Friday was my first time in the renowned Mile 12 International Market in Lagos. A shower of heavy rainfall had begun when I left home for the market on Friday morning, but the rain, which later reduced to drizzles, did not stop the hustle and bustle the foodstuff market is known for.
Three acquaintances had bitterly complained about the cost of food items, particularly tomatoes and pepper, a few days earlier. They lamented how they could not afford to buy as much as they would have wanted because the prices had skyrocketed.
One said that a medium size basket of tomatoes was sold for N7000 at the foodstuff market in his hometown in Osun State as of June 30.
In previous times, that amount would have got him a full basket of tomatoes, a half basket of scotch bonnet pepper (ata rodo) and a half basket of ball pepper (tatashe). In fact, he would still be left with at least N3000.
Curious to see things for myself here in Lagos, I headed to Mile 12, which is famous for cheap food items in the state.
As I stepped into the market through one of its several entrances, different hands beckoned at me to patronise them. It’s a norm in Nigerian markets.
“Sister, come and check onions,” someone said.
“Fine girl, see fresh pepper,” said another.
“Aunty, check my market. I go do you well.”
I wiggled out of as many touches as I could. Why Nigerian traders do this, I still don’t get. My mission was to check out the prices of tomatoes and pepper in Lagos, so I kept moving until I was deeper into the market.
‘PAY N47,000, YOU WILL SELL FOR N100,000’
At Mile 12 market, many sellers displayed their tomatoes in different sizes of baskets and bowls. Some arranged theirs in crates and flat plates.
My eyes roamed a bit before settling on a tomato trader. I moved towards him, and he greeted me as though we had met before.
I could feel the excitement in his voice as he said “Customer, long time”. I also responded as though I knew him before Friday. I pointed at the biggest basket of tomatoes in front of him and asked for the price.
“N47,000,” he said.
I asked him again, and he repeated the same amount. When I told him it was too expensive, he said it was not expensive because I could resell it for N100,000.
“This one cost? E no cost o. If you sell am, na N100,000 you go make,” he replied in Pidgin.
I was too stunned to even price it. I never knew baskets of tomatoes were that expensive, so I moved to another trader. Upon stopping at another trader’s displayed tomatoes, I pointed at a smaller basket. He told me to pay N25,000.
When I asked him why it was that expensive, he said the high cost of fuel had affected the transportation of tomatoes from the north. He told me that the same basket of tomatoes sold for N18,000 just the previous day. “Na because of fuel. Tomatoes no dey. E no plenty na why e cost.”
He told me to pay N22,000, but I had no plan of buying that amount of tomatoes, so I turned down his offer.
In the same market, I found that a big basket of pepper could sell for as high as N30,000.
A BASKET OF ONIONS FOR N11,000
I noticed that the initial tomato spot where I spoke with those two traders caters to wholesale buyers who may want to resell. I kept navigating the market to find retailers who will have more affordable portions.
While moving around, I stopped by an onion seller who asked me to pay N11,000 for a basket of onions. He would later introduce himself as Adamu.
As he marketed his onions to me, I couldn’t help but notice his friendly disposition. However, my mind was set. I had no desire to buy a whole basket of onions. Besides, I hate the vegetable called onions.
I told him I could not afford N11,000 at that point, but he did not stop urging me to patronise him.
“Customer, how much you wan pay? Abeg, help me buy. Tell me the amount you go pay, even if na one naira,” he said.
I expected him to insult me as I beat down the price to N4000. But surprisingly, he only laughed and said, “Customer, na money, but e too small.”
Although he told me to pay N8000, I had no choice but to decline the offer.
WITH SEVERAL PLEAS, I GOT 10 TOMATOES FOR N1000
I found some pepper and tomato sellers close to Adamu’s spot. I stopped by one of the traders whose tomatoes were in small flat plates.
Nothing prepared me for the price of a small portion of tomatoes. Each pack was N2,500, but he said I could take one for N2000 if I would purchase more than a portion.
In response to my exclamation on the high cost of tomatoes, he said, “Tomatoes no dey. We no dey the season. Na to dey manage dey sell what we have.”
When I asked if he could sell tomatoes worth N1000, he reluctantly said yes. Then he picked a few balls of tomatoes from a bucket beside him and arranged them on a flat plastic plate.
I counted between six to seven, but I wasn’t so sure. I begged him to add more because it was too small. I quickly switched to bemoaning the situation of things in the country. “Abeg, help me add jara. Things are hard for Nigeria, and we must eat whether money dey or not.”
He added an extra ball of tomato, but I begged him to add more. He looked at me and said, “Customer, I don sell well for you already.” But he added two more tomato balls.
When I got home, I realised that I got 10 balls of tomatoes for a thousand naira.
After buying the tomatoes, I walked further into the market, where I saw a woman I would later know as Madam Fatima, selling tomatoes and pepper to a buyer.
As I stood close to observe the duo, I could hear the buyer complaining bitterly about the high cost of these items. But she had no choice but to buy.
When I drew closer, the trader thought I wanted to buy pepper or tomatoes, but I quickly told her I was doing a market survey of food items.
The woman buying from the trader chipped in and told me that things were too expensive: “Everything I am buying here is N4000. A portion of tomatoes is N2000, ata rodo and bawa are N1000 each. We are tired of this hardship. The government should find something to do about it.”
After the buyer’s departure, Madam Fatima attended to my questions. She said the portion of tomatoes she just sold for N2000 used to be N1000 until April-May when things became more expensive.
“We heard it’s because of the killings in the north. Boko Haram terrorists are killing the farmers, and they have to run away from their farms as a result of this. This is basically what is affecting the cost of food items,” she said.
“The government needs to beef up security in those areas. If these killings stop, things will be cheaper.”
Madam Fatima also attributed the high cost of tomatoes and pepper to the farm produce being out of season.
“This is actually not tomato season. By December and January, they will be in surplus,” she told me.
As the midday sun bid farewell to my retreating steps from the market, I couldn’t help but ponder on the challenging conditions faced by the poor masses in my country.
It struck me that if it took numerous pleas and N1000 to get ten balls of tomatoes, it meant that N100 would only be sufficient for a single ball. Then I wondered how difficult it would be for those with limited resources to navigate this trying season.
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