Written by Dapo Thomas
By all traditional indices and parameters, Iwo Road is qualified to be called “the crossroads that troubles the visitor”. It is a major road with several intersections. A section of the road takes you to Ife; another one leads you to Iwo Town; one also takes you to Oyo via Ojo.
The other two lead you to “Gate” in the heart of Ibadan and Lagos respectively. Iwo Road also has its own traditional narratives. The myth about the road is that it is the crossroads where deities and other weird creatures converge in the dead of the night; and it is believed that such assembly is good for the state because of its divine returns. In Ibadan, as in other major Yoruba towns, the visit of the gods at any point in time is always a sign of blessing. It is therefore in the interest of the state to allow the deities ascend and descend at will to avoid blessing deficit. It is this myth that was said to have constrained past administrations in Oyo State from lifting Iwo Road from its accustomed labyrinth.
The convocation of metaphysical agents and forces within and around Iwo Road and the conspiracy of previous administrations in Oyo State, evident in their unwillingness to liquidate this evil assemblage, confirm the cultural indulgence the notorious road had enjoyed in the past years. But whatever may be the myth around Iwo Road should not conflict with its political metaphor.
Each time I pass through Iwo Road, I see the vacuity of our political leadership, the depravity of humanity and the desperation of a struggling people. I see the rejects of the society that are in the world but as mere walking corpses. I see disgruntled and angry women strapped their future to their back with a loose sash, looking askance into a tomorrow that is already dead to them. I see a colony of malcontents dramatising the vanities and inanities of an unjust society. I see a people with mangled aspirations drooping their heads in total submission to their failed visions and the remnant of their expectations.
Even in its present appearance of grandeur, Iwo Road remains the theatre of the absurd where people of diverse destinies connect with their existential realities. Iwo Road is the crossroads that leads some people to their destinations and frustrates others from reaching their destinies.
Iwo Road is home to different human characters: the money changers, hawkers of anything under the sun, madmen and specialists, beggars of diverse tactics, touts and thugs, assassins and apprentices of evil, food vendors and their consuming multitude, jobless graduates roaming around and about, urchins with their tools of crisis, labourers and their implements of grit, security agents and their revenue collectors, street sweepers with their brooms of pity, goggle-eyed intellectuals and their observatory ladders, government officials with their tax files. The list is endless. Then the traffic. This is the major phenomenon of Iwo Road. It is a disservice to grammatical expression to say that what people experience daily at Iwo Road is ‘go slow’. No, it is more than that. Without being hyperbolic, it is a gridlock. On a daily basis, travellers are trapped for hours in the gridlock, workers get late to office because of it. The traffic wardens end up creating traffic stalemate. They stand in the midst of the traffic not knowing what to do, where to start from or who to blame. The confusion begins from nowhere and ends at nowhere. This gridlock is tied to its mystery.
The Abiola Ajimobi government with its ‘consensual sloganeering credo must have been intrigued by the Iwo Road mystery hence its resolve to unravel it. Ajimobi must have realised that the secret of the success of his administration lies in his ability to deal with this mystery through a systemic despatch of its nuisance contents. The governor, therefore, decided to engage the Iwo Road mafia in a battle of wits which he seems to be winning. The first move was the relocation of the parks. Though, some of them have refused to obey this relocation order, it is not as bad as it used to be. Then, some structures encroaching on the road were demolished while some traders were sent packing. Some of the illegal bus parks are now undergoing beautification and landscaping evolution. Thus, a new Iwo Road stripped of all forms of traditional razzmatazz is emerging.
No responsible government in this modern age will subscribe to a risible myth or succumb to the fallacy of a witch-cult fantasy. Why should Iwo Road not undergo a revification simply because some weird creatures are said to have turned the place to a midnight eatery where they feast on “appeasement menu” in assorted calabashes brought by patrons of herbalists and promoters of “IÌc¹Ìce”? The best the government can do for them in this regard is to relocate their eatery to places like Dugbe, Yemetu, Orita Challenge, Idi-Arere, Beere, Oje and the rest. Ibadan, and indeed, Oyo State as a whole, does not appear to me like a state that will lack a convenient venue for the convocation and revelry of midnight principalities and other entities of darkness.
All previous administrations before Ajimobi were unable to solve the Iwo Road mystery because they lacked the creativity to deconstruct its metaphor and understand the contemporariness of its social construct. These days, governance requires depth of ideas, good thinking, poetic logic, political theatrics, oratorical dramatics and above all, divine wisdom. When you lack all these, you lack initiative. Any inspirational and creative administration must understand and appreciate the economic dynamics of roads. When you have gridlock spots where vehicles are trapped for several hours, there is an alarming decline in economic activities and by extension, in revenue. Unrestricted movements of human personnel and the facilitation of their economic goods are revenue-friendly to a government that develops and maintains its infrastructure, especially roads.
The massive road constructions going on in states like Lagos, Osun, Ekiti, Ogun, Oyo, Edo and Imo, confirm the linkage between roads, economic growth and other development indicators. Strategic road networking is key to development and is also a major boost to regional integration. Since all the states in the South West are determined to forge ahead with the process of integration, all efforts must be made towards upgrading their infrastructure by making it trade-friendly. This way, they will stimulate and create massive opportunities for their peoples and invariably guarantee their economic prosperity.
The rehabilitation work at Iwo Road is, therefore, the elixir that the Ajimobi government needs to provoke the inspiration it requires in unlocking the problematics of other projects and similar policy gridlocks.
With the new law banning street begging in Oyo State, the transformation of Iwo Road is nearing total completion. Besides, the Oyo State Traffic Management and the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) have deployed personnel to the road for effective monitoring. These days, movement around the road is somehow smooth and stress-free.
What Ajimobi is doing in Iwo Road was what Babatunde Fashola did to Oshodi some years back.
I am not too sure if Oshodi had its own myth but what I do know is that Fashola’s intervention has demystified the notorious Oshodi. Since that intervention, Oshodi has remained quiet, fomenting no crisis, witnessing no trouble and engendering no conflict. The gridlock had since disappeared. Vehicular and human traffic now flows without the stress of the past. Ajimobi and Fashola’s action on Iwo Road and Oshodi respectively exemplifies how visionary leadership and administration should respond to obstacles of development. Myths are obstacles to progress and until they are disparaged and treated with contempt and disdain, our society will be held hostage by mere soporific narratives and antiquated traditions.
While crediting the Ajimobi administration for its creativity and sagacity in coming up with the magic for the revival of Iwo Road, I am proposing that the government should come up with the mechanisms including legislations, that will give an enduring value to the various measures and structures that are being put in place at Iwo Road.
•Thomas, a former Special Adviser to Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, is a lecturer at the Department of History and International Studies, Lagos State University.