Obalende pulsates with life. Its suya spot, night life and its red light district, help to keep it alive, indicates an online platform. One may add that the warmth of its inhabitants, its tall buildings and the joy of living, so noticeable on its streets, helps to give it character too.
At 4:30 am in early December last year, the community is already wide awake. Tailors are busy in their shops while some young men are already heading to the nearby mosque. Bus conductors are eagerly yelling ‘Ikeja’, ‘Ikeja’ and mentioning many other locations under the orange light provided by the street lights. Women clean pots and pans as they get ready for the days business, expressing themselves in Hausa and making an easy turn to Yoruba if they have to. Obalende impresses in the day time too. There are countless restaurants spread all over the community, where for a little money you can have a nice meal of white rice, stew and salad. But the lady attending to the customers seems excited with the news of a forthcoming marriage. Her mind is far away. By the restaurant is a mosque and soon the men gather to say their prayers. It is about 4:00 pm.
Hawkers of fruits,sugar cane and so many items,as well as visitors, all pass by. Men on commercial motor cycles also move along with their passengers. The men continue praying. This part of Obalende looks like a slice of Kano, but it is not. This is Lagos. Here is evidence of the special social cohesion which Lagos is famous for. The streets are narrow, houses are built close to each other, and there is a huge growing population. This is Obalende.
Sule Garba Dayi is the smiling Leader of the Hausas. He is also known as Sarkin Hausawa, his official title. He rules over the Hausa populations in Obalende, Ikoyi and Victoria Island. Dayi says that he was not born in Obalende, that Obalende has since become home to him and many others, and that the history of the community goes back a long time. His words “The Royal West African Frontier Force (RWAFF) as well as Oba Eshugbayi of Lagos, all played a role in the beginnings of Obalende. Formerly, the force was at Kings College near the Tafawa Balewa Square. When development reached that area, Oba Eshugbayi sent somebody to find another place. They found the land now known as Obalende. At that time it was not known as Obalende. Very soon people began to say of the new settlement ‘Ibi ti Oba le wa de,’ Yoruba words meaning “this is where the Oba drove us.”
Dayi adds that members of the force who were largely Hausa, attracted many other Hausas to Obalende. This is how the community began to grow in the early years, he tells me. Obalende has quite a number of very old, sturdy buildings. One of them is the Ago Hausa mosque which goes back many years. According to Sarkin Hausawa, the mosque was built in 1907 by the colonials, and handed over to the community.
Obalende has also been the host community to Dodan Barracks, which means that members of the community quickly got to know many previous military heads of state, such as Generals Gowon and Murtala Mohammed. He points out that the are many Togolese, Ghanaians and Beninoise in the community, and this mixture gives Obalende a marked regional character, whilst retaining its distinct Hausa flavour.