Ojuelegba, The Epicenter of Confusion

At the core nexus of Mainland, Ojuelegba remains the epicenter and the throbbing heartbeat of Lagos. Arriving by bus from Ikorodu road, a first-time visitor is welcomed to Ojuelegba by the stench of decaying rubbish and the pungent odor of the sewers; mingling with the sweet aroma of boli and egusi-pepper soup from Mama Lanre’s buka. 

Rickety makeshift stalls line the streets; while roving hawkers take advantage of the pervasive traffic to peddle anything imaginable; shoe polish, hankies, recharge cards, wristwatches, newspapers, water, gala, and stolen mobile sets.

With the corporate headquarters under the royal bridge, Ojuelegba is a pulsating spot in Lagos, connecting the Mainland to the Island; networking Lagosians between the neighboring Yaba, Mushin, Itire, and Surulere. The National Stadium is north of the crossroad, and 500 meters to the west is the popular Tejuosho where Unilag Babes ‘select’ their Okrika clothes. 

Ojuelegba’s description as a Tower of Babel probably inspired Fela Anikulapo Kuti in his ‘Confusion’ hit song, describing it as a crisscross, a cluttered interlock.

Ojuelegba literally means ‘Ojubo-elegba. It is the site where sacrifice was made to Eshu Elegbara, a Yoruba divinity. With increasing congestion, Elegba cult officials moved the shrine to Apapa road where the worship continues to this day. 

Ojuelegba is a 24-hour economy! Unlike other zones of intensity like Oshodi, Ojota, Alaba, Oyingbo, and Isale Eko, Ojuelegba never sleeps! As early as 4 am, Ojuelegba is in a state far from equilibrium, already pumping with actions. Buses and taxi cabs from various parts of the city are dropping off commuters to connect onward. The incessant honking of autos conjoin with the deafening blast of music to transform Ojuelegba into an unpaid concert with no conductor; a riotous mixture of visions and sounds; a cacophony of the first order!

Oh! The alayes. As early as 5 am, the area boys on the morning shift are already putting on the mask of menace needed to begin their day, getting high on marijuana and paraga bought from the makeshift stalls of the unlicensed herbal liquor traders. Street hawkers are already selling to those waiting for their bus to fill, or to others, who even at this hour, are vulnerably stranded in the ‘go-slow’. 

At a nearby makeshift eatery, a breakfast of rice, beans, spaghetti, fried plantain, and stew is simmering on the fire. The aboki-maishai moves around, selling watery tea, and washing the cups on the spot in immediate readiness for the next customer. Newspaper vendors blow their trumpets loud, shoving headlines into starring faces. The roadside mechanics and vulcanizers are up too, waiting to convert somebody’s misfortune to cash, while the fragile-looking ‘yellow fever’ officials bark helplessly in the midst of 360 degrees of chaos.

As the morning gradually drags into the afternoon, Ojuelegba heightens its vivacious rhythm. A set of area boys finish their shift and either go to sleep under the flyover or retire to Bet9ja sport betting houses. Or re-converge at Shitta. They are usually between the ages of 20 and 40, and easily recognized by their gruffly voices, rough faces, bloodshot eyes and incomplete set of teeth apparently lost in street brawls. 

They are almost at every bus stop, aggressively racing after danfo buses that just arrived or are about to leave. Once the driver pays, the windscreen of his vehicle is signed with a marker of a certain color. If he fails to, his side-view mirror or wiper or fuel tank cover is instantly grabbed and the tout melts into the crowd. Sometimes, a slap bonus is added; all happening in the full glare of helpless policemen. 

Nearby, a food hawker sells lunch in turn to the artisans; then returns to her starting point to collect her use-and-wash plates and cutleries. A haggard toll collector dangles a cigarette on his lips, approaches her, and demands payment as that is the only guarantee for her business continuity.

At one side of the road, a group of women negotiating discounts for okrika bra gets harassed by masquerades with long canes. No dull am o, the modest guy behind you is a pickpocket and could make your cellphone disappear forever.

Towards 6 pm, commuters start returning from work in search of a connecting bus back home. They restlessly cram into the yellow buses, desperate to leave to avoid the nocturnal hours rapidly approaching. After a couple of insults hurled at the driver who is jovially rushing a few shots of cheap liquor, the bus leaves. 

Okadas flock in like bees, while the ashawos warm up in their dingy hotels, waiting for the tick of the clock. By now, the energies of the night swarm in full force and Ojuelegba becomes wilder and more alive; a pressure cooker hissing steam and threatening to explode. 

The night hawkers horde in full blast, as Fuji music pumps out at phenomenal speeds, threatening the fabrics of the speakers, and competing with the jolly noises of the drunk NURTW guys sharing money under the bridge. A drug-addict-beggar walks by with bloodshot eyes, soliciting arms for the next shot.

Dusk is closing. The hours of doom creeping in. Police presence increases; a warning of roadblocks ahead and yet another impulsive tax operation. Soon, the beer parlors will be in full swing and the drugs and sex trade in full blow. Soon, students will drift in from Unilag and Yaba Tech, hustling for cheap beers, cheap sex, and fast cash. 

Sporadic gunshots boom a few meters away, either from the police patrol vans or the men of the ‘other side’. Bros eh. Panic set in and people scamper in different directions. Transport fares skyrocket. Normalcy returns a few minutes later and life goes on. 

This unholy cycle continues till midnight. In a few hours, a new day will begin; another shift of area boys will emerge to orchestrate yet another cyclical 360 degrees of chaos. 

The rain is falling; the night is deep-dark, sporadically lightened by thunder flashes. The frogs are croaking, the owls hooting. Kigali hookers and hackers hawking in the full glare of the night. I stand lonely, alone, somewhere in Rwanda, wondering, and missing the epicenter of confusion…

‘Oju ooooooo’ the bus conductor yells.


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