Nicknamed yam zone because of its strategic location for buck purchase of yam, the Hausa yam market, located along the busy Port Harcourt/Aba Express road, started as a transit market where lorry loads of yam brought from the Northern part of Nigeria were off loaded while buyers were awaited. It later metamorphosed into a full time market for buying and selling of yam.
A first time visitor to the market is confronted with lorry loads of yam parked in different sections of the market waiting to be off-loaded. The trucks, which mostly come from Gboko and other parts of the North, also struggle for space to park and off-load yam tubers of various sizes.
At the market, a group of young men are usually seen off-loading yam tubers from the trucks while others patiently wait for their turn. The dexterity with which the youths off-load the yam from the truck deserves commendation. They position themselves in a single file such that the tubers of yam move from one hand to another in quick succession.
The left wing of the market comprises of shops that stock yams while the right wing contains shops for food items which range from onions to tomatoes, fruits, rice, beans and livestock. The market, mainly dominated by members of the Northern community in Rivers State, also has a Mosque where the traders converge to observe their prayers.
Yam dealers from places such as Abia, Bayelsa and Imo converge on a daily basis on the market to buy yam. There is no dull moment, as the ever busy market has provided an avenue for Hausa youths to make brisk business daily. A handful of them carry yam loads on wheelbarrows and trek several kilometres to sell while others are engaged in off-loading yam from trucks.
Most traders spoken to attested to the robust relationship that exists between the Hausa community and other tribes such as the Igbos, Yorubas and Rivers indigenes, who are the landlord of the market.
“We have a robust and cordial relationship with the other tribes that transact business in the market. They cut across different ethnic divide. We have the Igbos, Yorubas, Hausas, Fulanis, Rivers people and other tribes in the market and we cohabit without any problem. If there is any problem, we settle it amicably. Since we started this market several years ago, business has been wonderful. Everybody here minds his or her own business,” stated a trader who simply gave his name as Musa.
“A lot of people come to the market to look for their daily bread. We have those that sell and those that come to buy to resell. Some people come from as far as Owerri and Bayelsa. We also have youths involved in menial jobs such as wheelbarrow pushers, off loaders and so on. Hausa youths are mostly involved in off-loading of yam from the trucks while others carry yam in wheelbarrow for onward sales to buyers in the streets of Port Harcourt and its suburb.”
Another trader, Sani Zoro, said he has been in the market since 2008. He describes the market as a melting pot for buyers and sellers of yam across the South-South and South-East parts of the country.
Sani, who owns about three shops in the market, said he gets supplies from Kwande and Gboko in Benue State.
“I have been in this business since 2008 and I can tell you that business here has been so wonderful. I buy yam from Benue State and I’m a wholesaler. My consignment comes every two weeks just as there are ready buyers for my goods. The moment my goods are sold off, I proceed to get another purchase. The initial challenge we had was the poor state of Obolloafor/Enugu road which was in a very bad shape. The poor state of the road had been causing a lot of damage to our goods, making us to incur losses. Our trucks usually fall on the bad portions of the road. But I am happy that the road has been fixed,” he said.
Ifeanyi Ogbonna has been in the market since 2009. He said that doing business with the Hausa community has been very wonderful, stressing that since he started yam business his finances has improved.
“I came to this market as a loader and was able to save a little money with which I started selling yam in small quantity. One Alhaji from the North assisted me to buy yam on credit from Benue and return the money after sales. I was doing that until I was able to gather enough money to stand on my own. Today, I buy yam on cash and carry basis. I am a proud owner of two shops in this market.”
The conveying of yams with fuel tankers looks very unconventional and rather risky. Most the yams that come from Benue are loaded in different compartments of fuel tankers.
On why the yams are loaded in fuel tankers, a trader in the market who craves anonymity said it was a device to shield the consignment from the prying eyes of the police who he said always harass them on the road.
“When the yams are loaded in fuel trucks nobody will ever know what we are carrying and that saves us a whole lot of stress from the police. Another reason is to save cost.”
“It does not cost much when yams are conveyed with fuel tanker. It’s usually an arrangement between the driver of the truck and the traders. Most of them come from the North to load fuel from the Port Harcourt refinery, so we negotiate with them to transport the yam to a particular point and we settle the driver on an agreed fare.”
The chairman of the market association, Alhaji Yakubu, agreed to speak with our reporter on the activities of the market but later declined. Several calls put across to him for an interview appointment was ignored.