In Yaba, a metropolitan town in Lagos, is a market where buyers and sellers never go to sleep. The popular Tejuosho Market is close by, but here in Yaba Market, the party begins at night, under the cloak of darkness. Opeyemi Lawal gives an account of her visit:
It was still wet. The rain had been coming in epileptic drizzles, stopping only to begin again. Just as the rain came without notice, so was dark clouds hurrying across the sky. Tired company workers and traders were scrambling for buses, their clothes wet from rain strokes and splashes from fast-moving vehicles. Would I meet anyone in Yaba Market on a day like this? I asked myself as I walked past danfos and private cars on the streets of Yaba. A newly constructed terminal flanked the tiny road to the left, and a line-up of traders manned the right.
All fell into a rhythm, the rain, traffic and the blaring horn from vehicles. An overhead bridge under construction overlooked the famous Yaba Market, and it was buzzing. The night’s coldness had no power here. Mad Lagos! At the heart of the market, where it intersected with the Yaba/Oyingbo road, cloth sellers spread blue polythene bags on the floor, calling out to buyers and passersby. Some traders hung their wares under umbrellas in an attention-calling manner, and behind them was a rail line. Tens of white torch lights illuminated the market, complimented by the yellow fluorescence from the headlights of moving vehicles. The yellow and white lights mingled with the night, creating a silhouette.
There were dark shadows of people and traffic, then traders and their wares. I got behind the traders to the rail line. The market was disorganised, compared with the outer part. Tables, clothes, shoes, meat, plantain, vegetables, jewellery and humans clustered together. Most of the traders had their wares on the rail line with an umbrella shielding them. Some of them had dimly lit lamps which would not stop blinking. The water splashes from the rain formed tiny beads of light that bounced. A male trader used his hand to clean off the bouncing water. He also shook water from the pile of trousers he had on his table. The illumination from the traffic was shrouded by the umbrellas, so the darkness was thicker on the rail.
The rain caused small puddles of water to gather between the rails. I tumbled into one of the puddles, causing a splash on my clothes and the wares of one of the traders. The woman shouted angrily and shoved me away. I nearly lost my balance.
“E de la oju yin,” she said in Yoruba.
There was a loud horn from the distance. It was the 7 o’ clock train. People quickly pulled their wares off the rails. They pulled wooden stools, benches and wares in polythene bags out of the way. A mother pulled her little child off the tracks. Everything happened quickly. Passersby also scampered for safety as the grinding of the train came closer. The train made its way through, and as the last of its coaches disappeared, the market hum returned.
Traffic was still building up in the outer part of the market, and the drizzles had returned. There were more people now than minutes back. Buyers were arriving. People in corporate wears and backpacks negotiated prices with buyers. It looked like a market for those who were preoccupied during the day. A young man was arranging hot dogs for sharwama on his stand by a corner, and right next to him, close to where I stood, was a long bench with two men seated on it. One of the men was a nail cutter, and the other man was having his nails clipped. I observed the meticulousness with which he trimmed the nails. Three male cloth hawkers walked up to me. Each of them had a sample of what he was selling in his hands and about half a dozen on his shoulder.
“Take these tops; it’s three for N2,000,” one said.
“No, check this palazzo out; I’d give it to you for N700,” said another.
“No, she is my customer; let her buy from me. Baby girl, this outfit was specially made for you; check it out,” the third hawker said.
The voices spoke at the same time, one trying to overpower the other. One of them, who I would later know as ‘School Boy’, flung one of his wares, a crop top, on my neck and said, “Fine girl, patronise me.” He held my hand tightly as he dragged me to where he had his wares on a polythene bag and showed me samples of clothes he hoped would appeal to my taste. I refused politely, but ‘School Boy’ wouldn’t let go. He dug deeper into a blue polythene bag, hoping to find something I would like. He shoved about four female blouses into my hands at once.
“See this colour; it will suit you,” he said. “See this design; it’s really nice. Fine girl, you must buy from me. It’s good stuff I am giving you o.”
“I am sorry, I am not buying,” I told him.
“Ahhh, fine girl, please buy something. Just pity me because of the rain.”
As I turned to leave, one of the other hawkers noticed, and he quickly came to accost me.
“See this armless. You will love it,” he advertised, holding a black top.
“No, thank you,” I replied as I tried to walk past him.
‘School Boy’ noticed this and immediately charged at him.
“No dey try steal my customer,” he warned the guy angrily and pulled me back again.
‘School Boy’ had a really dark skin tone and some strokes of facial marks on his face, suggesting he is from the western part of the country. He had average height and wore an oversized shirt and a pair of black jeans, which had become wet from the rain. He had lips and teeth darkened from smoking. The hide of his palm was also hard. I gently pushed it away as he resumed his pleas.
“God will not allow you to suffer. Patronise me, please. I am going to give these clothes out at the best price. Just ask,” he resumed his pesters.
“How much?” I asked, holding up three of the tops he dropped in my hands.
“N1,000 for each of them.”
“No,” I said, and attempted to drop the clothes.
He quickly held my hands up and asked, “How much do you want to pay?” “Take them for N700.”
“N500 for each of these.”
He said no at first, but on a second thought asked me to pay. He put the two tops in a small black polythene bag.
The rain was whipping, and I rushed to take shelter under a wide umbrella belonging to a fair-complexioned lady who ran a PoS business. From under the shelter where I stood, another seller came with clothes. He asked me to look at them, but I paid him no attention.
While seeking to get my attention, he held both sides of my head in his hands and said, “Come and buy from me.”
I tried to struggle out of his grip, but his hands were stronger. I managed to pull them off and walked away.
Harassments like this are common in public markets. You’d see male traders holding their customers, especially ladies, by the hands in a bid to enjoy their patronage. Some of these ladies do not find it interesting, and sometimes it results in verbal clashes.
Two ladies walked past me just as I stepped back into the rain. One of them said, “Don’t mind them; they are fond of grabbing random people with hopes that they will buy from them.”
An elderly seller, who I would later know was Alfa, approached me. He hung a battery-powered torch around his neck. Light from the torch exposed his features. Alfa had a long face and white hair around his shaved beards. He also had a slim frame and spoke Yoruba.
He held two clothes, and showed them to me.
“How much?” I asked.
“N300 each,” he answered.
I was shocked and bent to check the clothes. They were in good shape. How come they sold at such ridiculous prices? None of the colours appealed to me, and just as ‘School Boy’ had begged me to buy from him, Alfa did.
“Please, don’t let me go home empty-handed. Just pick something,” he pleaded.
After noting the desperation in his voice, I asked, “How much does it cost to display your wares here?”
“Everyone here pays a fee to be able to display their wares every evening. The fee varies between N100 and N900. On market days, which are Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, you would be required to pay N900. But on other days, the due is lesser,” he explained.
‘School Boy’ had told me “nothing is free here”. “If you put up your wares here, you must pay about N25,000 for a start and then some other daily fees,” he said.
Alfa said he came from Ikorodu to sell, just like other traders in the market.
“You see, most of these people doing all they can to get customers don’t stay around. A lot of us have our homes in places far away from here. I stay in Ikorodu and come here every evening to leave by 10 pm, when the market is scanty,” he said.
“I have been selling cheap clothes here for more than five years. I come here to sell because of the traffic you get mostly at night.”
Beside him, a chubby woman sat on polythene bags in the rain. She had piles of bum shorts in front of her.
“Check here, too,” she called out.
In front of Alfa was another woman. She was light-skinned, elderly and sold different pieces of jewellery.
“Buy something from me too,” she pleaded.
She held my hands and refused to let me go until I asked that she show me some of the jewellery.
“You see, I have a store on the rail, but once it’s evening, I come out here because of the human traffic. Sales have been dull and I have to head back to Ikorodu tonight, ” she said without asking.
She budged me until I bought a pair of gold earring with diamond studs for N300.
Badmus, a dark-complexioned young man with a heavy body pulled me after Alfa pointed me out to him. Alfa had shown me to him when I said I wanted to get shoes. We got talking and he told me he was a student of the Federal University Oye Ekiti (FUOYE). He was home from school to assist his brother who owned the business. He needed money in school, so he had to help out.
“Yaba market is stressful. We make a lot of sales, but the agberos are a problem. They are usually collecting money from us,” said Badmus.
“How much is this shoe?” I bent to pick a flat shoe with check colour from the dozens he had on the floor.
“Just give me N4,500,” he said.
“N3000,” I retorted.
He hesitated for a while and asked me to pay. But I wasn’t done. “N2,000,” I said. He refused, but after much haggling I was going home with the shoes for N2000.
I knew I wouldn’t get the shoes for anything less than N5,000 anywhere else. Not even at a bazaar!
A DIFFERENT SHADE IN THE DAY
The following day, I decided to visit Yaba Market during the day, and it was a quite different scene. The clouds were rolled back and sunshine poured into the streets. Human and vehicular traffic was light and the market was at ease. The construction men had resumed from their night rest to continue work on the bridge. Humans, machines, and vehicles made a distinct noise.
I went back to the rail line. Umbrellas were still held up to call attention to wares. From the entrance, about three men approached me.
“Do you want to sell gold or silver? I give the best rates,” one said.
“Do you want to change dollars, euros or pounds?” Another asked.
The third guy said, “Do you want curtains? I can show you great designs.”
I walked past them to the rail line. There, one of the men who sold jeans, pushed a pair into my hands and dragged me into his makeshift store.
“I have more if you don’t like that one,” he said.
“No, thank you,” I replied.
“No, please. Just check them out.”
One thing was certain about those who sell in Yaba Market. Whether night or day, they would go any length to ensure your patronage, even if they have to hold you against your will.
“How much?” I asked.
“Give me N4,500.”
“For this jean? No nah. N1000,” I refused.
He looked like he would slap me.
“But no be this price you go sell am in the night nah,” I quickly said.
“That one nah night market na. If you want it cheap, you come in the night,” he responded.
I approached another guy who sold tops. The ones he held up were similar to the ones I bought from ‘School Boy’ for N500 the previous night.
“How much?” I asked.
“How much last?”
“N500,” I said.
“If you no buy, just commot,” he said and turned to speak with another customer.
During my previous visit, I had learnt from one of the key men that it was safe for sellers, but a palazzo man I met had a different opinion.
Unlike every one else who sold in the open, he had a corner where he kept his wares. It was beside a statue of late Tai Solarin, the Nigerian educator and author who founded the popular Mayflower School.
After much negotiations, he agreed to sell a jumpsuit and two palazzo pants for N3,500.
“Aunty, please you have to pay quick, because I don’t trust these boys I left my market with. Most of them are thieves. There is hardly any security in the market,” he said.
“It takes a lot of effort to get these goods. My family are in Ibadan, and that’s where I am based. I only come here to sell. I won’t want these boys to steal my clothes.”
I left Yaba Market around noon, knowing the real deal is in the night.
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