The road to Ajegunle is rough. On this hot Lagos noonday the rickety, overcrowded kombi bus takes almost an eternity to get to Boundary Bus-Stop, the bustling gateway into Nigeria’s most celebrated slum.
Another ride, this time on the ubiquitous motorcycle, alias “Okada”, takes one into all the nooks and crannies of the shanty town that evidently lives up to its nickname: “Jungle City”. At the very busy Orodu Street, an odd spectacle arrests all attention. A tall drunken man is staggering on the very centre of the road and all the buses, cabs and motorcycles were mightily dodging him!
A closer inspection of the drunk reveals a wounding truth: the fellow is from my hometown in faraway Anambra State, a man I know only too well, the son of Fara! Welcome to Ajegunle where everything is possible…
Away from the drunk and his wobble, in an open ground amid the jumble of churches and mosques and brothels, a group of bare-bodied teenagers are engaged in a pulsating game of football.
The goalposts are formed with stones, and there is a heated argument over whether to allow as a goal a shot that flew past the stone. The argument results in fisticuffs and then an elderly man watching from a corner walks into the group to settle the matter. The game continues. A pint-sized boy of about 12 gets a pass, dribbles nearly all the players of the opposing team and scores.
“Okocha! Okocha!” the motley crowd intone, saluting the skill of the lad who had taken after the former Super Eagles skipper Austin ‘Jay-Jay’ Okocha.
The dream of nearly every child you meet in Ajegunle is to be a star: in football, in music, comedy, show business.
According to Daddy Showkey, the musician who is arguably the greatest export out of Ajegunle, “In Ajegunle, you choose what you want to be yourself: a gunman, or you want to be a footballer, a musician, or anything you want.”
Daddy Showkey’s original name was John Odafe Asiemo. A very poor kid indeed, he had a rough childhood in what he calls “the roughest neighbourhood, the strongest neighbourhood, the toughest neighbourhood in the world. That is Ajegunle.”
His father died when he was only nine. His hapless mother had to face up to the daunting task of bringing up the five children of the marriage, all boys. He became a street hustler, selling stolen goods and was once shot for his efforts.
The reality that he came from Ajegunle denied him legitimate jobs as all the boys from the neighbourhood were looked at with suspicion.
He even suffered the indignity of being accused of stealing a dog when he applied to a security company to work as a guard. He was taken to the police station, and when he was told that he had stolen a German Shepherd he taught they were accusing him of stealing a white man from Germany!
He was a street entertainer par excellence, performing all over Ajegunle as an acrobat, a boxer, an actor, as a comic, dancer and then singer. It was against this background of street entertainment that he got the nickname “Show Kid”. He would modify the name to Showkey, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Channelling all his energy into music, he became the dancer of the group, Sexy Pretty Boys, he formed with other Ajegunle boys in 1990. They were able to release an album entitled “Biggy Belle”.
The band soon broke up and Daddy Showkey was left in the lurch. He eked out a living as the clerk amongst motor-park touts, and the manner he barked out orders with a funny tone amused his colleagues who advised him to sing with the voice.
Without much ado Daddy Showkey sang his first hit: “Congratulation! Jubilation! Celebration! In our nation!” The song ended with the prophetic words: “Welcome Daddy Showkey, welcome!”
Daddy Showkey made a vow to God that he would never cut his dreadlocks if he ever managed to become successful in life!
Daddy Showkey is the acknowledged master of the Ajegunle street sound known as “Galala”. Influenced by roots reggae, Galala fuses Jamaican and African-American influences as well as highlife into pulsating dance music. The music is mostly delivered in Pidgin English of the Warri, Delta State blend. Daddy Showkey had an alter ego in the other celebrated Ajegunle musician, Daddy Fresh.
Just as musicians from Ajegunle dominate the charts, star footballers are daily being minted from the slum. Celebrated former national team players such as central defender Taribo West, left wing-back Ifeanyi Udeze, and strikers Jonathan Akpoborie and Samson Siasia were all born and bred in Ajegunle.
Ajegunle boasts of its resident philosopher in the poet, musician and activist Aj Dagga Tolar. By way of explanation, the “Aj” before Dagga Tolar stands for Ajegunle!
“Ajegunle has become a metaphor for the entirety of the Nigerian nation,” says the angry Dagga Tolar. “It is in this part of the country that you meet the poor of the poorest, and we try to survive day in and day out.”
The Jungle City is the soul of the Mega City of Lagos.