A muddy road behind the main market’s fence – where tricycle popularly known as Keke NAPEP, queue – leads one to this almost hidden place where young men grill a variety of fish. The first sign is that of billowing smoke, then the smell of grilled fish. A large shed is available, but the grilling is done in the open by men in their numbers. A pickup van pulls up and sacks of the product are offloaded. Those who have made orders or are willing to buy quickly make hay while it is available..
The fishes are brought in from different parts of the country. Umaru Sala, the oldest among the men, stoops and arranges some on a sack, while younger men bring some in bags, pour into a basin and look closely at their sizes. Sala started the business at a very young age 20 years ago in Lagos under a boss before he understood the trade and soon had supplies from Maiduguri. He insists that the fact that fish is good for one’s health makes it a product in high demand all over the country..
“People go for fish because it hardly causes stomach ache and is good for the body, particularly the eyes,” Sala says. He recalls how he began selling at Kado, a district in the nation’s capital, when Olusegun Obasanjo was president and has since married, has children and even assists others through the trade..
But Sala points out that getting fish is not as easy as it used to be. Back in the day, even if one did not have money, there was the possibility of collecting on loan from It’s grilled fi sh galore outside Kado market 23 Saturday, September 19, 2015 Weekend M A G A Z I N E Around & About Smoke billows in the air and with it the smoky smell of something fi shy. Followed by the sight of men, busy, offl oading, preparing fi sh as though for a festival. suppliers, but things have since changed due to its scarcity. It is also more expensive now. “This one you see on the ground I bought at the rate of N20, 000. But back then it used to be about N2, 000 to N3, 000,” he explains..
Among the men carrying sacks of fish to the shed is Sadiq Umar and he is worried about one thing. Their major source of fish in Borno State is no longer as active as it used to be. “It’s cheaper when it comes from there, but now it’s difficult to get from that axis,” he complains. The activities of Boko Haram insurgents drove him away from there, he reveals. But the cost of fish is on the high side in the capital city. He used to buy at N10, 000 and sell N15, 000, but now a carton goes for N20, 000..
At this spot behind Kado market, wealthy people who own fish ponds drive in with loads of fish with a specific demand. They want the traders to grill for them at a price. “In such a case, we agree on the price with them, after which they give money for firewood,” Abdulkafar Mohammed explains, adding that a big basin may cost the customer N3, 500. Also, they make sure the individual pays for the firewood they use. After a busy night of grilling, the owner returns in the morning and collects his fish..
But this is not all – another moneyspinning angle for these traders is the accessibility to Kado Fish Market. They have an arrangement with the fish sellers, whereby an agreed quantity of the grilled product is deposited each day and a certain amount is given to them after sales. The very next day, they go through the same motions which remain beneficial for both parties – those who grill outside the market and the sellers of the finished project inside. There is no limit to the variety which ranges from catfish to every other kind they can get..
But how do they go about preparing such large numbers of fish? Yusha’u Abubakar intimates that they suffocate them in a sack, then put them on little sticks, merge the head and tail together, making the shape of the fish round and easy for grilling, slit a spot just above the tail, and then make sure it dries before the grilling proper begins..
Two ways to dry them is to spread them under the sun or put them a good distance away from burning fire when the sun is not hot. “The sound of dripping oil from the fish is an indication that it’s still not ready when the roasting begins,” he explains, adding that when it stops, then it is ready, after which it takes black or red in colour, depending on the fish. The trick is to keep turning at the right time..
Fish is found in various parts of Nigeria, while others get their supplies directly from Maiduguri, Abubakar gets his from Ibadan or, in peculiar cases makes a short trip to Abuja city centre. “I buy a kilo at N450 and sell at N460 or N470. After roasting,” he says Persistent attacks by Boko Haram insurgents in the last six years have depleted the fortunes of Baga Market in Borno State, described as the North-east’s biggest fish market, reducing it to a risky area where both buyers and sellers visit with apprehension. But recently, some traders in Baga expressed optimism that the market will regain its lost glory and return to supplying fish to the country..
This used to cost N3,000, but is now N2,000 Sala complains The fish just arrived. They are expensive and the traders confess they miss less expensive fish