TRAVEL: Navigating Ibadan early epicentre of Oke-Ado

A picture of Ibadan used to illustrated the story (Photo Credit: ICiR)
A picture of Ibadan used to illustrate the story (Photo Credit: ICiR)

Ibadan is fascinating. Its history, size, opulence and accommodating nature are enchanting and exciting. Ibadan prides itself as supporting non-indigenes to strive on their legitimate business. This is why non-indigenes are almost more than indigenes, expressed in that ancient saying, “Ibadan gba onile, o gba alejo.”

In the First Republic, a non-native and a thorough-bred Lagosian, J.M. Johnson (JMJ) was chairman of the Ibadan Municipal Council and also rose to become a Minister through Ibadan patronage.

Nnamdi Azikiwe could have been the first Premier of the Western Region but for the deft manoeuvring and political sagacity of the likes of Obafemi Awolowo. Ibadan, a city on seven hills, according to JP Clark, has Oke-Padre, Oke-Ado, Oke-Bola, Oke-Mapo, Oke-Aare, Oke-Sapati, Oke-Bioku. But Ibadan is not just a city of hills, nor a city of bottoms as its Idi-prefixes, literally contextualized, suggest some sexual innuendoes, but the actual translation indicates, that some of the “Idis” indicate how the settlers converged at a point, thereby leading to how they arrived at the names they are given. Prominent “Idis” in the city are, Idi-Arere, Idi-Ose, Idi-Ishin, Idi-Ape, Idi-Ayunre, Idi-Obi and Idi-ito. Apparently, more hills have grown since those ancient days.

From ancient myth comes a more striking account of the Ibadan stupendous growth. It is settled history that Lagelu, the Yoruba warlord and generalissimo, was its founder around 1829. Lagelu, upon his arrival in Ibadan, had summoned a babalawo (Ifa Priest) about the future of Ibadan.

Myth further added that at the throwing of Opele – the sacred nuts, the Ifa priests called for a sacrifice, among other items, 200 snails! When the snails were brought, the priest scattered them in various directions saying- “creep on as far as you can and that is as far as this town would also grow!” The snails, according to the myth, travelled far and wide, in multiple directions and that is why Ibadan has been expanding ever since! Lagelu’s 200 snails have not stopped their crawling.

Ibadan has then grown to become the third most populous city in Nigeria and hitherto, the most cosmopolitan city in Nigeria. It is interesting to note that out of the entire 3505Kms of narrow rail track roads in Nigeria, Ibadan alone has 42KMs of rail track roads from Omi Adio to Lalupon. Ibadan!

However, of the seven hills, Oke-Ado and Oke-Bola are very interesting, picturesque and distinguished, despite the fact that they have no noticeable hills. Oke-Ado was the original home of the Ado family. Ado migrated from Eje’s compound in Oyo town. He was a famous, brave and courageous warrior who had initially settled with Afokolaja – shortened to ‘Foko, another notable Ibadan warrior. Oke-Bola was the settlement of the Bola family. Oke-Ado and Oke-Bola are however almost inseparable. It is not out of place to state that Obafemi Awolowo, the former Premier of the Western Region, who had lived in Ibadan since 1927, was Oke-Bola’s prominent tenant and later landlord. Awolowo navigated his route to Oke-Bola, through his vendor – Megida Abass Aleshinloye.

Oke-Ado is the home of the first set of indigenous intelligentsia – the men and women who would eventually shape the cause of Nigeria’s history, be it as academics, politicians, business persons and administrative elites. As a result of these vantage positions, Oke-Ado consumed its lesser mortals of Oke-Bola and Molete, into little significance.

Oke-Ado, popularly referred as Titi Oke-Ado, is better appreciated when you enter the road from its very first beginning; i.e. from the Ibadan railway station, that started to function in 1901, to the under bridge of Molete. Titi Oke-Ado can easily be divided into three chunks or laps, the first noticeable lap or chunk is the one from the railway station to the Oke-Bola end, at the Cathedral Church of Saint James’ Oke-Bola, which was established in 1860, terminating at the house of Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the second chunk, the main Oke-Ado, up to the Saint Theresa’s College and Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church, and the other chunk from the UMC College, terminating at the popular Molete Roundabout.

In those good old days, nobody thought about the three chunks. It was simply Titi Oke-Ado, with noticeable landmarks to show how far one had gone on the Titi Oke-Ado. From this long stretch, a number of prominent roads and streets also veered off the Titi Oke-Ado – the Agbeni/Ogunpa Junction, the Seventh Day Junction, the Foko Junction, the Liberty Junction, the Ajanla Road, the Osasami Junction, the Imalefalafia Junction, the Peoples’ Girls’ Grammar School street, and so many other streets that took their prominence from the Titi Oke-Ado. It was Ibadan’s epicentre.

When you enter Titi Oke-Ado from the railways, you will be intimidated by the enchanting sight of the 25 storey Cococa House, then known as Ile Awon Agbe – the first skyscraper in Nigeria, completed in 1965, at a height of 105 metres. It was built from the proceeds from commodities – cocoa, rubber and timber, without any federal allocation or money. It was once the tallest building in tropical Africa.

Then the ancient homes of the Syrians and Lebanese. i.e. the Assad, Zard, the Moukarim, the J. Allens, the Gamras and their Cocoa stores, warehouses and showrooms, which made the place Ibadan business nerve-centre and commercial hub. The hub takes you to the popular Kingsway Stores, Leventis Stores, the popular Gbagi market, the Barclays Bank – now Union Bank, the rotund Standard Bank – now First Bank, the Cooperative Bank, the Radio Nigeria, PZ and John Holt. Natives and non-natives thrived, without let or hindrance. On this popular road, noticeably, you would find the Fagboun Tailors, the Baptist Book Stores, the Ayeni Rational Book Stores, and the Waateco motor company of Okunade Sijuade and S.L Durosaro, importing Russian vehicles with office at the Junction of the popular Agbeni-Ogunpa road which had been the former home of the Saint James’ Cathedral, before it moved to the popular Oke-Bola road.

Titi Oke-Ado bustled with life, commerce and entrepreneurship. Before the house of Chief Obafemi Awolowo was the Saint James Cemetery and then, was the house of Ibadan’s foremost educationist, Pa T.L Oyesina, who was the proprietor of Ibadan Boys High School, beside the home of Chief Awolowo and also Ibadan City Academy, Eleta. In the belly of Oke-Ado was the Palm Tree Club, almost opposite the Odeon Cinema and also the Rex Cinema which kept Oke-Ado bubbling.

Shortly before the Odeon Cinema was the Seven Sisters Club and the Independence Club. There was the home of the Rosijis, almost opposite the Awolowo’s House and the now popular Odusote Bookshop. In Oke-Ado was also the popular Oruwariye hospital and Dr. Akerele’s clinic. Fountain photo on the Titi Oke-Ado also stood in prominence with the Crosby Photo at Ekotedo and the Born Photo at Foko.

There was also the popular Sabasaba Restaurant of Dr. Lekan Aare that was the precursor of the now famous Kankanfo Inn. Apart from prominent hospitals, Oke-Ado was also the fleet street of legal practice in Ibadan which had the law firms of Awolowo, Akerele and Co, i.e. the law firm of Obafemi Awolowo and Abiodun Akerele; Bola Babalakin and Co, Olu Ayoola and Co, Duro Ogundiran and Co, Rosiji and Co, Ogunkeye and Co and a host of other legal titans.

Many entrepreneurs thrived on this popular road. There was a popular Ogunkoya Stores, the Osibodu’s house, the Rab and Lally Chemist of the Irabors, the Toye Chemist, the Palm Chemist of the Akinkugbes, Mama Oyin Adenuga Stores – the mother of the communication guru – Michael Adenuga, behind Dr. Doherty’s hospital, which was also close to the Owuru family house, the Ladega family house. Ladega later became the Ayangburen of Ikorodu. Not very far was the home of Rev.T.T. Solaru whose wife was the leader of the Action Group Women Association.

There was also the popular Oni and Sons, home of the Ibadan construction giant, whom the Ibadan people gave the name, Oni and Shuns which derogatively became “Oniosunwon.”

Oni and Sons employed so many Ibadan people who were eagerly looking for employment in the construction firm and the name was further embellished to mean “Oni o shun won, owo owo e la nwa” (Oni is not good, it is his money we are after.)

Oke-Ado was where the noveaux riches who arrived with independence lived, before the advent of Bodija Estate, which only came into being in 1958. Oke-Ado was the homes of Akin Deko, S.A Tinubu of Iresi, Justice Morgan, Chief Justice of the Western Region, who succeeded the Ghanaian QuarshieIdun as Chief Justice, Justice Olujide Somolu, who was Chief Awolowo’s best man in 1937, Daniel Olorunfemi Fagunwa on Ajanla street, Amos Tutuola, author of the Palm Wine Drinkard, the Otudekos, the Craigs, the Italian Construction firm of L. Dalberto, the home of popular textile trader and woman activist, Alhaja Humoani Alaga, built in 1951, Bola Babalakin, Ososami, Bola Ige, Chief Isamotu Ashiru, who built his first house in Oke-Ado in 1946, Victor and Wuraola Esan, Omololu Olunloyo, Duro Ogundiran and a host of others.

Victor Esan was one of Ibadan’s early lawyers, while his wife, Wuraola Esan was the founder of the People’s Girls’ Grammar School, Molete and Ibadan’s first woman senator.

At the frontage of Olunloyo’s house was the popular Emperor hotel. Oke-Ado was also the theatre of politics in the Western Region. After all, the headquarters of the Action Group Party was in Oke-Ado and it was in Oke-Ado that the 66 members of the House of Assembly, out of the 112 members, had passed a vote of no confidence on the Premier of the Western Region – SLA Akintola, which was to be concretized by the parliament, through a vote of no confidence.

At the Oke-Ado Party office of the Action Group, consequent upon the Action Group crisis that erupted from their Jos Conference of February 1962, both Awolowo and Akintola had appeared before the NEC of the party in Oke-Ado, to state their positions. Mock coffins of the two leaders from party supporters from either divides were taken to the Oke-Ado A.G. Party secretariat, with various songs like “Akintola o se Pa, Akintola o se pa, eyin te p’etepero, tee pa Adelabu, Akintola o see pa” meaning, Akintola cannot be killed. Those of you who conspired to kill Adelabu, Akintola cannot be killed, whilst the other group eulogized the attainments and political sagacity of Awolowo thus: Awolowo, Baba Layinka, maa ba ise re lo. (Awolowo, the father of Layinka, continue with your good works). Awolowo was Baba Layinka, Akintola was Baba Lamilami. Interestingly, they both had no children bearing such names.

Oke-Ado was a beehive. Streets branched off from Titi Oke-Ado, taking you to the famous Liberty Stadium, patterned after the popular Wembley Stadium in London. This 25,000 capacity stadium and the first stadium to be built in Africa, was officially opened in 1960 and also built in Awolowo’s tenure as the Premier of the Western Region. Oke-Ado also has a famous Lodge house that was meant for the members of the Ogboni Confraternity, with its imposing, esoteric and frightening emblem and its popular neighbour, was the UMC – Women’s Teacher Training College, now a girls’ secondary school, from where you enter the third chunk of Titi Oke-Ado- Molete.

Molete, was said to have been a shortened form of “Omoletege” which was the description given to a mad woman, who used to inhabit a spot- around a now famous roundabout, over which a fly-over now runs. What was found interesting about her was her neatness. The mad woman’s rags were said to be uniquely neat and her environment and surroundings were always spotless and radiant. She washed daily and kept her environment beautifully clean, hence the name- “Omoletege” which later gave the area the name, Molete.

Going back to the beginning of Titi Oke-Ado, from the Ibadan railways, one would still remember with relish the famous Metro Hotel, just at the entrance of the Ososami Road, where Idowu Animasaun, Prince Adekunle, and Captain Jide Ojo played and moving further down, the famous Paradise Hotel, where the late Eddie Okonta played every night and the Black Morocco’s night club at Oke-Bola where Buffalo Kid played. The Oke-Ado Jazz club was also nearby. Interestingly, Paradise Hotel has given way to the now famous Femi Johnson Broking house.

Oke-Ado prospered the Ibadan literary world through its famous rendezvous, the Mbari Mbayo Club and also, through its members, the likes of Ulli Biere (its moving spirit) with Wole Soyinka, Amos Tutuola, D.O Fagunwa, Yetunde Esan(later Mrs. Omisade,) J.P Clark, Demas Nwoko and a host of others frequented.

The Mbari Club provided a very warm and succinct environment for writers and artists to discuss the art over a few drinks and more often than not, the discussions moved to homes of writers living within the precincts of Oke-Ado like Mabel Segun, now Mrs. Imoukhuede, the 1960 mast, the Ibadan Players of the Dawn group of Femi Johnson, Christopher Kolade, Segun Olusola, Yemi Lidaju, Sola Rhodes, Ibidun Allison, Wale Ogunyemi and the likes, who gravitated within the ambits of Oke-Ado. Mabel’s home at Oke-Ado was writers midnight hangout.

To appreciate Oke-Ado better, let us take the road again in circumlocution. From the Molete chunk whose major beginning was the home of the Ibadan stormy petrel, Lamidi Adedibu, almost overlooking the private property of Chief Mrs. HID Awolowo and the Rosiji Plaza and shortly thereafter, you will see the road welcoming you to imalefalafia, home of the popular Tribune Newspapers stables and later thereafter, you meet the Oke-Ado market, overlooking Foko, before hitting the party secretariat of the Action Group and later, the Sharp Corner Junction, where Pa Ogunsola, the Private Secretary of Premier S.L.A Akintola, lived.

But like all mortals and their environments, Titi Oke-Ado has mellowed down to commerce and no longer is its power, prominence, strength and ubiquitousness. Titi Oke-Ado was once luscious, bubbling and green like a lady just coming out of puberty. Oke-Ado road, in its unending metaphor, writes its own history and footprints of forgotten seasons. Titi Oke-Ado leaves a present that is almost completely at variance with her past.

The story of Oke-Ado is the story of Ibadan’s rich history and cosmopolitanism as the largest traditional town in black Africa. Whilst Lagos may be quick-tempered, Ibadan is always all peace, elegant and calm. Despite the near miss of its essence by the contemporary world and complete overwhelm of its abode by numerous petrol stations, car dealers garages displaying Tokunbo vehicles, Titi Oke-Ado still remains a beautiful bride awaiting a new courtship.

*Femi Kehinde is an Attorney-at-law and former Member, House of Representatives representing Ayedire/Iwo/Ola-Oluwa Federal Constituency of Osun State, (1999-2003).

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