Every time I hear/read about the cultural center in Ibadan, it's always a story about it's deterioration and fall from grace. I have been told about the kind of events this place once hosted (some of the grandest exhibitions of arts and culture from the south western city), but had never actually seen the space.
I got curious and did some online digging and learned quite a bit. The fact that it was designed by Demas Nwoko stuck out to me the most and so now I definitely had to check it out. I wasn't sure what to expect, I just got into the car.
The Cultural Center is located at the top of Mokola Hill, an area known locally as "Ori Oke" and this Google maps link will take you there. Ori Oke is also a popular drinking spot and where there is drinking, street food is never far away. This is actually the location of one of Ibadan's most famed Amala spots, "Ina Straight". *sets reminder to eat amala*
The structure is cleverly built into the hill so you don't really see much of it from the top, but the back? Stunning.
The statues of the musicians playing traditional instruments beckons you in, it's like an elite museum. It was built in 1977 to compliment the FESTAC festival and the plan was to generate state IGR through tourism. Guests from far and near would get glimpses into lives of Yoruba people through art and culture.
The walls have intricate designs on it, there are 3 amphitheaters (the largest has 1,500 seats and about 75 toilet facilities), outdoor aesthetics, all the vibes.
So what happened?
The stories that were told were not untrue and the glory days felt phantom. More than a couple of years of neglect have set in.
Some boys hang around the area, the kind of people our parents like to call "hoodlums", and I found them quite helpful. They helped me navigate the space, and I should have tipped him, in retrospect.
I introduced myself and asked one or two questions, and a few conversations later I had learnt a lot. Bottom line is, it’s been mismanaged.
Rows and rows of seats caked in dust in the theatre, and the bathrooms in similar condition. Some sections of the stage were never fully completed apparently so I imagine this area would require the most work.
I think it's pointless to point fingers at anyone, managing something of this scale is probably a nightmare and ultimately Public Private Partnerships are the way forward. Certain things should be outsourced so there's more time for important things. A few corporate social responsibility drives and I'm sure the space could have a much brighter look. Paint companies for instance could donate buckets of paint to the project, stuff like that.
I continued to look around and there’s an area for local artists to make arts and crafts. There isn't really a designated art market in Ibadan, so that could be an opportunity for revenue. Lagos has the Lekki Art Market and Abuja has the Jabi Art Market, so Ibadan should as well. I'm sure a lot of the boys that hang around could be gifted craftsmen and salesmen too.
The surrounding land is lush so that's a bonus for us nature lovers. Lots of places to sit and enjoy it. String lights could be hung up for good lighting and a celestial ambience for when it gets darker.
I started to wind up my trip and walking back to the car, I could really picture myself coming for a show here and ending the night across the street for some beer and something tasty. A lot of countries are eating destinations for millions of travelers, and our food is some of the tastiest.
If you know anyone who would be interested in playing a part in restoring or improving the glory of the center, don't hesitate to share this with them. The comment section is also open to suggestions and other ideas.