The season of inagha, a popular fish, for special delicacies in most hones in Akwa Ibom State of Nigeria, is almost winding down.
Although the season is not always flagged off with festival like the Argungu fishing festival whereby the man who traps the biggest fish wins award, the inagha (seagrown catfish) time has no such ritual in The Land of Promise.
But the flourishing season come with much ecstasy as even those who are not ardent fish dealers would suspend their primary to join the inagha business for immediate profit during the season.
Coming from the tributary of Atlantic Ocean, the fish is buried in the womb of a river flowing from the ocean where the fishes usually stray in.
During rainy season, the river incubates and hatches the fish for local fishermen to make catch.
From April to July perhaps, a few days in August each year, fish traders and consumers will flock to the popular Nwaniba Market famous for inagha along Nwaniba Road end in Uruan Local Government Area.
From Water Fountain in Uyo to Nwaniba Market, is about 10 minutes’ drive or 15 minutes’ ride in Keke.
Traders who are unable to go to Ibeno, Ifiayong or Oron Beach will patronise the market as fishermen daily berth at Nwaniba River and offload a shoal of inagha fish to Nwaniba market for sale.
On Wednesday, June 23, Straightnews team launched an expedition to the market to discover more about the flourishing seasonal business that booms only in the rainy season when the rain drops would force the Atlantic to overflow and push the special fish from the base of the ocean to other tributaries.
Vehicles of different makes were parked on both sides of the one-lane road.
Traders and customers were jogging in while others were dashing out with sliced, wrapped fish and the rest carried in basins including hefty and still breathing inagha of diverse sizes yet to be laid to rest to the cars or other means of transportation.
At the mouth of the market were traders hawking wares. Few metres into the market were smooth-skinned inagha of different sizes. Some were grouped in tens for N6,000, some in fives for N3,000 while others went for N1000 to N5,000 depending on its hugeness.
The path to the market was muddy and slippery. Traders and buyers never mind, but were busy scooping out money and dressing the thriving business. From open space to market stalls were inagha all the way- some dead, others still breathing.
The smoked fish equally competed space with the fresh inagha caught from the ever-flowing Uruan River known in Ibibio language as Akwa Akpa Uruan and Akpa Mfri Ukim, the preferred fishing sources.
In the market, cramps and periwinkles were begging for attention. Sellers of fresh pepper, okro and adusa, among others made a field day as domestic consumers after buying the fish went for spices and condiments to properly blend the delicacy.
”Come and buy fish,’’ a woman seller chuckled as the team approached her. Her eyes dazzled and body comportment showed her willingness to sell and leave for home. But the team was not swayed by her adamant and irresistible posture.
”Sir, these are 10 fishes. It costs N6,000. I can consider less amount for you if you are willing to buy,’’ another fish trader tried to market her product. Yet, Straightnews was not convinced. ”The cost was exorbitant,’’ the team reasoned.
Another persuasive trader beckoned: ”Sir, buy fish. I will reduce the cost for you.’’
”Madam, good evening. How much do you sell these cramps?’’ an enquiry was made.
”Madam, can we buy these ones N150?’’ the team pleaded.
”No!’’ Eka Ubong, as she was addressed, fired back.
”Pay N200 per a measuring scale.’’
”Okay, pack them. Give us two places plus N500 own.’’
”How about fish?’’ the team bargained.
Another haggling began.
”This inagha fish costs N2,500 and the biggest cost N4,000 last. No asking again ooo’’ NkpoutoAbasi, the trader while pointing at the fish struck a note of finality.
”Slice it for us,’’ the team surrendered to higher bargaining power.
More yells and shrieks and screeches ricocheted the busy market. And traders and buyers were bargaining and buying- some lost and others gained.
It was inagha boom. Many fishermen just landed with large shoal of fishes. Traders scampered for the fish. Between 3 p.m. And at 4 p.m. the market that peaked since 1 p.m. was ready to retire for eventide. Traders looked worn-out and bored. Buyers were hasty to rush home to cook and feast on the delicacy.
After exploration of the market, the team had more clairvoyance to move to the river. Away from the market opens the narrow path leading to Nwaniba River. On both sides of the labyrinth lied bunches of firewood fetched offshore the river.
From the entrance to the river, the path is muddy. Overlooking the river are marshy areas overgrown with palm, mangrove trees and ferns and evergreen epiphytic plants.
The aged, young, males and females were rushing to board the waiting boats to their fishing settlements. In other words, they had come and sold and bought items not readily available in the fishing settlements and were heading to their settlements.
The fishermen and their relations brought fresh and smoked inagha and other types of fishes and coasted home groceries and raw cash wrapped around their waists.
Close to the river lay a big boat under construction that could ferry more than 100 persons. Two men were working on it preparatory for launching to the estuary.
The locally made boat drivers were paddling. And the passengers arrived safely, zoomed in and sat down. The journey to the fishing settlements resumed.
After the number of passengers was complete, each of the drivers honed their engine boats into life, navigated through the snaky river and sped off to their preferred destinations.
Not long, the busy market started ebbing and closed for that day. And the market traders jetted home. And the rest dispersed. Yet, the market and the river- two major highways- that brought and emptied booming inagha to humanity remain.
This article was first published by Straightnews newspapers on June 29.