Tag Archives: University of Ibadan

These excercising Americans are so bizzare ooooooo!

17 Jan

Although there are people that work out in Nigeria, exercising isn’t nearly as common here as it is in America. I have been keeping a regular running schedule as a way to help use up the gratuitous amounts of palm oil and yams I have been consuming. Every time I go for a run, at least once during my run a group of little kids starts chasing me singing the ever popular jingle, “Òyìnbó pepè, chúgúchúgú pepè,” which means “White person sweet as a pepper, looks like a pepper” (referring to the fact that white people get red in the sun). Other times, people stop in cars and yell, or stop me when they are walking past to ask various questions like, “Oyinbo, what are you running from? Where are you going? Where is the fire? Let me pick you!” Similarly, those who choose to say nothing as I pass usually glare or look at me with a half-frown on their face to display their sheer inability to understand why I am running. Others will yell, “Oyinbo! Well done oo!” Normally I turn my headphones up loud enough to ignore these types of distractions. Therefore, early Sunday morning on my usual jog I didn’t think twice as I was approaching a very old hunchbacked man from behind. I was crossing a bridge over a dam in a quiet part of campus not highly frequented by pedestrians. As I was zoning out enjoying the jams on my ipod, the man suddenly turned around with a wicked grimace on his face. When I was about six feet behind him, he drew a machete from his left gbada (a long robe men wear) pocket and held it in the air ready to strike! I quickly stopped, prostrated, and began to apologize profusely with whatever Yoruba words I could fit in between gasps. Once he realized I wasn’t the thug he though I was based on my heavy breathing and pounding footsteps, he quickly dropped the two-foot long blade and also apologized. His reaction certainly did nothing to calm my heavy breathing, but after a few minutes of thinking about the situation after I continued to run, I burst out laughing. Although I felt bad for scaring the crap out of the poor old man, I found it hilarious that someone casually exercising was so strange to the old man that his first inclination was to draw his machete in defense of a possible oncoming thug-at 10AM on a Sunday morning. Nigeria ooooooo!


A Royal Naija Visit….”and then Nigeria happened”

3 Jan

After not seeing my family for nearly four months, I was delighted to finally see their glowing white faces stick out of the endless sea of dark skinned Nigerians frantically milling around outside Lagos’s Murtala Muhhomad Airport the night they arrived. They showed up a day late due to the massive blizzard that struck most of northern Europe the week before Christmas. Although my mind was racing trying to figure out how to squeeze the already to long list of things I wanted to do with them into a short 7.5 days, I also felt a sense of relaxation to see some of the most important people in my life-people who automatically relate to me, understand me, and hold me close to their hearts. Although I have made some amazing friends since I arrived in early September, I am still generally a stranger to this society, its customs, and its cultural norms. There is nothing like a taste of home and familiarity.

Taking my parents around Ibadan and Lagos helped me remember the true shock and awe I experienced when I first arrived in Nigeria.


I’m sure now they will actually understand what I’m talking about when I say going to Nigeria is literally like warping or teleporting into another world-the culture, the language, the infrastructure, the government, the weather, the food, the risks, and the enjoyments all contribute to an experience that is truly impossible to describe with words, pictures, and even videos. The sights, sounds, smells, feelings, and realizations you experience here all combine to form your perception. Without actually being here and feeling this place, it is near impossible to truly relay the experience in words, especially from a purely American perspective. Yet, I regress and make an attempt.

Instead of a moment-by-moment itinerary of what I did with my parents and younger brother, I want to use this opportunity to explain one of the reasons the Yoruba culture is so deep, rich, and enjoyable: “àpónlé.” Àpónlé means a combination of hospitality, appreciation, love, and sharing. I hesitate to use just one word to translate àpónlé as its implications reach much deeper than a meager one word definition.

A wedding engagement ceremony-we quickly became one with the crowd

Nigerians, particularly Yorubas are some of the most caring and hospitable people I have ever encountered or heard about, even towards complete strangers. Somewhat amazingly, there is a uniform sense of care and hospitality these people exemplify that I believe is difficult to match anywhere else in the world. Although I expected some degree of Nigerian hospitality, I told my family to prepare to stay in hotels and pay for a lot of meals before they came. I tried to paint a rather uncomfortable picture of their to be experience as I didn’t want inconveniences that have become a part of my daily routine such as a lack of running water, constant power outages, cockroaches, spicy and often fish-stanched foods, the constant haze and smell of trash fire smoke, and relentless obnoxiously loud noises everywhere.

BBQ Snail-a delicacy here

Many of these preparations turned out to be unnecessary and useless (excluding the noise, cockroaches, power outages, and trash fire smoke which are nearly inescapable here). Even though I have been here for four months, I was still shocked and impressed by the degree of generosity, love, kindness, and graciousness shown towards my family during their time here. Nigerians, and particularly Yorubas take visitors in as their own without the slightest bit of hesitation.

One example of the àpónlé phenomenon is my family’s first day at the University of Ibadan. I intended on introducing them to a few of my teachers and my resident director. My host family was out running errands and therefore we had no opportunity to see them that day, so I calculated the visit wouldn’t last more than an hour or two and we would have the afternoon to explore greater Ibadan.

My family and resident director with the Dean of Students, Vice Chancellor, and Registrar of the University of Ibadan

As soon as Moses, my resident director met my family, he began making preparations for a royal welcome-we were brought to the four most senior university officers’ offices and received with nothing but warmth, kindness, and a touch of humor, even though our arrival was more or less unannounced. Nearly everyone we visited from the Vice Chancellor (the highest ranking university officer, as the Chancellor of every Federal Government university in Nigeria is the president of Nigeria) to the Dean of students invited us to their personal homes for Christmas. There were lots of photos taken, and everyone we met was so happy to see that my parents and brother came all the way to Nigeria. The Vice Chancellor even offered to pay for our hotel rooms and meals for our stay in Ibadan! We were then taken to a wedding engagement ceremony on campus-an overwhelming experience if you’ve never been to a Nigerian style party-countless women in matching lace fabric dresses and large geles (head wraps), copious amounts of noise from a band, and gratuitous amounts of food and beverages. No later than five minutes after our arrival, the MC recognized us in front of the entire party (probably close to 400 people) as “the groom’s friends from America.” None of us had any idea who the groom was. After what I originally intended to be a quick hour or two long visit, my family and I returned to our hotel as we were exhausted from all of the unexpected visits.

One of the coolest things I have ever experienced was facilitating the introduction of my real family to my host family. It was heart-warming to see the mother that gave birth to me meet the mother that has been taking care of me like a child of her own (which is no small task in Yoruba culture).

Two families became one

Just as my family from America brought gifts for my Yoruba family, my Yoruba family showered my parents with new outfits made of African Cloth. In addition to driving us around town, my mom and older host brother took us to a cloth market so my American family could buy traditional fabric. That day was a public holiday (the day after Christmas) making it difficult to track down my family’s tailor to turn the fabric into outfits. Due to what I have previously written about customer loyalty, finding another tailor was not an option as my family has been using the same tailor for nearly 40 years.

at the cloth market

Unfortunately his phone was switched off for the two days before we tried to go find him (we found out later that he was at church for three straight days, the quintessentially Nigerian way of spending the Christmas holiday). Of course, after we went to his shop and couldn’t find him, some neighborhood kids told us he was at church. After a full search of the church by my host mom, she emerged from the gate of the outdoor church (several tin roofs with a loud, static-filled, and archaic looking sound system amplifying the endless hours of bloviating and proselytizing by the preacher) with the tailor. Of course, the tailor was armed with his tape measure and a tiny razor, so he took the measurements in the parking lot, accepted the cloth and a meager 5,000 Naira ($35USD) with a promise to complete the work in less than 24 hours even though its a holiday. Now that’s service!

In addition to the àpónlé’s I described above, a local government chairman (the equivalent to a mayor) in Ibadan had us over for breakfast and gave my family his private SUV to use for the day. Nigerians are obsessed with cars, and image is very important here. Thus, all politicians have “official” vehicles, usually dark SUV’s with tinted windows (the most common model is the Toyta Land Cruiser Prado made in Dubai) and a tiny Nigerian flag hanging in the windshield. I felt strange cruising around the crowded streets of Ibadan in his car as people began to prostrate, bow down, and greet us as we drove by, thinking we were Honerable Olaywola himself (not seeing us behind the tinted windows).

One of my favorite new phrases to use in everyday speech has quickly become “…and then Nigeria happened.” “And then Nigeria happened” quickly became a reoccurring theme of my family’s visit. This phrase is incredibly versatile, as it can help to quickly and effortlessly explain the plethora of reasons that things didn’t go as planned, didn’t happen on time, or never materialized in the first place in this country. Perhaps the quintessential example of “Nigeria happening” is when my parents and I returned to Lagos to spend a few days there prior to their departure back to the United States. A friend had recommended a good hotel for us, and he talked to his brothers who lived nearby who also confirmed that the hotel would be a good and safe fit for my family and I. I trusted the recommendation and paid a driver to take us there. When we got to the hotel, we found it had gone out of business permanently, and our “back up plan,” a hotel next door, was way over priced, had no running water, and had no car services (which were crucial to make sure my parents could get back to the airport). In other words, we were going to go to this hotel, “but then Nigeria happened.”

I was starting to feel slightly stressed as our driver needed to leave immediately to get back to Ibadan (he had prior engagements, but I was beginning to think he may have to go back late as “Nigeria was about to happen” to him also). I started phoning friends I knew in Lagos and my friend Dami coincidentally happened to be a short ten minute drive away from us (very short in Lagos terms). Dami quickly came to our rescue, and “Nigeria happened again”, this time in the form of a blessing.

Dami and his wife Tosin

He insisted we stay at his sister’s house in Ikoyi (one of the nicest residential areas in Lagos, and perhaps the most expensive in the entire country). We pleaded and explained that we didn’t want to barge in, and that we had prepared to stay in hotels. Even after being here for four months, I still find it hard to completely shake my American tendencies and my parents presence and influence only encouraged my instant apologizing and insisting that we go to a hotel. Once again, àpónlé stepped in and we had no option. “Nigeria happened again” on our way from Lekki (a peninsula in the Lagos Lagoon CHECK) to Ikoyi (the neighborhood north of Victoria Island where Dami’s sister Tope lives), which should theoretically be a fifteen minute drive without traffic. Lekki is a newly developing area, so there was insane gridlock traffic all the way back as they are still building and expanding the main road. Dami proclaimed in his always jolly voice that this is just the reason why he drives an SUV.

stuck in the sand

He took a hard left and headed straight for the beach! Within five minutes, we were cruising in the sand along the Atlantic Ocean to avoid traffic! In other words, we were going to drive on the road and wait in traffic like most Lagotians, but then “Nigeria happened” and we decided to drive on the beach. This is yet another example of how when things don’t go your way in this country, you do literally whatever the hell you want to satisfy yourself. I was getting a kick out of the Nigerian beach-there were surprisingly few people-just white sand and a vast, endless ocean. As we approached a cluster of lean-tos and huts, we began to hear Nigerian hip-hop blasting and we saw people dancing. All of a sudden, the Land Cruiser got stuck in the sand and every attempt Dami made to drive it out just sank us further down. We spent nearly 45 minutes trying to get the car out, and fell victim to “area boys,” the Lagos term for local thugs (people without work who cleverly cheat and deceive innocent civilians to make a few bucks) who we paid 5,000Naira ($35USD) to help dig us out. It was ironic because the area boys are probably the ones who dug the hole we fell into. As a “nice gesture,” they lowered their original asking price or $120USD after I had a brief conversation with them in Yoruba and they started claiming “tiwantiwa ni yii o!” (he is one of us!). In other words, we thought the beach would be a better alternative to waiting in traffic, but “Nigeria happened” and we ended up spending 45 minutes hanging out with some area boys.

Everyone in the Bamiro family was so overwhelmingly gracious to us, throwing more àpónlé’s our way than we could handle. Dami’s sister Tope had just moved back to Nigeria from the Netherlands (nearly a week before our visit), and still was awaiting her shipping crate with all of her belongings.

Our gracious hosts-the Edun's

Therefore, her family’s house was sparsely decorated with rented temporary furniture. Again, I felt like we were imposing, but then Nigeria happened and all of the àpónlés their family showed us made me forget. Dami gave us his driver and his car for the remainder of my family’s stay in addition to wining and dining us. I was glad my parents got to see the contrast between very different Nigerian class lifestyles, even though both were a cornucopia of the the warm, caring, and unavoidable àpónlé element of Yoruba culture. Yoruba people are so easy to get to know, relate to, and laugh with because they are so open and willing to share everything.

The entire time my family was here, we were all recalling the struggle we went through to try and persuade UW-Madison to look at my abroad program from a fair and non-politicized perspective. I distinctly remember the director of International Academic Programs at UW-Madison saying, “I would never go to Nigeria, and I would certainly not send my kids there,” during a meeting with my family and the Chancellor of UW-Madison last spring. Replaying this scenario in my mind literally makes me laugh out loud now, especially seeing the treatment my parents (complete and total strangers here who don’t know the language or culture) received throughout the entirety of their visit. UW-Madison spent countless hours and a great deal of effort trying to convince my family and I how dangerous Nigeria is and how it was unfit for a UW student to pursue academic interests there under the university’s name. We knew in our hearts there were obviously a great deal of political and opinionated topics being brought into the issue that had nothing to do with me or the other students. Anyway, I’m no longer a registered student at any college in the United States, but at least my family and I can have a good laugh over it.

I will be here for five more months if anyone else wants to come visit and experience this completely crazy and different world I call Nigeria for themselves!

My two moms

my parents and younger brother in their new native wear

The Government Chairman who gave us his car

Meat in Nigeria is rarely refrigerated and sold on the street where it is susceptible to diesel and trash fire soot, flies, and whatever else nature throws its way-all part of the experience (and initial shock)


10 Nov

Although today is a Wednesday, it is more like a Saturday for much of Nigeria. Tomorrow and Friday will also resemble Saturdays. Starting today, every employee of the Federal Government of Nigeria will go on strike for at least three days, possibly more. The demonstration has to do with immense frustrations over a promise the government made early in the year to institute a new minimum wage. They said it would begin in July. After seeing no change in salaries, workers threatened to strike, but the government promised a salary increase to the new minimum wage by October. Surprise, surprise, the workers have yet to see the increase. Workers are prepared to strike for longer than three days should they not see the intended result they are hoping for. In a country that is incurably religious (mostly Christian and Muslim, scary to me at times how intense people are about religion here), this has severe implications for the upcoming Muslim Festival (Eleya). Last night on the news, a prominent mosque leader from Abuja, the nation’s capital, warned that this strike has implications to ruin the entire holiday, as many Muslims around the country are preparing to leave for Mecca (the pinnacle of the Islamic religion). With a nation-wide strike in place, these people’s plans could be destroyed. Other Muslims making preparations for the upcoming festival could also be severely hindered.

This is the first time federal government employees have gone on strike this year. Teachers working under the state government of Oyo (the state I am living in), however, have already gone on strike this year from June to July, also over minimum wage and salary disputes for teachers of the state. My mom falls under this category, as she is a teacher at a public school here in Ibadan. This morning, we had a long talk about the labor strikes as she was making me breakfast (normally I make breakfast for myself on weekdays because she is at school). When I initially asked her how many times she has been on strike this year, she just started laughing.

Furthermore, all university employees at every single university in Nigeria have begun a strike today that could potentially last for over two weeks. Since May, universities in the eastern part of Nigeria have been on strike over salary grievances, particularly a minimum wage adjustment. Due to the fact that state governments in the east and the federal government have yet to do ANYTHING about their dispute, universities all over Nigeria are joining them in their strike beginning today, to help support their argument and to show that all universities are in this together. How does this effect me? It’s too early to tell, but it’s possible that I won’t be starting classes until January. Although I am supposed to start classes on November 29th, registration for non-freshman doesn’t begin until December 7th. Classes begin anytime from around December 9th-14th. Therefore, with the Christmas and New Years holidays, it is very feasible that I won’t be taking any classes until January. Welcome to Nigeria!

Language as both an opportunity and a barrier to development.

1 Nov

Prior to departing for Nigeria, I distinctly remember people not understanding when I told them I was coming here. “Why?” “Why would you ever want to go there?” and “Huh?” were typical questions among other signs of shock. Many of these people I told were Nigerians, and they didn’t seem to understand any better. Furthermore, when I explained that my principal goal here was to learn Yoruba language and culture to the highest level of proficiency, their surprise and confusion only escalated. Although I have always been sure of my goals and my reasons for coming, from time to time I question what exactly it is I am doing here, what I hope to do with a full understanding and competency in Yoruba in the future, and the underlying reasons I care about this program. I know that everyone engages in this type of interpersonal exploration from time to time. On Wednesday of this past week, I had several profound revelations that completely solidified answers to each of the questions I have asked myself.

I met a man named Dr. Adegbola who owns a company working to develop technology related to African languages. He is perhaps one of the most interesting people I have met since I arrived and had a lot of knowledge and insight relating to the importance of indigenous languages. One of the biggest reasons to support indigenous languages is that people learn and comprehend best in their mother tongue. For example, rapidly growing and developing countries such as China, Japan, and Taiwan all teach science and technology related classes in their indigenous languages. Nigeria, on the contrary, teaches these courses in English, as it is the official language of the country (an attempt by the British to unify several very different tribes all with distinct languages). If you refer to the United Nations’ Human Development Index, countries that use mother tongues to teach science/technology based courses score significantly higher than countries that use a second language. Due to the fact that Nigeria falls under the latter, it regarded “behind” China, Japan, etc. in development, despite the fact that Nigeria’s economy has a lot of potential (it is the 17th fastest growing in the world).

Nigeria’s educational system actively tries to devalue indigenous languages-after primary school, students are not allowed to speak “vernacular,” or their indigenous languages at school. Mother tongues are considered as “poor grammar” and “slang.” Nigeria’s university system operates in English only. The fact that Nigeria’s educational system (especially higher education) doesn’t highly regard languages has profound implications, as it sets the stage for an astronomical paradox in Nigerian society: the theory and application of technology are completely separate. Nigeria has a large number of highly educated individuals in nearly every discipline under the sun (the theory side). The paradox however, lies in the application. For technology to be effective, theory and application must be one. In Nigeria, most of society still speaks indigenous languages, or at least indigenous tongues are what people understand, learn, and think in best. An example of this paradox is ATM machines. All ATM machines only operate in English here. Many men and women who make a living selling goods at markets aren’t always well-versed in the English language or computers, as many of us Westerners are and take for granted. Therefore, if they want to make a bank transaction, they either have to bring someone to the ATM with them (and compromise their pin number, an especially risky activity in Nigeria), or go to the bank and wait in notoriously long lines. Dr. Adegbola’s company is working with Microsoft (who has a monopoly on ATM software in Nigeria) to develop interfaces in Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo, Nigeria’s three most common tribal languages. This development brings the application to the same playing field as the theory, as all of these native speakers making a living at the market will now be able to use ATM machines, alleviating the horrendously long wait times at Nigerian banks.

Another paradox lies in the academic and societal branches of language. Unfortunately, Nigeria has relatively low literacy rates today (68% according to the CIA World Fact Book), in part due to lack of infrastructure/funding for a solid country-wide educational system, as well as the fact that many indigenous languages here have strong roots in oral tradition. Therefore, an individual may be highly educated in an indigenous language, but if they cannot write it down they are considered illiterate, even though oral tradition is as highly regarded here as the western world regards written literature. Due to the level of literacy rates as well as what I mentioned above about learning pace with indigenous languages, the English language really only has a strong academic branch here. The societal branch is convoluted and blurred by both the youth, who are more focused on the latest European and American fashions and mobile phones than real aspects of intelligence relating to the language (many disillusioned by the misconception that everyone in America runs around like 50-cent and Snoop Dogg), and the elders who still interpret and understand everything best in their mother tongues. How is a language supposed to be 100% effective without being firmly rooted in society? Yes, english is the official language of Nigeria, and most Nigerians I have met are bi or trilingual, however it is not difficult to see that English is considered superior to the other languages. Language is a dynamic entity, as it has every characteristic that a living organism has. If language is so capable of adapting and changing, and indigenous languages are clearly better mediums of learning, then why is it compulsory in Nigeria to turn away from indigenous languages? Other countries that have embraced indigenous languages have obviously experienced more rapid growth and development, so why doesn’t Nigeria fall into this category?

I have heard many people in Nigeria talk about how they are sick of hearing Africa and Nigeria constantly referred to as underdeveloped, lagging behind, sub-par, etc. These derogatory terms, unfortunately and paradoxically, just push people away from their own cultures, traditions, and languages. They simply cause embarrassment and resentment towards people’s’ own cultures. Language, culture, and identity cannot be separated from one another. If one is lost (whether it be intentionally or accidentally), you inadvertently lose all three. For example, I have observed that most of the youth here are extremely preoccupied with learning English language and culture. They think that if they are well versed in western culture, it will improve their chances of being able to move to America or Great Britain (the life dream of many people here). Learning English is also the only option for Nigerians who want to study at a university or learn anything about science and technology. The paradox here is that although those learning English think they are bettering themselves and their country (they are to some extent), they are actually digging themselves into a deeper hole as there is no firm societal root in the language here. I do not wish to say that it is bad for Nigerians to learn English, but when it is ultimately sought after to replace indigenous languages and cultures (often the case here), Nigerians have then shortchanged themselves of their best portal to learn in-their indigenous language, while simultaneously sacrificing part of their identity.

Consequentially, there is a small group of scholars in Nigeria who consider themselves “language activists”-advocates for indigenous language acquisition and support. One of these language activists is Professor Kolawole Owolabi, one of the directors of my program. Language activism is a bottom-up approach for international development. I completely agree with the notion that in underdeveloped and developing countries (I reluctantly use these words here), change needs to come from within: from the bottom-up. Outside sources coming in and taking control of a conflict, corruption, or poverty-stricken area rarely prove completely effective or worth it in the long run (unless someone in the equation gets completely cheated or short-changed). Essentially, top-down transformation is colonialism and I think that Nigeria is a prime example of this-only 50 years ago did it gain its independence from the British. Today, it is still ruled by a British-style, top-down government that is essentially completely ineffective and notoriously corrupt. I’m not trying got sound like an over-privileged white college student from a liberal university in America who goes to Africa and think he can easily solve all of the problems, because I certainly am not trying to be. What I do claim is my opinion, and that is that indigenous languages and cultures should be regarded highly and respected, especially by those whom it is their heritage. Indigenous languages are the most effective ways of communicating and learning, as they are deeply ingrained in people’s blood and hearts, and have been so for generations. In a situation like Nigeria, the decreasing regard for indigenous languages and cultures is obviously holding the country back from its massive potential (economy, population, investment potential, abundant natural resources, etc.).

So where do I fit in all of this? How does this help me answer the question, “What am I doing here?” If you followed me around for a day here, it would not be hard to figure out. I have now become completely desensitized to the complete shock, awe, and amazement experienced by nearly every Yoruba speaker I have met here when they hear me speak for the first time. It is extremely rare for a white American to come to Nigeria for the sole purpose of learning Yoruba language and culture.

Typical swarming scenario

Every time I get in a danfo, buy something at the market, say hello to someone on the street, or interact with students at school, people want to converse with me at length about what I am doing here (and to see if I can actually speak their language). My group of five students from America has been in newspapers and on several TV interviews in Ibadan, and this has made us quite popular. It seems that everywhere I go in this city of five million people, someone is shouting “Kayode! Kayode!” because they saw me on TV or in the paper. Two weeks ago, I got in a danfo in a neighborhood called Moniya, about 20 minutes away from where I live. Every single one of the nine people inside the van knew who I was and had seem the TV interview. I thought it was very strange when we first arrived that everyone was so excited to publicize us, put us on TV, put us in the papers, etc.

The TV interview that made us famous

Now, however, it makes sense to me. The fact that foreigners are taking an active and serious interest in a traditional language and culture here is a huge source of inspiration, in addition to shock and awe. It helps to show people that their native languages are important, and it is not as if the entire world completely disregards them. In conclusion, after hearing Dr. Adegbola’s lecture last week, something clicked and everything seemed to fall into place. I did my best to describe this epiphany above. Perhaps a more concise way to put it is that I have become a language activist, fighting for the importance of an indigenous language in a country where I am a complete minority in every sense of the word.

Public Transportation in Ibadan

27 Oct

As an American, when I hear the words “public transportation,” images of buses, subways and trains appear. Now that I’ve become a true “omo-Ìbadàn” (child of Ibadan), I think of the three most common forms of transportation here: okadas, danfos, and taxis. An okada is a motorcycle taxi. Okadas are by far the fastest, but also the most dangerous way to get around the city. Usually okadas carry one or two passengers, but I am always entertained by how people push these limits.

Oakada shenanigans

It is not uncommon to see a husband, wife, and their new-born child strapped onto the woman’s back with a piece of cloth (this is how all Yoruba women carry their babies for the first year or so of their lives). I have also seen more strange sights such as people balancing everything from semi truck doors, to a pack of goats tied up, while riding two-deep on the back of an okada.

family okada ride

Okadas are the preferred method of transport by many, as they can weave in and out of cars during traffic jams (which are atrocious at times in Nigeria due to lack of infrastructure and urban planning). Even when there are not traffic jams, the speed of traffic is very slow, as speed bumps are used in place of speed limits, and massive potholes are rampant as well as other obstacles such as goats and chickens that are ever-present on the city streets.

Danfos are extremely old and haggard vans usually crammed to double their intended capacity. The danfo consists of a driver and a conductor, who gathers customers and collects money. In the video below, the conductors are the ones with the throaty voices yelling out the names of neighborhoods (Sango, Mokola Dugbe! Sango Mokola Dugbe! or Beere oja-oba! Beere Oja-oba!). Danfo rides are very uncomfortable to say the least. Passengers alternate between leaning forward and backward, as there is not enough space for everyone to sit in a line.


When the danfo is not moving (a majority of the time), body odor, diesel exhaust, trash-fire smoke, smoking fish, urine, and gasoline quickly find their way up your nose nostrils. I always quickly sweat through my clothing in danfos, not only from the heat outside, but because the heat from the engine is enough to make you hold your knees tight to your chest to keep your feet off of the scorching hot floor. Nonetheless, riding a danfo is an experience. Danfo drivers are often illiterate and have no drivers lisences, so sketchy flirts with car accidents, colorful language on behalf of the driver and those the driver has offended, and jerky, jostling movement from the gear shifts and turns of the steering wheel never fail to add to the excitement.

Taxis, although they sound fairly civilized, are more like mini-danfos. They are packed full-two passengers in the single front seat, usually someone on someone else’s lap in the back. They rarely start by the ignition, usually by hot-wire or a push start. Gages, radios, air conditioning, padding on seats and doors, and functioning door handles are almost never present. Despite all of these scratches and dents I’ve described, this public transportation system suffices to meet the needs of Ibadan’s 5 million citizens everyday. Most everyone uses public transportation somewhat regularly. Even though my family has three automobiles, my mom still scoots all around Ibadan on Danfos as it is often difficult to find a place to park cars, and overheating of cars is a huge concern here (most people turn off their engines when they are driving downhill, or stopped for ANY length of time at an intersection/in a traffic jam). I am highly impressed by the fact that although there is no organized single entity that makes up pubic transportation here, individuals have stepped up to fill in the discrepancy in social amenities left by Nigeria’s horribly corrupt and ineffective government. It is yet another example of how chaos breeds creativity. I would argue that danfos run more regularly than New York City subways, and although they may take longer sometimes, they are much more personalized.

The video below highlights my daily routing going to my internship in the morning-a radio and TV studio about 4-5 miles away from my home. The journey usually takes about an hour, but i’ve condensed it into a six minute video. Hope you enjoy!

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