A day trip to Badagry
By Femi Olugbile
The purpose of the trip to Badagry was to commission some projects that had been carried out by the Association of Lagos State Retired Heads of Service and Permanent Secretaries (ALARHOSPS) as part of their anniversary celebration. The destination was St Thomas Primary School, which was said to be the first primary school in Nigeria. Correction: the school came into being sixty nine years before the amalgamation of Nigeria.
It was a journey into the past, as well as an adventure into one of the hard-to-reach outposts of Lagos State, Nigeria.
Everybody in the bus on the trip was upbeat, and the enthusiasm was infectious. They were distinguished men and women who had served meritoriously in the civil service and exited at the pinnacle of the service as Heads of Service and Permanent Secretaries in Lagos State. All in the merry delegation wore customised ‘Formula 1’ shirts emblazoned with their Association’s logo.
The bus driver handled the vehicle deftly, but with rather brazen gusto, jumping into tight spaces and taking marginal, sometimes unnecessary risks.
After a stop at Festac Town to deliver some donated items to a children’s home, the train moved on to confront the formidable barriers on the way to its ultimate destination. Coming into Festac Town, you had earlier encountered the horror of Amuwo Odofin, where articulated trucks of all descriptions were parked two thick on the tarmac, making it difficult to know how the traffic was supposed to proceed. It was hard to imagine how the residents of the area were able to live with the noise and the filth and the sheer incommoding presence of hundreds of trailers on their doorsteps, blocking most of the road. In many of the trucks, the driver, or the assistant, and sometimes both, could be observed performing the functions of everyday life – eating, drinking, and sleeping in the cabin, or performing their ablutions or voiding their bladders on the road. It required no great exercise of imagination to know that the surrounding bushes would be foetid with the effluent from their bowels.
It was hard to see how the traffic could move in the chaos, and what side was right and what left, as vehicles that were going and those that were coming from the opposite direction struggled to use the little space that was not occupied by the lumbering trucks. The driver’s controlled recklessness came in handy as he manoeuvred the bus between obstacles, sometimes getting dangerously close to making contact.
In little time, he found a way out of the ever-threatening impasse of the Apapa Oshodi expressway, and you were on the Festac bridge, heading into Festac proper. As you passed the streets and avenues, it struck you that what used to be a model mini city of beautiful buildings and landscaped surroundings was now an agglomeration of slum dwellings for the most part, with potholed roads and shabby old tenements. Here and there were gaudy new constructions, some of them a few stories tall. The new buildings invariably served some commercial function, but they were totally out of sync with the aesthetics of their surroundings. Even when you passed the odd tree-lined boulevards, the trees stood like forlorn relics of some ambitious past that was long since lost in the mists of time, girding roads that were pock-marked with dangerous-looking potholes, filled with rainwater.
When you were done with your assignment in Festac Town, the bus manoeuvred its way to Iba road, cutting out some of the worst traffic. A cheer went up as the driver swung the bus back on the expressway close to Ijanikin. The passengers were determined to enjoy themselves.
‘Don’t rejoice yet’ someone said cautiously. ‘The bad stretch of the Express is still to come.’ And indeed, soon after this less-than-optimistic prognostication, you reached the bad stretch, and it was really bad. The bus climbed and descended between deep ruts on the road, and sometimes it tilted dangerously, as though it was about to fall on its side.
You all survived, and soon, the worst of the passage was over.
Agbara – which everyone knew as an industrial hub straddling Lagos and Ogun States, looked from the road, like a busy and rather disorganised market town.
On the final stretch of road into the ancient town, you tried to locate the turning into Whispering Palms, Professor Deji Femi Pearse’s inspired creation where you had once spent an enthralling weekend on a group retreat. You wondered what state the place would be in now, after the sad demise of the entrepreneurial Professor of Medicine.
You finally arrived at your destination. The delegation piled out of the bus, stretching their legs on the grass. You suddenly experienced a sense of great excitement. You examined the logo, and the name. St Thomas Anglican Primary School. Built in 1845, by Reverend Golmer. The story had it that it was started at the site of the first storey building in Nigeria, nearby, and moved to the present site soon after.
As you walked along the waterlogged walkway, you felt you were walking back into history.
Through the ceremony, the speeches, the traditional Egun songs and dancing, what struck you most was the excitement of the school children. School children like these ones had stood on this spot one hundred and seventy-seven years ago, with similar ambitions – to arm themselves with knowledge, to improve their lives, to build the future of their society.
You examined the refurbished areas, the new borehole, the brightly painted fence. Much had been done, but a lot still remained that could be done, you reflected, as you joined the cutting of the ceremonial tape.
All too soon, you were piling back into the bus, ready for the return journey across the obstacle-course that was the Badagry Expressway. The chatter in the bus was lively. Nobody was talking about the bad road. Everyone was talking about how they would not forget this journey to the very root and foundation of formal education in Nigeria.