The cool breeze from the calm lake, the quiet humming noise from the different lawn mowers positioned at strategic locations at the very posh Agodi Gardens, Ibadan, keeps me company on this cool Friday morning. The air is fresh and calm and one is reminded of what it was like growing up in Ibadan. The ancient city appears to have turned a new leaf. It is hard to imagine that one is reclining in Ibadan.
Agodi Gardens, situated near the Oyo State Secretariat has existed for ages and it was previously called ‘Okun d’osa’ which means massive seas turning into river. This forest beneath the Mokola Hills was probably worshipped by the local pagans. Stories around ancestral worship are enticing and captivating to read. Today, it is a different story as there is evidence of revival. There are many churches that meet to pray at the summit. Hearing their garrulous prayers adds colour to the cultural landscape.
There is a momentary absence from buzzing mosquitoes, as it is early in the morning and the power of the African sun has yet to be felt. The children are delighted to chase after lizards. It feels like South Africa, or Kenya, but it is Ibadan. Only Ibadan. Our Ibadan. The Gardens has put Ibadan literally on the map of the world and there is a pride when people ‘like’ your Agodi Gardens pictures on Instagram. It is a plus for the government in Ibadan and a ‘dividend’ of democracy for the people.
The kind of detail and finesse the Gardens exhibits does not beat the imagination, but it gives ordinary people hope to believe that all things are possible. Before the sensation of the Agodi Gardens, there were Trans Amusement Park and the University of Ibadan Zoo. There are unconfirmed reports that the Amusement Park has been taken over by the market people who have encroached on the Amusement Park land. Memories of fun times at the University Zoo linger and one hopes the Zoo has stayed the same.
Agodi Gardens seem a world away from what is normal. It seems a place for the city’s middle class, students and poor people with little spending money. Just ten minutes away up the road, is an intersection that can take you to Dugbe, Mokola, University of Ibadan, and literally to the rest of the world. At this junction, you see the very people who bring this city alive; people, who hustle and bustle for their daily bread. At N500 per head, Agodi Gardens is competitively priced but one wonders how long the Gardens will stay enthralling.
There is also the question of whether or not Ibadan has come of age to be able to maintain such a garden. Whilst we were there, a woman allowed her child to do a wee on the grass near the play park. A couple more children doing that and then air would be pungent and nauseous. Next-door is the secretariat, where the executive governor has his office. The Grounds and Facilities department seems to be on holiday as weeds have taken over. It is the rainy season, to be fair, but it begs the question whether Agodi Gardens will always remain in its flawless state.
Other than the general filth that has been the characteristic of Ibadan, and the filth you see when you are driving into the city, the good news seems to be that the sleepy city is finally waking up. It seems. Never has so much been thrown in the way of ordinary people. Ibadan boasts of its own Dominoes Pizza, KFC, Mr Biggs’, multiple chains of Foodco Stores, Shoprite malls, and a host of other shops. This new commercialised Ibadan services the up-and- coming, retains the status quo of those with old money and restricts harshly the spending power of those who have not.
A part of me yearns for the old Ibadan, but in spite of this fact, it is clear that the city is poised to make gains for the next hundred years. Hundred years? Unfortunately, the city needs to do more to attract either foreign visitors, Africans or other Nigerians. The three million people living in Ibadan may not be enough to generate the sales needed to keep Agodi Gardens and its leisure resorts thriving. Famous hotels are closing and there is an indication that people are not spending enough.
The terrain is harsh and the business climate is unfriendly. Yet we must salute the bravery of those who in spite of bad business climate set up and continue to trade. New Bodija is now a high street. Shops, schools, banks and churches have taken over.
Up and down the newly done roads, there is evidence of an expansion in heavenly merchandise. Certain churches seem to have their branches in more areas than others. People think in similar ways, so for your money, there are so many school billboards, churches and businesses. Other than the shops, the city is a service industry. The day care centres and primarily schools are money-spinners whilst the churches keep the fight on for new prospects by their adverts for crusades, seminars and conventions.
The majority of the shops in Ibadan sell imported products: shoes, bags, accessories and much more. Ibadan has taken its place in the pride of nations by having its own malls and escalators to go with it. Coupled with tickets and places to buy vanilla ice cream and Smile Internet, Ibadan could be Dunstable right now. Ibadan is obviously far from being London but in the pride of cities, it is a force to reckon with.
The good thing it seems is that more people are in work, at Agodi Gardens, the facilities team are picking up litter and mowing the lawns. At malls, there were people with massive brooms sweeping the floors and making sure it was tidy. It is easy to believe all is well with Ibadan at a place like Agodi Gardens. It is easy to believe that the ancient lazy city has arrived. If the truth were to be told, the people do well to mask their frustrations and pent up anger. Frustrations? We don’t produce anything. The goods sold are mostly imported. The shop owners seem only interested in taking your cash from you. Our shops and churches all seem to cater for our present. Wages are still very low. But perhaps these are symptoms of a worldwide era where the rich are richer and the poor are poorer. Yet this is Ibadan where those who shop in the shops and the shop owners feel they have ‘arrived’ and they are better than the rest of us.
I belong to Ibadan and Ibadan belongs to me and I am pleased that Ibadan is working and much better than I left it. But in ten years, would the rich people of Ibadan want people like us in their city? Would this new hard earned wealth be shared evenly? Would I be able to buy or build a house, send my daughter to a good school in Ibadan?
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