In the year 1959, Nigeria was in the throes of change, a nation on the cusp of a new era. It was a time when aspirations were high and the promise of a brighter future beckoned. In the midst of this transformation, a remarkable story was unfolding in the heart of Enugu, a story that would become an enduring part of Nigerian history.
Mammy Ode, a spirited young woman hailing from the serene town of Jericho-Ugboju in what is now Otukpo Local Government Area of Benue State, was about to embark on a journey that would change her life and leave an indelible mark on the nation. She had recently married Anthony Aboki Ochefu, a young non-commissioned military officer posted to Enugu from Abeokuta.
As the young couple settled into the Army barracks at Abakpa, Enugu, Mammy Ode felt the need to contribute to her family’s livelihood. With unwavering determination and an entrepreneurial spirit, she established a small soft drink business. Her speciality was a nourishing gruel known as “enyi” in Idoma, “umu” in her native language, and “kunu” in Hausa, a wholesome drink that was especially popular among soldiers.
Word of Mammy’s enyi quickly spread throughout the barracks, and soldiers began flocking to her humble abode to savour the fresh and nourishing beverage. Even officers, who couldn’t resist its appeal, sent their batsmen to fetch some for them daily from Monday through Friday.
However, not everyone in the barracks shared the enthusiasm for Mammy’s gruel. The Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) voiced concerns that the beverage was attracting flies into the barracks and issued an order for Mammy Ochefu to cease production and sales immediately.
Though disheartened and perplexed by the RSM’s directive, Mammy Ochefu complied, as her husband, not being an officer at the time, could not challenge the order. Weeks passed, during which Mammy agonised over the fate of her business and soldiers lamented the absence of their beloved enyi.
The barracks echoed with discontent, and from various corners, pressure mounted on the RSM to reverse his decision. Finally, succumbing to the overwhelming demand, the RSM relented and allocated a section of the barracks for Mammy Ochefu to resume her enyi production and sales.
Mammy’s joy knew no bounds. With determination and resilience, she erected a small shop in the allocated section, and soon, her business began to thrive once again. Customers flocked to her, often pre-booking their shares to ensure they wouldn’t miss out. Before noon, her daily stock of enyi would be sold out.
As her business flourished, other enterprising women within the barracks seized the opportunity, starting to sell various other items. In no time, the designated section of the barracks became known as “Mammy Market.”
This humble market soon became a policy within Nigerian military barracks, a place where officers and men could access essential goods and enjoy a taste of home while on duty. It was a haven of camaraderie where soldiers could unwind, bond, and share stories.
Years passed, and circumstances changed. After the coup that toppled General Yakubu Gowon, Anthony Aboki Ochefu, now a Colonel, was posted to East Central State as the military governor. Thus, Mammy Ochefu and her husband returned to Enugu, this time as the First Family. Occasionally, she would visit the site where Mammy Market had begun, a place that held cherished memories of her entrepreneurial journey.
In their retirement, Colonel Anthony Aboki Ochefu and his wife, Mammy Ochefu, incorporated a company named “Mammy Markets.” The company ventured into haulage and trading, expanding its legacy beyond the barracks and into the broader Nigerian business landscape.
Today, Mammy Ochefu remains a living legend. Her story and the market that bears her name, Mammy Market, are woven into the tapestry of Nigerian culture and history—a reminder that even in the face of adversity, determination and innovation can lead to enduring success and leave an indelible mark on the world.
The story which was posted on Meta’s popular Platform Facebook has since gained over 12K likes and users in the comment section, with many calling for her to be honoured.