12 January 2013

Nigeria: Lokoja - the Cuisine Confluence of Nigeria

The magnificent River Niger and the mighty River Benue meet in Lokoja, forming the famous confluence from which Kogi derives its official sobriquet, "The Confluence State." However, some enterprising residents of the capital city have seized on its fortuitous location to give a whole new meaning to the state's moniker.

Kogi is contiguous to nine states in the country and is essentially a transit route to sixteen others, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

The state capital, Lokoja, also straddles some strategic roads to at least five geo-political zones in the country. It is the route of choice for travellers heading for the FCT and beyond from the South-West, South-South and the South-East.

Lokoja is a major stopover for inter-state travellers not merely for its strategic location but for gastronomic reasons, yes, food, taste buds-titillating food.

The epicentre of the "Confluence of Cuisines" that Lokoja has apparently become to thousands of travellers is the Nataco junction on the Abuja-Lokoja expressway.

As your vehicle - public or private - sweeps into this busy junction and the stretch of about a kilometre or two that makes up the heart of the phenomenon, you cannot miss the surfeit of assorted grilled meat and smoked fish, alongside a variety of beverages, on offer in paved sprawling space that also serves as parking lot to several restaurants dotting both sides of the road.

Youths working for these restaurants, which operate from eye-catching buildings, are seen by your vehicle welcoming you to the town, reeling off their menus and spiritedly ushering you to the restaurant they work for.

Although the entire stretch of the road is usually busy all year round, business peaks for the restaurants during festivities in tandem with a rise in vehicular traffic and passenger movement, says Mrs. Nneamaka of Nneamaka Restaurant at Nataco Junction.

Mrs. Mabel Okonkwo runs Ogechukwu Restaurant at the junction. It is the toast of travellers of South-east origin and those who love the food from that part of the country.

"I started this business in 2009 and drivers working for major transporters like Chisco and Ifechinachi usually stop here to eat with their passengers. Business has been good but I would say that last Christmas sales did not meet my expectation. I think that might not be unconnected with insecurity in the country. Many buses did not stop here in Lokoja as usual, perhaps because people were afraid to stop over where there is a large concentration of people. However, I hope that business would soon pick up," Mrs. Okonkwo told LEADERSHIP WEEKEND.

A 100-Level Mass Communication student of the University of Abuja, who was on her way back to school, Miss Blessing Ngoke, said: "Anytime I am passing through Lokoja , the only place I eat is Madam Mabel 's shop. I enjoy her food and also love the clean environment the food is well prepared and served in."

Other popular restaurants on the Abuja-Lokoja highway are Sizzlers managed by Mr. Clement Ogbeide and Vincent's run by Mr. Matthias Kadri , Vincent's is also at the Nataco Junction. The edifice is a good architecture piece and drivers in the fleet of Peace Mass Transit, God Is Good Motors, Greener Lines and Ekeson Transport love stopping over at Vincent's to eat.

Mr. Uchenna Ugwuegbu, a driver with Peace Mass Transit on the Abuja-Owerri route, said the "mouth-watering delicacies available at Vincent's compel me to stop here in Lokoja even when I am not really hungry. Since I introduced my passengers to Vincent's, nobody has complained about the food here."

In the same vein, Omoreige Ebo, a driver with Osas Motors and a regular caller at Sizzlers described it as "travellers' delight for its quality of food and reliability, discounts and gifts to customers"

But beyond Nataco Junction, nearly every major street in Lokoja now has either a restaurant or fast-food outlet, or both, as residents seized on the opportunities offered by the transit reputation of the capital city.

One such restaurant is Treasures Foods, which is opposite the specialist hospital in the heart of the city.

Its proprietor, Mr Femi Akande, said he took to the business in order to meet the culinary needs of "those who may not have the time to cook in their houses."

Akande said Treasures Foods has been doing well since its debut in 2008, a success he attributed to the restaurant's knack for meeting "our customers' demands."

He added: "Our African and continental dishes have become the toast of the town. The business has no special time of the year for it to boom. Quality , affordability and our clean, conducive environment made Treasures a household name in Lokoja."

Another popular eatery in Lokoja is Misturah Restaurant. Affectionately called Misty by its apparently satisfied patrons, the restaurant is opposite the JB Motel near the NTA Roundabout in the state capital.

There two sections of the restaurant - the executive clientele unit and the "popular side."

Its owner, Mrs. Misturah Suleiman, told LEADERSHIP WEEKEND: "I started Misturah Restaurant in 2006 from an uncompleted building here in Lokoja. Through hard work and the Grace of God, we were able to build this multi-million naira edifice in less than six years."

Mrs. Suleiman said her restaurant's serene environment, staff friendliness and the quality of food were at the root of her business success.

She stated: "We have something good and affordable for everyone or ethnic groups here at Misturah Restaurant. For instance, we have Amala with gbegiri soup for Yoruba clients; Eba with Ogbono soup and EdikanIkong serve the interest of our clients from the South-East and the South-South while Tuwon Shinkakafa is available for the northerners. Depending on your choice and varieties, a plate of food could be as low as N400 and much as N1500."

A banker resident in the town, Usman Adams, welcomed the proliferation of restaurants and fast food outlets in Lokoja, saying: "It is the best thing to happen to bachelors, spinsters and even some couples too busy to cook. The restaurants have saved many of us from the stress of cooking."

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