If I were governor of Lagos state, of Empire in Ojuelegba and its Kings and Queens
Ever since Governor Fashola assumed duty in Lagos state, the effect of the broom which brought him to power has been felt by not just a few. With all the inconveniences left and right, especially with regards to the repair of roads etc., Lagosians like me have recalculated the time we depart from our homes, especially in the morning, to include some give away hours to the causes and effects of whatever the Governor is up to in town for the day. Things have been changing everyday since Gov. Fash collected the keys to Alausa and Yes, we don’t mind all the inconveniences as long as one day, ‘e go better’.
Someone once told me that everyday in Lagos state is a journey, and if you go out and come in safely, you better thank God. Worse, while on this Lagos Island, half our days are spent in traffic. Check out the Lagos traffic mathematics I did sometime ago.
I happen to pass by the Ojuelegba – Jibowu route(sorry, no pics) on my own everyday travel from home to work and back. Before now, the road linking Ojuelegba and Jibowu was a serious disaster with no one, driver and passengers knowing the difference between potholes and gutters. They were just everywhere, and whenever it rains, all hell breaks loose, as fares jump by an additional 30-50 Naira(thirty to fifty Naira).
The word in the mouth of bus-drivers and their conductors plying the route since October 2008 is that they have been officially banned from using the bridge connecting Ojuelegba and Fadeyi bus-stops at all times of the day, that the bridge is reserved for private vehicles and the BRT only, that they had been instructed to pass through Jibowu to link Fadeyi, and that defaulters among them are regularly squeezed of NGN50,000.00(Fifty thousand Naira) fine, which has no receipt.
As a result, bus fares have increased by 30-Naira. Road safety, LASTMA and officers of the Lagos Police command have used not a few disobedient drivers and their conductors as early morning biscuit and pure-water, by waiting for them at Fadeyi bus stop, watching who among them will use the bridge without protection. Protection in this case is an army officer or police officer seating in the bus’ front seat, who will plead on their (commercial bus’s) behalf, if caught at Fadeyi. As a result the officers even collect tips from the drivers when they are getting off. p.s I have witnessed such about four times. Is it not a great idea to enter commercial transport free of charge and still get paid in the process?
Towards the end of last year, half of the road(Ojuelegba-Jibowu) was demarcated, and repair works started on one lane. The weeks the repair of the first-lane lasted was hell. Before I learnt my lesson, I spent at least 1-hour each morning stuck in bumper to bumper traffic between Ojuelegba and Jibowu, and still, I’ll be late to work, even after leaving my house 1-hr earlier than usual. Then I discovered how others were surviving: “drop at Ojuelegba and take a 50/60 Naira Okada over the bridge and continue your journey on the other side”. Cool, but of-course, the extra 50/60Naira transport budget. Repair of the first lane soon finished and presently, traffic is not as bad as before. My 1-hour delay has decreased to 30minutes, and who cares, as long as ‘e go better’.
Ever since the diversion of traffic, big and small yellow buses, and the rest of us passengers have discovered the corner corners of almost all the streets between Ojuelegba and Jibowu. The King among them all is called Empire. Buses entire Empire under the bridge linking Ojuelegba and Fadeyi, to join the traffic almost halfway along the Ojuelegba-Jibowu road.
There hasn’t been a totally quiet, no-comment-atmosphere in any of the buses I’ve entered so far, while passing through Empire at any time. Somebody just has to make a side comment or hiss for a conversation to start, and usually, every other person has something to say. Usually, its women that start the conversation and then all passengers join in, with comments been fired from left and right. I’ve come to appreciate Lagosians and Nigerians in general as a result of this experience. I can say that at least, there are still some people who know what is good and what is bad. E go better.
Somebody just has to say something about Empire and whatever is said is always bad. Its always about the evils perpetrated inside the 3-5 streets that comprise the place, always leaving me to wonder if the Nigerian police in Lagos state have this ‘Empire’ as a location in their map. Worse, there is an army barracks, the Albati Barracks on the right side, and along the road just after exiting Ojuelegba, and even if the Nigerian Police don’t know where Empire is, at least this Army Barrack does.
There are always sleepy faced army officers sitting on benches and stools, either inside or outside empty shops with only a mattress / mat on the floor, or congregating beside the woman that sells Sepe, early in the morning, just as we pass by.
One particular morning, a nurse co-passenger, an elderly woman added her own comment to others who were talking, by saying:
This is where all the army officers in that barracks over there waste their useful lives. This is where they spend their night. Yeye people, then they go back home in the morning and start beating their wives. See all these women here, all of them na ashawo olooorun. Ashawo, correct ones. See them, see them(the nurse was pointing), after army officers f??k their brains out at night, the next place you go find them na hospital. God dey, Aids dey. (p.s…the nurse dropped at Igbobi Orthopaedic Hospital) along Ikorodu road.
Truth is: there is no how a sane minded person would pass through Empire and not know that the environment is far from normal. From stink to stench, the smell of urine and faeces, passengers in buses all have their noses covered with handkerchiefs. The windowless uncompleted buildings covered only with curtains, broken down doors, half naked women (some with children), smoking right in front of their less-than-5-year-olds, and hardened looking men are the early morning sights and sounds of Empire. I won’t be caught dead on foot walking through / exiting Empire’s gates to see my mother standing on the other side of the road. I do not know what kind of explanation I can give to explain why I got down from the bus, or even decided to walk through Empire in the first place.
Besides sleepy faced army officers in Empire are the real owners: awon boys and awon girls.
Awon girls are either orobo or lepa. Its either they are in a bra/t-shirt and shorts(cyling shorts/tights or male-briefs), or they have a wrapper around their bodies, or some other form of clothing that reveals they have nothing else underneath. Between shame and no-shame, I don’t know where awon girls can be placed. Their hair is always unkempt and they are either with a tooth-brush or chewing-stick, sitting around in groups of 4/5 listening to the radio, cleaning their premises, cracking jokes, smoking and or just watching buses passing by.
Awon boys are hardened and tipsy looking 5ft-8inches to 6ft-tall males. Usually with tattooed arms, dented/blue eyes(an evidence they were recently in a fight), their hairs are dusty and they are always smoking something that looks like a cigarette(but not the normal cigarette). Inside a black wrapper, it sticks out from their left hands, while their right hand is used to grab their John-thomas’ in their dirty low-waist jeans trousers.
I have been all ears:
On different occasions that I’ve passed through, I’ve been all ears, and here are some notes from my jotter. I’m saying it like I heard it:
- sir, the devil is a bad person. If he wants to deceive someone, he will make bad things look extremely good. Sir, if you come here at night ehn, sir, you see all these ugly women who look like people that haven’t bafed for three days, ehn, they will suddenly look like coca cola bottles. In fact, if you have a wife at home, only God will help you if you don’t forget her,
- look around, do you notice that NEPA no reach this place? None of these houses has electricity even though there is an army barracks right beside them. Even if you pull electricity into this place tomorrow morning, all these boys will cut down the wires, coz this place na for night duty,
- sir, you see the first gate there where we entered, if you stay across the street at night and watch that gate, come and see heavy heavy cars, jeep this one and jeep that one, young young boys and married men that will come and pick up all these useless girls at night, that’s why you see them like this in the morning, the better part of their bodies have been overused.
- Na yoruba woman dem be o, Edo and Ibo. See, Hausa no go come Lagos come do Ashawo. Na only Ibo and Yoruba dey do this kin things.
- these people don spoil this place ehn, ah my God. Even children, at night go come out dey look like mumu.
- At night like this ehn, when they come out, the drivers of some of those Luxurious buses in Jibowu go come and sleep here. Their wives no dey for Lagos o, na here their husbands dey gbadun.
- There are over 75 boys/men living in Empire (below 45) who are either armed robbers, agberos, touts, alaayes, and the pimps of these ladies. These women ehn, these women won’t be confident doing what they are doing if no one is protecting them.
- No be Naija we dey? why are you talking as if you just come Lagos? you think these people just dey do ashawo like this in broad daylight, and they no dey fear?
- you think say na poverty push dis women come do this kind things? Woman fit leave her village come Lagos dey do ashawo just like that without knowing anybody? sey you know say agbero for Lagos get union, dem get security, <conversation continues> if you find out well well, dis ones get oga, ah, dem get Oga.
- Everything for Naija na business o, or you think say Olopa no go know say dis people dey here? no be dem dey pass so? na chop make I chop, na wetin dey ruin dis country be dat.
- look them very well, these ladies are not villagers,
- con wetin, condom ke? dis ones know wetin condom be?
- if you pass here at night, na these boys go they ask you which one you want, as in they will come to you and ask you, no story. If you say no be woman you want, they will ask which kind drug you dey find,
- you see all these boys, the official base of armed robbers in Surulere is right here. If not for OPC in Surulere, these boys would not allow anyone to sleep. After they cross the express, that’s the end. If you get two heads, come inside here say you wan arrest somebody.
I googled this morning for related info and heres what I found, not too much but worth reading:
- http://www.lydiagracefoundation.org/news1.html – an NGO reaching out to the queens at Empire,
- Empire/Surulere related info, about Fela here,
- Ojuelegba, the sacred Profanities of a West African Crossroad, (PDF from bakareweate.com)
- the task of area boys
I do believe that Empire might not be the only red light district in Lagos state, but perhaps this one might need immediate attention. Perhaps our governor would soon allow his bull dozers to roll over this Empire, for the sake of Lagos and its people.
Please have your say!!