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A day at Katangowa Market

Job Osazuwa

It was a hot Monday afternoon, and the crowd was beyond normal. It appeared like all roads led to the market on this particular day. Anyone not familiar with the market could conclude that something extraordinary was happening there.

But those who can’t do without Katangowa when it comes to shopping for fairly-used goods told the reporter that the surging crowd was normal and nothing was amiss. People, who know exactly what they are looking for, come from far and near to the market to have their desires fulfilled. For some people, until they get to Katangowa Market, their shopping is incomplete.

Some shoppers who get to enjoy their purchased goods, having met their expectations would love to visit again, as often as possible. But this is not always so with all buyers, as many of them end up regretting their visit to the market.    

“This is Katangowa, a market that makes people smile or cry. This is a market where you can buy a clean shirt for N50,” a trader who had neither a shop nor goods, told the reporter.

At the gate, you are confronted by a legion of touts seeking your attention. “Oga, do you need first grade shirts, trousers, shoulder bags, Italian shoes?” They keep pestering you as you make your way through the market. They pledge to help you get, or lead you to where you can get, whatever you might have come to purchase in the market – of course, for a fee.

Looking down the line where ladies’ gowns are sold, a young man in his early 30s calls prospective buyers with his speaker-like voice that overpowers his competitors. The sweat from his body, occasioned by the scorching sun, intermittently dropped on the heap of clothes. Consciously or unconsciously, he would pick any of the clothes close to him to wipe off his sweat. As he continued to display his marketing strategies, about 15 ladies circled him, all demanding his attention simultaneously. But the young man seemed to be enjoying his own show, as he ignored them all and yelled out for more customers – using the crowd to pull even more crowd.

With energetic gesticulations, he intoned: “God sent us from heaven to sell cheap clothes to ladies. I know how to buy but I don’t know to sell. Buy your gowns and get married in three months. Only fools go to waste their money in boutiques.”  

The market in Agbado Oke-Odo Local Council Development Area (LCDA) in Lagos is tucked between Super and Oja-Oba Bus Stops, where the main entrances are found. It has over the years extended to many adjoining streets in the community.  In fact, virtually all houses around the market have been converted to shops and warehouses. Save for the dumpsite in-between, the market would have for long overflowed into Ile-Epo Foodstuff Market.

In the beginning, Katangowa Market used to be patronised mainly by those people who could not visit boutiques and other shopping centres in town. But that has changed today. It is no longer a market for the poor. Even the rich, men and women, are regular visitors to the market. It has become a melting pot for all and sundry. People, irrespective of religion, tribe and location, have shops or spaces in the market.

In season and out of season, a typical day at Katangowa is full of intrigues and drama. On this fateful Monday afternoon, for instance, the market was a beehive of commerce. Flouting all COVID-19 safety rules, the buyers and sellers were in their thousands, among them men, women, youths and children. Many of them only had their face masks on their jaws, while many shoppers didn’t see the need to wear one at all.

Anyone preaching social distancing under the market arrangement would surely be judged speaking in strange tongues. Every pace of movement was aided or disrupted by intermittent pushing from other impatient people. Different sections of the market are connected by narrow paths that can hardly accommodate two people at a time. Snacks and cooked food were hawked by an army of vendors who kept milling around the market.

Every inch of space available in the market and its environs was taken up. It was obvious that not everyone in the market was actually there to buy or sell. Pickpockets and other thieves who had sharpened their ignoble skills against carefree shoppers were always positioned at places where there was heavy human traffic. Their sole aim was to cut women’s bags and steal whatever they could.   

A tailor, who specialised in amending torn and oversized clothes, Mr. Ugo Chimezie, told the reporter: “Some of these thieves are beautiful young ladies that you will never suspect could do such a thing. There was a day a pickpocket used razor blade to cut the back of his target’s trousers. And the next thing the victim saw was blood rushing from his buttock, by then his wallet was already gone and the thief had mixed up with the crowd. It shows how ruthless some of them are.

“Just as many of us prepare for our daily legitimate routine, these criminals also prepare and hope for as many victims as possible. Some of them operate in cartels, in collaboration with some others. Many others are lone rangers. They steal empty bags at times or bags with items that are useless to them.”

He revealed that some of the criminal elements would pretend to help a shopper carry his or her heavy goods for a fee and would soon disappear into thin air once the shopper is distracted. Other members of the cartel could also be planted alongside to distract the owner of the goods.

One soon got to the lines where ladies’ articles of underwear were sold. Watching young ladies rushing to pick bras, panties, girdles and waist bands, one might be tempted to believe that the goods were soon going out of stock. Most of the shoppers of the items claimed that they lasted longer than new ones.

Fairly-used or second-hand clothes have since been given different names. Some people call them okrika, bend-down-and-select, akube, poor-man’s-boutique, and so on. The dealers tag them Grades A, B, One, Two and Three. They are labelled according to the newness of the clothes. From pants, bras, undies, trousers, shirts, singlets, boxers, belts, knickers and shoes, assorted items are sold at Katangowa, which is arguably the largest second-hand clothes market in Lagos.

A dealer is made when he or she opens a bale packed with almost new stuff, especially when they are ladies’ underwear. The goods are smuggled into the country in bales. Before COVID-19 came, new bales were opened in the market on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, though it opened Monday to Saturday. Many shoppers would prefer to go to the market on those three special days.  

The market is said to be the last hope for fairly-used durable clothes for many families who cannot afford new clothes. And only those who get to market early, get fair deals.

Katangowa, a Hausa word which literally means a market for everything, has been in existence since the early 1980s. It is quite known all over the state. Indeed, apart from second-hand clothes for children and adults, almost all other products can be found in the market. Cooking utensils, curtains, imported vegetable oil, pasta, bedspread, and many more household items are displayed at the market.

Despite the ban on second-hand clothes, a stricter regime of enforcement and the closure of borders, which has left the business clutching at straws, Katangowa market is still standing strong and retaining its boisterousness. One might not be wrong to say that the Okrika business has come to stay, as low and medium income earners keep patronising such markets across the country.

Chimezie said: “People working in big offices come here for shopping. Most high-class customers prefer designer wears such as Armani, Versace, Next, Prada, Marks & Spencer, Dolce Gabana and others. A designer shirt that could go for N10,000 at the boutique could be sold for N1,500 or N2,000 here. If the size is not okay, l help them to fix it for N1,00 or N200, depending on the quality of the clothes.

“I have been in this market for 14 years. I was able to build my house from the money I made here and trained my two children to the university level. Most times, I don’t have the time to receive calls due to demand from customers.

“Some smart guys sell clothes that are already condemned to unsuspecting buyers. You can buy a shirt for N50 or less here. The funniest part is that the shirt will look neat, but immediately you drop it in water it becomes something else.”

A lady who gave her name as Idowu and who lived in the Abule-Egba area, said she was a regular visitor to the market, but stated that she did not buy pants and other second-hand underwear because they did not stand the test of time and could have been contaminated.

“For me, any secondhand clothing that I buy at that market, I usually soak and wash the item with disinfectant to prevent one from contracting diseases. You never can say the state of health of the person who wore it or whether it was thoroughly washed before being sold in the market,” she said.

Meanwhile, health care professionals have repeatedly raised the alarm that used underwear could attract some bacteria, hence the need to wash them thoroughly with disinfectant before use.

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