July 24, (THEWILL) –
Patronising flea markets used to be a place for the poor, those who can barely afford expensive ready-to-wear outfits in classy boutiques. Katangua Market by Super Bus Stop in Abule Egba, Lagos is now a market for all – rich, poor and those in-between. Michael Jimoh reports…
“Ekuro lo no,” an adult male baritone voice startles you from behind a line of human chain snaking along one of the narrow paths in Katangua Market. The path itself is hedged by hastily constructed wooden stalls with colourful awnings or corrugated roofing sheets. It is clearly not convenient for a single file to pace along.
And yet, an Indian file of another is coming from the opposite direction, men and women with loads on their heads or holding blue nylon bags stuffed with recently made purchases. There are many more shoppers walking along, hands by their side like penguins on the march.
A short sprint is impossible here. You are sure to careen into someone if you dared. Still, it is a good day to snap up that rare Balenciaga scarf or Nike sneakers, a Tommy Hilfiger jeans or Gap chinos – all of them second-hand/ used – and at bargain price.
Welcome to Katangua Market aka Katangowa or Katangwa by Super Bus stop in Abule Egba along Lagos/ Abeokuta Expressway. Sources told THEWILL the market was begun nearly 30 years ago by Hausa traders and settlers dispensing a few commodities at the time. Today you can buy just about anything from used bags and shoes to bras and panties, leggings and gowns of different colours and sizes, stylish denims and bespoke shirts, baby wears, bedspreads, pillowcases, curtains, towels and much else.
There are those providing ancillary services in the market also: food vendors, POS operators, carriers and even young men displaying fancy shirts and trousers right in your face. “Bros, follow me buy or make I go show you original chinos for inside shop.”
Don’t be beguiled by his sweet utterances. He is an “Applico” with no shop of his own and there are no originals of the items mentioned. He is a hustler out to woo you, make some snappy sale and have his cut from the show owner.
From its lowly beginnings, Katangua is now the most famous flea market in Lagos and, possibly, Nigeria. Yes, there was Tejuosho Market Yaba a favourite of female Akokites at one time. It is no more. Aswani Market along Lagos/ Badagry Expressway operates only on Tuesdays, leaving Katangua to have a run of used clothes business and, in the process, attract more patronage.
For three days every week – Monday, Wednesday and Friday – thousands of shoppers and traders converge at the most famous flea market in Lagos to buy and sell hand-me-downs from America, Asia or Europe. It is on those days also that traders at Katangua open bales and bales of merchandise bought from Arena Market near Oshodi or Apapa Wharf.
As early as 6, 6.3am the bales are cut open and then buyers including retailers close in for a choice piece of clothing, bag or shoe. More shoppers arrive as the day progresses. More bales are cut open and some of the items displayed on shelves, benches, on the ground, on hangers and worn on male and female mannequins.
The adult male voice ordering you to give way has not come to buy or sell. He is a delivery man with a huge bale on his head covering his brows down to the ears and back of the neck. Only his nose, mouth and chin are visible. There is not much space to let him through because of the human crush. Still, bodies bend this way and that giving the impatient carrier right of way.
It is a Monday afternoon and there are people everywhere in the market sitting in makeshift wooden stalls loaded with clothes, bags and shoes beckoning on buyers. “Oga, wetin you wan buy? I get am. Jeans, chinos or shirt? Bata nko?”
Along with the sheer number of people is a pervasive smell. It is not hard to see why. Bales of clothes, bags and shoes in cargo ships travelling from any port in America, Asia or Europe takes weeks, sometimes months depending on the stop-overs. In that state, the merchandise arrive their destination with a unique smell peculiar to second-hand clothes. On this Monday, that odd stench is everywhere at Katangua Market, from the items scattered on tables, on the ground and inside the shops. It is so strong you imagine it hovering over the market like an unseen halo.
Savvy traders and buyers insist that smell distinguishes second-hand clothes from other materials, the smell that confirms its provenance from Europe, say, not those locally made and smuggled in by crafty traders or dubious shop owners to deceive buyers.
On this Monday afternoon, half a dozen shoppers bend over an open bale in one of the shops, picking up shirts one by one and examining them – the armpits, collars and cuffs. In another shop with carefully folded chinos and jeans pants on shelves and benches, the ritual is repeated. Satisfied with the item, the buyers make eye contact with the seller.
“Arinze, how much for these ones?” Arinze makes a mental calculation, points up three fingers. The buyer hands over the sum discreetly.
Arinze Anowe has been selling at the market since 2012. His corner is roomy enough to accommodate three or so traders but they don’t sell shirts like him. He is in his early thirties, from Imo state. Patronage was better 10 years ago when he started selling Okrika, a more popular name for used clothes. (Another moniker by which second-hand clothes is called is Tokunbo and Akube.)
But these days, sellers of second-hand clothes have to contend with the effect of the border closure. It means they can no longer go to Cotonou for their purchase. Now, they look to Arena Market in Oshodi or Apapa Wharf for bales.
Importers, according to him, have taken advantage of the border closure to jack up prices of imported bales. “We used to buy bales before for six million,” Arinze said. “The importers are now collecting N18million.” The result is that prices of goods in the market have increased correspondingly.
There is also the problem of Customs Officers shaking down traders like him. First, they seize their goods since it is illegal to sell second-hand merchandise. Next, you have to sort of bail the bales from their custody.
Raymond, 33, is from Nnewi in Anambra state. He has been in the market for 15 years. He sells shirts, jeans, polo. Patronage has been fine, as well. “But now with inflation and blocking of the borders things are difficult,” Raymond rued to THEWILL. “When I started I sold shirts for N300 but now the same shirt goes for N1, 500, N2000 and so on.”
Like Arinze, he groused about the rise in prices at Arena Market. “Importers have increased the price of bales because they know you can’t go to Cotonou to buy.”
Raymond is not surprised that more Nigerians now turn to second-hand clothes. The general hardship and downturn in the economy is one reason. Another is that a shirt in a boutique can go as high as N9, 000 but you can get the same shirt or even a better one for N1, 500, first grade material.
Also, it isn’t only the poor who patronise the market. Raymond recalled that some time ago, he sold clothing items to a manager from one of the major airlines in Lagos.
Kanyisola Hazzan is another patron of Katangua Market. A student of Lagos State University, Ojo, she considers buying clothes from boutiques a waste of money. “It is not about being rich or poor, but a matter of where you can get your choice,” Hazzan said. “I just can’t stand buying clothes in boutiques at ridiculous prices.”
Apart from the drain on their finances, there is also the matter of durability. A fashion designer, Chinwe Obi should know. “I prefer buying second-hand curtains because they are more durable than the new ones. The curtains I bought from this market five years ago are still looking good,” she told an interviewer once.
As a medical doctor, Gbenga Odutola ranks quite high in the professional cadre. But he comes from Iyaganku, Ibadan Oyo state to Katangua Market for his family’s purchase. “The clothes sold at the market are of high quality and when properly washed and ironed,”Odutola said in one interview, “they could be taken for new ones.”
Taken for new ones they may be but they are used all the same and already worn by someone else, as most buyers can see from the decrepit state of some of the items on display. Which brings up another matter concerning buying used clothes at such outlets, especially undergarments for women.
There were crowds of women haggling over bras and panties of various hues and sizes, trying them on around their chests when THEWILL visited. It was not a pleasant sight to behold. In an interview recently, Dr. Uche Nwafor of Brafus Specialist Hospital, Akute in Ogun state, warned against buying second-hand clothes, especially underwear. In her reckoning, “buying second-hand clothes is not healthy because you can’t tell the number of months those items have spent before eventually getting to Nigeria and they must have some microbes that grow on clothes.”
Simply washing and ironing such clothes is no guaranty against infections because not all germs are killed in the process. She insists on “washing them thoroughly with good detergent, sun dried and ironed before putting them on as the health implications of not doing that could be grave.”
Asked to estimate the value in Naira the transaction in the market weekly, a shop owner who called himself MD, as in MD of a company, mentioned billions of Naira. He may just be right considering the increasing number of buyers and traders converging at the market three days a week for that rare Armani jacket or Givenchy blouse.