“See that one” he said, nudging me with his elbow. He was using his eyes, to avoid drawing attention as he discreetly pointed at two brown earthenware bowls sitting next to an electric pole standing on one side of a four-street intersection at Igbogbo, Ikorodu. The bowls were half-filled with water and had kola nuts sitting at the bottom of the water. People move past it, ignoring its existence. It was obviously part of their daily life not to make it their business.
Tied to the pole was a badly designed banner inviting guests to a nightclub that had strippers and all sorts of entertainment. Around traffic buzzed, clearing any doubts I had about how much human activity happened this deep into the interiors of Ikorodu.
“If you keep looking you’ll find more of it,” Ibrahim, my impromptu guide, said. “It’s sacrifice people here make. Mostly they come out to this place in the middle of the night.”
I’d met Ibrahim, a wiry young teacher of about 23 years old, on the road leading from Ebute, Ikorodu. He had just finished his Juma’ah prayer and was returning to his quarters. Ibrahim spoke with the conviction of a crusader, one determined to put as much dent in the thing he counted as evil in the world. When he spoke of the traditional rites performed in Igbogbo, he lowered his voice conspiratorially, his eyes making suggestive gestures.
“They’ve declared curfew twice here because of their traditional rite,” he says. “They tell people, especially women, not to come out!”
Ibrahim had a theory – one he didn’t explicitly say but I deduced by the number of times he spoke about it with suggestive hints left here and there. The curfew was declared in Igbogbo after that week-long rainfall that flooded parts of Lagos. Somehow, he hinted that the festival had something to do with the rains.
“Did you see that one we just passed? A sacrifice in a white something?” I didn’t see it, and I told him so. But he continued speaking as if he already knew my response. “If you walk back the way we came, you will see it by the right.”
According to Ibrahim, fetish activities and festivals are very common in this area. Some residents here adhere to either one of the two mainstream religions (Christianity and Islam) but also practice their religious beliefs by the side.
To get to Igbogbo, you must pass through series of changing sceneries. Navigating from Garage, Ikorodu, through Ebute then Car-Wash. The road morphs from a buzzing city centre to rural setting with good roads and slow life, and then, as you approach Igbogbo, life picks up again – okadas zip past you, generator sounds and vehicle engine chocks up the air with too much noise and unhealthy gas, people brush by each other, brushing shoulders.
Igbogbo is hidden far away from the beating heart of Ikorodu – that place that many Lagosians turn their nose up at, forgetting that this part of Lagos is home to a population of over five hundred thousand and is also host to several industries, employing thousands of people and boosting the economy of the state.
In talking about Ikorodu one must be careful to avoid falling into the trap of regurgitating popular – often, exaggerated – beliefs about the place that thousands call home. On its own, Ikorodu, literally and metaphorically, is a world away from other parts of Lagos. Its heart beats different and it dances to a different tune, which beat is as mysterious as the dancers’ footsteps.
It is in Garage, Ikorodu, that you will find young women, heads protruding from bus windows or gingerly walking down the road, hustling for passengers like male conductors. You’d find that their voice rings through the dense cloud of noise, perforating it and creating a different kind of melody – that is as aggressive as their male counterpart. No one here seems mistaken: being a woman in Ikorodu is no weakness.
“Hundred naira Ketu, Ojota; one fifty Oshodi! (Oshodi pronounced as ‘Oshod’)” is, perhaps, the soundtrack of Garage. If you listen to it long enough, the bus conductors’ shouts mixed with other noise will acquire a music-like cadence.
Truth be told, it is near impossible not to have heard of Ikorodu in the last few months. It is home to the infamous Badoo boys, who terrorised parts of Ikorodu. But it is as though no one here knows about this. Garage, the busiest part of Ikorodu, sees as much footfall as any other central location within Lagos. People live and thrive in Ikorodu, beating a daily path for themselves.
It is imperative to mention that the roads to Ikorodu have been impeccably built and maintained (so far). It features complex overhead walkways, with sturdy staircases zigzagging its way around it. The BRT lane is right in the middle of the road, instead of by the side – like in other parts of Ikorodu road. In a way, it feels like huge efforts were made to make living as urban as possible for the people living on the road to these innermost part of Lagos.
Yet, beyond the main road at Garage, the streets are muddy, waterlogged and rundown. One gets the feeling that the main road was just for eye-service that the streets hold the real story and identity of Ikorodu.
At a bookstore in Ikorodu, I meet a middle-aged woman. “We sell books well. People come through to buy books,” she says as she moves towards the thick shelves of books lining the walls.
After Mile 12, the roads leading to Ikorodu are solid, neat and modern – much more so than most roads around Lagos. It steadily becomes sleepy; buildings and human activities get increasingly sparse. Occasionally, the road is jolted awake by a small settlement. It, however, roars back to life fully as you approach Agric, before reaching Ikorodu.
The most distinctive thing about Mile 12 is the ‘Mile 12 market’ – a very busy food market that stretches across Ikorodu road just after Ketu and Ojota.
“Mile 12 is a very dirty place,” says a surly-faced Keke (tricycle) driver. He is short, and behind his windscreen, he looked even smaller. And so, when he spoke, I didn’t expect so much energy.
“Just be careful when you are in Mile 12,” he adds. To him, Mile 12 was a busy commercial district that dirties the landscape of Lagos.
Iya Tunde, a middle-aged woman with two young children in tow, is more charitable and helpful. She is earnest in her words, so earnest that she comes off as effusive and dramatic.
“You see all these people wey dey cook for Lagos Island, Agege, Oshodi, everywhere, na here they dey come buy. Everything dey cheap here.”
As a cautionary tale, she warns of the criminals in the market, of traders who will rob you blind in daylight.
“If you no carry woman, Mile 12 go cheat you! All this people wey dey carry load, they go tell you ‘come customer, I get am.’ No go o! they dey act like say na them get everything for market.”
Mile 12 smells of open sewage mixed with marijuana, aromatic smell of foodstuff and fumes. The smell changes; alternating between food and spice smells, and open gutter and weed. At times, each smell stands on its own, taking charge of the airspace around, letting you know that you’re standing within its territory.
A man is pissing next to a restaurant called Iyaloja. His urine, following the path of least resistance, joins a trail of water and other piss meandering down the road, human and animal alike step on this mixture as they walk past. Life here is busy. and it doesn’t have time to slow down.
Market stores extend to the roadside, eating up parts of the road underneath the Mile 12 bridge. So that pedestrians and vehicles compete for moving space with wares set on the road by sellers.
This is Mile 12 and somehow no one apologises for doing anything wrong. Either take it or leave it, there is a pre-existing system here.
On the day I set out to Ikorodu, a truck conveying recycled car spare parts fell on the bridge connecting Ojuelegba to Ikorodu road, blocking off the road and causing a traffic jam that lasted hours. Vehicles snaked through the jam slowly, driving through Yaba, then Jibowu, before properly easing into Ikorodu road.
Underneath the bridge at Jibowu, young men made brisk money as they helped carry vehicle parts that have fallen through the openings provided by the bridge’s railing and landing on the ground under.
There is a picture circulating online on the state of Ikorodu road in the late 1940s. The long stretch of road was once a bush path with sparse human presence, untarred and very unsuitable vehicular movements. Fast forward to the 1970s, Ikorodu road found its rhythm and steadily became one of the beating hearts of Lagos.
By the roadsides, you will find businesses that have existed for years – like the Moyosore House and the Adebowale House, which sells electrical appliances. These older buildings mix neatly with newer ones as Jibowu fades into Fadeyi, and then into Onipanu, Anthony, Maryland and Ojota.
In Ojota, you’ll find a man with scrotal elephantiasis sitting on a low stool, his enlarged member hanging out without shame. The man is a beggar, his handlers play a Christian music from a battered microphone and urge people to donate for the man’s treatment – or whatever they intend to do with the money.
Ojota smells of snacks and refuse, depending on what side of it you’re on. If you journey on the side of luck, the divine smell of synthetic sausages will set your stomach on fire if you’ve been stuck in traffic for hours and barely eaten. The smell comes from a UAC factory that stands on the left side of the road as you drive towards Oregun road.
In 2012, this stretch of land, where commotion, traffic and smell of food mixes well, was home to one of Nigeria’s most historic protests. The protest, so named, took place at the Freedom Park garden, at the junction that connects the Lagos-Ibadan road with Ikorodu road. The protest spilt into areas near Ojota, cutting off human and vehicular movement.
From Ojota, a bus takes you to Ketu – which is also on the same Ikorodu road stretch. It is exactly 7pm, the sky is heavy with water and Ketu is still alive, beating with traffic, commerce and entertainment. Sides of the road here are chocked up with traders who display their wares, using the last drop of sunlight to banter and persuade buyers.
Beyond the main road where the Ikosi market is located, the face of Ketu changes as you go further inward. The houses become increasingly rundown, the roads deplorable. Within a street, a few feet away from a mosque, a white police car is tucked between two buildings. Police officers stand around gauging human movements, peaking through the dark at people passing by – as if they were either waiting for something to happen or looking out for someone.
Finally, Ketu presents a heartwarming irony: on the roadside a music vendor is playing Igbo Christian music, blasting it through speakers. Down a few feet towards a row of store, a Yoruba Fuji song is playing. Next to the row of store is a police station with a mosque at its entrance. Someone is singing the call to prayer.
Read the previous instalment in this series: