Ibadan: Free at Last, Free at Last, Thank God Almighty!

by Sheyi Oriade

Ibadan, that rustic and sprawling metropolis whose core essence was so vividly and so beautifully captured by that notable poet, John Pepper Clark, in his excellent poem ‘Ibadan’ in which he describes it as a:

“running splash of rust/and gold – flung and scattered/among seven hills like broken/china in the sun.”

One has to live or have lived in Ibadan or have undertaken a virtual trip on ‘Google Earth’ to appreciate the magical imagery conveyed by Pepper Clark’s words. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then Clark’s poetic words are worth a thousand images. Ibadan is a sleepy city and home to over a million residents. It is the same yesterday, today, and I suspect forever.

Ibadan is also famous. It is the home of a number of impressive historic pioneering developments. It is the home of Nigeria’s first university; it is home to Africa’s first television station; it is home to Nigeria’s first Olympic sized stadium; and also home to Nigeria’s first skyscraper – Cocoa House; and it was home to the first Nigerian football club side to win a continental trophy; my beloved IICC Shooting Stars of yore.

But in recent years, Ibadan was forced to exchange its national pride of place for national notoriety. It became a national template for political thuggery and geriatric rascality. A city, which so often in its past, embraced the political genius of one man – Chief Obafemi Awolowo – reaping in the process, the rich benefits of his brilliant ideas; ideas which elevated it above many other Nigerian cities; but this city was to find itself in the vise-like grip of another man; one not so benevolent nor anywhere near as intelligent as the late sage.

For much of the duration of Nigeria’s present experiment with representative government, the teeming multitudes of Ibadan have found themselves tossed back and forth between the emotions of hopelessness, helplessness, and collective embarrassment, as one of Ibadan’s titled sons pursued his nefarious reign of terror in untrammeled fashion.

His unpleasant activities ensured that the people of Ibadan became the butt of the mirth and taunts of their fellow citizens across the country who parodied and ridiculed their predicament at the hands of one their own. One could hardly blame their mockers. For not even the light of Ibadan’s premier educational institution was sufficient to extinguish the long and ominous shadow cast across the land by their merciless overlord. It was not a pleasant time to be an inhabitant of Ibadan.

Until he expired some days ago, Chief Lamidi Adedibu was the generalissimo of Ibadan. He was a well accomplished sub-urban guerrilla. He was also an ‘amalakite’ (not to be confused with the biblical ‘amalekites’) in the truest sense of the term. He was a semi-illiterate; one who was neither fully illiterate nor fully literate; rather he occupied that twilight zone which straddles the boundaries between literacy and illiteracy; that dangerous void that befuddles the minds of men. Although he was not lettered in a formal way, he was able to circumvent, almost at will, the effective workings of complex formal political processes in Oyo State through his machete driven zeal. But what he clearly lacked in formal instruction, he amply compensated for in his stock of native intelligence.

Given his nativity and background, one would not ordinarily have had him down as a natural leader of men. He was no orator, neither was he particularly charismatic. In appearance he was largely unprepossessing; his face in design and aspect was an embroidered tapestry – burrowed and furrowed – by exquisite tribal marks. Or should I say, in keeping with the times, high-tech bio-metric facial recognition digital barcodes.

But what he had going for him was a keen awareness of his environment and the fact that there was a ready market for his kind in Ibadan. There were legions of base men waiting to be led or misled depending on what suited their master’s purposes. His mobilisation methodology and techniques were not new; they have been tried and tested to varying degrees of success in many other societies.

One can be forgiven for thinking that his supremacy of thuggery in Ibadan was always the case. It was not. For before him there was the redoubtable Chief Busari Adelakun. Ibadan has a way of producing these types. Chief Adelakun was of a different order to Chief Adedibu. He was an African scientist. While Chief Adedibu placed his faith in touts and machetes; Chief Adelakun’s resources were of an invisible nature. He was expert at ‘remote control’ technology, a function which he used to dispatch opponents to the great beyond. During his reign over Ibadan Chief Adedibu restricted his outings to cameo appearances, never daring to step on Chief Adelakun’s toes.

One such cameo appearance of his occurred in the early 1980s when the then president of Nigeria, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, paid an official visit to Oyo State. To mark his visit, a civic reception was held in his honour at Mapo Hall. On his way to the venue, the then president was both amused and bemused to discover that his motorcade was being ushered on its way by a man clad in a danshiki and not much else brandishing a machete imperiously. It was Chief Adedibu’s finest moment; in fact, it was a Kodak moment. In that instant, it became clear to discerning observers that his eventual dominance of Ibadan street politics was only a matter of time.

Now that the forces of nature have dispatched him to the other side, it is hoped that Ibadan will begin to enjoy some of the peace that has eluded it for many years and hopefully it will be of a sustainable nature. The present Olubadan of Ibadan has since his ascension to the throne, busied himself with efforts to restore peace and normalcy to his city; he is to be commended for his kingly efforts. The politicians of Ibadan must follow his lead in restoring peace and order to their city.

Nature never permits a vacuum. And there is likely to be someone waiting in the wings or lurking in the shadows to fill Chief Adedibu’s shoes. Rumours about his ill-health had persisted for some months, and those nearest to him, must have realised that he was near death’s door. So there may have been a passing of the baton or of the machete of leadership to someone within his ranks. But somehow, I doubt that he had the sophistication to have had a succession plan. So, I hope the government has the presence of mind, to dismantle with dispatch, his various commanderies spread across Ibadan to prevent any successor from emerging. Whatever vacuum exists must be filled by legally constituted authorities.

At least, the residents of Ibadan can now heave a collective sigh of relief and sleep easy at night. Perhaps the more enlightened sons and daughters of Ibadan will come down from their lofty perches and study carefully Chief Adedibu’s methods of mobilisation, and cater for, and to, the needs of those louts and touts who were submitted to his leadership.

For those of us who retain pleasant memories of our time in Ibadan, we hope that it never again has to endure the sort of experience that it has over the past number of years.

As for Chief Lamidi Adedibu, the patron saint of thugs and doyen of Motor Park touts, I wish, in the spirit of graciousness, that his soul is able to achieve the peace that he so cruelly denied others during his time on earth.

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