At Alade Avenue, off Awolowo Way in Ikeja, a special kind of food business booms. There are about four very similar canteens that are lined up by the side of the road, all selling everything from fried rice with assorted meat/fish to eba. The delicious-looking meals can be seen all the way from the main street, tantalisingly displayed and inviting everyone to come and dine.
Something is peculiar to these canteens, and that is the fact that they do not operate during the day. Instead, they open in the evening and operate throughout the night until dawn. A waitress at Manna Dish (one of the canteens there) said that their food business operates at night because they have to cater to a special group of customers who need food at night. These customers, according to her, include bachelors returning home late from work after a busy day, and travelers who fly in late into Lagos and urgently need to eat.
Manna Dish and the other canteens at Alade Avenue in Ikeja are perfect examples of the many small businesses that operate every night in Lagos. It, therefore, goes without doubt that Lagos has a thriving night-time economy. Every night, different kinds of commercial activities take place on almost every major street in the city. Of interest are the markets where anything can be sold and bought.
About the Lagos night markets
Most Lagosians are familiar with the night markets which are scattered across the city. Returning home every night from work, they are greeted by traders who call on them to either come check out some nice pairs of shoes or buy the best meat in town. A bulk of the buying and selling in these Lagos night markets typically take place by the roadsides. Either it is Ojota, beside the bus terminal where everything from clothes to foodstuff are sold, or Ikeja Along where serious commercial activities thrive on the railway, it is always literarily an open market situation at these night markets.
Why night markets exist in Lagos
One of the reasons why the Lagos night markets exist is to cater to the needs of the millions of working class Lagosians who have no time to shop for their supplies during the day time. These group of Lagos workers also typically return home late at night due to the perpetual traffic challenges and the several hours of commute often experienced in the city. Consequently, it is in the process of going home every night (boarding different buses, alighting at bus stations and boarding more buses or bikes as is always the case in the city) that Lagosians get to come across the markets and buy whatever it is that they need.
Another reason is that traders want to make up for the opportunities lost during the day. This is because a huge market opportunity is usually lost to retailers between the hours of 10 am through to 5 pm while many Lagosians are busy at work. Cynthia, who sells assorted toiletries at New Garage (Computer Village) in Ikeja, said she came to this realisation like all the other traders and had to start taking advantage of the night market. According to her, she also displays her wares by the roadside early in the morning while most workers are rushing to their places of work. After the rush hour, the market slows down. Moreover, the sun will come out and so would Lagos State KAI officials who often arrest street traders for trading illegally by the roadside. For these reasons, Cynthia would return to her rented shop where unfortunately she would often sell very little.
“During the day, most people who need the kind of things that I sell prefer to go to big supermarkets such as Shoprite to buy them. This means that I sell very little during the day. But there is a huge market opportunity at night as workers return home. So I come out here by this junction and display my goods, attracting the patronage of workers.” she said.
The Lagos night markets also thrive at night due to the absence of any form of disturbance by Lagos State KAI officials. As Mrs Ezechi who sells leafy vegetables in Iyana-Ipaja said, she does not have to worry about KAI officials harassing them at night as they often do during the day.
Meanwhile, some of the traders in Lagos night markets have day jobs themselves. Akpan, who sells phone accessories such as earpiece and screen guards at Iyana-Ipaja Roundabout, said he works as a security personnel during the day and then sells his market at night. He does this every day in order to supplement his salary and be able to afford the high cost of living in the city. Another trader who preferred anonymity said he works in a factory where the pay is so poor that he can barely afford to take care of his family with his earnings. So, he sells second hand clothes at night to earn extra cash.
It is important to note that some specific businesses thrive mainly at night. Examples are suya stands and neighbourhood akara/fried yam joints. These businesses thrive in Lagos, particularly in low income neighbourhoods. And as Charles (a suya lover) said, “Life in Lagos would be boring without suya. And suya wouldn’t be suya unless it’s prepared by an aboki and sold by the roadside at night.”
Apparently, the Lagos night market has become an integral part of Lagos; it is a source of livelihood for many and convenient for consumers who, for various reasons, do not have time to shop during day. It also lends credence to the belief that Lagos is full of hustlers and never sleeps.