Meet grandma who established first ‘Mammy Market’
Mrs. Mammy Marian Ochefu is wife of the late Military Governor of defunct East-Central State, Col. Anthony Aboki Ochefu. In this interview, the lady, who is believed to have first established a ‘Mammy Market’ within a military barracks in Nigeria, recalls
Daily Trust: How did you get the name ‘Mammy’? According to the story told by my father who was a steward to a white man, my mother was in labour while they were on work transit to Ankpa from Otukpo so his master granted him permission to go and take care of his wife. When my mother finally put to bed, my father, in line with Idoma tradition, immediately named me Ene’m, meaning my mother. When he later broke the good news to his master, the white man asked him the sex of his baby and he said Ene’m, so his master asked: “Is that your mummy? And my father said yes. That was how they ended up calling me Mammy.
DT: What is your educational qualification?
I stopped in Primary four and then got married at the age of 14. I went to Holy Child in Adoka community of Otukpo local government area.
DT: Can you recall the story behind Mammy Market?
After I got married, I decided to do something in order to earn a little money to take care of myself so I started brewing enyi (local nonalcoholic beverage similar to ‘Kunun Zaki’) business. The young soldiers then, including President Muhammadu Buhari, patronised my business in Kaduna. I started at my veranda in Abakpa barracks, Enugu State, before we moved to Kaduna. After a while, some top ranking soldiers complained that the drink attracted flies to the surrounding. So they asked me to stop making it.
After about a week, my customers began to ask why I discontinued so I told them. Later they took me to one corner of the 2 battalion barracks and erected a make-shift stall for me. That was between 1958 and 1959. When we moved from Kaduna to Ibadan I continued the business, and they also made me another make-shift stall there. From Ibadan, we moved to Zaria and they still built me the stall, then we returned to Kaduna, to the first shop, before we moved to Lagos.
At the time we went to Lagos, I had become so popular that people would just say they were going to mammy market to drink. I opened a big shop in Lagos. It was at that point that I officially incorporated the name as Mammy Market and got my license. That is the story of mammy market in army formations nationwide.
DT: Can you remember some of the young soldiers that patronised you then?
It is a long time now but I can still remember my popular customers like Matthew Adamu, Adama, Col. Idoko, Patrick Idoko, Paul Dickson, and so on. Some of my customers then are dead now. Like I said earlier, Buhari patronised me too.
DT: Were you the only woman making enyi for sale in the barracks then?
Yes. But whenever I was going on transfer with my husband, I would always invite one of the Idoma women to take over the business while the name remained mine.
DT: What happened to the business when you later became a governor’s wife?
That was in Enugu but I still kept my Mammy Market shop. Even in Lagos, I still kept the shop for burukutu and provisions. But one of my sons has taken over the company.
DT: Has the Army authority accorded you recognition as the one who started Mammy Market?
No. I don’t want anything from them except that they should just recognize me. However, I hardly go to the barracks.
DT: Did your husband support the enyi business from the onset?
Yes, he did. At that time, the only thing soldiers’ wives did was to take food to their husbands at their work places in the morning, afternoon and in the evening if he is on guard. Then, the schools were far and the wives would take the children to school and bring them back. Between 1958 and 1960, I used a small bicycle which I bought for less than one pound to ease my movement and I was so proud of it. I made the money from selling enyi. I used to convey my children to and from school with the bicycle.
DT: What well did you know Buhari then?
Buhari was a nice man when we were in the barracks together. He was a 2nd Lieutenant then just like my husband and the environmental officer of the barracks. If he comes to supervise sanitation in one’s area and found it dirty, he would educate the offender and correct him or her politely. Since after leaving the barracks, we (Buhari and I) have met at the airports on one or two occasions, and usually we would exchange greetings as well as recall some funny events from the past.
DT: You worked so hard to give your children the best, are you satisfied with what they have become today?
Oh yes. My first child is a medical doctor, my first daughter has a masters degree in education, the third is a professor and Vice Chancellor of a university. The fourth is an engineer, the fifth a lawyer, the sixth an engineer and my last baby is also an engineer.
DT: What would you say is the secret of your good and healthy looks at 75?
I take good care of myself and also eat right.
DT: What kind of person was your husband?
He was a very nice man. From the time we got married till he died, he never raised a hand at me. Whenever we had misunderstandings, he would just look at me and keep quiet. He understood me so well. He was a kind man. He was also a caring father to our children.
DT: What do you miss so much about him?
We used to watch films together. Each time I watch films now, I just reminisce that we should have grown old together. I felt he shouldn’t have left at the time he did but God understands and I dare not question His authority. He took me round the world - India, Canada, USA, Malaysia, name it. We went together on holidays. So, I miss him a lot.
DT: Are you insinuating that military rule is better?
I don’t know. Only God will help us. Today, we are complaining that Buhari is not doing well. I want Nigerians to know that it is not easy to repair what had been bad for years. For instance, it would only take me a few hours to demolish this house but weeks if not months to bring it back to shape. That is what is happening in Nigeria.
Nigeria has already collapsed but Buhari is trying to rebuild it. You can imagine one person with billions of naira stashed in his account yet another can hardly afford N100 to feed. Can you imagine some states owe workers up to six months salaries? Teachers are not being paid yet they expect them to teach well. Is that possible? My advice is that government should look into these matters seriously.
Mrs. Mammy Marian Ochefu Photo: Hope Abah
Mrs. Ochefu, during the days she pioneered the ‘Mammy Market’