When Wizkid—a popular Nigerian Afro-pop musician—released his multiple award-winning song ‘Ojuelegba’—arguably the best music from the coven of the diminutive artist, most Nigerians, especially teenagers and a sparse handful of adults, had no idea that it was like a subtle re-echo of Fela Anikulapo’s—the greatest music export from the African region—symphonic hymn to the infrastructural nightmare of Lagos.
Fela’s 1975 ‘Confusion Break Bone’ album is, beyond every intelligible doubt, the most realistic portrayal of the suburb of Lagos, sheltered in Surulere Local Government. Till now, the song remains a valid reference point to any art content that resolves around writing about the commune.
Regarded as one of the busiest places in Lagos, the name ‘Ojuelegba’ was forged from the deep hearth of the uniqueness of the naming of people and places in Yoruba metaphysical scheme. Amidst the overall bastardization of the name, which some have lopsidedly translated to mean to mean ‘eye of the cane wielder’ or a person with conspicuous tribal marks’, the name was carved out of the worship of ‘Eshu Elegbara.’
A journey down the antique corridors of history points us to the reassurance that, after the ‘Aworis’—the apparent initial settlers on the Lagos terrain—settled, they, in furtherance of their religious activities, needed to create, for worship purposes, a sacred site for the deification of their ‘god’, ‘Eshu’—the Yoruba divinity and trickster figure. As such, they had the stone of atonement made of laterite earth, orbited with cowries-shells, delineating the eyes and mouth of Eshu. Therefore, the worship site was consecrated. However, the site where the worship centre found shelter was named ‘Ojuelegba’, a short form of ‘Ojuelegbara’, which translates to mean ‘the eye/shrine of ‘Elegba’—Eshu.
Sandwiched between Surulere, Mushin and Yaba, the neighbourhood—a key transport node—connects the mainland to Lagos and Victoria Island, which accounts for the chaos and clumsiness that embrace the eyes of a user of that part of the city. Also, from the 60s till date, the community serves as a rendezvous point where people who just arrived from some neighbouring countries, and even elsewhere in the country, find themselves seeking pleasure in the abundant hotels and cheap entertainment that it relentlessly churns out.
Like every other part of the Lagos earth space, the settlement has its own subsistent micro economy that excessively revolves around the diverse petty-trading, hawking, vendors, private firms and public corporations, that cater for the daily needs of the over 150,000 inhabitants that pass through the ‘eye’ of the city.
As expected in every place, where daily hustling is a norm, the Ojuelegba atmosphere is peculiar in its smell. A walk through its streets is assuredly a rich material for a poet, painter or photographer. Daily, in Ojuelegba, the stench of smoldering rubbish and the pungent odour of the open sewers in the surrounding streets copulate with the sweet aroma of food. Throw in the putrid oozing from stale breath, unwashed bodies, heavy human smell; what obtains, almost by default configuration, is the picture created by Fela:
dey come from-u East(car)
Moto dey come from-u West
Moto dey come from-u North
Moto dey come from-u South And police-ee man no dey for center
(not directing traffic- there are no traffic lights in Lagos)
Na confusion be dat ee-oh
The locale, in its myriad of elastic possibilities, functions as a palimpsest of some sort; acting as a relevant material that enunciates on the bond between the pronounced class divisions that Lagos harbours. In a way, it serves as a replica of the sophisticated lifestyles of the Victorian Island inhabitants, for people of the middle class, while also creating, in its underbelly, a comfort zone for people of the lower classes, who are content to eat, drink, sleep and dream about someday making it ‘big’ and moving across the other side of the third mainland bridge—a social fragment that helps in bridging the gap, albeit from Mondays to Fridays when people living on the mainland have to go to work on the Island—between the social classes.
One factor that has contributed immensely to the afternoon disorderliness of the Ojuelegba metropolis is the effervescent ‘under bridge’. For every compulsive bibliophile that roams the city of Lagos, this landmark edifice is clearly a familiar feature. Mornings under the bridge are for hasty ‘okada’—the popular Lagos motorcyclists—riders, reckless bus drivers and impatient pedestrians, moving at breakneck speed to beat the omnipresent traffic congestion that has become an everyday attribute on Lagos streets, while afternoons and evenings are for restless book-lovers, pouncing on the crude, roadside booksellers, hunting for, perhaps, a dog-eared classic novel or any novel at all, that is not as expensive as the ones displayed on fancy bookshelves in exquisite bookstores.
Notwithstanding the fact that there was no love lost between both men,– facts which were obvious during Fela’s lifetime– Obasanjo’s– a former president of the country– 2002 ‘Urban Jungle’ depiction of Ojuelegba, is essentially a reiterating of Fela’s apt illustration. For the ex-president, the neighbourhood is a kind of madhouse where bus-conductors harass you into boarding their bus; where hawkers ogle you with their wares of bottle water and locally made Plantain-Chips; where youths idle, waiting for quick routes to getting rich and where ‘pick-pockets’ lurk around, keenly waiting out for the unsuspecting ‘suegbes’—newbies or ‘Johnny-Just-Comes’—that are new to the Lagos ways that Fela explicitly described. For the Afro-beat maestro and brain behind the ‘Kalakuta Dynasty’, the Ojuelegba reality is merely a material for another mind-blowing song.
Perhaps, the bus of development by the present governor of Lagos might stop at Ojuelegba soon, maybe then changes will be effected, and things would possess some sanity, and perhaps wear a new look, but then, there’s too many perhapses these days when it comes to things about Nigeria. So, I guess it’s better to accept things the way they are at the moment. Ojuelegba still bears the mark that Fela slapped on it in 1975. In 42 years, not much has changed.