By Elizabeth Adegbesan
Food hawkers, known in local parlance as Mama Put, have always enjoyed tremendous patronage, among site workers and artisans, who have no time to patronise well constituted restaurants.
Women from all over Nigeria, especially the West, are well known for their expertise and vigour in the business.
It has also been seen to have helped most unskilled female workers survive, because gathering materials for its investment is not too hard.
However, the rising cost of foodstuffs and other ingredients has made most of the once appreciated business unprofitable, as food hawkers now involve in alternative businesses like picking bottles, selling biscuits and sweets, load carrying in the market (Alabaru) among other things.
Economy&Lifestyle spoke to Mrs. Meimunat Hassan, a former food hawker at Ikorodu, and she said: “I started hawking amala (yam flower meal) as a maid for a food vendor in Iyana-Isashi, along Badagry expressway. I was 21 then.
“I remember making two trips a day and returning good sales. I decided to use my savings to start my own hawking. I started with rice and I made a profit of N3,000 per day then.
“Seeing that the business was no longer lucrative in the area, I moved to Ikorodu, because there are new sites there. But my hopes were dashed, as things began to get expensive.
“I could hardly meet up with purchasing most of the things I needed for the business and settle other expenses.
“So, I decided to pick bottles and sell them to recycling companies. I use the money I get to sell sweets and biscuits to school children. I thank God I am eating.”
The narrative of Mrs. Rebecca Viode, a food vendor at Igando, confirmed Hassan’s claims.
“I have never seen such a devastating economy. The prices of everything, especially foodstuffs, are increasing. When you sell food to customers, they complain that the quantity is small. Sometimes I pretend I don’t hear them.
“As you can see, I have only one servant. There were three before. They go out to hawk food for artisans on sites. Last year, two of them left. I had to beg this one to stay, with a promise to increase her salary,” Viode said.
Artisans such as bricklayers, carpenters, painters, plaster of paris (PoP) builders, among others, depend on food from these hawkers while on sites.
Delicacies such as amala and varieties of soup, ewa agoyin (plain boiled beans eaten with pepper sauce) and bread or yam or plantain were enjoyed by these artisans with a token of N100 to N300.
But the abandonment of the food hawking trade has left most site artisans with no option than to battle with hunger.
Mr. Asaga Samson, a PoP builder, lamented the hunger he passes through everytime he is on site, and confirmed the reduction in the number of food hawkers patronising sites.
“Before, there used to be many food hawkers with varieties of food to choose from and, with a minimum of N100 to N300, you would purchase anything you wanted and be filled. But now these food hawkers don’t come around anymore. Sometimes we walk long distances to get bread and soft drinks, as most of the food sold in the township are expensive. Right now, I am working on a site in Ikorodu, and I get very hungry.”
Olowale Jacobs, an electrical engineer, said he eats junks like doughnuts and soft drinks, as no food hawker is seen in the Epe area, where he is working.
“He said: “I have been working on this project for three months and have been starving. The food hawkers are nowhere to be found. When some come around, they sell their food at high prices like N800 for a good plate of food with tiny meat, which used to cost latest N300.
“I am still wondering why they no longer come to sell on sites. I have resorted to eating doughnuts and soft drinks, which always make me ill.
“However, last month, I decided to visit town twice in a week, to get good food, so that I won’t end up in the hospital.”