Spent three months at the University of Ibadan as a Carnegie fellow between May and July 2017. I was looking forward to academic life at Nigeria’s premier university. I was also curious to know what the city of Ibadan had to offer. My friend, Sunkanmi Famobio, told me to ensure that I visited a popular amala joint — “Skye Bank Amala”. Of course, Skye Bank is not into Amala business but its name has been usurped by a peculiarly brilliant amala joint just beside a branch of the bank in Bodija. The food joint’s real name is “Ose Olorun” (“Thank you, God”) restaurant.
You can’t lay claims to having visited the University of Ibadan or its environs without trying Skye Bank Amala. Skye Bank Amala may well become a UNESCO cultural heritage site: The diversity of the faithful and the co-constitutive meetings over amala while sweating in harmony in sub-Saharan Africa were a spectacle. Living under sub-zero temperatures roughly half a year for over a decade came with its challenges for yours truly but sweating as you ate was part of the aesthetics and appeal of this space.
Each time spent at this “Buka” offered a thrilling experience: The “Tokunbo children” who couldn’t believe the sheer volume and variety of meats on their table; Nigerian professional workers with ties thrust to the back; and the blue collar folks joined in sociality in one of the few non-virulently classist social spaces in Nigeria. There was also the Chinese woman quietly using one of our imported toothpicks while waiting for her fellow citizen who was engaged in a duel with a particularly stubborn piece of Ogunfe (goat meat); and the American woman who joined the feast courtesy of her Nigerian lover she had met online. This is no place for the superficial or pretentious.
This is a “glocal” space — to borrow Hakkan Sicakkan’s term for the symmetry of the local and the global. Skye Bank Amala was also a stark reminder of the level of suffering in Nigeria. There were always several beggars outside the restaurant asking patrons for money. It was an unusual locale to be asked for money. The look on the faces of the beggars tugged at one’s soul. You felt like a bad person if you did not give them money especially after such a good meal. There were four lame guys who regularly stood outside the restaurant. They seemed to be victims of polio. I could not help but wonder if they were victimized by the politicization of polio vaccination programs in Nigeria. I gave them one of the larger Naira denominations on one occasion and told them to share it. A fight nearly ensued as three of them attempted to not share the money with their colleague. I said to myself “what have I done?” The lack of social welfare was there for all to see. The beggars in front of Skye Bank Amala were a painful reminder of the absence of welfare provision in a quasi-capitalist society and the harsh economic environment.
I relished the short trip on “Keke NAPEP” from the university gate to Skye Bank Amala. I managed to drive within the city after two months. For Nigerians in the diaspora, my next discovery should excite you. Driving in Nigeria is not as difficult as it seems. You need two main things: Have a really loud vehicle horn and practice your “bone face”. You should be fine. Nobody in Nigeria wants to die despite the braggadocio of the commercial drivers and Okada riders. However, this recommendation is not valid for Lagos.
The University of Ibadan has many massive trees thus giving a serene rural feel to the campus. One huge tree fell during a thunderstorm and completely blocked a road linking Amina way with the Office of International Programs. The road was one of my favorite running tracks. I was surprised to find that the fallen tree had not been removed nearly one week after it fell. I went to the maintenance unit of the University to request that it be removed. I was told that the forestry department was in charge of trees on campus. The gentleman I spoke with at the maintenance unit asked me if I was a Nigerian. He seemed surprised that I showed up to request that the tree be removed. Why do people think you must be foreign when you demand basic things? It seemed that he was not accustomed to receiving such reports. I went to the forestry department and met a really friendly colleague. To his credit, the tree was removed the following day (perhaps an indication that they were already planning to remove the tree). The moral? It does not hurt to make reports about basic things.
I had an encounter with a fake transit official opposite Arisekola market. As I was returning to campus one afternoon, a Nissan Micra, Ibadan’s signature cab, blocked me in Nollywood style. Someone came out in a Shina Ramboesque manner and tried to board my vehicle. The door was locked and I told him he needed to identify himself before coming in. I requested to see his identity card. He flashed it and as I looked intensely he sensed the futility of his efforts and left. He was probably phony. I wondered how many people he had successfully scammed on that day and the implications of such usurpation of authority given Nigeria’s fragile security situation.
My most interesting encounters were at church. Church off campus was quite interesting. Testimony time was always a moment to gain insight into people’s everyday experiences. At a Winners’ Chapel in Bashorun, a woman testified (without irony) about the miracle of her children who had just graduated from Covenant University despite her initial worry that the family might not be able to afford the fees. Another testified that she had just turned 80 years and realized that she had never been a victim of armed robbery despite similar incidents around her home. Another person survived an attempted kidnapping. Someone got a good job after a decade of underemployment. Everything in Nigeria is indeed a miracle.
My favorite testimony was that of a young man who testified that God revealed questions of one of his examinations to him. He was a student of the University of Ibadan. My sociological binoculars roared to life and I wanted to speak with him to ask how the exam questions were revealed. He was gone before service ended. We had no way of confirming that he made up the story and must take him at his word. I wasn’t sure that God could have provided anyone with “expo”. But if God truly did, was that fair to the teacher and the other students? Would any of my Ibadan graduate students testify a few days from now that God revealed (i.e. leaked) my exam questions? No wonder they are all over campus speaking in tongues, especially beside the chapel opposite UI hotel. I shall also speak in tongues and bind every student praying for my exam questions to be leaked by revelation. They should go and study and stop praying for divine “expo”. I think I may have over-read Nietzsche. Never read Nietzsche’s “On the genealogy of morality”. This is a befuddling dialectic: My occupation is fighting my faith (or vice versa). One is a matter of the head (literally); the other a matter of the heart.
Colleagues at Ibadan were warm and professional. The challenges they faced were also glaring. I was surprised to see that the more resourceful departments had to invest in power generators and inverters. Overall, I had a good time at Ibadan.