#FieldNote: 15 June 2009

Mapo Hall
Mapo Hall

It’s raining heavily when I reach Ibadan at about 4pm on Monday evening. A moment later, I walk into an Egungun procession. The main attraction is the Aladi-Osogbo, who is surrounded by dozens of indigenes. The followers tell me the masquerades come out in the rainy season. I walk with them for like 30 minutes in the rain, do brief interviews with the minders and also get to ask the Aladi itself a question or two. After my last question, it prays; I break away at Idi-Oro, from where I take a bike back to Oja Oba.

There on the main road I catch glimpse of the palace of the Olubadan. Before I left Lagos, I had no idea where it is located and I chose not to ask anyone, even though that would have made my finding it a lot easier. The treat for me, I thought, would be to just go and get lost in Ibadan and ask my way around from the locals.

A couple of women selling mats line the high walls of the palace; they are within the precinct of Oja Oba (King’s market). There is no one in the palace to talk to, so I walk further up the road, turning off it and strolling into the premises of Mapo Hall but couldn’t go into the building, all white and its pillars adding to its attractiveness; so I walk around, taking pictures of the exterior.

A plaque somewhere on the building reads: “This stone was laid by Capt. W. A. Ross (CMG), the President of Oyo Province, June 1925—Engr. R Jones”.

I’ve seen plenty colonial-era architecture that I admire a lot, but Mapo Hall seems to be the most appealing of them all. You could say I fell in love with it at first sight. From the little I have learned, this hall has had a rather eventful past, serving at some point as a legislative court and as the Seat of Government. So why isn’t the place a more celebrated tourist attraction? Why is there no resident guide? Why are there no old photos in a mini-museum or on the walls?

I spend my time there ruminating on what to do, since the palace, deserted as it is, wouldn’t yield much material other than its strange quietude. Later, the security man says to come back tomorrow if I really wish to see what the hall looks like inside. I thank him, step out and walk back towards the market.

I trek down the steep, muddy road off the main highway, passing by the palace still. There is a jumble of old and crumbling buildings, some inhabited and others not, jutting out from a stretch of landscape floored with sticky laterite. I see nothing of interest by the time I reach the end of the road, so I walk back to the head of the street.

The Orita Merin Market is alive with sellers manning their sheds and basins of lafun, kokoro, beans, onions and more. Down the road before it is Bashorun Oluyole market, opposite which is a long line of stalls packed with industrial poly bags, large and small. I wonder what people here use them for.

“So many things,” an Okada rider told me later when I head to Total station. “For instance, many of the traders use it to construct their sheds because they can’t afford the wood and Aluminium roofing. For others, they use it to cover the top of their stalls to prevent rain leaking into the insides.” As he said that, we passed a shop that fit that description perfectly.

Pelu Awofeso's travel books on his travels in Nigeria on sale online at kaymu. Order your copies to read more interesting stories. (deliveries only in Nigeria)
Pelu Awofeso’s travel books on his travels in Nigeria on sale online at kaymu. Order your copies to read more interesting stories. (deliveries only in Nigeria)

My eye catches a billboard with the following words: “Revamping Decayed Monuments, Our Priority—Oyo State Government”.

I take a bike to the area known as Gate. From there, I trek till I come to a Mr Biggs outlet at the junction of Idi Ape/ Iwo Road. I smile, because I have been longing for a hot cup of tea. I am wet. It’s cold. I enter the place.  Minutes later I am inside Tantalizers for another cup. Minutes later, I come face to face with a moi moi seller. Still needing to be warmed up, I order three wraps and a cut of bread. The woman finds me a comfortable spot in a nearby shop.

PS: I have been to Ibadan a number of times on private visits to family over the years, but I couldn’t get a hang of this ancient, pacesetting city. From my whistle-stop experiences of the city, largely in Molete, Bere and Dugbe, I get the impression that Ibadan is largely lowbrow, a place chockfull with petty trading and given to non-stop disorder. But many people familiar with it argue otherwise, saying that there are neater, better looking and better laid out surroundings. They say it is a saner place to live in than Lagos is, and not half as expensive.

What is your experience of Ibadan? Share your story below.