At almost every major bus stop in Lagos, there is a striking resemblance at night – the ubiquity of small gleaming lamps flashing at passersby as they move towards their different destinations; the sound of traders from all corners yelling or ringing bells to potential buyers for patronage. If we consider the fact that the struggle for survival is daily renewed among inhabitants of West Africa’s largest city, finding such enterprising and distinctive features would be of no surprise.
Night market, as it’s fondly called, serves as a base for most working class Lagosians who find it hard to go to regular markets during the day. A regular feature of these markets is that the traders do not make use of conventional stalls. They, however, place their goods on an open sack on the floor – known as bend down select stores; this makes them mobile, as they usually pack away all their goods after each night trade. Including food staples, almost everything could be found in such settings – books, clothes, jewellery, watches, film DVDs, fruits, colognes, and shoes. Though not legal, the market has served as a means of livelihood for many citizens, apparently because it caters for the need of the many low-income earning Lagosians.
“My things don come down, na small small money,” a seller yells at me as I approach him. I had just alighted from a bus coming from Yaba was moving towards the Ojota pedestrian bridge. He sells film DVDs. The DVDs were scattered on a cardboard on the floor. Like the other customers, I bent down and began to survey the movies he was selling to see if there would be any that interested me.
I see a recently released Nollywood movie. The movie grossed highly in the box office but was not officially being sold in DVDs to the public yet. I ask him for the price; “500 naira,” he says. I try persuading him to sell it for 200. He refuses, explaining that the movie is very interesting and still new.
While haggling, we start talking about night markets. I ask why people preferred night markets. He, finally disclosing his name as Peter, says it is for convenience. However, he says, not all the traders were solely night traders, some had actually been there since morning and just wanted to partake from the influx of customers who patronise these areas at night.
Peter further explains that he is still a student and is preparing for his senior secondary school leaving certificates exams (SSCE). After school hours, he comes here to trade in order to make ends meet and provide for his family.
I approach another trader at the other side of the Ojota bridge. His marketing song was “fine fine trouser, fine fine trouser.” He asks me what I want – chinos or trousers. I reply, chinos. His point too is similar to Peter’s own, with all his goods on the floor. They are placed on a sack. He begins to select some chinos and shows them to me. I ask him for the price. He tells me 700 naira. I reply back angrily, “Is it not 500 naira?” – pretending I knew the prices before. “The way the economy be now, we no fit sell am for 500; bale – a sack of clothes – wey dem dey buy for 100,000 naira before don increase to 150,000,” he explains.
“People wey dey buy the clothes from warehouse dey sell am to us now for 500, how we go sell am for the same price?” His question made sense.
Prices have gone up generally, however, people still flock to these points to patronise the traders. From young ladies who look glamorised during the day to men and women in suits, Lagosians are still attracted to night markets for several reasons. For some, convenience and flexibility; for others, the relatively cheaper costs of products in relation to structured markets, while for a set of ladies and guys, it is an opportunity to hide from the shame of buying fairly used products during the daytime.
I remember meeting an old acquaintance of mine in one of these spaces. Surprised to see me, she ignored the trader and jumped at me with a hug, and then we started chatting. She, currently a banker, was someone I had truly admired for her beauty and fashion. It was quite awkward and funny, though understandable, to discover that this was one of her sources of style. We left the place without her purchasing anything. However, afterwards, it became evident to me that the impact of these markets could be felt among most Lagosians, including her.
For most middle and low-income earners, night markets serve a great deal in providing affordable lifestyles for them. The low prices and the variety of materials help make these citizens blend into the Lagos culture – a culture of style and highlife which could be very expensive to adapt to. As the boutiques and supermarkets are to the rich, the night markets cater for other classes of residents. This is why these markets will remain important to Lagosians and other potential migrants, that anyone can fit into the Lagos society regardless of their pocket size.