By Sola Ogundipe, Benjamin Njoku, Juliet Ebirim, Iyabo Aina, Anozie Egole & Aderonke Adeyeri
As early as 5 am every morning, Iya Lati is up for the day’s business. The business of attending to the “stomach infrastructure” of her customers by cooking of rice, beans, plantain and stew in addition to two or three other local delicacies. By 6.30 am She is ready to hit the motor park where her numerous customers are already waiting for her. Indeed, Iya Lati, is one of the hundreds of thousands of women who toil day and night to support their families by hawking foods on the streets of major cities across the country. From Lagos to Abuja, Port-Harcourt to Kaduna and Enugu to Ibadan, food vendors have taken over the streets. In fact, following the harsh economic reality that Nigerians are currently faced with, the business is booming.
Patronizing roadside food vendors is gradually becoming a way of life among the youths and low income earners particularly in Lagos where more and more people are going into the business since it does not require a lot of capital to start. At different motor parks, popular junctions and business areas, these food vendors popularly called ‘Mama Put’ set up their business in the open space with their numerous customers milling around them like bees around a honey pot. Some of them erect a kind of shed made of plank to shield their customers from rain or scorching sun.
At the bus stops, motor parks, under the bridge and along the streets, people are seen patronizing the food vendors. The “rush hours”, when many customers patronize the food vendors is between 7 am and 10 am in the morning when pupils and students are on their way to school and in the evening from 6 pm. The foods often found on their menu include, rice, beans and bread, fried plantain, macaroni, Salad, fish and meat. Sometimes, for customers who want to keep their mouth busy, they go for roasted yam or plantain, and boiled or roasted corn.
Saturday Vanguard’s visit to some of the areas where most of them are operating discovered a lamentable picture of what it looks like to patronize a roadside food vendor. The environment in the first place is an eyesore. Flies here and there, day-light mosquitoes, carbon fumes and dust in the air which settle on these foods and make them unhygienic for human health. Worse still, some of the vendors look very haggard, dirty and unkempt, as they don’t observe the basic rules of hygiene in the preparation of these foods.
But despite these anomalies, people are still patronizing the roadside food vendors. Those who are patronizing them are doing so, without fear of contacting any food borne disease such as typhoid, dysentery, diarrhea and cholera. Some of the customers who spoke to Saturday Vanguard, claimed that the foods are not only cheaper, convenient and nutritious but also, they are ready-to-eat food, and sold according to the requests of their customers, compared to restaurant meals where prices are relatively on the high side.
“I leave my home very early in the morning to start my motor business. So, most times, I have no choice than to patronize the food vendors because I can’t afford to go back home,” a bus driver, Saheed narrated.
For Emeka, a petty trader, he patronizes roadside food vendors simply because besides varieties, roadside foods are less expensive and delicious. “I am attracted to the food because it’s tasteful, cheap and ready-to-eat. I can afford to spend only N100 to buy rice with plantain and beans. That’s the advantage,” he said, explaining that given the present harsh economic situation in the country, many people nowadays prefer to patronize street food vendors to save cost.
But, Uche Michael, a bus conductor said, he usually eat roadside foods, and has not fallen sick for one day because he makes sure the environment where he eats or buys food from is clean and befitting. Segun, a motor park tout, otherwise called agbero, said he has a particular vendor who usually supplies him food whenever he is hungry. “I don’t like eating food from different vendors because of the health implication,” he snapped.
Challenges of roadside food vendors
According to a popular food seller at Cele Bus stop, along Oshodi/Mile 2 expressway, Mrs Onweni, selling food by the roadside comes with a lot of challenges. Onweni who hails from Delta State trains her five children in school from the gains she makes from the food business. She said she has been in the business for nearly 20 years. According to her, the business is not as lucrative as many people perceived it to be.”Sometimes, one will go home without making any profit. We sell these foods very cheap, as low as N100, N120,00 and so on. At the end of the day, we will not make any profit. We are still in the business because we don’t have any other thing to keep body and soul together,” she narrated.
Speaking further, the middle-aged woman added that while she wakes up as early as 5 am in the morning to prepare the foods, she hits the bus stop at 6.30 am to commence the day’s business and will not return home until 8 pm. However, realizing the health risks involved in preparing foods in an unhygienic environment, Mrs Onweni who is assisted by her two daughters said, she tries hard to keep her environment clean at all times to attract customers.
Recounting the ordeal she sometimes face in the hands of law enforcement agents who once destroyed her former make-shift shop, Mrs Onweni wished she could raise enough money to rent her own shop. “I’m just managing this place and they will soon chase us away from here. I wish I could raise enough money to rent a shop where I can operate a restaurant. I am tired of running up and down but I can’t go home and fold my arms and wait for my husband to provide for me all alone. That’s while I’m still in this business,” she said.
Another food seller, who identified herself as an actress, said she’s into the business as a result of passion. “I am an actress and I am doing this business because of the passion I have for it. My children have asked me to leave the business and I will do so very soon. Also, Iya Bose, who sells foods at a mechanic workshop at Ejigbo area of Lagos, revealed that most of her customers are mainly married men and women, as well as children. She said, given the present economic situation in the country, many families now prefer to buy their breakfast and lunch from food sellers to save cost.
However, in Nigeria today, people are no longer cautious of the dangers associated with eating or buying foods in an unclean environment. According to experts, such foods could be contaminated by microorganisms which are present in the air, water or on the hands of those who prepare and sell food. But which ever way one wants to look at it, the popularity of roadside foods in Nigeria is not waning at all.
Regardless of the health implications associated with eating vended foods, the rich as well as the poor are damning the consequences, no thanks to the present harsh economic reality in the country. The fact that it provides a major source of income for millions of Nigerians, particularly women and as well offers opportunity for self-employment makes the business inevitable.