• Thursday, February 22, 2024
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Streets of the Imagination


Without shame, I must admit, my heading is the title of a chapter in my Lagos book. It takes the reader down certain emblematic streets in this city, and, even on a brief visit, I craved a little more exploration. All cities have streets that burrow their way into the memories of those that use them. I once wrote in this column about walking along Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, visiting some of my favourite ports of call.

 I have developed an intense sense of place about some of the world’s memorable cities  – Paris, Cape Town or San Francisco – and Lagos, preponderantly a city for motor-cars, it repays those who capriciously decide to walk. That is why the admirable Legacy 1995 organisation, inspired by veteran of veterans John Godwin and his wife Jill still organises walks for the historically curious, mostly on Lagos Island, taking in Tinubu Square, Broad Street and surviving parts of the Brazilian quarter. The Godwins, incidentally, became Nigerian citizens a year ago, having lived in Lagos for 59 years.

 An Awolowo Road walk is a more unusual preference, but it is still something that has become a ritual for me deriving from the two years I lived in Lagos at the beginning of the new century. There is now a Protea Hotel between the Motor boat Club and the military hospital; and while boutiques and restaurant/cafes change, the Jazz Hole (for a coffee and banana cake with Kunle Tejuoso) is still an essential pilgrimage point. It was still a shock to see that the Falomo Shopping Centre, home of Quintessence and Glendora is being knocked down, to be replaced by a more up-market shopping mall with, I am told, apartments and offices. I had a sudden memory flash from the early 1970s of the sweaty old Cable Office, in the days when one still sent stories by press cables or telex. For reassurance I had to repair round the corner to Bogobiri Guest House, another of my sacred ports of call. Even there change strikes – the building that once housed the Nimbus gallery (another ‘haven’ from my book) has also been demolished. Since it had for years been a shell, with only the cement sculptures on the façade to remind one of past glories, it was hard to shed tears, except over the passage of time.

 Time’s erosions were even more apparent journeying to Yaba with Tunji Lardner, whose likewise-named father was Manager of Kakadu in its glory years, though bearing no resemblance to the symbolic character of Manager Lugard da Rocha in the show. Tunji is deeply emotional about the legacy of Kakadu, and has made a strong point that the large neon green parrot, which was what we would now call the club’s logo, should feature in the musical. Pausing outside No 287 Herbert Macaulay, the site of the original Kakadu  (it is now an unremarkable textile shop), he showed me the rung on which the sign hung, and the house next door where his family lived. It is now a Sweet Sensation fast food joint. But if they went in for memorial plaques in Lagos there should be one here.

 We then moved on past the Yaba Roundabout (a recognisable landmark from my very first visit to Lagos fifty years ago) to Ojuelegba, an unprepossessing crossroads nearby on at the beginning of Western Avenue, immortalised by Fela in his 1975 number Confusion. It is the site of the old Shrine and the Kalakuta Republic, and now you can see a primary school dedicated to the memory of Fela’s mother Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, fatally injured in the 1977 military destruction of Kalakuta. It is a routine Lagos traffic hot-spot and yet, because of its association with the world’s best-known Nigerian, it is hallowed ground. Maybe one day there will be memorial plaques and Legacy Walkabouts here.

 I had wanted to mention the Freedom Park, the cultural centre built on the site of the former federal prison in Broad Street, and now one of the city’s most attractive sanctuaries, where I took part in a memorable brainstorming about Lagos last March. Space, however, only permits me only to record that my last evening, partaking of chop and drinks with a group of Freedom Park habitués, we were distracted by a particularly boisterous group of eight or so at a nearly table. They were apparently arguing the pros and cons of another four years presidency for Goodluck Jonathan. Asked why so passionate, one of them responded: ”We are Nigerians. We argue.”

 I made a mistake last week – there were only two performances of Kakadu the Musical sponsored by Lagos State – the command performances on December 27 and January 4.  My apologies. Let me mention too that the Governor of Cross River State Liyel Imoke also sponsored the shows in Calabar in early December. Visits to other states are also anticipated, helping to keep up the show’s momentum.

By: Kaye Whiteman