He beckoned on one of the maize sellers along the Karu/Nyanya Expressway. After some bargaining, he left with five cobs of maize wrapped inside old sheets of newspaper before it was later put inside a polythene bag.
Soon, some other road users came around to buy the same farm produce. While the majority of them preferred the roasted ones, others went for the fresh ones which they would cook with beans.
Indeed, this expressway, like many others in Abuja, have become a mini market where residents go to shop for maize and, at times, fresh and dry fish. Youths cash in on the traffic snarl frequently experienced on the highways to make quick money.
As early as noon each day, young boys come out with their pots, charcoal, dried woods and irons woven into trays, with which they roast the maize. While using makeshift stoves with the woods or charcoal underneath, the iron is placed on the ‘stove’ while the maize cobs are spread on it. The ‘entrepreneur’ uses plastic fans to blow the charcoal, which would help facilitate the quickness with which the fire would come on. Gradually, the maize turns brownish, indicating its readiness for consumption. Its consumers then begin to turn in one after the other for purchase. Some buy and eat it alone while others prefer it with coconut.
Amadu Sule is one of the sellers along the Karu/Nyanya Road. He has been there for about three years. Before venturing into the business, he was a commercial motorcyclist. He says the death of Ibrahim Biu, his bosom friend from Borno State, made him to abandon the job.
Speaking through an interpreter, Sule says, “I came to Abuja to make money. I came with my motorcycle from Borno State. It was Biu and I that came together from our state. We bought the motorcycle from the money we made through farming in our village.
“When we came, we were sleeping at the abattoir in Nyanya until we made a little money and rented a small room at Kado Village, Nasarawa State. But one day, my friend carried a passenger out and was knocked down by a car. We took him to a hospital but he died as a result of the accident. That day, I vowed not to ride the motorcycle anymore. I sold it.”
He has not regretted taken that decision. According to him, apart from having a small farm in his area, he also washes clothes for people in the morning before coming to his “shop.” Through this, he says, he makes ‘small, small money beta pass wetin I dey make when I dey ride machine self.” He is not alone in the business of maize roasting.
His competitor, who simply identifies himself as Dauda, says maize roasting is a good business, but he regrets that security men and officers from the Abuja Environmental Protection Agency usually harass them. On many occasions, he notes, he has lost his “cooking utensils” to the rampaging officers. “But we have no other business apart from this and that is why we will continue to come here, even during the rainy season,” he said.
One of the “supporting workers”, Mohammed Inuwa, who sells coconut, interjected by appealing to our correspondent to ask the government to leave them alone.
“See oga, we are doing our business here on our own. We are not armed robbers and we are not disturbing traffic. We don’t want to go into crime, but the way the government agents are disturbing us is too much. Help us appeal to them to leave us alone,” he says.
Some of the consumers of the maize are however complaining about the quality of some types of the product. Emmanuel Onyema is one of them. Though he testifies to the freshness of maize, he regrets that, at times, it is not well roasted.
Well roasted or not, eaters of this commodity are not losing anything in calories if the submission of Mrs Tonia Osawuyi is anything to go by. Osawuyi, a nutritionist, says maize is a high energy, calorie-rich food. She submits that studies have revealed that it provides 20 per cent of the calories consumed by humans across the world.
She, nevertheless, warns that its proteins are inadequate and that it lacks several amino acids, adding that this could cause malnutrition among its consumers if not eaten with other foods. While advising that corn, as most people call it, must be combined with other foods like beans, she adds that it is a good source of vitamins such as zinc, iron and magnesium.
She explains, “Its high level of insoluble fibre helps to speed the transit of food through the bowels. This is helpful in a number of ways, ranging from the management of constipation to the prevention of various types of bowel and colon cancer.”
Adding that maize’s nutritional value is similar to that of other grains, she notes that the food is at its best when complimented by other foods.
Nutrients from maize notwithstanding, authorities of the Federal Capital Territory may soon swoop on these road side maize sellers and send them packing. Sources at the Abuja Environmental Agency say apart from the unhygienic manner with which the corns are roasted, many of the sellers resort into jacking of cars along the road, especially in the night.
“They are the ones who vandalise cars anytime they are broken down on the highways. Government will soon deal with them,” an official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, says.
But before that is done, the likes of Sule and Dauda can still continue with their ‘mouth organ’ business, as roasted maize is jocularly called. The blowers of the “organ” can also go on with their lovely “instrument.”