Okpa, Abuja’s fast moving ’snack’
Okpa, the traditional eastern delicacy is gradually making its way into the hearts of Abuja residents, occupying the enviable position of the most popular street ‘snack’ in the FCT.
From the satellite town to the city center, the rich orange presence of Okpa is easily spotted along busy spots in Abuja, beckoning on addicts to have a taste of the local delicacy. To most lovers of this essentially beans mixture, a typical day only starts with their favorite Okpa taken with pap or soft drinks, to get set the day rolling.
Unlike pastry snacks which are mostly considered as junk and avoided by adults for their high calories and low source of energy, Okpa is widely accepted for its rich source of energy and affordability, as 2 wraps of N100 worth of Okpa can sustain an able bodied man through the day.
Like Kilishi in the north, Okpa is no respecter of tribe and culture, as most Nigerians relish the local taste of bambara nut properly blended with the rich flavor of Nigerian palm oil.
And so like most cities in Nigeria, it is no longer surprising to find Okpa being hawked on most streets in Abuja like the federal secretariat, Wuse market, Zone 4 junction, Beggar, Utako market, FCDA, motor parks, and other busy spots. For hawkers of this food, supply must always meet demand so as not to lose their loyal customers.
Although most hawkers have had their fair share of experience with officials of the Abuja Environmental Protection Board, they insist on satisfying their customers’ desire for their favorite snack, especially since the business has been rewarding.
Before now those who traded in Okpa business are majorly from south eastern part of the country, but today the business has attracted many other people who also earn their livelihood from the sale of Okpa.
Some hawkers who spoke with METRO say they ventured into the business because it is not capital intensive, and also allow them time to take care of their families since Okpa is usually bought and consumed in the mornings. The boom time is usually between 6am and 11am after which the hawkers, who are mostly women, retire for the next day’s business.
For Mrs. Chioma Nwogu, a widow who has been selling Okpa for the past seven years, the business has being a lucrative one, from which she has been able to fund her children’s education alone.
“I thank God for my life today. This business has kept me and my family out of hunger. It has provided shelter and other basic necessity of life for us. After I lost my husband, my neighbor who has been into it introduced me to it. When I started, it was not easy for me because I have to wake up every 4am to prepare it, cook it and take it out to the street to sell.
“Initially, I was discouraged as I fell ill with all the stress involved in the business, but my friends and colleagues kept encouraging me. Today this Okpa has helped me to train my children from primary to secondary school level and to crown it all, my first son is in two hundred levels in UNN.”
Another trader, Miss Rita Okewu, who spoke to our correspondent, lamented reckless behavior of men of the AEPB taskforce who chase hawkers of the streets not minding the risk of running into oncoming vehicles. She said it’s unfortunate that the taskforce pretends not to be aware of the harsh economic realities, instead they chase them even when they are in the confines of motor parks where they hardly constitute any form of disturbance.
Okewu, however, said she would carry on with the business since it helps sort some of her school needs. “I enjoy this business because it serve as an after school business for me and my siblings. Although it is not easy but I have learned how to handle the business with all passion, as the money I realize from sale of okpa goes a long to finance my studies and other family needs.”
She further debunked the notion that those involved in okpa business are wretched and never do well in another business, saying she knows of an okpa trader who has built two houses from proceeds from the business.
“The truth of the matter is that, we are not poor or with poor knowledge of other business. Every business has its secret, people out there see us as people who are suffering but we are not. Anything you do in life is full of struggle but you cannot because of that stress and run away except if you don’t have defined target and determination to do it”.
Like the sellers, lovers of the delicacy also cuts across all social and economic divides, as those who understand the nutritional value of the delicacy, go all out to either to ensure their families enjoy these nutrient.
Miss Doris Uchenna, who plies her trade along Jabi Edo line, said her special okpa recipe has attracted customers from far and near, including the elite who make special request for her okpa. While describing the business as lucrative, Uchenne said the business has also made her build relationships as some of her customers trust her enough to place for orders of large quantity.
“People who patronize us are not just the passersby, I have a specific customer who comes with her Jeep to buy Okpa in large quantity. Most times she calls me to request for N3,000 worth.”
Mr. Joel Odoh, a regular customer of the snack said, he picked up the craving for Okpa during his wife’s pregnancy a year ago and has found it difficult to stop since then.
Made from dry bambara nuts, which are threshed to remove the peel before grounding into powder. The powder is then mixed with pepper and other spices, before wrapping into poly bags or banana leafs. Okpa unlike moi-moi is best enjoyed when locally prepared devoid of much condiment to allow for the natural aroma to tickle the nostrils of its consumers.
The health benefits of Okpa are enormous as the legume is said to be high on protein and carbohydrate and low on cholesterol. Its chemical composition is similar to soy beans.