Her name is Mammy Ochefu and she is the founder of the popular mammy market in military and NYSC camps.
In an interview with JOHNSON BABAJIDE, Mammy Ochefu, who is the wife of former military Administrator, Anthony Aboki Ochefu, tells her bit on how the mammy market culture started.
Today, we have Mammy market all over the military barracks and the origin of the business has been traced to you. How did it start?
The idea of a Mammy market was conceived in 1955 when I got married to my husband. At that time, my husband was a corporal serving in the Enugu Second Battalion. He had so many dependants and I thought of what to do to support him. So, the idea of making ‘enyi’, known as ‘mowe’ in the barracks, came to me.
When I started the business, some people were complaining of flies. You know, in the barracks, they do not allow filth because they want every place to be neat. And it is not that I was dirty with the preparation of ‘enyi’, but no matter how you clean the environment, flies will still be around.
So when the complaints were so much, I had to stop doing it for a week. But there was pressure from customers who had liked the ‘enyi’ and I told them the reason why I stopped it. But one WO2 (Warrant Officer 2) went and cleared a place for me to continue with the business. Later, one officer, a Lieutenant Colonel, an Igbo man, I have forgotten his name now, ordered that a local bacha, (kiosk) be built for me. Then, I resumed the business.
The ‘enyi’ was very good and soldiers were patronising me, particularly, early in the morning and during their break time. They would come and drink. But we did not stay long before we were posted out of Enugu.
Where was your husband posted to?
We were posted to Abeokuta.
What happened to your business after you left Enugu?
An Idoma woman, whose name I have forgotten now took over the business because ‘enyi’ is an Idoma drink. So, on getting to Abeokuta, I resumed the business there and was getting patronage until when my husband was posted out again.
That means you resume business at each barrack your husband was posted to?
Yes. You know soldiers are always moving around.
So you opened the business in all these barracks?
Yes. Then, I would look at other things that the soldiers in each barrack liked and add them to the menu. For instance, in Kaduna, I added kunu, tuwo shinkafa and other things they liked.
At the time you started this business in Enugu, how much did it cost you?
((Laughs). I did not have anything except what I needed for the drink. I doubt if it cost me more than One Shilling.
What were the materials used to produce ‘enyi’?
You will need potatoes, corn, rice and soya beans. You soak them and allow them to ferment. Then, you prepare it without adding sugar and it is very sweet.
How did you come about the name, Mammy?
Laughter…..It is a long story but let me cut short. My father told me that at the time I was born, he (my father) was working with white men that came to our village. But on a particular day, one white man came to our village. My father went to receive him and carried his box. On getting to the village, my father was told that my mother was in labour and he took permission to go and see his wife. Luckily before his arrival my mother had given birth to me. So when my father returned to the white man, he told the white man that his wife had given birth to ‘Enem’, and the white man said ‘Mammy’. That was how I was named Mammy.
How did this business spread to other barracks?
I told you that each time we were posted to a new barrack, I came up with the business. But as we were being posted out, some women who saw how I was making little money from the business would take over and so many started joining the business, even before leaving. But most of the women were Idomas at the beginning.
How do you feel that every barrack now has a Mammy market?
It was my children that started telling me that the market is growing in military barracks with my name, Mammy. I didn’t know anything about it.
Has the military given you any recognition for this innovative idea?
Not at all. Maybe later. They have never made any contact with me.
Any financial gain from the business?
Of course, I used the proceeds from the business to support my husband and train all our children.
Can you remember any of the officers who were patronising your business in the barracks then?
Yes, I remember we once lived in the same quarters with General Muhammadu Buhari (now the president), General Ibrahim Babangida, Ikya, Ejiga,Ataua Dickson and many of the officers who used to patronise my business then. This was because, in Kaduna, I added tuwo shinkafa and others to the business which attracted them.
What was President Buhari’s way of life then?
We lived in the same quarter. The man is a good man; caring and generous. If he did not see his neighbor for a few days he would come calling asking why such person was not seen. For instance, when my husband was posted out of Kaduna, Buhari would always ask after the kids and why I did not follow my husband immediately he left on transfer. I told him I could not go with my husband until the children were on vacation and to begin a new term in the new station. He would say, ‘okay, it is true’. Buhari was always having sweets in his bag.
Do you think he can still recognise you?
Yes. On many occasions, if he sees me at the airport, he would greet me. He still recognises me.
Culled from DayLight.NG