BEYOND BIAFRA: The Onitsha market where dreams refuse to die

beyond biafra

by Victor Akhidenor

That there is no visible sign post announcing the Onitsha Main Market does not stop anyone from finding it when they want to.

Interestingly, most streets around the market bear names of state or state capitals in Nigeria.

Bida is a local government area in Niger state and the town is known for its production of traditional crafts, notably glass, bronze, and brass wares. Its namesake, however, is known for other wares.

Bida road, named after a local government in Niger state, (like most streets around the market which bear the names of Nigerian states or their capitals) is the home of clothes particularly for women. Not to say men’s clothes can’t be found, but it tends to require extra effort and time.

“I sell only female clothes because the turnover is higher than men’s,” says Bertrand Uwakwe. “You have been here for some minutes now but how many men have you seen patronising the shops? Selling clothes won’t be this lucrative if women are not involved.”

But these days, even women are not enough to keep him in business.

“We get most of our clothes and fabrics from China and the naira exchange rate to other major currencies is nothing to write home about,” he says.

“Before now, this blue skirt sold for N1,200 but it goes for N2,000 now. This yellow skirt was N1,500 before now it is N2,000. This Ankara skirt was N1,600 now it is N2,600. This red skirt was N1,300 now it sells for N1,800 – same with all other items here. Sales have dwindled.

“We urge the government to do something about it so that we can still remain in business.”

It is fitting to have a mosque in Kano street in the market. But people of the Islamic faith know they won’t find rosary and other materials that aid their prayers on that street.

Cosmetics, wigs, eye lashes, more ladies clothes, and other items that form women beauty care arsenal are sold in that part of the market.

Sokoto street behind Kano street, off Haruna street, is where I meet Obioma Okemmadu.

The 23-year-old works as a sales girl in a shop that sells mannequins on the second floor of New World Shopping Mall. She started working there in 2013 after finishing at Urban Girls Secondary School in Onitsha.

She sees a lot of mannequins in various shapes and sizes all produced in China with a price range of N10,500 and N28,000. After four years, she can’t wait to start relating with humans in classrooms.

“I would love to further my education but finance and poor family background are hampering my dream,” she says.

“I’m trying to save up money so I can go to the university to study Mass Communication. I want to be a newscaster not only because I love listening to news but also because I love their boldness. I’m so fascinated by them.

“I’m a shy person and I think broadcasting will bring me out of my shell. I want to be outspoken but I’m shy by nature. This course will really help me. I would also love to be an accountant but I’m not that good in Mathematics hence my choice of Mass Communication.”

But dealing with money is easier than mathematics, she says.

“Even little children can count money. You see many of them hawk their wares in this market and they don’t have problems counting the money they made from their sales. How much more an adult like me? Counting money is different from solving Math. I don’t like Mathematics but I like counting money.”

She attends to a customer. They couldn’t agree on the price of a mannequin and she comes back to me not to talk about Math but her ambition to further her studies.

“I’ll start school once I can overcome the money challenge,” she says.

“My parents cannot afford to send me to school but I’m praying for divine intervention. I pray God should connect me to someone that will see me through school.”

“Someone that will make my dream comes true.”

Beyond Biafra is YNaija’s citizenship series for the month of April. Find more entries in the series here.

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