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The Nigerian fish market where gods and commerce meet

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The Nigerian fish market where gods and commerce meet

The all-women fish market appoints a ‘mother of wealth’ to pray for their good fortune – and in this recession-hit country the role is more important than ever

Folasade Ojikutu wears a traditional white lace dress for her work at the lagoon dock behind Oluwo market in Epe. The small town is home to one of the largest and most popular fish markets in Lagos – and almost all 300 traders are women. Many are from families who have sold fish here for generations, and Ojikutu, 47, is their “Iya Alaje”, meaning the mother or carrier of wealth.

As she strides past a small waterfront shrine, dozens of women fishing waist-deep in the water chant and hail her, calling out “Aje”- in part a reference to the Yoruba goddess of wealth. Every day, hundreds of people travel, sometimes for hours, to buy fish at Epe market, as it is commonly known, where the spiritual and commercial merge. And the mainly women traders look to Ojikutu– who acts as an intercessor, praying for good fortune, alongside managing affairs at the market.

The women that you see here, they do it all. When we sell, we eat, we feed our children
Bola Ajakorin, market seller

“It was the Ifá [Yoruba priest] that chose me, in 2016. He is the one that chooses the Iya Alaje,” Ojikutu says. Most markets in Lagos have an Iya Alaje, she explains, a market leader that is in some cases chosen by a priest, according to Yoruba tradition. “The day the Ifa came, I wasn’t here but he told them my name, my appearance, then they came and found me. I was panicking, weeping. I didn’t want it, I saw it as a burden. But the women insisted and here I am.”

In Nigeria’s complex religious landscape, blends of indigenous religions with Islam and Christianity are often demonised by mainstream clerics. Yet the enduring importance of traditional religious beliefs are seen in markets like Epe. For Ojikutu, a Christian in belief, and a Muslim by marriage who keeps two shrines in the market, there is harmony in her prayers to God and to Aje.

“The Bible says your faith will make you whole. When I get to the Aje, I pray for good favour for the women. When I get to the mosque, I pray to God that our prayers will be answered. We call God here. We call God at the mosque, too. So we don’t need to criticise this at all, it’s our heritage.”

“This morning, [Ojikutu] prayed for us. That we will sell, that we will make enough to eat, to drink, to spend, to progress,” she says. “She will pray, and then we will shout, ‘ajeee oooooh’.” The women around echo her chant.

Ajakorin has sold fish at Epe for 30 years, taking over from her mother, whose parents were fishers, too. “It’s in our family to be here,” she says.

Like many of the women, she is the main breadwinner, supporting seven children and her retired husband.

“The women that you see here, they do it all. When we sell, we eat, we feed our children. Those of us that have mothers, fathers, we’re feeding them. Our siblings. That’s what we do.

“This job has been great for us, but it’s hard,” she says, describing how Africa’s largest economy has suffered in recent years.

Two recessions since 2016, rising food prices and the cost of living have pushed millions of Nigerians into poverty. “Things that people bought for 10,000 naira [£18] in Lagos are now 20,000 or 30,000 naira. Everything is expensive, so people have less money for fish than before,” says Ajakorin.

Mrs Abdullahi, 54, wears a green T-shirt and yellow wrapper and displays a fish almost as big as herself on her chopping board. “This one is even small,” she laughs.

Along the aisles, women cut and carry, some sitting high on top of freezers, peering down on their trays of fish and shrimp. They talk about how working at the market is in their blood.

“Since the time that I’ve been in school, I’ve been here, following my mother to the market,” says Abdullahi. “We’ve sent our kids to school, to university. And the little [money] that’s left, we’ve used for our car, our food, our home. You know the situation of the country. But we manage and we thank God.”

Mrs Abdullahi holds a large ‘Barakuta’ fish. She followed her mother into working at the market

Abdullahi says women have become the dominant traders because men demean the work, seeing fishing as more respectable.

“Men go and kill the fish, even women go and kill, too, but mainly men. But it’s the women that buy it from them. Men look at it like it’s dirty work, but for us, it’s not dirty work.

“If I get my fish, I can sell it here. I can drive my car and take it to Ijora [a settlement in Lagos], call my customers and tell them what’s on the ground – orange fish, yellowtail, catfish, tilapia. I have that freedom to go here and go there.”

The hundreds of market women with deep roots to the area form a support network, says 50-year-old Lawal Bolanle, who has sold fish at Epe since she was 15. “We do many things,” she says, including ‘ajo’ – a communal saving system, where people put a monthly sum into a shared pot, and one person receives that amount on rotation. “We join hands and help each other in different ways.

“Among us, there are some who have other businesses. Let’s say a shop. They’ll open their shop. Then come here and sell fish, then go back, close their shop and go home. But most women in the market, we work and we don’t have anything else.

“Some have a baby but no husband. Or a husband who is sick or has died. But then you’ll come here, God will perform wonders, you’ll find food to eat, go home and attend to your children,” says Bolanle.

We support each other. You can find money and say to a woman, here, take a bit, source fish to sell, to help yourself
Lawal Bolanle

“We support each other. When an elder sister here comes to us and says she has a situation that is pressing, we will quickly call each other and say, look, we don’t want this situation to pull her to the grave. You can find money and say to a woman, here, take a bit, source fish to sell, to help yourself,” she says

Oluwakemi Sanwo, 45, has a modest display on wooden trays. She has cared for her seven children alone since her husband died of heart problems five years ago. “I don’t have parents, my mother has died, my father has died. My husband’s family stopped coming after he died. For my children, it’s me that is the mother, it’s me that is the father.”

The market women have been a strength, she says. “For example, my friend here, when she sells a lot, they will give me 4,000 naira, 5,000 naira. I’ll feed my children and keep some to buy fish to sell. Gradually, things are improving.”

Islamic prayer beads, bibles open to psalms, candles wrapped with palm leaves, are laid on top of freezers and tucked in corners, behind trays or buckets of live seafood across the market. While at a shrine kept at the quieter far end of the market, a sacrifice is made in a small ceramic pot as Ojikutu kneels on a mat to pray.

“Of course, many pastors, imams, will say this is an evil practice,” Ojikutu says. “It’s the same God that we are worshipping. Everyone has a spirit. For some, their spirits will match together. Those with clean hearts, that work together, it’s from that which good things happen. That’s what we believe.”

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Senators reject bill seeking to to reduce CBN’s regulatory power on FX market

Nigerian senators have rejected a bill seeking to amend the Foreign Exchange Act of 2004 expected to reduce the regulatory function of the Central Bank of Nigeria on the Fx Market.

The bill, titled “The Foreign Exchange (Control and Monitoring) Bill, 2024 (SB. 353),” was sponsored by Sani Musa (APC-Niger), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, and was first read on Tuesday, February 20.

According to NAN, Musa described the bill as crucial legislation intended to repeal the Foreign Exchange (Monitoring and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, Cap. F34, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.

He stated that the proposed law would regulate, monitor, and supervise market transactions and related matters.

He added that the bill will stabilize the country’s foreign exchange market.

“The Bill seeks to stabilize the value of the currency by ensuring the liberalization of foreign exchange transactions to maintain an equilibrium of the balance of international payments.”

However, senators vehemently opposed the bill.

They said it would be counterproductive to CBN’s effort at stabilizing the foreign exchange market.

Senators who opposed the bill are Solomon Adeola (Chairman of the Committee on Appropriation), Tokunbo Abiru (Chairman of the Committee on Banking, Insurance, and Other Financial Institutions), and Aliyu Wadada (Chairman of the Senate Public Accounts Committee.

Senator Ibrahim Dankwambo (APC-Gombe), giving reason for opposing the bill said that passing such a law would confuse Nigerians.

Similarly, Senator Adams Oshiomhole (APC-Edo) pointed out that the senators who had spoken had meticulously summarized and amplified the contradictions and negative implications of passing the law.

Oshiomhole said he believes the bill should not proceed further, as it would effectively take over the CBN’s monetary policy regulations.

The President of the Senate, Godswill Akpabio, urged Senator Musa to withdraw the proposed law for further consultations but the senator declined.

Senator Akpabio then called for a voice vote to decide its approval or rejection for a second reading and the majority of lawmakers voted against it.

The development comes as the Naira recorded its first appreciationp against the dollar on Thursday, exchanging at N1,554.65 per dollar.

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Oyebanji Seeks Belgium’s Partnership in Technology, Agriculture, Intellectual Capacity Devt for Wealth Creation

Ekiti State Governor, Mr Biodun Oyebanji says his administration is building blocks for mutual bilateral relationships between the State and developed countries of the world to turn around the fortunes of its citizens.

Governor Oyebanji made this known during a meeting with the Belgium Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr Pieter Leenknegt at the Belgium Embassy in Abuja, on Wednesday, where potential areas of collaboration were discussed.

Governor Oyebanji who was accompanied by the some state officials, including Commissioner for Budget, Economic Planning and Performance Management, Mr Niyi Adebayo; and Commissioner for Finance, Mr Akin Oyebode, DG office of partnership Biodun Oyeleye, highlighted some critical areas of the State’s 30 – year development plan.

He noted that the state government has a clear vision of opportunities in the areas of ecosystem innovation, technology, renewable energy, environmental management and agricultural production and exportation as well as intellectual capacity development for wealth creation.

“Our vision for Ekiti State is clear. Despite the various challenges, indices and factors being that we are landlocked, we are committed to exploring and leveraging opportunities in ecosystem innovation, technology, renewable energy, and agricultural production. Collaboration with developed nations is crucial for the actualization of our 30-year development plan and ensure sustainable growth and prosperity for our people.”

The Governor highlighted the state’s substantial investments in social programs, commercial agriculture, and various intervention initiatives aimed at boosting the purchasing power of Ekiti’s citizens stressing the necessity of international collaboration to fully realize the state’s ambitious 30-year development plan.

In his response, Ambassador Leenknegt acknowledged Ekiti state’s efforts, which align with global best practices and ECOWAS standards. He advised the Ekiti government to expedite the completion of the state’s airport to improve access and connectivity.

He commended the initiatives behind the Ekiti Knowledge zone noting its potential to transform local knowledge into wealth, expressing Belgium’s interest in partnering with Ekiti State in areas such as communication technology, transportation, and tropical agriculture, including cacao and palm kernel production as well as enhancing academic partnerships between Belgian institutions and universities in Ekiti State.

“We recognize and appreciate the significant strides being made by the Ekiti State government. The Ekiti Knowledge Zone is a remarkable initiative with the potential to turn local knowledge into wealth. Belgium is keen to explore collaboration in areas such as communication technology, transportation, and tropical agriculture, including cacao and palm kernel production.” Said the Ambassador

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NCAA to sanction airlines over deceitful departure schedules

National carrier gets licence today, local airlines fault process

The Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has condemned what it calls the prevalent cases of deceitful departure time scheduling by airlines, warning the erring airlines to desist from the infraction or face dire regulatory actions.

The Acting Director General, Civil Aviation, Nigeria, Captain Chris Najomo, while declaring this on Tuesday at the Authority’s corporate headquarters in Abuja, said the NCAA now runs a zero-tolerance approach to regulatory infractions.

Speaking through the NCAA Director of Public Affairs and Consumer Protection, Mr. Michael Achimugu, the acting DG warned the airlines to desist from the infraction or face dire regulatory actions.

“He made the ease of doing business the crux of his action plan for the NCAA. In line with that action plan, he has made processes for licensing easy for operators. The time to secure AOC is now shorter and less cumbersome than it used to be in the past,” he stated.

“The NCAA therefore expects reciprocity from airlines. Chief of which is world-class services to passengers.

Najomo said that if the NCAA is making doing business easier for operators, the operators must satisfy the passengers too with superior services.

He said, “It has come to our notice that some airlines are being reported for advertising deceitful departure times. The NCAA regulation says no airline shall display deceitful passenger departure time at its counter, advert material, or on its website.

“We want to make it very clear that the DGCA has directed monitoring and offenders will face serious regulatory actions.”

According to him, the Authority believes in safety, discipline, and economic regulation which is evidenced in the recent suspension of ten PNCF holders for failing to comply with the recertification advisory issued in April 2024.

He indicated that whilst the NCAA supports airlines to be profitable because of their critical value to the economy, it is important passengers are treated fairly.

Speaking about the ease of doing business environment at the NCAA, Capt. Najomo said the ease of business is an area the Authority will continue to improve.

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