Ojuelegba: Yesterday, today and tomorrow
By Franklin Ihejirika, Lagos
In the 70s and 80s, Ojuelegba, the heart of Surulere in Lagos was a place that created fear in the minds of most Lagosians due to its endemic crime nature.
For many years, Ojuelegba was popularly known for its notoriety especially for prostitution, drugs, robbery, area boys, touting and all sort of vices, making the place a suitable habitation for the lion heart and route for the strong. With loud and lewd music blaring from different joints and night clubs, the place presented itself as a dangerous slum for vices and to some others, the perfect place for serious entrainment and enjoyment.
With the high rate of prostitution where prostitutes of various categories ply their trade with their patrons, giving rise to growth in hotels, night clubs, criminal activities, drugs peddlers, including the very busy nature of the route which serves as a connecting point to many destinations in the state, Ojuelegba became a centre of weird happenings, the unusual, the cenre of good, bad and the ugly in Lagos.
The place was popularized by the late Afro beat maestro, Fela Onikulapo Kuti with his song Ojuelegba confusion to describe the nature of the place which at that time was a very busy place, which he also used to depict the Nigeria scenario. Ojuelegba was a beehive of activities for patrons of Fela shrine, the prostitutes and all sorts of things, with night life at its peak in the area. This was before the building of the over head bridge.
At that time, Ojuelegba was referred to as centre of confusion, where lawlessness, pick pockets and all sorts of vices thrives, people were then advised in their own interest to avoid Ojuelegba.
Among the dangerous streets of Ojuelegba is the Anyilara which was aptly described as the prostitution haven.
One half of Ayilara cuts from the Lawanson road on the right to Clegg Street and Barracks end of the Western Avenue. The other side is the red light district.
Right from Ayilara bus stop, one would be harassed by the sight of ladies of different shapes and sizes beckoning for attention and patronage. The entire streets including the adjoining ones were usually lit with red bulbs with blaring sound of music especially lewd tunes. This side of the long street curves to the left to continue at the right, bursts out to Western Avenue bridge towards Ojuelegba, and ends directly opposite Abalti Barracks on Western Avenue.
In Ayilara, prostitutes from this street and environs made the area a perfect combination of entertainment and vices.
Also there is another section of Ojuelegba called, Texas, Texas is a place where marijuana popularly called ‘Igbo’ in Yoruba parlance, is freely smoked without disturbance from any security agents.
Investigation revealed that though this part of Ojuelegba is named after one of America states, but the business or trade that people plies in this area is quite different from what is obtainable in USA.
A source who did not want his name mentioned said, the patrons of those that sell and smoke in Ojuelegba’s Texas, are not limited to area boys or some members of transportation unions operating in and around the area, other patrons the source said also comes from both military and police formations around Ojuelegba.
The source said despite having patrons from the military and police formations around the place, men of Area ‘C’, Command, do come there to effect arrest, he however stated that this only happened when they did not ‘settled’ on time.
The source also stated that apart from the selling and smoking of marijuana and drinking of Paraga, ‘Ogogoro, Ale’ Opaehin,’ and others” the locally mixed gins, the patrons of the place also enjoy annual dance and musical jamboree, called ‘Texas Carnival’.
This carnival did not have a specific date or day, but its been celebrated on the date and day its organizer fit is the best.
In addition to Texas, there is another very notorious place in this area called the Empire, this is a very terrible and filthy slum, here you will encounter half naked women (some with children), smoking, Some in their bra/t-shirt and shorts, some tie wrappers around their bodies, or some other form of clothing that reveals they have nothing else underneath. Here also you see hardened looking men, and boys, touts, Agberos with tattooed arms and bodies; and smell of cannabis oozing out left, right and centre.
Some of the boys at night also act as agents asking people passing who they suspect need something which one they want, woman or drugs, may be they get their commission for bringing customers or are paid with some free rounds of sex or drugs to sniff as the case maybe.
But today, the nuisance and much of the activities that Ojuelegba was known for is gradually changing for the better, most of the hotels and joints have all given way to market and shops, most of the things that made Ojuelegba thick in the past have all given way for modernization and development. A visit to Ojuelegba showed the place bubbling with commercial activities, with some big transport companies using the area as their loading bay to different parts of the country, while the popular Lagos yellow buses also load from there to other locations within the state.
A visit to one of the popular streets, Clegg showed a calm place that is mostly used by traders selling spare parts and stationeries and the tenants who live behind the streets going about their normal businesses.
One of the trader who identified himself as Udemezue explained that the chaotic situation that characterized Ojuelegba as a very dangerous place is gradually changing and given way to commerce which is the main thing now.
According to him, “you can look around, nobody will harass you for anything, we do our normal business and retire when is late to our homes. Most of us that have shops here do not know much of what happens at night here, but others who live around here said the Ojuelegba of today is totally different from that of the last 20 to 30 years.
Though you will still see flashes of that ugly past as pick pockets, area boys and prostitutes will never cease to exist here based on the busy nature of the area. Though we advise our customers to be careful as some people you see moving about here are also looking for their daily bread in your pockets.”
“The prostitutes are still here as the same everywhere but not like it was in the 80’s here. If you still want to see them, they are there doing their business in a more decent manner, though there is no decency in the business of prostitution, but not like in the past where they hustle for customers and in the process harass decent people. They are not brash and fearless like before, they are more civil in their approach now. The prostitutes still do their business as usual with many customers who patronize them, but much of criminality like selling of drugs, bag snatching have all reduced to the barest minimum. Former Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fahola lighted up the under bridge here and there is no more hiding place for the criminals or the prostitutes who may want to use the under bridge to do quick action” he said.
Sometimes the traffic situation around Ojuelegba is a bit hectic, even late in the night; but one can still find his way home as buses are always available to different locations in town.
Curious to know what the place looked like in the late evening, our correspondent decided to make a stopover at Ojuelegba by 10.30 pm, the place was calm and cool, with little presence, mostly for the petty traders, the Agberos, Danfo drivers, their conductors hustling for passengers and the passengers trooping in from different locations to board a connecting bus to their areas. Though these cannot be said of the inner streets and areas like Texas , Empire and few others as any attempt to do that, as they say here, ‘you are on your own’.
Today, Ojuelegba is a totally different place from what it used to be in the past, commercial activities has gradually taking over from the thriving prostitution business, drug, crime and all sorts of vices. Today, places that used to serve as hotels and night clubs have been taken over by churches, spare parts, boutique stores, Stationery stores and others. What makes the place thick in the past is not the booming thing now, though the prostitutes are still there to attend to those that need their services, but the level of harassment has now given way to a decent style of marketing and hustling. The drug peddlers have reduced in number due to constant harassment by the operatives of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency.
Though the place is still a very busy place, but its notoriety has given way to more decent ways of life.
Ojuelegba of today is now a sharp contrast to the notorious Ojuelebga of the past, although some dark spots still exist.
Published in Nigerian Pilot Newspapers.