From Olanrewaju Lawal, Birnin Kebbi

Wandu, also pronounced “Gando”, literary means “royal farmlands” in historical times. It is the headquarters of Gwandu Emirate, Kebbi State, founded by the Kebbawa people in the 16th Century.

Like in the past, Gwandu has been very a famous town. Its popularity is not just credited to being a centre of Islamic knowledge and a hub of farming activities, but largely also for its spicy, chewy Kilishi, a local meat made delicacy that appealed to the taste of men and women across generations.

In Gwandu, everybody loves Kilishi, the high and the lowly, almost with the same measure of passion. And everybody eats Kilishi. Visitors, including foreigners and tourists also munch the dry delicacy.

When it is time to go back home, they buy it in bulk and take to their relatives as gift items. In fact, there is hardly anybody that visits the royal town without returning home with wraps, if not bags of Kilishi Gwandu at the end of his trip.

It is held that although the people of the town are predominantly farmers of rice, onions, millet, watermelons and others, it is the production of different “suyas” and “baked meat” that have singled them out. Their own Kilishi is quite different from those of their counterparts in the North. 

Hayatu Labaran Gwandu, general manager, Y&H Kilishin Gwandu, told Daily Sun how he gave up his job in Lagos to start a Kilishi outlet in Gwandu in 2017.  He said he has never regretted that bold move that has turned his life around: “In the whole Northern Nigeria, Kilishi  Gwandu  has no equal.”

He believed it was for this reason that their customers come from across Nigeria and beyond. They supply Kilishi to customers in Oyo, Sokoto, Lagos and Ogun states, even as he confessed that many of their dealers travel to Gwandu to purchase the product: 

“I started with my brother about 20 years ago, when I was in secondary school. We kill between seven to 10 cows in a week then to make Kilishi. We apply seasonings groundnuts and other ingredients to spice it up.”

Recalling that he was apprenticed to his brother from where he eventually was taught the secret of the production, he added that he had now grown to becoming a master in his on right, mastering every stage of the preparation and living a life out of it: “In a week, my brother and I could make as much as between N30,000 to N100,000 as profit.”

Kilishi stuff has created job opportunities for thousands of youths easing the pressure off the state government: “There are many of us in this business in Gwandu today. I can say almost half of the youths in the town are into this business and we are proud of our job as it was meeting our ends.” 

Chairman, Kilishin Sellers Association (KSA), Abubakar Gwandu, said: “We don’t have any other trade here. Kilishi is what we do and we do it well. You cannot compare any other Kilishi with the one we prepare in Gwandu.

“Those who patronize us have realized this fact, and that is why our Kilishi is in high demand. Do you know they come from Malaysia, India, Japan, America and other countries to buy Kilishi in Gwandu?

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“Sometime ago, a man came here from Malaysia to buy Kilishi. He told us they love our Kilishi so much in Malaysia, because of the special way we prepare it. He bought N25,000 worth of Kilishi from me. He also bought from other sellers and took all of them to Malaysia.

“We normally prepare our Kilishi in a special way for people taking them out of the country, in such a way that they would remain intact for three to four months without getting bad.

“In a day, I could make up to N50,000 and at times, I could make N40,000 or N30,000. It depends on the patronage. We make more money from outside Kebbi State and Nigeria, than we make from our local customers.

“Again, the secret behind the patronage of our Kilishi is that we use different pepper ingredients to prepare it. Competitors from other states have not discovered this, and it will be hard for them to know how we prepare our Kilishi to taste the way it does.

“That is why whoever tastes our own Kilishi must come back for it. Nobody can resist it, the way they could resist other Kilishi, except they have not tasted it before. We take time to prepare it well. We also ensure that it is properly dried up in the sun before we treat it with the other ingredients while it is on fire.

“And that is why those who buy it from us can keep it for many months, without fear of it getting bad. We don’t always leave anything out when preparing our Kilishi because we are always mindful of the fact that we are making it for human consumption.

“Since I started this Kilishi business, I have never taken it out for sale anywhere. This is my twelfth year in the trade, but I have not taken it outside Gwandu for sale.

“Instead people from different parts of the Northern states in the country and even countries like Malaysia, Japan, America and others have been coming here to patronize us, they prefer our Kilishi. Whenever people want to buy Kilishi outside here, they would ask from the sellers if it were from Gwandu. They know our Kilishi is unique.”

Another seller, Umar Yahaya, said: “If government could assist us, we would have grown this business more than it is now in this town. Our Kilishi is in high demand. Most times we are unable to meet the demand of our customers. Unfortunately, we have limited resources to meet their demands. We could only produce for them with the little resources that are available. We can do more than this if we got assistance.”

Usman Gwandu, another seller, said he has some youths working under him: “They always assist me to take it to towns like Aliero, Jega and Kalgo for sale. I sometimes take my Kilishi to Birnin Kebbi and other big markets in the state.

“People often come here from different areas of the country to patronize us. They are always here from Abuja, Kano and even from Lagos. If you ask me why they are coming here I would tell you that it is because we prepare our Kilishi in a special way.

“For us in Gwandu, it is the only business that we do, so we take it very seriously. We are conscious of the need to satisfy our customers, so we always add the necessary ingredients that normally give it the desired taste and they appreciate it.”