From Beere through Lalupon, Ibadan unfurls inadvertently in all of its brownish beauty, like a suntanned model strutting down the runway in mysterious sunglasses. So when you perch on the elevated tarmac of Beere, peering through Òjé Igósùn and Òde-Ajé Olóólù, you could behold the mystique of this city, and revel in the beauty of how it spreads its wings into the skies. For most strangers, the city’s heartbeat could be felt at the tip of Guru Maharaji’s temple, where Ibadan opens its wide, generous arms to commuters from Lagos and elsewhere. But for many a son of the soil, Beere remains the nucleus of the city.
In the chaotic air of Beere roundabout, Iba Oluyole’s statue remains outstanding, silhouetted against the sky. He’s standing firm, Iba, gun in one hand, a fist pointed skyward. He seems battle-ready, his gaze permanently fixed on the city and its people, like a sleep-deprived but eternally alert guard. He’s in the company of other warriors who toiled to establish this city and have since remained its guardian angels: Ogunmola, Ibikunle, Ojo, Ajayi, Latoosa, Balogun Ode’nlo, Lagelu etc.
And so, Beere, in all its chaos and queerness, invites you into the bowels of this city of warriors.
Away from Iba Oluyole’s statue, Mapo Hall rises from the din and dirt of Itamerin market, its huge pillars standing defiantly in protest, defying the ruinous lies of noisy politicians and filthy attitude of lousy revelers who dine and wine and, oftentimes, forget to clean up their mess. Directly opposite the iconic hall, Itameerin stretches its long, long arm sluggishly into Dugbe Alawo, its narrow lane sweeping through Agbeni and Ogunpa markets.
Beside the colonial-style hall, Oja’ba stands akimbo, like an old prince who still revels in the empty air of forgotten royalty. A few metres away from the cheekily named king’s market, Isale Osi opens its commodious space to commuters through Born Photo, leading them to the mouth of Oke-Ado in the ‘east’, and Gege/Idi Arere in the ‘west’.
Beere remains the city’s nucleus, still, overlooking a section of Labiran, through the paths that lead to Oremeji Agugu, and another lane that slopes downward toward Eleta and Muslim-Odinjo, via Oranyan goat market, where I once met the late Toyosi Arigbabuwo of the good ‘ol Yoruba Cinema.
I watched Taiye Akande Currency perform here once, Beere, in the thick of marijuana smoke, vulgar lyrics, awkward prayers, and chants. He had just released his smash hit ‘Hauwa’, and was on the verge of becoming Okanlomo N’Ibadan, effectively elbowing off the radar city heavyweights like Ayinla Karashi, Shekele Taofiki, and Larondo Wahidi. That afternoon, in the full glare of the piercing sun, Taiye screamed “Eyin ti Beere laye ojosi ta ma n bebe f’ere?” and the whole place erupted in ecstasy. That epic line was a question that wasn’t a question; a humble brag. Pronto, a mélange of humans—hemp smokers, Okada riders, drivers, butchers, pickpockets and misguided saints who knew no other home outside of the streets of Beere—collapsed onto one another in chaotic merriment. Currency, ever proud of his artistry, kvelled across the stage shirtless and speechless, his demeanour cocky—as though he just found a space in the pantheon. Today, time has proven him right: he remains Ibadan’s Numero Uno.
Once, Beere leapt from the shadows of crime and violence, and relative sanity was restored to the city’s hotbed of unrest, courtesy of the authority’s urban renewal efforts. But this nucleus of a hub seems to have relapsed yet again, stumbling and fumbling in its old vomit, falling back gradually into the hands of thugs and Oraisas, an air of fear and crime hanging over its rowdy tarmac. Déjà vu.
The somewhat dangerous slide notwithstanding, Beere remains the nucleus of the city, standing aloof and tall, unperturbed by the elitist cockiness of Bodija and Oluyole Estates, the bookish arrogance of UI-Ojoo and Ajibode, the genteel sophitistication of Elebu and Ologuneru, and the bucolic serenity of Olunde and Olodo-Iyana Church and Akanran and Orita-merin Ogbere Ti o ya.
If Ibadan was human, Beere would perhaps be the heart and the vein and the artery of this city. Together with Oja’ba and Idi-Arere and Oje and environs, it has produced great humans (and outlaws!) who have had the most impact on this city.
Right under those brown rusted roofs, the city threw up Adegoke Adelabu, the son of Sanusi Ashiyanbi of Oluokun House, who remains a model of pristine opposition politics built on principles. But Ibadan also gave us Busari Adelakun, the dreadful cougar of Ejioku, and Lamidi Adedibu, the Alaafin of Molete. Awo, to whom Adelabu was a nemesis, dreamt of and lived his ideas and ideals in this city. Ditto his estranged deputy, Akintola, as well as Awo’s disciple, Ige, who, sadly, took his last breath here. Akinjide, who brought mathematical genius into legal wizardry, was raised on this soil. Ditto Akinloye, and the super-brilliant Omololu Olunloyo.
The city threw up Rashidi Yekinni, whose fearsome feet wrote Nigeria’s football into lore, and Sade Adu, the ageless nightingale who shone globally like a bright star. Osupa gets inspiration for his wisdom-laden lyrics from the arts of his father, Moshood Okunola, a relative of the greatest Fuji artiste to ever hold the microphone, Agbaakin Sikiru Ayinde Barrister. All three are united by their ancestry in this city, just like Muri Thunder, Shanko, Merenge etc. Before the klieg lights shifted elsewhere, we drank from the streams of wisdom that were the arts of Bayo Faleti, Akinwunmi Ishola, Supo Koseemani, Baba Wande, Lere Paimo—all united by their indigeneship of or residence in Ibadan. Even Soyinka, Achebe, Clark etc—they all found their muse here, drawing inspiration from the brownish beauty of Beere and Ibadan’s numerous hills.
Not so far away from Beere roundabout, Oke Sapati rises and fall, while remaining still, its white rocks shining through the brightness of the sun. I remember this place for the shelter it provided once, when Jáláruru loomed in Oopo Yeosa, and we all scampered for safety. Jáláruru, the masquerade with elevated sartorial taste, was quite popular here, just like Olóólù and Alápánsánpá and Ògbònkoko.
This afternoon, I watch as two semi-clad boys run down Oke-Sapati with reckless abandon, a bead of sweat running down their cheeks. These ones don’t care about the economy, about naira-and-dollar wahala, about Buhari, or even about little things like the fact of “Oke Sapati” being the corrupt version of ‘Shepherd’s Hill’.
When they move past me, we exchange smiles. So in the midst of car whistles and bus horns, the chaotic voices of traders haggling, the hot curses of impatient conductors, the abusive rhetoric of micra drivers screaming “Se o p’oo r’owo mi ni…?”, these semi-clad boys are smiling at me. They look back once again and wave their hands, smiling. I smile too, thinking about the cost of a smile and what it means in this festive season. Maybe, just maybe, as these boys have perhaps shown, in the middle of Beere’s chaos, a smile could be a better way of showing love to strangers. Or, maybe, it’s an eloquent way of saying “Merry Christmas” or “Happy New Year” —or, you know, to adopt a lingo they would possibly be most familiar with, “Aseyi S’amodun o”.