There’s a reason, I assume, why the midwest United States appeals more to me – of all the regions in the country – than places like the coast, for instance. True, New York City and California are dream destinations for the amount of fun and activities that they pack. What I’ve heard about them, however, in terms of serenity and the freedom to pursue contemplative vocations, aren’t encouraging. I could be wrong, of course.
In any case, living in Edwardsville and Glen Carbon (both in Southern Illinois) accustomed me to a certain standard of serenity that I haven’t found anywhere else. Not in Lagos, anyway, where the drag of motor traffic coupled with the bustle of daily rituals combine with noise, filth, and other minor indignities to distract a questing mind. The nearest open park I’ve been in in Lagos is the Lekki Conservation Plaza which, as good as it is, still leaves much to be desired. Terrible walking planks, poor labelling, and a general poverty of ideas regarding the management and purpose of the establishment. Still, it’s a great respite for the concrete jungle that Lagos is. There are other great places in Lagos, of course, but they are not open, public, parks with affordable access to families and chasers of serenity. (Sure, Tinubu Square is better looking now than it used to be. Bridges and other public places have been fixed up by the APC-led administration in Lagos. But for a city with so many people and such busy and hardworking people, more avenues for relaxation is needed. If you want to relax in Lagos, and you have some money, go to Inagbe Resorts).
Enter Ibadan, a town that has always been equally notorious, equally famous for both its serenity and its capacity for turmoil and mischief. On the mischief side, the republican town has been quoted in almost all the political turmoils of note in Nigeria, from the Wild West 1965 crises to the Adedibu imperial areaboyship of the early 2000s. Notably, the state has never reelected a governor. Ever. (Edit 2015: This changed lately. Ajimobi earlier this year became the first governor to be re-elected). Every election season is a battle, and it always leads to the defeat of the incumbent. For me, more than being my home, Ibadan is also a getaway location for serenity after months in the jungle that is Lagos. Unfortunately, the typical rap that the town gets – especially as relates to its uneducated populace – manages to get more airplay than its reputation as a destination for serenity and intellection. Go to Linda Ikeji’s Blog, Nigeria’s most popular gossip blog, and the most popular post relating to Ibadan is likely to relate to a crowd at the opening of a Mall or a decrepit arrival lounge at it’s local airport. For some reason not far from mischief, it has always been better to laugh at Ibadan for its inadequacies than to celebrate its distinctiveness.
I can say, from other experiences, that I’ve found many more rare books in bookshops in Ibadan than anywhere else around the country. Today’s steal are “An Overview of the English Language in Nigeria” by Ayo Banjo, and “Iwe Itan Ibadan ati Die Ninu Awon Ilu Agbegbe Re Bi Iwo, Osogbo ati Ikirun” by Oba B. Akinyele (Olubadan of Ibadan from 1955 to 1964). Books are not the only things that make the town a premier in innovation (The University of Ibadan, founded in 1948, is the first university in the country, and the television station, WTNV – later NTA – founded in 1959, is the first on the continent), its spacial peculiarity (it’s the largest city in West Africa) and it’s intellectual pedigree in the Nigerian space (produced Soyinka, Achebe, Clarke, etc) makes it the most natural claimant to the role as a significant watering hole.
That said, this post, is about a new discovery in Ibadan: the Agodi Gardens. It’s not a new place, of course, but it has now been newly renovated by the current administration and made conducive for visitation and contemplation. It was never always like this. Like the Trans Amusement Park and the University Zoo inside the University of Ibadan, the Gardens used to be an eyesore. But unlike the earlier two, this one has been diligently fixed up to be just as good as any community/city park in anywhere in the world. The following is true: if someone else had taken the following pictures, I could have been confused as to where they were taken: Illinois or Ibadan. That’s quite impressive, but it shouldn’t be. We have the resources. Let’s hope that the administration of the state continues to use public funds for more public good of this kind. And, to temper the enthusiasm a little bit, the zoo ensconced in the Gardens is still terrible looking. Hope that this gets a similarly impressive upgrade to a standard worthy of such an important city.