“Ogbodo ridin (don’t be stupid)
Ogbodo suegbe(don’t be slow)
Ogbodo ya mugun L’Eko (Don’t allow yourself to be taken for a fool in Lagos)”
– Culled from BlackAss by Igoni. A. Barrett
Growing up in Ojota in the 90s and early 2000s was quite different for me. While normal kids played on the streets, I was forced to stay inside the house and read. Read my school books, read journals, I even read Tell Magazine as a kid, even though I never really understood what was in it. I usually also read my Uncle Akin‘s Hints magazine whenever he dropped it carelessly, my mother caught me on one occasion and beat every hint of the magazine content out of me, my uncle also got the sticks from her for keeping such around the house (It was in my SSS class, I solved the mystery of why my mother beat me for reading Hints). I was made to read so much that at a point I thought my parents were out to kill me with books. I watched from our window pane while other kids my age splashed water on each other in the rain, or while they ran across the street to play the rubber band game. I hated them, I envied them, I wanted to be them so bad. Anytime I got a rare opportunity to join them in playing, I always got bullied. I wasn’t street smart one bit.
There was the day I saw Muri and Niyi playing table tennis on a makeshift Tennis board, I was running an errand for my mum, but I decided to damn the consequences and play this particular game with them. They asked me if I knew how to play table tennis and without thinking it through, I said yes. Niyi was a bit nice and he gave me his Bat and with my first hit, I broke the tennis egg. Muri asked me to pay for the Tennis egg, I told him I didn’t have money and I was trying to run away, for a boy my age I was supposed to be smart and talk my way through, but to cut the long story short, Muri and Niyi beat the hell out of me. I’m grateful to my uncle Akin, he saved me from their hands, it was as if Muri was on a quest to make my legs bow like his…
I am now writing this because earlier this year, I visited Ojota again. Did I tell you that after that beating from Muri and Niyi, Mum and Dad decided to take me to a boarding school to toughen me up. I spent most of my time in the school, I even spent some holidays within its walls. I moved to New York just after secondary school and Ojota had soon become vague memory. I only came back to Nigeria for my youth service and I had planned on visiting old friends and show old foes a new me
I had read Teju Cole’s Everyday is for the thief few weeks before traveling down to Nigeria and I related with the book so much that I promised myself to experience Lagos like the character in Teju’s book had done. I promised myself to connect with the normal Lagos life, I wanted to document Lagos as much as I could, I wanted to take as many pictures as possible and I promised myself not to give in to the kingly treatment accorded to the IJGBs.(I Just Got Back)
… I visited Ojota again. I braved the nagging of my mother, the sarcasm of my father and the blunt refusal of my Uncle Akin who was now a Major in the army. They all didn’t want me visiting Ojota again, definitely not in a Danfo, never will that happen my mother swore loud in Yòrùbá “Orí mí kó” The same woman who was always lapping me around in Danfos and Molues back in the day, I wondered why she was acting like I was going to the war front. I, like Teju, refused to listen to whatever they had to say and headed for the road with my Canon T5i camera in my backpack and iPhone in hand. I came to a compromise with Uncle Akin and I took his offer of a lift from Lekki to Obalende.
I love the new Lagos. The nearly pristine way people lined up for the BRT under the Obalende Bridge was not what I expected, the neat roads from Lekki and all the beautifully tended lawns around Dolphin Estate made me remember the first time I made love, she was a pretty girl from Manhattan and seeing this particular lawn at Dolphin Estate reminded me in a very odd way of how silky her hair felt in my hand, the smooth road reminded of her smooth palms caressing my jugular, like Lagos, I was pleasured in a treacherous routine.
I took a tricycle down to CMS from Obalende, I wanted to see the beautiful Brazilian (Saro) influenced architecture on this part of Lagos. I had been on this part of the city with my mother on one or two occasions as a boy, and I can barely remember any of the buildings vividly, but as the tricycle zoomed off, my memory was refreshed by the sights. Some sights of disappointments, some other sights of hope, some sights of freshness, some just wowed you till your eye teared a little, this is really Lagos after-all.
I got to the Tafawa Balewa Square, the Old Race Course and alighted from the yellow Tricycle. I bought my tickets and joined the queue down to Ojota. The funny thing was that I was missing the Chaotic Lagos, the rush for buses, the coarse rendition of different bus stop names by conductors which wasn’t t much on this part of Lagos due to the big air conditioned buses, in place of the comical conductors, it was just uniformed people selling tickets and frowning a lot. Oddly, I miss this Lagos chaos that I had romanticized in my head.
My camera was now in my hand, I hadn’t summoned enough courage to use it all the while, but the trip down to Ojota from TBS gave me a good opportunity to shoot. I sat by the bus window and took a lot of pictures, like a little kid given a cane to beat on someone, I snapped everything and anything in my way. I couldn’t remember the names of most of the areas on the way, on a Danfo, the conductor would have called all bus-stops to everyone’s hearing, but the new Lagos is systematic, you might have to ask people around for these details…
… I got to Ojota and alighted from the BRT, the air in Ojota was a bit different. The smell of hot beef from the Gala factory in the area filled the air, at some points pungent odour came from nearby dumps and smeared the hunger inducing smell of the Gala. I think I finally found my Lagos, I grinned slightly and walked forward, my phone already beeping. “Hello, are you in Ojota now? Please be careful o and my regards to Tayo” my mother’s voice resonated from the other side. I quickly cut the call at the sound of bye, I just saw something worthy of capture…
A man dressed as a woman. He was standing just below the Ojota pedestrian bridge, and people were gathered to watch him display. He had breasts made of foam, a very large ass. If any woman had such big ass, every other woman would have a common enemy, he made up his face in a very grotesque manner and his facial expressions were the ultimate comedy. He was actually selling black soap (or maybe I was the one that thought it as black soap) and his target audience were the women around. The ones who couldn’t afford the expensive skin care creams, the ones who marvel at his comedy, they were all buying his product. This man had a good marketing strategy because he had lots of women listening to him while he displayed the magic of the soap. I decided to overcome my fear and take some pictures of the crowd and the entertainer, I looked for a vantage point and clicked and clicked and I kept clicking. I was still clicking when Uncle Akin’s call came in “Hello Bodunde, hope you’re in Ojota now? “ that was the last word I heard for the next 6 minutes.
É pèlé bòòdá
Bí wón se ma’án se níbí nìyen
Sé etí ò dùn yín?
It was like I was hearing the echoes of what all these people were saying, like they spoke from kilometers away. The petty traders, the pedestrians, the law enforcement officials, I was the new entertainment. My mind raced back to when Muri and Niyi beat me up back in the day, a skinny child who wasn’t street smart. Now right here in the same Ojota, few metres away from my old house and almost 15 years later, I am being consoled by strangers for not being street smart, my phone is gone, a single slap took it away…
Written for the Photo Series titled ‘Black,White&Yellow – An Attempt to narrate Lagos’
All Photos by- Seun James Taiwo (IG: @seunjamestaiwo)