Our Great City of Infinite Possibilities | by Professor Francis O. Egbokhare

Photo Credit: Olasubomi ColeIbadan has a character that is unique and you cannot find elsewhere. It is a place where strangers are very welcome as long as they don’t mind buying a piece of land from three or four people. It is a place where the important political gladiators still find time to engage in the sale of other people’s lands. I love the city. In fact, I call myself a native after 23 years in the land of many things. I remember vividly my first visit to the place. I was intrigued by the cab drivers. Apart from the fact that I erroneously assumed that taxi drivers had a uniform, because most of them wore chequered Ankara materials, most taxis looked very good for the junk yard. That day, I picked a cab from Challenge after waiting fruitlessly for a decent looking cab to pick me to UI. I could not believe that the taxi would get to my destination. It took about an hour of body works and dancing to arrive in Agbowo fully smoked up like dried fish. I remember my early impressions of the city as very dirty and the drivers as cursers. Oloshi, were, iya re, babanla, babare, Oloriburuku were the first words I picked within a Kilometer. Ibadan is a city where people abandon their vehicles in the middle of the road whenever it breaks down.

I am always amazed to find Mechanics fixing vehicles in the middle of the road instead of pushing them to the shoulder. Everyone but me appear to be fine with the attitude. Until recently, I did not understand the mindset behind it. After watching the strong men of Ibadan politics perform, I realized that in this city, there are no laws, no rules just people. Ibadan is a collection of anomalies, a place where if you are unruly enough you are god and your enemies quickly become your praise singers once you seize the platform of coercion. I see things happen here in a land where the people are so easy going that going easy has become a nature. As the cloud darkens, there is an unusual frenzy of activities. My first encounter with this phenomenon was embarrassing. I saw people running helter skelter and I panicked. I asked my friend what was amiss. I felt disappointed when I got to know that they were only looking to dump their refuse in the gutters. It is a ritual performed before every rain to the god of filth. In this city with perhaps the highest concentration of intellectuals and higher institutions in black Africa, is a disastrous contradiction. This city where dead vehicles from all over the world resurrect and new automobiles have to be finished off in order for them to find use. Pepper Clark once composed a poem for this enigma. A city of
running splash of rust and gold,
flung and scattered among seven hills

like a broken china in the sun.


This city has transmuted into
a squirming blob of waste and trash,
squashed and splattered among hills of human waste
like Bodija market in the rain.

Photo Credit: Olasubomi Cole
There are so many people in this city to the extent that opportunity ought to be the cognomen. Yet poverty and tragedy has found explanation in myths and traditions of a treacherous curse. Every year at the beginning of the dry season, the markets are sacrificed to the fire god. Thereafter, the traders gather to exorcise him. During the rains, it is to the god of floods that they must pay obeisance. These gods are terrible since they never have enough for their pleasure. Politics come with human sacrifice. Blood must be mixed with gun powder for the land to have a harvest of new born babies. I was told of a demon that occupies Ojoo, the gateway to the North. This one derives pleasures from causing accidents. So every year, Alfas and priest have to pray at the junction to appease him. Once a friend saw the mass of heads flowing into Agbowo at night and concluded that the place was inhabited by ghosts. Ibadan is not inhabited by Ghosts but by goblins. All its great ones have become ancestors, so we can only reminisce and histories. Because there are no more great ones in the present, the land has been taken over by slaves and their slaves. Ibadan is a land of shrines, but they are all overgrown with weeds. It is a land of deserted and broken monuments. I tread the land to see the greatness that is sung in the waves, but I see dwarfs running amok after frightened nobles. I climb the heights to see the hills but I am confronted with mounds of termites. This city brings to my mind the symbol of sick elephant, of soldier ants that cannot bite. Ibadan lavishes wastage on history and glorifies emptiness because it has no more great ones to celebrate.
Culled from Preying Mantis (Volume 1), a collection of socio-cultural commentary by Francis O. Egbokhare
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