special occasion.

Akpoti in her message, urged Muslims all over Nigeria to use this special occasion to seek for devine intervention on the deplorable security situation of the country while preaching unity and tolerance among faiths.

“I felicitate with our Muslim brothers and sisters in Nigeria and all over the world on the occasion of eid al-fitr which marks the end of ramadan fasting. Let us use this special occasion to pray for God’s intervention on the deplorable state of our nation while ensuring unity and tolerance among different faiths.

May Allah bless our homes and nation with happiness, peace and prosperity on this special occasion. Happy eid al-fitr!.” Akpoti said.

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