From the top of the fly-over, your eyes are immediately confronted by the striking sight. On both sides of the expressway, you cannot but notice the grotesque scenery. A sea of human heads flowing everywhere yet seemingly heading for nowhere. An incredibly thick mass of mostly commercial molue and danfo buses coated in yellow and black, some moving, some static, all with no apparent destination. And you are astounded. An all morning downpour which totally paralyzed commercial activities in Lagos is just subsiding, and you never thought this whole place would have been invaded by such a thick throng of men and machine. But at Oshodi, Nigeria’s capital of chaos, nothing is impossible.
Along the narrow, winding, pothole-ridden access road linking Oshodi-Oke with the Mushin end of the Agege Motor Road, (by your left, on your way to Isolo), lies an odious mound of refuse. Already thoroughly drenched by the rain, the heap disgorges a blackish brook that snakes downhill into a large puddle beside the row of public toilets. Just outside the toilets, three rough-looking youths puff away on marijuana, unperturbed by the human traffic beside them. A few metres away, a couple of men, apparently at home with the stench and the smoke, hawk their wares to passers-by. They are however mostly ignored by the crowd who cannot conceal their haste to get out of the repulsive environment.
A little down the road is the Ikeja-Maryland, Itire, and Wewe-Chemist Park. But this morning, the park has been deserted by both passengers and buses. A few men attempt a short cut by climbing to the expressway. That ambition is however checkmated by the slippery earth. But on the other side of the road, trading thrives in spite of the slush. Assorted kinds of second-hand clothing, called tokunbo in local parlance, are on display. So also are shoes, bags, belts and the like. A danfo bus, speeding with utmost recklessness, with its conductor yelling “Mushin o! Mushin o!” suddenly emerges from nowhere, sending everyone scampering for safety. In the ensuing confusion, a well-dressed lady, cute in a pink skirt suit, bag and shoes and a pair of brown sunglasses, has her shoes smeared by a hurrying, elderly man who ignores the invectives showered on him by the angry lady. But just then, two danfo buses struggling for passengers and both at top speed, splash a copious dose of mire on the lady. And as the lady looks herself over, embarrassment, regret and hate fully inscribed on her face, no one pays her any attention. For in Oshodi, it is everyone for himself, especially on a rainy day.
On the other side of the dual carriageway is an atmosphere of chaos. Conductors and drivers of the several danfo buses yell their various destinations in coarse voices. People heading towards Mile 2, Airport Road, and Cele-Ijesha areas battle to board the buses. The vehicles never really wait for people to fully board before starting off again. Other commuters, curious for information, besiege vendors displaying newspapers and magazines beside the road for some free scan through the front pages. Men roll up their trousers from the ankle to the calf to guard against being soiled by the scurrying commuters and vehicles.
But you can hardly escape being soiled as you descend into the Ikotun-Isolo-Apapa Park. Here, the molues are arranged in a riotous fashion inside the muddy park. Social miscreants, popularly known as area boys, loiter around, collecting various fees from the drivers in the full glare of policemen. Some are even said be middlemen who collect graft, commonly called egunje, from the drivers for onward transmission to the cops. The ground is wet and slippery, even as a thick whiff of hemp fills the air. Yet, commuters violently battle to board the buses.
The access road to Agege Motor Road and the Mosafejo market is even worse. Here, several gullies in the middle of the road have metamorphosed into miniature ponds. The mud mingles with the ponds, turning the entire once-tarred road into a stretch of slushy lake. Yet, left with little alternative, scores of individuals create a way inside the pool. The only available narrow path has since been taken over by a horde of traders, creating no room for pedestrians.
Inside this marshy terrain, an old, fellow advertises some curious native concoction awkwardly packed in rough paper. The medicine, boasts the man in Yoruba, can cure all manners of maladies ranging from pile to stomach pains to backaches. Dressed in a fading ankara buba and sokoto, the man, whose leather bag containing his merchandise has seen better days, appears to be a popular figure among the Igbo traders who perpetually hail him as “baba Egba”. He sings, he dances and engages in other theatrics to advertise his products, even as his brown slippers continually splash mud on his clothes which has been soaked by the morning rain.
The road to Oshodi from Ikeja is not an entirely chaotic adventure. But all that stops as soon as you get to Alasia, near Bolade bus stop. Here, more than half of the expansive highway has been totally blocked by sellers of diverse kinds of articles. Motorists going towards Ikeja, Abule Egba Agege and Sango are subjected to a hectic time as they meander their vehicles through the stubborn crowd and the puddles on the road.
To the right, a perennial breeze of confusion grips the whole environment. Everywhere is thronged by a seemingly insane crowd of human beings. Sellers of various items struggle to outdo one another in the shouting match. And in the deep channel behind them, the fast moving flood roars, its noise blending in a non-rhythmic mix with Alabi Pasuma’s fuji music blaring from the loudspeakers of a nearby D.J’s shop. Male sellers of second hand female panties, bras, top bras underskirts and short skirts arrange them on thick, lengthy nylon sheets spread on the muddy ground in the middle of the highway. The traffic jam is heavy, and humans and vehicles bump into one another with considerable ease. Just beside the traders is a large refuse heap. Disused nylon bags, black cellophane bags, ramshackle baskets, papers drenched in the puddle and such stuff on the refuse heap all combine to present a repugnant, squalid sight. The sellers are however not bothered as they chatter and idle about, beckoning on passers-by to purchase their wares.
The median is given no respite, as it also serves as a long open space for sellers of various articles ranging from matches to pens and such articles. Vegetables, fruits, locally bottled limejuice, ginger, all fresh and green, easily catch your attention. But the entire area is a long stretch of hideous filth compounded by the just subsided rain. And this discourages buyers.
But not all. A tall, dark-complexioned man in grey jacket, black tee shirt and trousers, his blue canvas shoes almost totally soiled by the mud, purchases some apples from one of the fruit sellers. He pays the seller, bites an ample chunk, chews and swallows. He then violently clears his throat, draws the mucus from his nostrils and vigorously spits out the phlegm, mixed with bits of chewed apple, right on top of the filth-mound beside the seller’s table. He then leaves the scene without collecting his change. And the delighted woman, stunned at this uncommon display of inadvertent benevolence, watches the buyer disappear into the crowd. But her joy is short-lived. For the buyer soon returns. And in a tone full of undisguised wrath, he thoroughly tongue-lashes the seller for the open robbery. The woman however fights back. “Frustrated old fool, next time, leave your frustrations at home whenever you are coming to buy something or to meet people. Olosi!” she curses in Yoruba, to the admiration of her equally crude co-sellers who applaud her brave display.
The eardrums are mercilessly assailed by an unending, wild clatter coming from everywhere. In the midst of the commotion, a middle-aged man in a weather-beaten old Datsun car advertises some herbal products via a public address system mounted on the car. In a persuasive tone, he recommends the drug for every man. The drug, he says, will give every male the necessary energy to fulfil his marital responsibilities. He even counsels the women to purchase some for their husbands. “Don’t allow your wife to take what rightly belongs to you to another man. Come and pick up an envelope. It’s 20 naira per one. Three will cost you 50 naira”. The curious reporter moves nearer to have a glimpse of the ‘wonder’ drug. But he soon retreats, as the old Datsun is packed right in the middle of a puddle. That does not discourage many men, however. Not a few besiege the vendor to partake of the cheap, yet ‘potent’ medicine.
A few metres away is the ‘stand’ of another native medicine man. This ‘doctor’ however cures only worms and other related ailment. According to him, virtually every disease afflicting man has a link with worms. In his opinion, a surfeit of worms in the body will eventually lead to all sorts of fever, including malaria, typhoid and even pile which he defines as the grandmother of all sexually transmitted diseases. He also engages in free sex counseling for youths. Many a youth cannot but stop and feed their eyes on the pictures of nude females with which he illustrates his points.
Disorder is the order of the day on both sides of the Agege Motor Road around Bolade bus stop. Drivers of molue and danfo buses, mostly adorned with pictures of Obesere, Pasuma, Daddy Showkey and other artistes indiscriminately stop their vehicles for passengers right in the middle of the highway, forcing the traffic to a total halt. Conductors of other buses will then unleash a hail of curses on the offending driver. It will take considerable courage for a first time visitor to stay long in this scene of riot and rot.
A tired looking traffic warden, more popular as yellow fever, stands helplessly in the middle of the rowdy road, his black raincoat dripping rain. On his dark, clean-shaven face is a perfect picture of utmost fatigue. He casts a disinterested look at the entire road and shakes his head in defeat. From the Agege end, several private and commercial vehicles jointly struggle to pass through the narrow portion left for motorists by traders who have taken over the whole highway just as vehicles on the access road from Oshodi-Oke face stiff opposition from both the traders and the gully-dotted road. And right before him, molue and danfo buses impatiently climb the median and turn back to the Ikeja side.
Under the flying over, half of the road has been blocked by buses and meat sellers. Conductors and drivers of Abeokuta-bound buses holler at the top of their voices, calling for passengers already scared away by the rain.
Yet the people still meander their way through the mud and the muck. The rails themselves are a horrifying picture of grime and slime. The tracks, almost totally submerged by water, has become a long thin pond housing several soaked sheets of paper, nylon bags, pure water bags, rotten pepper, tomatoes and assorted fruits and vegetables. Yet, not a few traders make brisk business selling food items right on the tracks. Yam, rice, beans, plantain, meat, fish, palmoil, egusi, eggs and sundry items jostle for space on the rail tracks. The rail tracks serve as their own ‘stand’. Once the approaching sound of a train is heard in the distance, the traders will hurriedly move their wares a few feet away from the tracks. And as soon as the train leaves, the wares are promptly moved onto the tracks again and business resumes.
By an alley at the back of the boisterous market sit a group of destitutes whose travails are multifarious. The blind, the deaf, the dumb, the cripple, all raise their voices in supplication to mostly unwilling benefactors, jingling their coins in a rhythmic manner.
Behind the beggars is the Obalende-Oyingbo Park. Here, danfo and molue buses, mostly old and tired-looking, must wade through the wide, flood-filled gully that passes as the road to cross to the other side. And as an Oyingbo-bound molue determinedly labours through the swamp, groaning and creaking, jerking and swaying from side to side as if it would lose its balance, you cannot but shake your head.
The pedestrian bridge at Oshodi-Isale is an eyesore. Almost always abandoned by its intended users who prefer the deadly dash on foot across the expressway, it has become another abode for destitutes. At its extreme end lies another refuse heap made more horrid by the recent rain. The beggars however seem contented with the squalor, mouthing asiri abo, sara tori Olorun to occasional passers-by.
Within Oshodi community, the picture is no different. The streets are rough and slimy, and potholes dotted every road. Brown Street presents a particularly arresting sight. Here, it is a life of perpetual motion. Danfo buses and humans both contest for the road, as everyone flees from the sloppy environment. Their woes are still compounded by traders who have made easy passage an impossible adventure. Banjoko and Araromi Streets are clearly avoided by motorists. A wise decision, as traders have taken up both streets.
Back on the flyover, on your way out of the chaos, your eyes are again confronted with the sight. You see the fluttering human figures, the grime and the slime, the mud and the muck, the clatter and the clutter, the riot and the rot, all presenting a grotesque, filthy picture of Oshodi on a rainy day.