Let me state it sharp-sharp: I jump quickly at chances to escape Lagos, even for a second. My reality of the city is that it takes your breath away from its cosmopolitan attractions but keeps you gasping for breath from its bustling pathologies. It tickles you; it annoys you. One can hate Lagos but one can't love it enough.
Abuja is a sedate opposite of Lagos, comparatively opulent but far less pretentious, and on a far less cruise combustion. Abuja is for sanity. It bears an approximate decency that makes Lagos seems like a sophisticated wretch. But Abuja drags. A Lagos visitor is at once charmed by its relative orderliness but, in time, is quickly unimpressed by its unhurried pace.
So, I packed myself to Ibadan on an invitation to the University of Ibadan. I was scheduled for a 2-day talk to students of communication.
I knew I was in Ibadan as soon as a billboard - I think for a beer brand, on Lagos-Ibadan expressway, welcomes visitors with a male model in native Ibadan attire, and with a bold Yoruba headline. (You can tell the difference between Lagos and other states from advertising. Lagos ads tend to wear a cosmopolitan outlook; ads in other Nigerian cities tend to be provincial – in language, in colour, in models, with exceptions to ads targeted at a national audience).
Ibadan has changed. No, Ibadan is ballin'. And it’s as though the university and the city are racing against each other in pace of developments. New roads, new buildings, new leisure centres, new shopping malls, big brands everywhere, giant electronic billboards, etc., etc. While the city aspires to a Lagos-type sophistication, the university, it seems, experiments with a combination of its old heritage and modernity.
I’m happy to see the trees again; they appear bigger, the grass greener, the lawns wider.
But I wonder why the campus has no compelling design language. Everything - from signages to school merchandise, even the school's essence - lacks an appealing uniformity. It doesn't look entirely bland but can be better. A lecturer - Bisi Crown, communication consultant - Emeka Ossai, and I chatted over what the school can do to reposition itself and/or reinforce its legacy as Nigeria's premier university and - as I stressed - with a touch of "intellectual hip". I was quick to mention that a neighboring university and a certain private university get admirable mentions when it comes to Science & Technology and “intellectual hip” in Nigeria. I also referenced a similar but older institution - FirstBank, on how it has succeeded in repositioning itself as a contemporary bank without necessarily shedding its old man image. I wish we had more time to discuss. Bisi's brilliant ideas and strategies will be worth exploring, in view of the school's upcoming 70th anniversary.
My host's daughter - Olo, her friend - Anosi, and I decided to take a short trip around. I marveled at the changes that have happened to Ibadan. A nice mall called Ventura is situated a short distance from the university. We moved to The Palms, a sprawling shopping mall in Ring Road. It looks bigger to me than the malls in Lagos. From there, we headed to Domino's and Cold Stone. I associate these brands with Lagos. We sat there and I have to endure girly chatters. Olo wants me to take her picture as she held my iPhone. I looked puzzled as she posed with my phone. I thought that since I refused to buy her one for her birthday (I’m not rich), she might as well pose with mine. Anosi – beautiful, calm and saintly - watched her friend, under her fine bubbly hair. We didn't finish the pizza.
I planned to meet Kayinkunmi at Ventura Mall. We had both connected online as Otuo boys. From his tweets and updates, I knew he's got an interest in energy and admirably pursues a career in it. And somehow, I've placed him alongside Elon Musk in my head, around energy products and issues. We planned to meet at 6pm. But I was going to be delayed.
My host’s dogs delayed me. I was alone in the house with 3 dogs on guard. 5:30pm, and I was still holed up in the building. I had a shirt to iron. The dogs strolled about, oblivious of a human negotiating how to outsmart them to go out. I tried to open the door. They charged towards me. I wasn't sure if it makes sense to tell them I'm the biggest dog fan in the world and that they should check the pictures I love most on Instagram. But dogs don't use Instagram. It doesn't help that I look more bony than fleshy. They decided to stay at the door. Then I thought of an idea. I reached into my host's kitchen and picked some meat. I threw pieces far away from the door. The dogs ran after each piece but they returned to the door. They wagged their tails in appreciation of the bribe. I tried to open the door. They still charged at me. I figured humans and dogs respond differently to bribes. I called my host who shared some tricks to ward off the dogs. But I wasn't going to attempt those. These dogs already have scores to settle with me: he bribed us and he's a human bone. Gosh!
I went back into the house. No more time to wear an ironed cloth. I just wore something sha. I found a mop and carried the last pieces of meat. I won’t allow the dogs to win. I opened the door. The dogs barked and slightly backed off. Not sure if they backed off at the sight of the mop or they were taking their time to decide where to start feeding on me. I think I caught one gazed towards my crotch so I made sure the mop wasn't too far from my crotch. I rushed into the car and off I went.
Kayikunmi studied abroad. He brims with ideas. Very Elonmusky. He talked about his career plans, his experience with Ibadan, and updated me with the new Ibadan. Dude threw in comments about his girlfriend. I saw him adjust his pose. Then I confirmed the street wisdom that says that men that are quick to mention they have girlfriends, especially when unsolicited, are very likely genuinely in love and protective. In my head, - Lucky babe!
I met Santi Femi. (I forgot to take pictures with him before he becomes world-famous). We discussed literature and randoms. I've read one of his stories before and I believe he's one to watch. He writes brilliantly. He's got good ideas and impresses with how much fiction he has read. He has read more Marquez & Zadie Smith than me. I can't catch up with him. Good guy, good vibes.
I didn’t spend as much time at the staff club as I’d loved to. But I watched Benson Eluma (scholar, reviewer, poet, all round super intelligent brain) and Rotimi Babatunde (Caine Prize winner, playwright, all round super intelligent guy) sparred over literature. It’s a delight watching this two. They seem more like intellectual couples than friends. They debated Nabokov, Henry James, James Joyce, Hemingway, in between beers, and with funny snide remarks.
Benson’s room is more library than a room. He won’t let me have some books. He won’t even let me take one of my books that have been with him. Weird guy. I also found he has read all the books by one of my favourite non-fiction writers – Frank McCourt. I have only one of the books left to read – ‘Tis. After some negotiations, he gave me Economic Integration of West Africa and Africa 39, a collection of stories I had saved on my wish list. I begged him to give me Netocracy, a book whose blurb reinforces some of the current thoughts I have about the digital world. He won’t let me have it so I checked amazon to buy the kindle version right there in his presence in order to spite him. But the kindle version wasn’t available so I tried my luck at the university’s bookshop. Bravo. I bought my copy, and of course, I spited him. I bought Soyinka's new book too - InterInventions.
I visited the much talked-about Agodi Gardens, with a friend. It was evening. There weren’t many people. We walked around and visited the zoo. The lion moved restlessly around. I moved closer to its cage and noticed a lioness sitting and preening. My friend didn’t come close to the cage. The lion paused and looked at me, probably thought that I look like dinner. It’s a beautiful resort. (This is not a paid product placement ;)).
Apart from my 4-year undergraduate days and some weddings, I am not a regular in Ibadan. But I have a love affair with Ibadan. If Lagos is a malady, Ibadan is an antidote. Ibadan resets the brain. I always look forward to the city because it remains an intellectual haven to me. In the city, well, mostly on campus, it’s easy to find unassuming people, and there are plenty roadside bookshops. Despite the slurs, aspersions and silly memes that paint the city as backward, my fondest intellectual memories are my Ibadan days
I'm back to Lagos, the charming and chaotic city. I'm mentally negotiating my next escape already. Maybe Ibadan or Abuja should have me permanently. ;)