Lagos in One Creative Capsule

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BOOK REVIEW

Yinka Olatunbosun

It may sound like a cliché to say that two heads are better than one but the reality of this saying lies in a new publication about Lagos which was spearheaded by two veteran arts and culture editors in Lagos, Akeem Lasisi and Kabir Alabi Garba. Titled, Phenomenal Lagos, the book is a detailed catalogue on 50 iconic places in Africa’s most populous city. Unlike many publications about Lagos, this book circumvents every community in Lagos and its suburbs, and fragments the content into subheadings such as Waterbodies, Monuments, Recreation Outpost, Infrastructure, Heritage, Institutions; Trade, Commerce and Others as well as the historical narratives behind popular towns and settlements.

Many Lagos residents are oblivious to the rich cultural heritage that the state possesses. Asides the popular tourists spots on the Island and the Mainland, many have been consumed with the daily demands of living in a busy city so much that the cultural life eludes them. Hence, the book serves as the literary tour guide to navigate the city at the reader’s convenience.

With its forward written by the Vice-Chancellor, Lagos State University, Prof. Olanrewaju A. Fagbohun, the book is situated in the context of intellectual relevance. As the Professor rightly observed, some of the enlisted places are personified. In Lasisi’s poetic interpretation of Lagos, the reader enjoys techniques of lyrical compositions such as symbolism, pun, metaphor, simile, hyperbole and cultural references. Lasisi’s poetry is like a pendulum swing, oscillating from humorous to graphic, nonetheless, very instructive. The poetry compliments the explanatory notes in every chapter both in length and content. In most cases, the poetry is divided into three or four verses, filling up the details that can not be expressed in a simple or complex sentence. Poetry is kept at its best, original form of serving as a social and political commentary. For instance, in the poetry composed for the Nigerian Stock Exchange, the poet found a nexus between the creative sector and the financial institution, bringing to bear his wealth of knowledge of the current discourse on how the creative industry can be an economic force to reckon with as crude oil price plummets.

The poet’s remarks on Eko Hotel and Suites brooks no debates. He writes: “If you don’t swim in a pool, you will swim in wines.” The imagery in those words is very profound for any one who has observed the view at the hotel from the reception area, glancing below at the guests who seek some form of escapism, be it in liquor or water immersion. The hotel is also personified as a model to reinstate its beauty and imposing status.

Like any capsule, with both caps intertwined, both writers blend their wealth of experience together to create an informed documentation of the city’s unique landmarks. Without the notes in the chapter that gives the background to each iconic place, some of the references made by the poet could well be lost on the reader.

In the prologue, written by the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Steve Ayorinde, the compendium is a state souvenir for the celebration of Lagos at 50. The poetic verses for the 50 monuments exist also in audio and visual format to capture the performance poetry side of the historic effort.
Essentially, the tone of the book is celebratory, reflecting the spirit of Lagos at the time of documentation. For the piece on Agege Stadium, it is an orature of triumph. But the taste of the pudding is in the eating for any one who has relied on the state-owned medical facilities. That’s the thought that would likely play in the minds of the readers of “Ayinke House”.

The poet’s imagery in “Black Heritage Museum” is quite graphic, capable of evoking one’s empathy what with the mention of the sounds of whips and other artefacts that are pointers to the dark past episodes of trans-Atlantic slavery.

Although there is no chapter branded as “the almost forgotten”, there are several monuments that qualify to be classified as such. These include the Murtala Muhammed Memorial Botanical Garden, Sungbo Forest, Iga Idunganran, National Museum and Lord Lugard House.
No doubt, the making of this book is a scholarly project which led to writers away from their various newsrooms to public libraries, Lagos State records and Archives Bureau (LASRAB) and well as online sources.

Phenomenal Lagos advertises Lagos and its resources like no other book in its category with the number and nature of pictures that had been included. A case in point is the picture in “Epe Fish Market” which is capable of igniting kitchen conversations on the various meals that the “catch” can serve. In addition, some of the newly re-constructed parts of the city are showcased while the popular spots which are hardly crystallised in print forms for special reads are part of the Lagos story.

The piece on “Kakawa Street” should be of interest to every journalist as it tells on the surface of the history of newspaper but more importantly, it unearths the role of the media in pro-democratic era. It should initiate new conversations on how the media profession can be repositioned as a trusted gauge of popular opinion and a societal watchdog.