Metropole Magazine

Today's Weather: Abuja NG: Partly Cloudy, Day 360|Night 260

25 Oct Written by  Ladi Opaluwa

A Small Island

An image of every city visited remains with us and is carried into the future so that there is a moment of recognition when one walks into a new location with similar features. A friend who has been to Ghana kept saying of Jos, 'this looks so much like Ghana.' As the image would have become foggy over time, he needed to establish the resemblance through repetition. He went ahead to disambiguate his claim of semblance. The expansiveness of the streets, he said, and something about its ambience and its colonial architecture unfazed by modernity.

Sometimes it is not the image that we carry along but the sound, the smell, or just the feeling― often this feeling is only a déjà vu, a nostalgia for an imagined experience.

A street off Ladoke Akintola Boulevard, off Ahmadu Bello Road, Garki II, is like Lagos. ‘How?’ a companion asked. I don’t’ know, it is just a feeling. City authorities share my sentiments; the street is named Lagos Street―more thought than I think actually goes into town-planning and nomenclature.

UTC road, Area 10, also, is like Lagos. I continue to say this with the carelessness with which the entirety of Lagos is often equated with chaos. Though it is an unpleasant memory, the nostalgia is still keen.

UTC road is busy. It is animated with the bustle of hustle: roadside retailers, mobile boutiques, artisans, human and mechanical sounds--charged with the sound of enterprise-- and cars puffing fume from their behinds.

The entire buzz is around a gigantic printing factory that has become blackened by its exhausts. It is the printing headquarters of Abuja. The majority of the printing needs of Abuja are met here, both legal and fraudulent. The letterhead of every office, a guide told me, including or especially the presidency is manufactured here. Beyond printing, I am told, everything required can be bought or arranged to be bought here.

On the opposite side of the road are office complexes, often the corporate offices of the printers.  On that side too is a row of shanty restaurants serving every imaginable Nigerian cuisine.

The road is narrow and inadequate for the number of cars and pedestrians manoeuvring through the traffic. The road is littered: cars, people, and dirt. A waste bin has collapsed and is abandoned with its content spilled on the road. More waste is piled onto it. The ammonic smell of fermented urine hugs the air. At peak moments, there is a traffic jam and the bustle is slowed. Motorists stuck in traffic insult and reply one another with the honk.

Big cities are unique for their peculiar vices. Abuja is known to be expensive but easy to live in. One does not need more than the average human wit to get around in the city, but here the number of young men, some shirtless, milling about is a call to guardedness.

It is an island, a place of marked difference from the quiet atmosphere of the rest of the city. Small islands exist everywhere. Kano has Sabon Gari, an autonomous territory with its liberal ideals right in the centre of the state capital. There, alcohol is sold in the open and prostitutes need no camouflage.

In the past weeks, I have had reasons to be on or around this road. Once, to Noble Plaza, a decaying two-storey building by the junction undergoing renovation. You get in and you are glad to be out. It was nothing like anything I had seen previously in the city centre. It was a virgin experience. Another time, I went to the post office; and another time, to the Cyprian Ekwensi Centre for Arts and Culture.

I was there again a few days ago, for a walk. My fascination with the place is so heightened that similes have become inadequate. This is Lagos.