Ojuelegba: Return Of A City’s Groove Centre
OJUELEGBA community in Surulere, Lagos State, is a phoenix. For those who were in Lagos in the early 6os, up to the late 80s, it brings the nostalgic vibrancy of old Lagos, where things worked, and night crawlers moved freely from one part of the town to another, seeking fun.
The place is abuzz with human activities in the day and becomes a red light district at night. From Idi-Oro to Jibowu, and Ayilara, which share boundary with Ojuelegba, the story is the same. Pass through these areas from 6pm, and you will see restaurants, or relaxation centres opening shops or restocking their bars in anticipation of customers, predominantly night crawlers.
Unlike other streets in the area, Ayilara never sleeps, as crawlers gather in their numbers and catch fun till the wee hours. Here, the watchword is: money, women and wine. Women of all colours, shapes and sizes line the street, attired in seductive wears, hoping to attract men.
Partitioned in two by Lawanson Road, the right part of Ayilara begins from Lawanson junction, veers off to Clegg Street, and then moves on to the Barracks end of Western Avenue. The left-hand side, which also begins from the junction, hosts the famed red light district. Any man alighting at the junction, as from 10pm, was sure to be accosted by a horde of streetwalkers. These ladies employ all manners of seduction, like exposing their breasts for potential clients to see or making passing clients feel the firmness of their breasts. They appear simple, but behind the façade are claws waiting to tear the most virile of men to pieces.
“What you are looking at is a big underground economy with huge turnover,” said Kelvin, a resident of the area, stressing ‘underground’, with wryness, and suggesting the state government has long overlooked an ‘energetic’ source of revenue.
On the entire street, including adjoining ones, customers are entertained with lewd music. Some drinking centres even thrill their customers with belly dancers.
Bolstering this flourishing sex trade are various drinking and entertainment spots that operate till dawn. These sometimes provide space in their inner chambers for these easy women and their customers to tango. The male clients only have to part with amounts between N500 and N2000, depending on the comfort of the chambers. With a bed, the man would pay higher. For a table or a mat, the gate fee crashes.
The service, however, does not come by a mere offering of money. The man, by existing tradition, has to buy drinks and pepper soup from the operators. With business booming, some landlords are happily turning their residential houses to chalets.
Taxicab operators are certainly not napping. They also are cashing in on the nighttime economy, with different kinds of cars, branded and unbranded, conveying prospective night crawlers to their destinations. The suya-roasting Mallam and, of course, women selling all manner of hot drinks in small bottles, also use the opportunity to make cool returns.
In the 70s to the early 1990s, Ayilara, Moshalashi and Jibowu, all within the Ojuelgaba enclave, were crime flashpoints. They had the highest number of brothels, hotels, nightclubs, casinos and cinemas than any other part of Lagos. This, however, changed when in the 90s soldiers and police cleared the area, as a result of armed robbers that hibernate in hotels following their outings. For similar reasons, government also revoked the licenses of some hotels and nightclubs. This made most of the fun centres to be converted to residential and religious buildings.
With the former Governor Babatunde Fashola-led administration giving Ojuelegba and other areas a facelift, tarring roads and providing streetlights that added beauty and made movement safe at night, the area has returned to its old self. These communities are not only going back to their old ways, they are also reinventing themselves. While hotels and cinemas have given way, religious houses, shopping plazas and retailing shops have taken over, turning the place into a bubbling business hub.
On Fridays, when Muslims go to mosques, most of the roads are impassable because of the activities of faithful in the area. On Sundays, the story is not different. No sooner do church services end than indigenes of some ethnic groups gather to hold meetings at open spaces. And in the evenings, as if drawing the curtain on the day’s business, the various drinking spots come alive, serving customers till the next day.
Reminiscing, Mr. Fineface Benjamin, a taxi driver, who claimed he had lived in the area since 1978, said: “Ayilara is fast returning to its old status as a hotspot for prostitutes. In the late 90s, the whole area, from Jibowu, Moshalashi, and Ojuelegba to Ayilara, was cleared by armed soldiers and police. Many of the prostitutes were arrested and nightlife dropped. But, today, all that have changed; the area now has an active nightlife.
“Though government policy made the owners of those hotels and cinemas change them to residential houses, while churches took over some, the new style is that some of the shops have chalets; they have small rooms where a streetwalker can easily go in with a client. Their price ranges between N500 and N2000, depending on the hour of the day, and comfort of the chamber,” he said.
According to one Alhaji Fatai, who said he had been doing business around the Jibowu area since 1977, Fela’s shrine, Sunny Ade’s Ariya nightclub, Bobby Benson’s club, and others, that existed from the 70 to the 90s, contributed to making Ojuelegba, Jibowu and Ayilara a hotspot for prostitution. He said that even though these notable places no longer exist in the area, the atmosphere they created continues to thrive.
“When these nightclubs were in existence, some businessmen, established brothels where these women stay in the afternoon, and at night go about their businesses. But when the clubs closed shop, these brothels continued to operate until some of them were forced to close shop because police regularly came there to fish out criminals.
“However, with government providing some amenities, like good roads, security and streetlights, it is like reactivating nightlife, because the state is now relatively safe. This allows people to move around and enjoy themselves and also allows relaxation centres stay open throughout the night,” said Fatai.
While some see the women of easy virtue as threat to the decency of Ojuelegba and its environs, others see them as a plus to the area. According to Ndidika, a fast food operator, the ladies are the stimulants for night business.
“How would I be in business without them? Imagine, they are the reason taxicabs, restaurants, bouncers, and other small businesses operate till the next day, everyday. In fact, some brewery firms send their sales representatives to this area at night, in order to sell their products under the guise of doing promotions. You should imagine the level of business activities that go on here; it’s almost like in broad daylight.
“Another thing that is worth noting is that the area remains a safe haven; it is peaceful, day and night. Hardly would you hear of an armed robbery attack. And no matter where you are coming from in Lagos, you will always find a vehicle to bring you here,” said Ndidika.
Disclosing how landlords are making the best of the opportunity, one chemist owner in the area said they now lease the space in front of their houses to two categories of tenants: night and day users.
“One set of business people use the front of the house during the day and at night it falls to another tenant, who perhaps operates a drinking corner or a canteen. The area is good for business most people endure it. Besides, what do you do with such space at night?”
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