By Azubuike Umeokoro firstname.lastname@example.org
Alarms are set, plans are made, budgets are drawn up; it is Tuesday and all roads in Lagos State and beyond lead to the Oba Farounbi Aswani Model Village in Isolo Lagos State. The infuriating Lagos traffic jam is more pronounced today and the interminable traffic congestion is explained away as “today na Tuesday nau.”
There is no need for elaboration. One already knows what is meant. Such is the popularity of the market. It is seven in the morning and the market is already at full blast. Trading starts from the street that leads to the main entrance to the market. Enterprising individuals sell out of their vehicles; others display their wares on strategic and eye-catching locations around the entrance. Local government officials and market task force members are already making the rounds collecting all manner of dues. They engage in heated exchanges with traders.
Motorcycles and tricycles supply a never-ending stream of traders and an ever-increasing number of customers. The market is situated on a vast expanse of land that is enclosed by a running short fence punctuated by a main entrance, little side gates and broken walls. The sights that greet the eyes as one beholds the market from the main entrance are truly remarkable. A first time visitor may simply be overwhelmed by the festive air, carnival-like chaos, dazzling colours and the cacophony of noise. At first glance everything seems jumbled as every bit of space is creatively used to display goods for sale.
The din is truly remarkable; traders bellow prices of their wares at the top of their lungs in different languages, microphones blare advertisements for trado-medical products offering cures for everything under the face of the sun. There are rat poison sellers condemning rats with venom, pure water hawkers calling out to the thirsty, shoe and clothes sellers reaching out to customers all screaming with real enterprise and purpose. Traders, much like telecommunication masts, bombard the airwaves with every type of frequency, while customers sieve through them tuning in only to the signals they fancy. It is a bazaar of immense proportions. On closer inspection though, one can make out an organisation of sorts in the bedlam, with birds of a feather, so to speak, flocking together.
The market is sectionalised and rows of open stalls, both makeshift and permanent, are occupied by traders who are arranged according to their merchandise. This arrangement is discernable even among traders who set up shop along the fences and on the ground between buildings. A diverse spread of glitzy colours from the Abada populated stalls at the entrance, the huge section of second hand or Okirika clothes and shoes in the hinterlands of the market tantalize the eyes with their offerings. A striking feature of the market is the neatness of the environment in which trading takes place.
The size of the market is complemented by the variety of people and offerings on display. Textiles and all manner of clothing materials adorn stalls to the left. On the right side that bounds the expressway are various array of new and readymade shoes and clothes. Along the fences and stretching down as far as the eyes can see are a plethora of new clothes and shoes. At the extreme edges of the market are trinket stalls, antiques and chinaware, children clothing, used clothes and shoes, bags of every shape and description, all manner of domestic items, goods of every description are arrayed every where the eye can see.
The flea market like atmosphere is infringed by nine blocks of one storey lock up shops occupied by dealers in electrical and industrial equipment. Theirs is a daily trade not inspired by the weekly Aswani fair. Their incongruous goods provide a contrast and steel to the otherwise softer offerings that the market is known for. Juxtaposed within and around the stalls are traders with wooden contraptions on which they display their wares. In addition to these are hawkers, itinerant traders, mobile music mongers, mobile phone peddlers, foodstuff sellers and even be-suited bible wielding evangelists seeking to bring in souls into God’s kingdom. The population of the market is preponderantly female.
The Aswani market place is more than a place for buying and selling; it is a civilisation on its own. There is a noticeable presence of armed police officers languidly milling about with a keen eye on revenue collectors as they go about their business. Traders jostle amongst themselves to catch the attention of potential customers with wide smiles and all manner of endearments. Quarrels often break out and foul words are used with loose abandon, but the energy of their enterprise is undiminished. As customers mill about bargaining with traders, there is a large sprinkling of shabbily dressed young men randomly meandering about with no apparent aim, feigning interest in the goods on display. One walks up to me; he is unkempt but has a friendly disposition. He wants to know if I work for the developers as he had seen me talking to traders and taking notes. I tell him that I am a journalist I ask his name.
“My name na Hallelujah,” he announces. When I inquire as to his trade, he tells me he is an “area father”. “Nobody wey no know me for this market,” he explains. “Just mention Hallelujah anywhere, dem go tell you who I be.” To buttress his point, he takes me by the arm and proceeds to introduce me to traders around. He tells them he has invited a journalist to the market to write a story about their experiences. They laugh and make friendly banter with him; apparently he is a popular fellow. Mrs Uzo Okeke has come from Ejigbo to sell new shoes and sandals. She anticipates a brisk trade due to the impending Salah celebrations.
“Na our season be dis,” she tells me. She says there has been a slight increase in prices of footwear as the festive season swings into gear, although the main price hike has yet to come. Mrs. Bisi Jegede is arranging her wares on her table. She sells wrappers of different colours and grades. She does not own a stall and so has to make do with selling in the open. She intones that most traders in the market do not own stalls due to the weekly nature of the market. They have permanent places of business but the lure of the Aswani market on Tuesdays is one that guarantees them large volume of sales.
Actually, one need not own a stall at the market in order to trade. All you need do is pay the required dues between N450 and N600, depending on your location. For Mrs. Bola Ogunleye who sells tailoring materials, early rising is the key. She has come from Ikorodu and had to leave her home by 4.30am in order to get her location of choice. Mrs. Ngozi Emeh has come to buy second clothes for her children in time before Christmas. She says there is no shame in buying cheap second hand clothes. Another customer. Mr. Nnaemeka Ejiego fell in love with the market two years ago when a friend introduced him to the market. Now he is a regular visitor and comes to buy everything from clothes to bags.
Most African markets have a history behind them. I am curious and I inquire from traders and buyers just how the market came to be. “Na so we meet am” is the general response. The market though has not always been in this form or indeed in this location. Chief Mrs. Matilda Ajoke Aderonmu, JP is Iyaloja or general head of the Aswani Market. According to her, the trading on Tuesday is a tradition that has been maintained since 1970 when the market began as a small scale informal textile market. Traders would buy textile materials from textile mills all over Lagos including at the Aswani Textile Mills at Five Star bus stop Oshodi where they would assemble on Tuesdays and sell to buyers.
That was how the tradition of Tuesday trading started and how the market came to be known as Aswani market. In time, the bustling trade in textile attracted more traders and as word spread, more sellers came calling so that the traders had to move from the factory premises to the Five Star junction where the market assumed a street trading nature. In a bid to sanitise the environment and rid the area of street trading, the Oshodi Local Government asked the traders to relocate in 1979. The traders where thus left without a place to trade. It was Chief Mrs. Aderonmu and some other representatives of the traders who took their plight to Oba Disu Farounbi of Isolo. Oba Farounbi who saw this as a means of facilitating development in his community, offered the traders three choices at Ajao, Daleko and Isolo.
The market is named after him in recognition of the part he played in establishing it. From those early days where the market was primarily a forest and a handful of stalls that were rented at N5, the market steadily grew and in 1984, Mrs. Suzy Akerele and some other traders joined and started the trade in second clothes or okirika for which the market is now famous. From having bought their merchandise in and around Lagos in the past, the traders now buy from places like Lome and Cotonou while buyers come from all over the country and beyond. And in all that time, the weekly nature of the market has been maintained.
The weekly nature of the market is one the market executives in conjunction with the local government are trying to change. Their goal is to transform Aswani market to a market where trading happens on a daily basis. They want to maximise the potential inherent in the market. The rows of empty shops on non-market days do not make economic sense to them. Their quest has been helped in part by traders who took up shop at the market in 2009 after they were expelled from their place at Oshodi when the Mosafejo market was demolished. Their work is cut out for them, but they are determined even though they acknowledge that Tuesdays would forever be market day at Aswani.
Construction of stalls is in earnest but traders say that at N250,000 a stall, the price is too steep for them. Meanwhile it is just past 2.00pm. The glare of the sun is relentless over head, swarming crowds engage in buying. As the day winds down, traders begin to pack their wares, the once full market is empting at a quick rate as trading abates. Outside, traders with tired faces lug huge sacks of unsold merchandise as customers carry the day’s purchases. Together they try to board buses home. Traffic slowly builds up as unscrupulous commercial bus drivers obstruct traffic. Other road users express their anger through their horns, others yell insults. The bus drivers are unperturbed; they are used to this.
It is the end of another Aswani market day and the trend is reversed as people make their way home from the market. Maybe when the market becomes fully daily in nature, traders would not have to wait for one week to smile at the end of trading and customers would always have the luxury of cheap goods everyday of the week.