If football and other sporting events unite Nigerians, then Agege bread unites Lagosians regardless of socio-economic class and/or education. On their taste buds, Lagos residents carry an agreement (call it an identifier, if you want), that this bread, made from places only a few know of, is one of the quintessential representations of the state, and what it means to be a true Lagosian. That this soft, sweet loaf is a worthy companion to most of our foods – you could easily cut the Agege bread into half, load the middle with another food and swallow it hurriedly, convinced that your stomach has been appropriately safeguarded for the day, or till further notice.
Although it may never find its way into the hearts of the expensive eateries, the Agege bread takes solace knowing it is a key component of breakfast of champions. And their lunches. And dinners too.
Yemisi Aribisala, in her book Long Throat Memoirs, writes longingly of Agege bread, uplifting a lowly, unassuming bread to a place of pride and respect – this, at least in my opinion, was a frontal attack on the snobbish breads arrogantly standing on the shelves of expensive restaurants, bearing elegant foreign names that are intended to embarrass an average Nigerian, both in the eating, pronunciation and price tag.
The fact that TY Bello’s renowned camera unceremoniously captured the youngish form of an oni bread, Olajumoke Orisaguna, on a photo shoot with British-Nigerian rapper, Tinie Tempah, only served to further the legend of the Agege bread. An argument could even be made that the viral photo of Olajumoke got its vitality and enduring beauty not from the mastery of Bello’s camera nor from the beauty of Olajumoke’s model figure but instead from the energy and ironic touch added by the Agege bread on a wooden board balanced on Olajumoke’s heads.
A tripartite pairing of Agege bread, akamu and akara, hurriedly eaten, holds my stomach on the day I head out to Agege Local Government. It is raining, an irritating shower that was inconsistent in its fall, and so I cancelled my planned excursion to the Island, deciding instead to visit the areas on the outskirts of Lagos then heading further inland – spanning from Isheri North through Ojodu Berger and Omole then to Ogba and finally Agege. Places the grounds weren’t likely to have given way to floods.
In Isheri North, a bustling residential area set on a highland that dips gradually as you walk further inland, it is hard to tell where Lagos gives way to Ogun state, both states share sharp, contested borders here.
Isheri North has been in the news, mostly for the capture of famed kidnapper, Chukwudumeme Onwuamadike, popularly known as Evans, at the highbrow Magodo GRA – which is home to several expensive looking buildings. In addition to Magodo, there are other prime residential estates in Isheri: Omole Phase 1, Otedola estates.
“These three estates have some of the most expensive properties in Mainland Lagos,” Dr. Ebuwa, a resident of Isheri North tells me.
Without evidence, I couldn’t argue for or against the veracity of her claim but one gets the impression that Isheri North, despite the chaotic entrance leading into it from Berger, is the sort of area where money comes to hide, low-key, undetected for years.
Isheri has no airs, people here are unpronounced and live without a need to show off or meet a set standard. When compared to places on the Island, where money is said to go and make noise that draws the attention of the high heavens, Isheri is quite the quiet achiever.
“I have also heard that many governors’ own properties here. Also, kidnappers, like Evans, live here,” Dr. Ebuwa says, filling me in on titillating latest gossips of the area.
While the three estates in Isheri stand at different ends of the area, in between them there are homes and scatterings of commercial properties. The homes outside the estates are mostly run down and it gets increasingly worse as one journeys from the new market at Isheri down to the Ogun River. Here, too, like most of Lagos, poverty has its footing and strong grip.
In front of Magodo estate, I hail a bike and ask him to take me to Ogun River – one of the few rivers in Lagos. So far, Google Maps has been a companion, but now it fails to point me in the right direction to the Ogun River. How else can a stranger get through unknown places in Lagos if not on an Okada?
This Okada man is soured-faced as he first considers me, when I asked to be taken to Ogun River.
I am almost certain that you must have heard of the Ogun River: that water body feeding from the Lagos Lagoon, spilling into the bordering areas of Lagos and Ogun state. Last year, parts of the river had mysteriously dried up. Plants, thick enough for vehicles to ride through, floating on its surface. I want a bit of salacious gist about the river. I want to hear about mysticism and spirituality attached to the river. I get none from the Okada driver, except: “Sometimes the water surface will just stand, it won’t go to the right or left. It will just stand there. But underneath it, it will be flowing and be going to different places but I don’t know why,” he said.
We stop at the edge of the river on the Isheri Oke banks. From here a boat ferries people across the relatively short distance to the other bank at Isheri Olofin. A short distance away from here, heading through bushy parts, is the Ogun state part of the River.
There are dunes of wet fine sands excavated from the river standing nearby. A young man, sitting underneath a shield, looks suspiciously at me and the bike man. I imagine he must be a guard, posted here to watch over the sand dunes against potential thieves. If he is here, then backup must be a shout away. And, as a lesson learned, Lagos agberos are universally weary of the media.
Sitting at the entrance to the bank of the river is a white garment church. People, clad in white soutane and caps, are spilling out of the church. Looks like the perfect setting for a Nollywood movie.
If you know and haven’t seen Berger in a little less than six months ago then you’ll understand the reason and meaning of the Nigerian expression “Wawu”. Because Berger deserves three “wawu.” Like magic, the place transformed from a forgotten point of entrance into Nigeria’s megacity to a worthy embodiment of the much-touted branding statement: “Lagos is Nigeria’s centre of culture.”
It is as if the state government, intent on convincing the world on its recent culture claims, decided to begin its drive at Berger – the first point of call if you’re coming into Lagos through land.
Daily, according to claims by the state governor, Lagos, through Berger, opens her arm to hundreds of people who arrive Lagos looking for a greener pasture and a better future, with every intention of taking up permanent residence in the state.
Berger had once been that chaotic place were criminal elements, hoping to make a quick, underserved profit from green-eyed new arrivals, took up office, stealing what they can, scamming who they can and hustling to make quick money.
It isn’t that Berger has lost all its chaos but, street walls and under-bridge partitions, painted in multicoloured graffiti designs manages to bring some quiet, peace and even more security to the new Berger. A magnificent foot sculpture stands before the tunnel leading into Isheri North. Traffic flow has been eased up greatly and road market pushed back, or away – so much so that the previous commercial life along that Berger axis is slowly dying away, including the Ojodu Berger market.
From Berger, a bus takes me to Ogba, where I stop in front of a police station. Standing next to the police station is the Nigerian Institute of Journalism. This presents a sort of irony, a funny irony: The media and the police do not get along, and it’s not a Nigerian issue. So, seeing both institutions standing neck to neck, separated by a short road leading into an estate, I imagine the buildings reaching out to each other in the dead of night, throwing accusations back and forth, fighting to be the dominant party.
And as the legend of Agege bread spread, so did the place for which it was eponymously named after – Agege, that place where the ill-fated Dana aircraft crashed into a building a few years ago.
Before I head to Agege, I ask my cousin for directions. After which she added, in that very typical voice of the privileged of Lagos: “its Agege o! Yama yama in this rain.”
Much like Ojuelegba, Agege is a local champion that has gone abroad, returned and is still comfortable, unapologetic and unassuming in its identity as a local champion. It doesn’t matter how hard you try to make it sound elegant and sophisticated, Agege is Agege; noisy, busy, angry, and, parts of it, muddy. And in more ways than one, it deserves a high-five for being one of the few places that has refused to catch the pretentious, western flu going about Lagos.
The bus from Ogba stops at Pen Cinema, Agege. I walk through the streets through Balogun road, down to Desalu street and stepped into an open area with rail tracks crisscrossing through it.
Sitting and milling about the rail track area are several Hausa men and women and their children. Some of the men are sitting on the rail track, talking. Children are running around, playing, while women are standing around in different groups.
A slightly potbellied man, dressed in blue jeans and multi-coloured long-sleeved t-shirt, is approaching. He has in his hands, mint fifty naira notes. He proceeds to where the first group of women stands and begins to hand the naira notes out, one per person. He does this solemnly with a deliberateness that appeared too comical, a little bit too dramatic, moving from one group to another, a small crowd trailing him.
Down from the railway line, I board a Keke Marwa heading to Oko Oba Market. There is a slight shower now and I do not know where I am or where I am heading to. So, when my ill-tempered Keke driver stops at the last bus stop and I am the only passenger in the vehicle, he turns and glares at me. I watch as his face slowly loses the tightness of anger as I explain what I was doing and where I was going.
“You for talk since. I for drop you at Powerline, na there you go see better market, Oko Oba. But go abattoir, e dey interesting pass Oko Oba,” he says, stepping out of the tricycle to hail an upcoming bus for me.
There is a steady hum at the Abattoir market. This hum is a summation of incessant human chatter; knife banging through bones, flesh and clashing on wooden surfaces; and animals laying around, unaware that their death is at hand. Accompanying this steady hum is the putrid smell of animal excreta, burning flesh, human waste, all unceremoniously mixed with vehicular fumes.
Most of the people here appear to be Hausa-Fulani men, with the occasional woman thrown into the mix selling soft goods. Bloodied water flow from the gutters, rushing forth in steady streams from the market and into the road leading into the market.
There is not a single dry land at the market. Although the stalls look recently renovated, the environment around is muddy, with puddles of water standing here and there. As you walk further into the market, you will find a wall of solid dirt from where thick black smoke rises, twirling into the wet evening atmosphere. On this huge pile of dirt, men are killing animals, quartering, disembowelling, cleaning and skinning down over a fire.
Underneath the dirt, next to what looks like a slaughterhouse, are six camels with markings on their skins. They are chewing lazily on grass, lost in their world and the deliciousness of whatever they are eating.
If you look by your right, you will see the stalls. They are irregular in size and structure. In some part of it, you will find stalls with clothes hanging on cloth lines, men sitting or lying on the ground, goats and young cattle standing next to them. It appears as if man and animal inhibit the same space. In other parts, is the steady, irritating echo of cutting and butchering.
I begin to wonder whether Lagosians have any idea that it is from this place, far removed from our upscale privileged homes, that our meats come from.