Dawata: Abuja’s Night Market That Provides Succor For The Poor

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Few markets operate 24 hours, seven days a week, in the country. Dawata, also known as Zone 4 market, is one of the few night markets in the country with its peculiar history and patrons, providing decent livelihood to the average and lower class Nigerians. Chinelo Chikelu writes. 

Located at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers junction, along Constantine Crescent, and stretching from Addis Ababa to No 2 Mancini Crescent, the market is nestled between and around plazas.

Roadside businesses lined by stalls easily distinguished by randomly spaced yellow bulbs, make a slow start from 2pm, turning to a bustle around 7pm. At this time, stomach churning aromas of Suya, smoked fish, indomies and fried eggs, rise with white smoke to dissipate into the night.

Among the usual businesses are; grocery sellers, Meshai’s (Indomie cooks), ‘second hand’ cloth sellers, shoe sellers, sexual enhancement drug peddlers and spirit sellers, Suya sellers, film sellers and money changers. In point of fact, no less than two Bureau de changes are housed in one plaza.

Distinguished from other activities in the market, are a smoked fish-stand, Oasis Bakery and a natural juice spot. Oasis bakery offers custom-made baked goods, food beverages and confectionaries. Never in want of customers, the bakery supermarket resumes business in the morning.

Meantime, Suleiman (not his real name), opens shop daily between 2 to 4pm. The young undergraduate and sole, smoked fish seller at the market, has been in the business barely a few months, but income from the business supports his education. During the holidays, he is at the market, preparing for visiting and regular customers, as well as clients’ orders, a result of his foresight to produce nylons with imprints of his and his partner’s business name and number. Schooled in the business, he buys stock from various fish sellers, thrice a week. Like a thorough businessman, Suleiman knows his products’ origin, and markets that unique selling point to clients.

“My stock comes from the Niger River. It is organically grown, and distributed fresh to me, unlike the frozen fishes imported from China that take quite some time to get to the market, and are not as fresh as mine.” His customers have options to choose from different grades of fishes – some priced at N1, 500, N2, 000 to N2, 500. Suleiman aims to expand to other areas in the FCT; and alternate between a white collar job and his business.

A long timer in the market, film merchant, Jerry (also not his real name) knows the history and operations of the market, having traded in the market for the past 16 years. Jerry notes that the market has existed for over 20 years, and was originally intended as a bureau de change hub, which it still is. However, hard times drove petty traders and small businesses to perch on plazas’ walls and roadsides.

Revealing the secret to the ‘nocturnal’ nature of the market, Jerry said the market caters to ‘club rats’ (club addicts) who break their nightly activities to eat Indomie or Suya, before returning to their night beats. Although, he has diversified to a second business, Jerry, occasionally pops in to oversee the former.

Observing Indomie restauranteur, Abdul (not his real name), sell off a carton of Indomie before 9.30pm and making his way into the second carton, It’s easy to imagine him sell off three cartons within 13 hours. The staple food, though cheaper in Dawata compared to other places – the smaller Indomie packs sell for N50 per pack and fried or boiled eggs for N50, attracts N30 accruable profits per product, minus kerosene expenses.

Dawata, also holds a few relaxation spots, within the plazas, operated by beverage sellers. Customers too reserved to eat out in the open, can buy a plate of food, fish or Suya and for a N120 drink from beverage sellers, easily relax at the spot.

A central mosque within the market enables Muslim traders’ worship at various times of the day, though some stay back to overlook others’ businesses. Dawata has proven to be a viable business hub for Nigerians that, despite previous and present harsh economic times, are determined to make an honest living no matter how meagre. It would behoove the government to, rather than dismiss roadside sellers, provide similar space for these diligent citizens to earn a living.

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