“I find it amusing when I come across another post on Facebook or a blog or a tweet or a meme that calls Ibadan ‘the ancient city.'”
THE FIRST time I saw a sleepy Ibadan was in 2011 when I returned from my Service Year in Borno and stepped off The Young Shall Grow park at Alakia at almost four in the morning. My parents, with my little sister, were at the park to pick me up. At Iwo Road, about ten minutes later, I began to feel a dream-like fascination with the city; it seemed at once familiar and different after one year away. There was a new huge LED billboard mounted on massive steel columns that towered above the bridge at Iwo Road roundabout. The quiet technology flashing a video advert of Guinness beer gave a wonderland-esque quality to a landscape that had never attracted more than a passing glance. A roaring fuel tanker obliviously broke the hushed magic of the moment. Seeing the roundabout without its signature heavy traffic aggravated my sense of unfamiliarity. Ibadan is a beautiful city when it is quiet.
Home was at Ojoo, off the unrepaired stretch of the Ibadan-Oyo Expressway (just at the point where the then newly constructed stretch begins) with its many wide potholes which my dad, a poor night time driver, seemed drawn to in a way I found magnetic.
Just before we turned off the expressway to the familiar stretch of road that led home, dad told me in a flat tone of the three new “big roundabouts” and the bridge at Ojoo. I recall vaguely wondering if in the coming days I’d be needing directions around the city I’d lived in for nearly two decades.
EVERYDAY, IN AT least one way, Ibadan is an insane irony. The city is a mild-mannered man and the popular double-blue-stripped white commercial Nissan Micra cabs with the horde of Bajaj okada is mad blood running through him. In Ibadan, the driver of the Micra cab makes ways where none should exist; he’s a god who is above traffic rules and for whom the brake is that servant he has little use for. In the moving puny contraption that is his domain, he quietly listens as his passengers go on about the matters that bother them for that day, occasionally egging the discussion on with low Fuji music, and when it’s the government, he breaks his usual silence with a curse. An “owa o” separates his more urbane passenger from his lesser counterpart in the beat-up Toyota Liteace bus who uses the Ibadan dialect, “In be o” as his stop call.
MY FRIEND MANAGES a Facebook page, Awa Ti Ibadan (loosely translated as “We People of Ibadan”) and recently began the campaign, #ShowYourRoof, apparently to show how little of brown rooftops are in Ibadan. I find it amusing when I come across another post on Facebook or a blog or a tweet or a meme that calls Ibadan “the ancient city”. I imagine the poster seeing Ibadan as a big place filled with ancient buildings with rusty rooftops and it’s people having never seen a modern structure, like a skyscraper or a sprawling mall complex. Once, I had to comment on what should be the billionth Facebook update showing “the ancient city” and its rusty rooftops. It was of course a non-resident of Ibadan, whose encounter with the city could have been a paraphrase of J.P. Clark’s immortal lines in “Ibadan” or at best a passing-through and who most likely never saw the rust conglomeration himself. I have two grown Ibadan-born-and-bred siblings. One is rounding off his arts degree and the younger is moving to his third year, both schooling in the state and have lived through the four changes of residence with the family around different parts of the city; neither of them has physically seen the phenomenal rust rooftop conglomeration in that Facebook update.
A FEW MONTHS ago, our neighbors living two houses away were robbed at about two in the morning. Theirs was the only house with a really high fence; and with two huge security dogs and a live-in guard, no one visited their house for neighborhood camaraderie. That morning, after the robbers left with their jeep amidst gunshots, the entire neighborhood converged in their compound. The police came at the call of the father of the house, after the incident, and left to trace the robbers; none of the sympathizers left till a muezzin made a call for early morning prayers from one of the mosques in the neighborhood. Later that week, while watching two women—one draping a white shawl over her shoulder—yelling abuses and curses at each other after alighting from a Keke at the bus stop where I was waiting for a cab, I remembered feeling amused by a recollection of the general reaction of the sympathizers at the robbery scene. It was largely one of cursing the robbers and hurling abuses at the police when they had left. My mom had said later, while reflecting on the incident and the reaction: “Ibadan o ni cupboard aso, afi cupboard eebu” (loosely meaning: an Ibadan person does not have a wardrobe of clothes, but he has an arsenal of abuses/curses).
THE SECOND TIME I saw a sleepy Ibadan was the night I returned from my final year roommate’s wedding in Lagos. The bus I was in got to the defunct Ibadan Toll Gate at a few minutes to eight in the evening, expecting to be at Iwo Road by quarter past eight and at home by nine. We spent the next five hours inching through a traffic logjam. This time, three years after my transfixing moment with the LED billboard at Iwo Road, I barely spared a glance as our bus spewed out its road-wearied passengers in full view of the display. Maybe beauty is noticed when warm food and a warmer bed are not the only things on the mind. As I turned in my bed, a weary mind, finding sleep, I wondered where the magic of that first night went to.
On 2 October 2016, we published Enter Naija: The Book of Places, an anthology of writing–non-fiction, poetry, memoir, fiction, commentary–photography and digital art about places in Nigeria created to mark Nigeria’s 56th Independence anniversary. The project, with a delicious Introduction by Ikhide R. Ikheloa, was edited by Otosirieze Obi-Young and features 35 contributors. We are republishing a few highlights from the anthology.
Download and read ENTER NAIJA: THE BOOK OF PLACES.
About the Author:
Akintunde Aiki studied Engineering in the University of Ibadan. A Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop alum, he believes words should take you where your feet go. He’s working on a collection of essays. He blogs at koroba.wordpress.com.