Iconic Women

Mammy Maria Ochefu, The Woman Who Started The 'Mammy Market'

By Aisha Kabiru Mohammed | Mar 1, 2023

Growing up, one of the houses I lived in was built close to a barracks; it was a walking distance from the mami market attached to it. We went there to get groceries, blend tomatoes when our blender was faulty and sometimes style my hair. Every Barrack in Nigeria has a Mami market, and we can thank Mammy Maria Ochefu for this.

Mammy was born on April 10, 1941, in the local government of Otukpo, Benue state. The English word for Mammy is mother (Enenu in Idoma). She grew up in Otukpo's prison yards with her older sister. She revealed in an interview with Punch newspaper that she gave herself the English name Maria as she grew older, and when she married, she began to be addressed as Mrs Mammy Maria Ochefu.


 Mammy had 12 siblings, and her elder sister, who had taken her from the village and promised to care for her, refused to enrol her in any school until her elder brother, Igoche Ode, arrived to take her away. She was given to a reverend father, who later took her to Adoka in Otukpo, where she worked as a student assistant to the priest.


Her husband, Col. Anthony Aboki Ochefu, a corporal at the time, she met through his elder brother, who was my Adoka teacher at the time. He returned home for his annual leave and met Mammy, whom his brother had introduced to him. They married when Mammy was 14 years old.


She stated in the interview that she had nothing to do when she came to join her husband in an army barracks in Kaduna. She would sometimes sit at home from morning to night, doing nothing. She decided to start something to keep herself busy, so she began making Kunu, also known as gruel. Despite complaints, she sold out in the first week.


Her neighbours complained about the flies it brought to her house. Because of the protests, she decided to halt. Customers began to flock to her apartment after two weeks to inquire why she had abruptly ceased. She told them about her neighbours' attitude toward me, and she couldn't continue because she didn't have a place to keep the gruel without attracting more flies to their rooms.


Some officers who came to her house very early in the morning to buy the Kunu Stood behind her and insisted that she keep the business going; she claims that customers included the late Hassan Katsina, our current President, Muhammadu Buhari, and Yakubu Gowon.


The officers instructed the young officers, who enjoyed eating the gruel (Kunu), to erect tents (Bacha) behind the barracks for Mammy.


'Welcome to the barracks, let's branch at Mammy market and drink Kunu,' it was boldly written in Hausa. 


She then began selling the Kunu once more. When Mammy and her husband relocated from Kaduna to Zaria, they still set aside space for her to build bachas. They left Zaria for Ibadan, but the soldiers continued constructing bachas for her. They relocated from Ibadan to Kaduna and continued to make bachas. That was the start of Mammy Market in Nigeria's military barracks.


Mammy and her husband retired to Lagos and opened a supermarket, a pure water factory, and a Kunu joint. Her friend's mother, a Corporate Affairs Commission employee, advised her to incorporate them, and when she asked her  husband what name to give the business, he told her to call it "Mammy Market."


Before retiring, the Bachas she established in the various places she lived were left to managers who ran the kunu joints that grew into markets in many Nigerian barracks and NYSC camps.


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