The untold struggles of Abuja female food vendors who sell at night | Dailytrust

The untold struggles of Abuja female food vendors who sell at night

A female food vendor in Mpape, Abuja

Even with all the laws against hawking in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, some desperate vendors defy palpable risks and come out at night to sell their products, especially food and liquor.

Blessing Udoh, a street vendor who sells at Area 1, Garki, Abuja,  told Daily Trust that majority of her customers are taxi drivers who like to have a nice time after a long day of work.

“Once it’s 7pm, most of the taxi drivers gather around me because they know my food sells out fast,” she said excitedly.

Udoh has been an Abuja street vendor for three years. She has sold food at different areas in Abuja. “I have sold food at different locations in Abuja, including Wuse, Garki, Apo, etc,” she added.

Patience Chigozie, another food vendor who sells within the Wuse environs said that despite the harassment from the AEPB taskforce, she still has a lot of customers willing to patronize her business.

“No matter how much food I come out with, I always go back home with empty coolers. Sometimes even before I get to where I sell my food, I have some customers waiting already,” Patience said.

Blessing has a personal taxi that helps carry her food coolers all the way from Karu to the point in Garki where she sells her food.  She splits the fare with another vendor who also loads the taxi with her products. “My friend and I who also sell at nights share the taxi fare which is N3000 on a daily basis. The fare covers to and from, depending on the time we are through with our sales,” she said.

Unlike Blessing, Patience uses what Nigerians refer to as “along” taxis to transport her food from Kubwa every day to Wuse. “On some days, I can decide to take a taxi and pay N1,200 or N1,500 fare, depending on how good I negotiate. When it’s time to return home, especially during late hours, I always tag along with other vendors who might be heading in my direction because it’s not safe to enter a taxi alone at night, except on nights when I sell with my husband,” she said.

Blessing, who acknowledged risks involved in selling at night,  however, said that she is a student and preferred to sell during the period because she wants to have enough time for herself and studies in the day time.

“There are people who come out at night to have fun or enjoy leisure time with friends and family members. So, why can’t I come out and sell my food in the night?” she asked rhetorically.

Patience also said that selling food at night had given her ample time to cater for her children and family during the day.

“During the day, I tend to focus more on my family and my children because I know I may be gone all night.”

Blessing revealed that even though majority of her customers were males, a few women also patronize her business at night,  especially other female vendors who aren’t into food business.

“Women who sell clothes and shoes during the night market always come and buy food from me before they start selling or after they started selling,” she said.

“Weekends are my peak days because people always care less about the time they get home,” she said.

 Having dinner at Jabi is one thing they cannot afford to miss

Having dinner at Jabi is one thing they cannot afford to miss

She added: “Because I know I might have a crowd during the weekend, I cook more food so I can sell more. If I was to make a profit of N30,000 during the weekdays, it’s bound to be double during the weekend sales.”

She said that plenty customers patronize her at weekends because most of the nightclubs are very close to her base.

During the weekends, she comes out by 12:00 am, but in the evenings on weekdays, she comes out by 7 or 8 o’clock.

“On Friday, I can sell between 50-70 packs of food. Sometimes, we don’t go home till around 4.00 am and we always go home with empty coolers,” she said.

Patience, however, lamented patronage decline during the COVID-19 lockdown.

“We recorded very low sales during the COVID-19 lockdown because people were very careful about their health and the kinds of foods they were eating outside.”

The vendors had a common challenge —the AEPB taskforce interception at their stands.

Blessing revealed that there was one fateful night that the taskforce almost invaded her stand at Wuse.

“Immediately I saw their truck coming, I took to my heels and hid in the back of one of the plazas. It was better they seize and destroy my food and coolers than for me to get arrested because bailing me would require an amount of money I might not be able to afford,” she said.

Patience who’s had an encounter with the task force noted, “Though I do not deny the fact that the  task force has a duty to perform,  I also owe my family a duty to feed and sustain them.”

To deal with the risks of selling at night, Blessing said she had established a relationship with some security agents who are her regular customers and also provide her security, especially against harassment by randy men.

“There are some security personnel that eat from me regularly and because I’m their customer, they some times protect me from the other men that may try to harass me to take advantage of me because I’m a woman,” she said.

Patience also disclosed that all the vendors who sell close to one another  had always been advised to form a union and protect their interests. “Some of our male customers are always drunk. Sometimes, they get desperate to have their way with us. But sometimes, their fellow men or groups of women who are around such scene try to stop them,” she said.

“One thing we always try to tell people that want to take the risk of selling at night, is to never come alone. Even if they want to come alone, its best to stay in crowded and lively areas in case of  emergency or situations like robbery and sexual assault.”

 Food vendors like this make brisk business at nights

Food vendors like this make brisk business at nights

Though the vendors defy risks and sell at night, they are scared of bringing their children to assist them due to fears of insecurity.

Patience recalled a night she brought her children to assist her but she couldn’t concentrate because she was worried over the safety of her children as well as the taskforce invasion.

“On Fridays when I always have an influx of customers, my husband likes to follow me to help out with the sales of food. On such nights, I leave my children with my sister at home,” she said.

Blessing and Patience share certain things in common – the mindset that business is worth the risk they take every night as well as the money they make which give them the capacity to fend for themselves and meet the needs of others.

“Sometimes, customers would always tip us before they leave, especially at weekends. So, I get extra money to buy necessary items that I may need for school,” Blessing said.

Larai, another food vendor, who is based at Kpadna, a slum in Jabi, Abuja, started selling food two months ago. She has an apartment at the market and does not have to convey her wares to and fro.

“I prepare the meal (tuwo) here in my small apartment and carry it on my head to this selling point.  I sell tuwo in the night because some of the customers only patronize us in the night after their daily activities. They come here at nights for dinner,’’ she said.

On how they manage the risks that comes with selling at night, especially robbery or sexual harassment, Larai whose customers are mostly male said that they were being protected by God’s mercies. She said that she had never experienced such humiliation even though she sells in a slum.

“Since I started two months ago, I have never experienced any threat nor  task force agents. No task force has ever raided this place. Owing to the high cost of commodities, the profit is meagre. I only manage to remain in the business for survival. I can’t even save any money at all. I am just doing it to feed myself.’’

Fatima Yusuf who has been selling kunu at the same Kpadna for almost 10 years lives in Jabi. Every night, she conveys  heavy bowls of kunu bowls on tricycle to the market around 5:00 pm and has to remain there until after 10:00pm, but has never suffered any form of harassment either sexually or robbery, “except the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) task force who seldom used to raid us.

“At times, we only had minor issues with those that may buy kunu, but not willing to pay.  Alhamdulillah, some good Samaritans would stay by our side and collect the money for us. We come and do our business and go back home safely.

Fatima expressed delight that  the sellers made huge sales because more customers prefer taking kunu at night.

However, she can’t save much money due to high cost of commodities and paltry profit.

“I make some profits that I can only use to feed my family and pay my children’s school fees,” she said.

“Our business had been thriving at a high pace before the COVID-19 lockdown because things were relatively cheaper then than this time. We are only in the business now in order not to stay idle since we can feed on it, that’s all.”

She however, lamented that despite running a small business with a small capital until it got crippled by the pandemic, she wasn’t considered for the palliatives that the Federal Government granted to people who run SMEs.

Jummai who resides in Utako District but fries akara (bean cake) at Kpadna said that she started the business not long ago.

According to her, she always prepared the flour at home and conveyed it on tricycle to the  market where she fries it for her buyers.

She decided to sell at night because it is the most convenient time for her and the right time that customers look for the cake.

Jummai, however,  complained of frequent cases of snatching, sexual harassment as well as tasks force disturbances.

“Though prices of commodities have hit the roof, I make reasonable profits. I can cater for my needs and family’s too. I also do some savings. If I weren’t making good gains, I would have stopped this business,’’ she said.

She, however declined to mention the amount of profits she makes after the close of day.

She added that she enjoyed patronage by both males and females because awara, being  a soft delicacy and food supplement, attracts both genders.

At Utako Village,  Amina Sadisu, who sells jollof and white rice, tuwon semovita, masa, beans and spaghetti said that she was not the sole owner of the business as she was assigned to manage the sales on behalf of her mother and siblings.

According to Amina, they had been into the business for more than 10 years. She disclosed that it was her mum that usually prepared the delicacies from home before they were dispatched to her for sales.

She said that though they usually sold in the morning, the sales were much higher in the night.

“Most of our customers are males and bachelors who don’t have wives to cook for them. Most of them usually rely on night food vendors for their dinner after a hectic work day,’’ Amina said.

Amina, who disclosed that she’s not married but about to tie the knot, maintained that she rarely faced sexual harassment from the male folks around in the night.

She said that her current profits had dropped sharply compared to the pre-COVID-19 lockdown last year.

“In the olden days, we used to make daily sales for nearly N200,000. At worst, we made N100,000, though it was only masa that we were selling then.

“But for now, since the business is no longer brisk, we make daily sales for N70,000 and N90,000. We have a number of customers who patronize us that I can’t estimate,’’ she added.

Aisha Ahmad is another night food vendor selling at Utako Village. She  has been selling rice, tuwo and spaghetti for almost five years.

She explained that she decided to sell in the night because many of her customers who include men and women patronize her after closing from work for their dinner.

She said she had never had an encounter with task force because she sells close to  her house.

Aisha said that she was doing very well in the business despite the harsh economy.

“Whatever one is selling, on can still make some profits, no matter how little it is. I am only managing this  because I am making small profits due to the high cost of food items. Sometimes, you can cook and not sell off everything. But one has to be grateful to God,” she said.

“Despite that I am close to my house,  I have been having encounters with miscreants. You can see that it’s in front of my mother’s house. I don’t want to go somewhere else for fear of being harassed or abused,’’ she added.

Aisha is married with three children. “We are living peacefully. I have  a cordial relationship with my husband, because he understands the nature of my business.  He’s not disturbed by my business despite  that I deal with men outside and in the night. He allows me to continue doing the business because it helps us to take care of some domestic needs.

She however, lamented that the business had not been profitable nowadays since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hajara Aliyu, is a teenager. She has been frying masa at the Utako market for many years. She said that she preferred doing the business in the night, being the peak time that masa is served as dinner.

According to her, men prefer masa often because they’re more in population and could remain outdoors in the night than women.

She said that profits were no longer much, unlike in the past.

She attributed it to “lack of money in Nigeria these days.”

“We used to fry huge amounts of masa every blessed night, but now it has significantly dropped to a minimal level because of high cost of ingredients which include oil, sugar, rice and maize. Though, we didn’t increase the price, we reduced the size that we sell to our customers,” Hajara said.

By: Rosemary Etim Bassey & Dalhatu Liman