Containers everywhere but not a ship in sight – Tola Adenle

 

[At last, the essay about poster-mania in Ibadan will get used but I think I should air something from my old newspaper columns first.  Environmental degradation by humans seems on the rise as this essay from the past shows.  Ibadan’s indescribable and unmatched mess – nothing will preempt it, I promise, this time – will be up Monday morning.]

Almost a year ago, “Slum dwellers, all” in this column took a sad look at the degradation of the Nigerian environment.  In that essay, I looked at the menace of a so-called “five-star hotel” that was trying to rear a very ugly head amidst the serenity of Ikoyi and what the well-heeled residents of that area were doing about it.  I also touched other things that are relentlessly being done to turn our cities into one huge eye sore.  Sometimes I wonder what exactly Nigeria’s so-called leaders take in on those endless junkets overseas because their visits never seem to yield any benefits to the country.  I have long concluded that while I will forever remain a village girl in my value system, these leaders will forever remain slum dwellers no matter the fancy and expensive residences they may live.

Changing bungalows and two-storey buildings on sprawling grounds into multi unit mid rises have been up and running at Ikoyi long before the craze and greed to locate hotels outside the traditional commercial corridor there started but the sad situation is not only going strong in the lucrative Lagos real estate market but has arrived even in sleepy Ibadan.

I feel certain, for example, that places like Victoria Island, Bodija, Ibadan, etcetera must have master plans and it therefore baffles me why every part of these once much-desired places have become hubs of commercial activities.  In fact, I do not know if there are any more quiet corners where people can live and enjoy the pleasure of owning high-priced real estate at V.I. because you drive the length and breadth of the place and the only things that stare you in the face and assault the senses are the hordes of humanity, the din of traffic and the unpleasantness of navigating, as a pedestrian, tiny walkways completely taken over by traders, hawkers and construction.

By Nigerian standard, these are “developments” to be emulated by up country hicks!  At Bodija, Ibadan, the two main streets are not only dominated by hotels, clubs that are reputedly the den of after-hours men, the Awolowo-era housing estate can boast a claim to fame: a monstrosity that screams I-do-not-belong-here mid-rise.  While some rejoice at this Abuja or Lagos style glass and mortar structure in this once serene neighborhood, there are others whom I’ve spoken to who see it as hell.  Nigerians seem to be divided on the matter of value system as Americans are about whether to send Bush back to his Texas ranch in November or whether to send Kerry to the White House.  From the upstairs balcony of one bar at Bodija, the neighbors have to keep their curtains drawn permanently.

Pardon me for dwelling on Bodija but you’ve seen it, you have seen most of Nigeria.  The housing estate probably has more places of worship and fellowship per square foot than any other place on earth.  Wait a minute: may be with the exception of Las Vegas which supposedly has the highest (per capita?) number of churches in America!  Now, is that not ironic for a city known as  “Sin City”?  All religions are represented but Sat Guru stands out like a very sore thumb because it is painted in colors that any estate authority worth its name should not allow.

Container shops, as I wrote in that essay, “are the new scourge of Nigerian environment.” They may even be worse than converting bungalows and two-story buildings to multi-story buildings to accommodate several flats.  A year ago, I wrote that container shops were “creeping in …”  Well, ladies and gentlemen, here is the situation report on one of those areas mentioned last year, the once-sedate Onireke GRA at Ibadan:  almost every inch of one side of the main road is now occupied by a container shop while much of the other side is, perhaps thanks to the owners of properties there, are filled with carpet and bed linen hawkers.  Oh, no, please do not get me wrong.  By the other side, I mean the sixty inches or so of setback before fences.

“From Abuja to Akure to Ibadan to Lagos,” I wrote, containers “seem the in-est structures of the moment to add to the degrading of the Nigerian environment.  Zillions of shop spaces may go unrented in market places and private shops but little by little, these metal monsters are taking over the narrow spaces that should pass for sidewalks.”  The phenomenon is no longer “little by little”; it is now a bust dam.

At Abuja, I was shocked to find these containers built into government housing with no exits showing; I supposed they were used as extra rooms, hopefully, and prayerfully as storage.  Yeah, not everybody at that land flowing with the proceeds of Nigerian black gold lives at Asokoro or Maitama.  In fact, a pounded yam seller told me she and her assistants removed the planks customers used during the day to make way for mats on the bare unfinished floor where they sleep at night.  Cover (roof) for this sleeping area were plastic sheets, the type used by market women to cover their wares!

Right now in Ibadan, Oyo State Government (or is it not?) is trying to make money by building more shops at New Gbagi, a.k.a. Bola Ige Market.  Although the governor has reportedly denied any plan to ruin this beautiful and user-friendly market according to a weekly publication, one of the governor’s commissioners is supposedly hard at work collecting money from intended buyers through agents although a mere thousand naira of the two hundred thousand plus is supposedly paid to government coffer.  If the plan goes through, the areas provided for parking right now would be gone and for me, personally, it would be a sad loss.  Three markets are nearer my place than New Gbagi:  Mokola, Sango and Oje but I like the atmosphere at New Gbagi so much that I do not mind the extra distance.  I feel sure many shoppers prefer it for the same reason.

The market provides adequate spaces for parking next to each sub-market group so that women without drivers can shop with ease.  The cloth sellers’ area is a bit removed from the food and produce sellers and so are banks and general goods’ sellers.  The market is so relaxed an atmosphere that I sometimes ask a girl who does nails to bring her tray to the lettuce seller and do my toe nails.  Women will understand this added bonus: it is a market where the husband does not mind waiting in the car to read.

The Comet on Sunday, 2004.

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