BY ONUKOGU KANAYOCHUQU JUBAL
It was in bauchi, the home of sun-dried, specially prepared meat delicacy, known in local parlance as kilishi, where he met one of the masters in the art of preparing Kilishi.
Just about 70km from the Yankari Game Reserve, Ibrahim Shepiu, surrounded by his lieutenants, positions his table as he waits for visitors to and from the reserve. His wares: the famous kilishi.
As buses slow down to let their passengers alight and walk towards the kilishi sellers, Shepiu and his assistants rally and uncover their wares to reveal hard, dry meat flavoured with all sorts of spices and condiments to make them as tasty as can be.
Kilishi is a derivate of the Nigerian suya (kebab) and the Western jerky; only that it is dried and it is an executive preserve of Northern Nigeria; Bauchi, to be precise.
Thus, it was no surprise to see the delicacy being made in every nook and cranny of the hospitable town.
Musa welcomed this writer and others as they gravitated towards him, urging them to taste slices of his goods and make the decision to buy or not to. In the same breath, he assured them not to worry, as he alone could make kilishi they would like.
“Taste am, taste am,” he encouraged everyone. “Good kilishi,” he assured in halting English.
He got into the business in 2001, when he was a lad, after having learned the skills of doing it to perfection from his dad.
“My father taught me how to make good kilishi,” he said, as he continued to attend to his horde of customers.
When he was sitting and learning the secrets of making the delicacy from his father, very little did Shepiu know that he would be attracting customers from all parts of the world, just sitting by the road-side.
“My father made great kilishi, so I learnt from my father. If I never learnt well, these people stopping and coming to me from the buses would have gone to tell others how bad the kilishi is and no one would be stopping here anymore. They would go to the town – which is almost two hours away. After doing the best I can to make it, this is how I know that my kilishi is good,” he confessed.
While the other customers Others do not mind. So, we make two sauces; one very spicy, the other not so spicy.
“The spicy sauce is a mixture of garlic, ginger, salt, karampani, groundnut paste and others things.
“The fillets of beef can be dried in the sun for two days, then soaked in the kilishi spice solution and spread in the sun (on flat, rafia baskets) till they dry. Some let it dry before soaking in the kilishi solution,” said Shepiu.
From the way he went about his business, he clearly had found a way of living from making and selling kilishi.
“Yes. On a very good day, I make as much as N30,000 or N40,000. When the days are not so good, I make about N20,000 or far less. But, to be honest, in this life, nothing is constant. People do not come this way everytime, so, sometimes, we have to make do with what we make.”
He would rather continue making his living this way than work for anyone, though.
“I am a man of myself. Right now, I can’t work for anyone. Have you counted the number of lads who work for me? They now have a source of living. I can’t abandon all these to go work for someone; how much can they pay me? Some may even say I have no skill, but, here, in my shop, I have a skill – making kilishi.”
Shepiu should be proud; his business has rarely failed him since he began.
“I have four children and they attend a nearby government primary school.
“Yes, I teach them to make kilishi, but they must go to school, as well.”
A very unassuming young fellow, Shepiu has come quite far, since he decided to make kilishi for a living, but he wants more.
He even has a marital ambition; to add another wife to his home.
“I am planning to marry a second wife, soon,” he assured this writer.
Shepiu is scarcely the only who makes this gift from Bauchi to the rest of the world, but, looking at his customers and the agreement on their faces that the kilishi is good, after their first bite, he would rather keep on making this gift all his life than find something else.
“I plan to have a bigger shop to employ more young people,” he said, a little too assuredly. “By the time they have learnt from me and have gone on to have their own shops, you will know that, true, Bauchi is the home of kilishi.
“They may make kilishi in Kano, Plateau, Jigawa and, even, Abuja, but nobody makes it like us,” he boasted.
He made this writer promise to inform him of his next coming.
“If you let me know when next you are coming this way, I will make good, spicy kilishi for you and, even, add masa, another thing we make so well, that no one makes it like us,” he added.