So you think you know Lagos IX: Oshodi, Festac, Okota, and the undertones of ethnic tensions

It is nearly noon on a bright Saturday and Alhaja (Mrs.) Gilani looks like her day is in slow motion. She is resting on a table where crates of eggs, stacked on each other, are on display, waiting for new nests. Beside her are three younger women who are discussing in Yoruba rapidly. Occasionally, they break into laughter that evaporates into the hot afternoon air.

Across the road is a Mobil fuel station that also accommodates a Domino’s pizza. Both business establishments are witnessing suboptimal customer traffic. Life here in Festac town dances to its own beat and it appears to be a world away from the madness of Lagos that surrounds it.

In fact, Festac town has an ideal suburban feel – wide gutters that leave the roads dry when it rains; rows of trees that wave up in the air, covering the sidewalk and cleaning up the air; an actual sidewalk that is wide enough for people to pass without brushing shoulders and it is separated from the road meant for vehicle by the trees and gutters.

Alhaja Gilani, a dark-skinned elderly woman with an easy disposition and lots of laughter, says that she came to Festac town in 1977. And ever since, this place has become home to her.

“Festac is jubilating, jumping up every year,” she says in faulty English. “There is something new every year.”

Despite its serenity and happy disposition, Alhaja Gilani says that the biggest problem with Festac is that there are no jobs, no industry. “Everybody is just doing things on their own,” she says.

A block of flats in FESTAC town

Before I met with Alhaja Gilani, I spoke with a young blogger, Ebube, who says that Festac has a huge concentration of Igbos who over the years made the area a very expensive residential area, knocking down the low-cost building that are scattered across Festac to build newer, more pricey buildings.

“Igbos came and made here expensive,” he says and I am not entirely sure whether he is saying it with a sense of pride or irritation. He points out that because of the Igbo large-living mentality, commercial activities within Festac are becoming increasingly expensive – especially transport.

Alhaja Gilani disagrees. In fact, to her, the Igbos have no root or influence in Festac. “Igbos are new o! We don’t know them. Igbos just came to Festac and Festac just changed. If you go to a compound where Igbos are staying, everywhere will be smelly and dirty!”

She changes beat to Yoruba, prompting one of her younger companions to hit her hand, forcing her to shut up mid-sentence. The young lady turns and asked if I am Igbo.

“No, I’m from Edo,” I tell her, to avoid awkwardness.

Local government elections were recently concluded across Lagos and campaign posters and signs are still fresh here in Festac. To prove the power dynamics in Festac, Ebube points out several campaign posters around, noting that the common denominator amongst them all was that the local government political aspirants had running mates that were either Igbo or from a south-southern state.

By having a running mate who is an ethnic minority, the aspirants were hoping to secure more votes and endorsements from them, I am told.

Ethnic tensions and rivalry are not new in Lagos. In fact, every other day on the Nigerian internet, you’ll find people who spend an incredulous amount of time regurgitating ethnic stereotypes, trading blames over political issues. In all it is a slugfest of e-punches that is, more often than not, undesirable as it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

Still, beyond the chatter online, it is imperative to examine the ethnic sentimentalities on the street as part of the larger picture of what Lagos citizenry think and believe – bearing in mind that ignoring a fact doesn’t automatically make it disappear or any less unsavoury.

***

Before you get to Festac town, you must drive through Oshodi, Cele and Mile 2. These areas are the stereotypical image of a Lagos bus stop: noisy, busy, loud, yellow buses everywhere, possible thieves and fraudsters lurking around. And, in addition, they are all completely different from Festac – especially in appearance and feel.

When CNN international anchor, Richard Quest, visited Nigeria in April 2017, he stood on the stairs of the Oshodi pedestrian bridge, creating a visual moment that would be shared a thousand times over, sparking numerous conversations that spanned culture, cuisine, urbanisation and politics.

CNN’s Richard Quest atop Oshodi pedestrian bridge

Quest, however, got one thing right about Oshodi:

“Filming on the Oshodi interchange was vibrant and bustling. Lot’s of people on the move,” Quest wrote as caption to a video he shared via twitter during his visit to Nigeria.

When you are in Oshodi, don’t breathe in too deep. Dust and smoke from vehicles hang in the air, making it increasingly difficult to breath in the hot afternoon air. There are several human activities happening at once: conductors and bus drivers shouting, delightfully honking as if it would make the road clear any faster; uniformed security officers trying to make sense of the entire commotion; hawkers and roadside sellers pushing their wares in people’s faces; pedestrians crossing up and down the overhead pedestrian bridges.

Oshodi is even more busy and noisy and completely different from what it used to be. There are ongoing construction works to transform the area into a “world class” central business district by the state government.

Through Oshodi, stopping at Cele to change vehicles, you’ll find Ago Palace Way in Ago-Okota. I am told that this place too is predominately inhabited by Igbos and other ethnic minorities who, at some point over the years, migrated to Lagos for better economic prospects.

“Eighty percent or more of the population here are Igbo,” says Amadi Chukwunweike, a recent graduate who moved to Lagos for professional training last quarter. Over the weeks, he has fallen into the rhythm of Lagos: hustling to ensure tomorrow is better.

“Most shops, barbing saloons, DSTV offices and all that around here are owned by Igbo people,” he claims.

The roads here are, at different points along the way, either run down, flooded, or pliable, the bitumen-coated grounds gleaning off rays of sunlight.

Reconstruction of Okota road

“This is a very good residential area that needs development. I mean, like, good road network. In terms of basic amenities like road networks and flooding issues, I think the people around here suffer it a lot,” Amadi says.

Whenever the rains come, the area is flooded – including some of the highbrow estates here.

Read the previous instalment in this series:

So you think you know Lagos I: The hidden jewels of Isheri, renovated Berger and the faces of Agege

So you think you know Lagos II: “Any way na way; any hustle na hustle” – The nightlife of Opebi-Allen and Fela Shrine

So you think you know Lagos III: How demolition and eviction by LASG is tearing families apart, disrupting education

So you think you know Lagos IV: Lagos Island, Black Brazilians – The history is there; don’t change the story

So you think you know Lagos V: Ikoyi through Victoria Island – Where money goes to sleep and Afropolitans find a home 

So you think you know Lagos VI: Fetish sacrifices in Ikorodu and the real hustlers of Mile 12

So you think you know Lagos VII: New Lekki repeats the mistakes of old Lekki?

So you think you know Lagos VIII: Confronting Nigeria’s disappearing history in Yaba with faith from Makoko

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