For nutritionists, the health benefits of roasted plantain are enormous. Whether ripe, unripe or overripe, roasted plantain, according to research, is a limitless health solution provider.
The benefits range from boosting the immune system, great healing effect on gastric ulcers caused by aspirin, high Vitamin A content, which controls immune response to battle illnesses, skin and cell growth, as well as the healing of wounds.
It is also high in fibre, which aids digestive health, high potassium and magnesium content, good for the heart, other organs and stimulation of growth of the inner lining of the stomach.
Little wonder the patronage for roasted plantain at every point in Abuja has continued to increase. The situation is the same for the residents of Kuje Area Council and environs, where the provision of these health solutions in the form of roasted plantain comes handy at Mopol Barracks, a popular joint off the ever-busy Airport Road, enroute Kuje.
Located conspicuously such that it is hard to miss even by newcomers to the area, the roasted plantain “depot” is about 100 metres after the turn off Airport Road and up the flyover to join the entrance road to Kuje, adjacent the Mobile Police barracks.
With roasted plantain irresistibly prepared and positioned to attract passers-by, the depot is a sight to behold daily, not just because of the commodity but also because of the number of exotic cars on both sides of the roads whose drivers and passengers patronise the vendors.
Frequently, the vendors and their patrons are at the mercy of the busy traffic, as either the car owners strive to cross the road to make their choices among the various stands or the vendors are crossing to push their products at the car owners and occupants.
To underscore its importance and high demand, patronage comes from far and wide as residents travel from places like Wuse, Asokoro, Maitama, Gwagwalada and the Kuje axis to patronise the vendors. In fact, the Mopol Barracks Junction roasted plantain depot has become a huge market and meltingpot for the rich, the average and the poor, dating back to more than a decade and half now.
Mostly steaming hot, the roasted plantain could be consumed with complementary products like groundnuts or tomato source with fried fish or cow skin, popularly called kanda in local palance.
The food’s popularity has equally resulted in the depot expanding to accommodate the sale of other edibles like suya, fruits, yam and fresh and roasted fish, with soft drinks and water.
History of the depot
Described as a roadside market, measuring less that 200 metres in length, the roasted plantain depot started effectively in 2004 as a one-woman supply market. Popularly known as Mama Chinasa, the vendors told Daily Sun at the depot, she dominated the market with sale of roasted yam and plantain, until it became difficult for her to cope with the volume of demand.
Predominantly operated by the wives of the Mobile Police unit resident inside the barracks, the roasted plantain depot, however, bubbles effectively for only nine hours during the day, from 9am to 6pm, when it becomes a ghost town.
Recalling the origins of the market, a vendor who identified herself as Mama Bright, explained that though she joined the business in 2006, the history of the market, dating back to 2004, would be incomplete without mentioning Mama Chinasa, who has since retired to the village after losing her husband to the cold hands of death.
“I met others in 2006 when I started shortly after arriving here with my husband, a mobile policeman,” the mother of three recalled, adding: “The person who actually started this market was Mama Chinasa. But, she did not return here after going home to bury her late husband.
“I have been off and on, especially when I took a break to nurse my children. Mama Chinasa was then roasting plantain and yam but, subsequently, when we joined, it was like a collective decision from all of us to concentrate in roasted plantain alone, perhaps because of the stress involved in processing roasted yam. So, I have been here for the past 13 years and still counting,” she said.
There is no debate whether the vendors are able to cope with the increasing demand for their products as according to them, it is very difficult to have any unsold at the end of the day.
Like Mama Bright, another vendor, Mummy Fred, said that business was booming: “On a daily basis, we go to the market in Zuba to buy plantain and, in most cases, we struggle to cope with the demand,” she said. “Sometimes, my customers would call me from town to keep certain quantities for them. Such demands usually put me under pressure trying to sell to customers and still reserve the quantity required by those coming from the town.
“Because we don’t require much, both in finance and material, to start this business, once you can cope with the stress of standing up for hours, there will be enough patronage. And the good thing is that demand remains the same from Monday to Sunday, all year round, under the sun and in the rain.
“I have every reason to thank God because I can’t imagine doing any other business than this. I have supported my family through this business and I am not planning to leave it unless something bigger comes my way.
“Apart from buying ice blocks used in cooling the drinks, I don’t invest in the business any longer. Again, we prefer buying Bendel plantain at Zuba to buying Kuje plantain because Bendel plantain is richer and more nutritious.
“We are lucky to be in this business and what would have been a challenge associated with a perishable food like plantain has been taken care by the demand. Our customers demand for unripe, ripe and overripe plantain,” she said.
For Ignatius Madu, a resident of Kuje, patronising roasted plantain vendors has become a habit for him and his household. According to him, it is not unconnected with the health benefits of plantain and the considerable cost of the commodity.
“As you can see, I am not the only one patronising this joint. I started buying this roasted plantain as far back as 2004 when I packed into Kuje from town. It was only one woman they called Mama Chinasa that was roasting yam and plantain then.
“But the place has grown big and the business has expanded with more women joining in roasting plantain, just as many others are now selling suya, yam, fruits and point ‘n’ kill fresh fish. The prices of roasted plantain have continued to change from what it used to be in the past, understandably, because of the same increase in buying the product and, more importantly, the cost of transporting them.
“Regardless of the amount, however, buying roasted plantain has become part of my family’s menu and not even the hike in the price can stop some people like us,” he said.
Unfortunately, it has not been all rosy for the vendors and their customers. Many of them told Daily Sun that they encounter challenges, ranging from customers defrauding them to robbers dispossessing them of their hard-earned daily proceeds. They lamented that the incidents of robbery was responsible for their closing transactions as early as 6pm.
Recounting her experience, Mummy Fred said that, apart from standing all day, which has inflicted insoluble waist pains on many of the women vendors, robbers, fraudsters and debtors have defied the overshadowing presence of the police barracks to unleash terror on them.
“This business is not easy,” she quipped in typical Bendel pidgin English to accentuate the hazards of the business, adding: “I am now finding it difficult to sleep at night because of waist pains as a result of standing up almost throughout the day to roast plantain. I have visited hospital but the pains have persisted. I just hope it will stop one day.
“Again, sometimes, some people will pretend they have money with them only to tell you that they forgot their wallets, forcing us to sell on credit, which we never recover.
“Constant robbery has also forced us to close as early as 6pm. I had a nasty experience two years ago. I had almost packed when one man pleaded with me to give him change. I did so, only to discover a few minutes after he left that I had lost my sales proceeds for that day.
“There was one woman we called Mama Twins, who combines roasting yam with sale of recharge cards. She was about going home when some people demanded several cards amounting to over N25,000. She gave the cards to them but, unknown to her, they exchanged them with fake cards they had with them and returned them to her. She collected them from them without crosschecking, only to notice later that they were fake cards. She was devastated.
“Many have been robbed, especially those that stayed beyond 6pm. They don’t mind whether barracks is very close here because they know that our husbands are not always with us here. They have sent many out of this business. This place is too dangerous,” she lamented.
Corroborating the reports of security challenges in the area, another resident of Kuje, Eugene, said that the situation has even improved now: “In 2004, when the Airport Road had not been constructed, the robbers made life unbearable to the residents of Kuje.”
“Most of people stayed behind in town once it got late and woe betide you if a vehicle dropped you around 7pm there.”