The problem with Ibadan

The man tapped me, hard, literally smacked me, on the shoulder as I came down from the bike at Sango bus stop.

“se mi l’aanu”, he intoned, stretching out a hand. (it transliterates to “show me mercy” or “have mercy on me”, but can simply mean “help me”.

I honestly would have liked to say that I was surprised, but even my sense of surprise was surprised. It was like outrage without the outrage. I was literally stunned. I took a moment to look at the man. He didn’t look like a regular beggar; Ankara native buba and Sokoto, with imitation leather slippers on his feet.

A tinge of grey in the hair and beard, which were not in wonderful shape, but the same description could easily fit me on a weekend before I got to shave. Or on a weekend I had been too busy with engagements and commitments to shave. So what exactly was he begging me for?

That, dear reader, was my introduction to the city of brown roofs, West Africa’s largest city by landmass, the home of Cocoa House, Radio House, and numerous other iconic landmarks. Welcome to Ibadan.  

Ibadan is a large, sprawling megacity (at least as far as landmass goes) of warm, cheerful people, who are more often than not, willing to help strangers and foreigners. The average Ibadan man is a history buff, eager to tell you stories and legends about the great warriors Iba, Oluwole, and others.

On several occasions, I have taken bike rides that turned out to be more than bike rides, because they turned into full-fledged tours, at least for the duration of the ride. If you are perceived to be a stranger, perhaps, like me, you have a pronounced igbo accent that marks you out as not an “ibadanian”, you will undoubtedly meet people who try to sell you on the many virtues of the city, of which some are factual and some, as is perfectly normal, are fiction.

One of the undeniable virtues of Ibadan is its (for a city so close to Lagos) almost ridiculously low standard of living. Ibadan is the city of the twenty naira bus, the twenty naira taxi, and believe it or not, the twenty naira bike.

Yes, your shock mirrors mine. I had taken a bike from a certain point to another, and when I asked the bike man how much, he replied, “twenty naira”, in an offbeat manner, as if I was expected to know. I quietly tucked back the fifty naira note I had been preparing to present him with and fished out a twenty naira note I got as “change” from buying sweets for him. Shocking, right?

Wrong.

What is, if possible, even more shocking, is the ridiculously low price of foodstuff and other consumables. I had course to live in Ibadan for something over a year, in the course of a special assignment I was undertaking, and in that time, I literally learned to like cooking.

It began to seem like too much work to go to a fast food joint to buy a meal, when for less than the cost, I could stay at home and cook something similar, plus the added enjoyment of such benefits as scraping bottom pot and having no one to impress. I am a fairly good cook, as it happens, so all that is possible.

Add to this the low costs of rent in a city like Ibadan, and you have yourself a paradise. Well, almost. I know some valiant men who live in Ibadan and work in Lagos, my friend says that a good driver can make it from Ibadan to Lagos in forty-five minutes, although I think what my friend means is that if you drive like someone with a deathwish, you can drive from Ibadan to Lagos in forty-five minutes.

It is a token of my good heart that I seek to make the clarification that Lagos to Ibadan is not quite the same as Ibadan to Lagos, for Lagos is a city that can have you covering forty-five meters in forty five minutes, special thanks to hold-up and go-slow. But Ibadan is a city that is curiously free from traffic jams, at least the Lagosian kind.

This could be due to good roads (you’re not a Nigerian if you believe this), or due to less vehicular and human traffic. If I were to choose a mascot for the city, other than the brown roofs for which it is justly famous, it would have to be the small white Nissan Micra, which is as much a feature of the city as its millions of beggars, which range from the apparently healthy and able-bodied to the aged and infirm.

The city teems with hundreds of thousands of these miniscule motorcars. They are the superabundantly preferred mode of transport to and from anywhere within the city. But if you do not mind beggars, or the Nissan Micra, then Ibadan is the ideal city to live in.

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