Though shattered by the New Year’s Eve terrorists bombing in 2010, Mogadishu, a mammy market in Abuja has regained its allure as the place for the best grilled fish, Damilola Oyedele writes
Mogadishu barracks, more widely known as the Abacha barracks mammy market was the destination for revellers who wanted freshly made grilled fish with cold drinks at affordable prices compared to prices obtained in other parts of the city, until December 31, 2010 when it was hit by Boko Haram bombs.
Just a few hours into the New Year, many had thronged the place to usher in the New Year by hanging out with family and friends at their favourite joints, but the mammy market was soon turned into an abattoir of sort where blood flowed freely after it was bombed.
It was the second ever in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and it occurred weeks after the Independence Day bombing. For the dastard act, responsibility was claimed by JamÄ'atu Ahlis Sunnah LÄdda'awatih wal-Jihad which is now more widely known as Boko Haram.
Following the bombing, Abacha barracks shut down its mammy market and closed its shopping areas to civilians. It later reopened with some changes to mode of operation to enhance security. The painful memories seemed to have evaporated with the past as the fish centre has now returned to life when THISDAY visited the market recently.
When this reporter appeared at the grilled fish area after meandering through the shops that lined-up the market, she was overwhelmed by the number of waitresses who offer seats at a distance from the smoke emanating from the grill.
Customers were seen ushered into a small seating section under the huge canopies occupied by drinks’ sellers. And while the customers await the fish to be grilled, they could be seen sipping drinks quietly to pass the time.
For entertainment, different genres of music blared through different speakers placed under almost every canopy at the market.
The fishes offered great choices and the mode of preparation was simple. The already cleaned and de-scaled fish was rubbed with a mixture of ground pepper, tomatoes, onions and spices applied to them with a small sized painter’s brush.
The traditional cooking grill was a cut out half size of a drum, filled with charcoal while a grill layer was placed on it.
For instance, the croaker fish, after preparation was placed directly on the grill while the cat fish, because of its more delicate skin and flesh was first wrapped in a foil before it was slowly smoked using the grill.
Then, potato fries which served as complement were also prepared in a very clean manner.
Mr. Charles Eze who claimed to be a regular customer said the fish is very cheap compared to what is obtained in other part of the city where most things are expensive.
According to him, the prices range from between N1,500 or N2,000 for mid-sized fishes to N,3000 for large fishes.
“After the stress of working in a bank, my friends and I meet here most evenings to relax. If one does not mind the smoke, this is a very good place to hang out, enjoy fresh fish served with chilled drinks for good prices. The nerve is relaxed and we can also have privacy here. The fish usually serves as my dinner and when I am leaving I just buy some fruits to take home,” he said.
Eze added that drunkenness and unruly behaviour which usually occur in other joints are barely existent at the Mogadishu market as the soldiers are nearby to ensure order.
The market is also very popular with diplomats and expatriates who want to experience a feel of being in a rural like area without leaving Abuja. A diplomat who asked not to be named said she and her friends love to meet and socialise with one another at the fish market during the weekends.
The attraction for her she claimed has been that the atmosphere is truly African without any pretence and the people are generally friendly, especially to foreigners.
“It is a good place to meet other friends. For me, the attraction is not necessarily the cheap price, but the fact that the fish is fresh. You can observe the colour before it is placed on the grill. The environment while not necessarily neat or sane is interesting and I have brought my countrymen visiting Nigeria to also experience this place,” she said.
Besides, the allure of the grilled fish at the mammy market, it has become hawkers haven where local music cds, cheap wallets, flash lights, belts, caps, fake jewellery, sweets, electric kettles; rice cookers, toasters, and other are being sold by the hawkers.
A waitress, Cecelia said the place has been restored to what it used to be before the attack.
“Market is good especially on Saturdays and Sundays. People like this place because the fish is cheap, well prepared and the drinks are very cold. Even parents bring their children here on weekends.” she said.
For security, motorist now have to pay a toll of N50 each and allow their vehicles to be searched thoroughly before access into the military base. Also, handbags and backpacks are regularly searched by plain clothes soldiers at the entrance into the market.
But, THISDAY observed that the car and bag searches were conducted manually without any scanners, which made the process quite slow.
In fact, the mammy market is now closed at 9pm each day, a time which is strictly adhered to by both sellers and customers alike. And before 9pm, a beagle will be sounded to alert all patrons to the imminent closing time. Thus, surely and steady, Mogadishu has returned to care for its lovers.