By Zika Bobby
IT shares certain many similarities with Trench Town in Jamaica and Soweto in South Africa, where the residents rank among the poorest. It is regarded as one of the most popular ghettos in Africa. It is a place you get the good, the bad, the ugly and the outright terrible. Its name resonates across Nigeria. It is Ajegunle, Nigeria’s most notorious slum.
Ajegunle has been described as a community that epitomises the entity called Nigeria. It is a community that swims in the pool of neglect, tragicomedy, absurdities and fame. It is a place known by many names – AJ City. Jungle. Ilu Isobo.
But ask many of its residents, and they’ll tell you it is the land of fortune. And they do have a point. Ajegunle, in Yoruba, means “wealth has landed here.”
It is a cosmopolitan community located in the Ajeromi/Ifelodun Local Government Area of Lagos State. It is a concentration of all the ethnic groups in Nigeria. In the past, Ajegunle was the boundary between the Western Region and the Lagos Colony. The area called Boundary in Ajegunle marked the boundary point between the Western Region and the Lagos Colony. Apapa Wharf and Tincan Island, where two of Nigeria’s biggest seaports are located, border the community on the west.
Ajegunle means different things to different folks. To some, it is a Lagos suburb that is notorious for its filthiness and criminal tendencies. To some, it is an undesired debacle in the midst of a sprawling megacity. To others, it ranks as one of Nigeria’s most disturbing ghettos. Yet, some revere Ajegunle as the birthplace of football and music superstars, a town that occupies an ultimate pedestal on the Nigerian entertainment landscape.
For Emmanuel Etu, an Ajegunle resident, most people don’t even know the real Ajegunle.
“Most people don’t know that we have Ajegunle and Olodi-Apapa. The Ayeke Bridge divides the area. From one side of the bridge, you have Olodi Apapa, which is the cleaner Ajegunle. From the other side of the bridge where we have Olayinka, Ogbowankwo, Arumo, Iyalode, Cemetery, that is the real Ajegunle. That is where you get the worst of the slums. But since inception, the whole area has been called AJ city and it has remained like that. This is where you will find the Yoruba, the Urhobo, the Ijaw, the Isoko, the Igbo, the Bini,
the Igalla, the Efik, the Ibibio, the Hausa. Ajegunle is Nigeria inside Nigeria,” he said.
As it exudes raw poverty, neglect, infrastructural decay and squalor, so does it exude raw talent. Pidgin English is the popular language in Ajegunle. It is what the young and the old speak so fluently.
Unemployment, crime and gambling are at their peak in AJ City as young boys and girls roam the streets in thousands. They roam because they don’t have jobs and many are either school dropouts or out of school. An early morning visit to a local food vendor around the Hausa line axis of the area, and you would see children all lining up to buy food. Adults are not left out, as most of them would rather buy food than cook.
“My brother, it is easy and faster for us. No need to start going through the usual kitchen process. We cook in the evening,” said a woman at the joint.
Wherever you go in Ajegunle, you see young boys sitting in groups discussing all manners of issues. Football, fashion, how to make easy money, women, booze and sex are usually the most common topics. You will hardly hear them discuss education. These boys who still live with their parents have taken to gambling just to provide for their needs. The usual Baba Ijebu (gambling) points and other betting spots are patronised by the youths, whose parents too now believe that quick money can come from gambling. The most bizarre thing now is that many people patronise lunatics and other mentally challenged individuals to get winning numbers.
“A mad man gave me numbers once and I won N25, 000. It works. A lot of people win money everyday and with the money they can take care of the home front. This change is hot. We need money. After all, gambling is not a crime,” said a betting agent.
Investigation revealed that some years ago, Internet fraud used to be the most popular vocation for most young men in Ajegunle. But as that ‘vocation’ no longer pays the bills, many have shifted to gambling.
“When they win, you will know, because the bar around them will be filled. They will invite their friends and girlfriends, and they will drink till midnight. The following day, they will continue. If the winning is huge, you will not see them around. They go clubbing. You will also know when the money is
about to finish. You won’t see them at beer parlours again. Where you’ll find them are the ogogoro (local gin) joints. Is it a must that when you get money you must drink? This is a wasted generation. Somebody who won, say, N300, 000 last week, if you see him this week, he can’t boast of N300. Is that not a wasted generation? We are in trouble,” said a man at a bar.
Armed robbery is not new in Ajegunle, and some major robberies have happened in the area. The notorious One Million Boys, a gang of dreaded bandits, started in Ajegunle and many suffered for it. Just as crime took over the area, many others stood firm to battle crime. Vigilance groups were set up to tackle the menace. This was very successful, as the One Million Boys relocated finally from Ajegunle.
Prostitutes as breadwinners
In Ajegunle, the quest for survival has led to an increase in prostitution. Most of the girls who take to prostitution have become breadwinners of their homes. Fathers either work as security guards, drivers, or are out of work, while most mothers are petty traders. What they bring in can hardly take care of the homes. Some of the young ladies would justify their hustling and whoring, saying it pays them to sleep with men who will pay to take care of their families than have sex with a young boy for free.
“No love for AJ,” a lady at a popular bar along Bale Street told the reporter. “And it is ‘runs’ that we do, not prostitution. We don’t leave in brothels. We have homes. ‘Runs’ is business.”
But those living in the brothels will also tell you that they have families and they care for them too. A barman at a brothel in
the Tolu area of Ajegunle informed that in December, most girls travel home with bags of rice, oil and other items. “The girls didn’t fall from the sky. They too have families. The only thing is that their families don’t know the type of work that they do,” he said.
Most of the girls that come out from AJ City are usually very pretty. In the 80s and 90s, Apapa was the place to be for most call girls from Ajegunle. But today, hotels, bars and nightclubs dot virtually every street. Nightlife is now a common phenomenon. There are brothels and cheap hotels where young ladies in skimpy clothes wait at the entrance for prospective customers.
The Tolu axis of AJ City boasts of no fewer than 10 brothels housing thousands of prostitutes of all shape and sizes and of all ages. The reporter visited Olu Williams, a prominent figure in the area to find out how prostitution started in the popular Lagos ghetto.
“There is this area called Gorilla. It is an alleyway that houses prostitutes and it has been in existence for over 40 years. This is the first prostitution joint in AJ City. It is a lane and the whole of that lane was the home of prostitutes. When you go there, the first thing the prostitutes tell you is, ‘good evening.’ So, many people referred to the place as Good Evening Street. What they now call one hour was known then as ‘one mouth.’ When you want to stay with her all through the night, it is called TDB – Till Day Breaks. In the 70s and 80s, the youngest prostitute you would find there would not be less than 30 years old. But from the 90s, they started having prostitutes of all ages.
“The second prostitutes’ joint was Mary’s Conner by Nasamu Street. Mary was well known by so many men. At that time, she was being protected by a notorious armed robber called Apollo. She used to pay him two naira daily for protection. Apollo was resident at Rorobi Street. But today, the music has changed as you now find hotels in almost
all streets in Ajegunle. Now you tell me, why won’t prostitution be big business? Parents were giving birth to so many children that they could never take care of. These children grow up and become part of a system that corrupts them. Only few have been able to escape the negative influence the area gives.”
At the Maracana football field, some boys, after smoking wraps of jumbo sized marijuana, told the reporter that they were optimistic that they would play football in the big European leagues someday. How they hope to achieve such feat with their affinity with weed, prostitution and booze is uncertain, however.
Holy prostitutes and more
“Prostitution has grade,” a young man informed. “Bros, we have local prostitutes. We call these ones Sarewagba,” meaning “rush down and take.” They are always present in every hood. All they need is some recharge cards, and then you are free to explore. Then we have part-time prostitutes. They will be the ones to call you whenever they are broke so that they can pay you a visit. Full-time prostitutes are the real deal. You will always find them only in the night, around suya joints, beer parlours, and on the streets. They charge very low. You can even try your luck with N750. Then we have the holy prostitutes. They hide under the guise of religion. You can get then on their way from the church. They are always emotional after doing it. Some will even start crying and you will start feeling guilty. We have the e-prostitutes. These ones you would get online. They are on every social network. There are the corporate prostitutes. They are always good-looking and don’t have time for dating and long stories because they already have their partners. Then we have the high- class prostitutes. If you are not a millionaire, don’t just render yourself useless by going near them. Politicians, successful businessmen and popular actors always patronize them.
Great stories from the Jungle
But Ajegunle isn’t just about the bad and the terrible. Many great things have happened in the area, and more are still happening. Today, Ajegunle not only has the remarkable repertoire of musicians who, with a blitz of grit, have made notable strides in contemporary Nigeria, it is also reckoned with for the vibrant musical culture that had emanated from there.
AJ City is also famous for producing some of the country’s finest broadcasters and disc jockeys that became household names in the entertainment industry. It has produced many notable footballers including world-renowned stars like Samson Siasia, Watford striker, Odion Ighalo, former Super Eagles defender, Taribo West, Emmanuel Amunike, Tarila Okorowanta, among others. In AJ, football is played in every home. From the youngest to the oldest, the knowledge of the game is not lacking. You see children kicking all manner of objects, just as parents encourage their children to play the game. On environmental days, rather than engage in the monthly sanitation exercise, it is football on all streets. For serious football, Maracana and Navy fields are the main venues. The Mock Nations Cup is being hosted in Ajegunle on a yearly basis, and it has witnessed notable names like Samson Siasia and Henry Nwosu among others. It is organised annually by Lawrence Alabrah.
The entertainment industry also houses some notable AJ stars, like Daddy Showkey, Oritse Femi, Daddy Fresh, Papa fryo and many others.
Wowo Ogaga is one young man who grew in Ajegunle and became one of the most talked about photographers in the area. He single-handedly transformed the perception of photography in Ajegunle. Today he is hugely successful. Just last year he hosted the first ever Ajegunle Fashion Week, an event that took the area by storm. He told the reporter: “If you are not proud of where you are from, it means you are a nobody. Ajegunle is a land filled with opportunities, filled with brains. We have created our own genre of music. Without conventional promotions, the world listened to legends like Daddy Showkey, Basket mouth, Samson Siasia, Baba Fryo, Don Jazzy, Oritse Femi, Daddy Fresh, OPJ of Wazobia FM, and many more. These people did not only become accomplished in their different exploits, they also remain globally celebrated. With the Ajegunle Fashion Week, we have introduced our own fashion and style.”
Rita Orji is one lady who has touched the lives of thousands of women in Ajegunle with her empowerment programmes. She took the area by storm when she defeated the ruling party to win the Federal House of Representatives seat. Blessing Williams is an international model. Her zeal and tenacious attitude crowned her the Miss Bikini Nigeria International 2015. Lucy Akaedu has redefined the image and style of the Ajegunle Girl through her platform – Face of Ajegunle Beauty Pageant. Frank Ebokar and his group of friends have, for years, been giving back to the community that made them. They formed a group where they give to less privileged homes on a yearly basis.
Ajegunle houses perhaps the biggest school complex in West Africa – the Tolu Schools Complex. This is one place where 37 schools struggle for space. Brilliant students have emerged from this complex and many people who have made a name in their professions were at one time or the other students in the complex.
Bale Street in the Boundary area hosts one of the biggest and oldest bookshop villages in Nigeria. The place is said to have been operating for over three decades. The area houses many bookshops where you can get books from nursery to university level. Professional books are not left out. Books here are sold at wholesale prices. People from all over Lagos come to buy books there.
And you’ll find AJ ambassadors all over the world. According to the former President General of Ajegunle Meeting World Wide, Emmanuel Etu, a meeting is held once in every month in major cities across the world.
“We have them in the US, Britain, Germany, Italy, Spain, France, everywhere. These are people who grew up and once lived in Ajegunle. Fortune smiled on them and they had to travel. Some are footballers, disc jockeys, engineers, lawyers and so on. That was why when we had to raise funds for little Samuel Idimoku who had a hole in the heart, the support was great. We gathered everybody that mattered in AJ and the fund raising was successful. The operation too was successful. Our South-South brother, Tom Ateke really played a tremendous role to ensure that little Samuel did not die. “We are a family when it comes to supporting a brother or sister. The group, every year, gives award to deserving AJ men and women who have excelled in their various fields. Daddy Showkey was the first recipient of the award, followed by Nollywoood star, Ada Ameh who is from AJ City. We have an organisation, Helping Hands that is also making lives meaningful to the ordinary AJ youth.” Coordinator of the organisation, Paul Moses, said the NGO is giving hope to hopeless girls with its free skill acquisition programme. There, the girls learn cake making, sewing, tie and dye, hair dressing. Etu said he now runs the Ajegunle Great Elite Association. “This is a group of people with like minds, people who have the same vision for a better Ajegunle. We are already talking with a super movie producer who plans to shot a movie in AJ City, using talents from Ajegunle. Also a popular musician from the area is also working on having a music academy in AJ. It will be the first of its kind. These are all what we hope will put a shine on AJ City and the people. Because, when you really look at it, in spite of whatever people outside might feel or think, Ajegunle is a great place with great people.”