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Ibadan: The bittersweet city

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By Temitayo  Olofinlua

In 2012, I moved to Ibadan from Lagos. And that move was followed by a barrage of questions: Do you know anyone there? Does your husband work there? Are you from Ibadan? Do you work there? My response to these questions was: NO. I look into the crevices of my mind; I turn my mind upside down, inside out, searching for a reason for that move to the city. I still do not know.

However, the more I live in the city, the more I find out how foolish I was to travel all the way to Dugbe from Moniya to buy provisions, the more I fall in love with the city. The answer to the questions above now is a question: why not Ibadan? Typical Nigerian.

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Business-wise, things may be slow in the city. You know when compared to Lagos. Yet, the further down you move from Ibadan to other states, the more you realise, this is quite not an “Ibadan-thing”. When it comes to moving a new product, it is important to understand the “Ibadan person” or whoever your target audience is. It is important to know how to access the Ibadan market. You do not just assume that the product will sell and you dive straight in. Just the way it did in Lagos.

Only in Ibadan will a lawyer earning N25,000 be seen as “king”. As a freelance content executive in the city, I have had my low points. Only in Ibadan will someone approach you to create/edit content for a website; do a pre- and post-event press release, at N25, 000? For days, I shook my head after this offer. For days, I told myself: I will not be cheapened. No. So, except your work is truly CSR, except I just want to assist your cause, many times, I have to put my foot down and just insist on my “Ibadan rate.” Oh, of course, there is an Ibadan rate. Going lower is doing myself no good. Most of my work still comes from Lagos and other parts of the world.

So, you wonder: why have I chosen to stay in the city?

Ibadan is the typical Nigerian first wife. Loyal. Waiting. Despite your philandering. Go everywhere you want, if you belong in the city, it is always waiting for you with a wide embrace. It invites you with a well-cooked plate of amala and ewedu soup. You can then step it down with some beer in its many beer-parlours. I once overheard that the only economic activity that moves in the city is the “Beer-parlour industry”. Well, that is after the religious industry. I return to Lagos for the rush of adrenaline. I go to Lagos to be inspired. Ibadan can have a way of making you a local champion of some sorts. You are stuck in a cocoon of progress when the whole world is moving faster. Yet, Ibadan is home. I always come back.

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Make that first wife, Ibadan people. They are really exciting people: they pray with one side of the mouth and have well-packaged Yoruba swear words in another corner. Let me entertain you with some: o se eyin bi combu were (Trans: your teeth like a madman’s comb); o n feyin bi eni to s’owonu (Trans: smiling like someone who lost money); eti e bi posi Adelabu (Trans: your big ears like Adelabu’s coffin). Poignant and hilarious, I always keep my ears peeled for them.

Ibadan is relatively affordable: housing, food, transportation, you name it. The most expensive bus trip is N150; it used to be N120. And it will feel as if you are travelling. Now, what you will not pay for as bus fare; you will pay for with your time. The white and blue buses are tired old men that demand respect from you. They would fart carbon-monoxide in your face. In them, people would thrust their sweat, children, and problems at you. They would take small slow steps making annoying stops at bus-stops, yet they would refuse to let you go. The alternative—the reckless young cute micra. Those ones are so anxious about life that they do not want to live. Ibadan, may be affordable but you will pay somehow, in some other way. It is affordable, still.

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Ibadan being the typical first wife, is also embracing of the children from other wives. Well, literally, it is a good place to raise children. It is forgiving. It takes on ideas that have only been tried in “real” cities like Lagos, despite its own numerous problems. Then, adopts them without much thought for its own uniqueness. Ideas are great. You know, like the Agodi Park or Ajumose Bus? But this is a thing with most South West governors, this “aping” of Lagos. Yet, there are ideas that flow from deep within you, from your very essence, ideas that could transform you. You know, like turning Oyo state into an agricultural resort of some sort? I also know that it is easy, to type; it is easy to speak. The only hard thing is execution.

Every city has its warts. Ibadan’s warts are splayed over its body. They make it itch. Some are in dark secret corners. Ibadan’s warts are like that: challenge with waste management with heaps of waste always in your face—this has improved over the years but can be better. Yet, at some corners you squeeze your nose because you are sure the offensive odour would come. Lethargic business days—Ibadan drags itself up from the bed at 9am, slowly and hurries to bed at 7pm. A growing yet untapped youth population—many end up in Lagos. These challenges cannot be addressed by simple surface solutions. The issues runs deep. The solutions should come from below, bottom up, not the other way round.

Yet, the “hands of the city” appear not long enough to scratch. So it is denied the pleasures that come from a good scratch. These are also opportunities waiting to be explored. This “short-handedness” could be a lack of a longterm development plan by government. Ibadan needs a good scratch, a good wash and proper adornments to be presented to the world as a “city”. Good thing is, it can learn from the errors of neighbouring Lagos, it can be better. I always believe that a train network between Lagos and Ibadan, or even, among the South-Western states can go a long way to transform the cities. Imagine, people working in Lagos and living in Ibadan? There was a Forum for Governors of the South West recently; is this on their table?

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Ibadan is making progress. I see it every day, in the new hotels and buildings that line Bodija; in the technology innovation hubs and events dotting the space, in the ideas that come with newcomers, and more. As it progresses, it is stuck somewhere between the ancient and the modern, undecided of what to be, where to go. Yet, it needs some solid direction, a roadmap of some sort to determine what it would become. It is a good time to be in the city, a good time to watch it change.

It is a good time to love Ibadan, warts and all.

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