Ibadan has a special quality which makes it conducive to intellectual and artistic production. It is a big city like Lagos but, unlike Lagos which is chaos running on crack, it is sufficiently laid-back. Consequently, the city’s rhythm is amenable to reflective activity. And don’t forget that the city began as a war camp so Ibadan has always been a city of immigrants, a legacy which makes it welcoming to newcomers till date. It also has a vibrant, affordable and unpretentious social life; the history of highlife, fuji, juju, gospel and many other genres of music in Nigeria cannot be written without highlighting the importance of Ibadan’s bars, clubs and open-air joints to the artistic development of their major acts. And the city has long hosted the headquarters of most of Nigeria’s major publishing houses.
Add to this mix the city’s juxtaposition of age-long cultural traditions and contemporary urban culture, its easy accommodation of the significant percentage of Nigeria’s academic elite based in the University of Ibadan, University College Hospital (UCH) and the Bodija area alongside the artisans and petty traders living in the city’s interior quarters, not to talk of the colourful and controversial characters who have illuminated the city’s fascinating and occasional combustible political history, and one begins to understand why the city has been so prominent in Nigeria’s literary history. The prestigious line of writers with significant connections to Ibadan stretches from illustrious names like Amos Tutuola, Wole Soyinka, Christopher Okigbo, Chinua Achebe and J.P. Clark Bekederomo in the 1950s and 60s to vibrant voices of the present like Kunle Okesipe, Niran Okewole, Benson Eluma, Ayo Olofintuade, Tade Ipadeola and Ify Omalicha of blessed memory.
From my recent interview with Rotimi Babatunde, winner of the 2012 Caine Prize for African Writing. Full interview here.