Many moons ago, long before Toni Kan became the Mayor of Lagos, I was crowned the Obi of Ikate, the overcrowded suburbia of Surulere, Lagos. I lived upstairs, in a cramped two-bedroom back-flat on Olushola-Keku Street, towards the right end of the popular Nnobi Street in Ikate.
Ankle-length flood stayed for hours on end anytime it rained such that occupants of the ground rooms had to flee their homes. One of the major tenants down there happened to be a traditional doctor-cum-herbalist from whose stuffy room always emitted the harsh tang of medicinal herbs. The scraggy middle-aged man, said to be very medicated in local juju powers, ended up being conned off of his life savings by some Lagos sharp guys who induced him to a two-day-long sleep! Yes, in my domain, anything can happen!
It was in the middle of 1986 that I left my less-than-five-hundred Naira per month reporter job at African Guardian magazine, a subsidiary of The Guardian, to team up with the founding staff of the newly set-up ThisWeek magazine owned by the swashbuckling publisher Nduka Obaigbena. I got a salary advance to rent the apartment that was a walking distance from the office at 113 Ogunlana Drive, Surulere. It was my virgin accommodation in Lagos and I gave it a very virginal launch through one-day abstinence. This was indeed a hallowed entrée to the accommodation of many ladies thereafter.
The nearby Nnobi Street was a happening hub with all the hip eateries and pop beer parlours, sharp guys and sharper babes. People came from far-flung places like Lagos Island, Ikeja and the then developing Lekki to eat at the famous Nwanyi Nnewi Restaurant which I somewhat turned into the daily and nightly kitchen for me and my people. Next to the restaurant was the beer place of the woman we called Madam Ikorodu, mother of a now popular actress. Anybody who needed to have an appointment with the Obi of Ikate almost always appeared there instead of coming to the house, sorry, palace.
The poets of Lagos made great company. Sanya Osha and Obi Nwakanma once needed to be rescued from police ambush-arrest amid a bout of divine drunkenness. Uche Nduka had the fine fettle to always convince his then intended to allow him spend the night in my palace to hone his poetry, though without divulging the details of his other nocturnal attentions.
Nduka Otiono readily gauged the diverse drinks for taste, and in one encounter his companion Eddie Ayo Ojo waxed lyrical that he had a one-night-stand with the fiancée of another buddy of mine in the very presence of the twosome. To round up matters, there was always the need to reiterate the poetic vista of my teacher at Ife, the inimitable Okot p’Bitek, to wit: “I want to suck the stiff breasts of my wife’s younger sister.”
Visiting writers, scholars and journalists such as South African poet Dennis Brutus and the critic Jane Bryce spiced up the Ikate atmosphere. Brutus never stopped wondering why Nigeria still had open gutters. Adewale Maja-Pearce came from England to have the fight of his life in reclaiming his late father’s house in Surulere as told in his book, The House My Father Built. Adewale’s many colleagues from abroad always visited to enjoy the local culinary delights of isi-ewu, nkwobi and the like, with one particular lady reporting that Adewale had gone native by enjoying local life near the gutter!
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