I grew up with a mad man.
My father was never mad and I never lived with a guardian.
Making reference to comments made by my mother over the decade before the last, it is safe to conclude that I was born in a clinic situated in the brown-roofed city of Ibadan, even though I have no recollection of the birth. Perhaps that is normal. The earliest recollection I have is of Ile-Ife where my father, a clergyman, pastored a local church that met in a building without windows, in an area called Mopa. Mopa remains a mystery to me, not just because no one that lived or lives in Ile-Ife that I have mentioned the place to seems to know that the place exists, but also because my father now insists that the church services were held within the university campus. Some people have suggested that I make reference to Opa, but Mopa I know. And no, they are not the same. Even though my father relocated with my mother, my two brothers, and I from Ile-Ife before my fourth birthday, the memories I have of Ile-Ife remain priceless. Stealing fried bean balls, which my mother referred to as “akara”, from a cane woven basket placed on a gas cylinder in the corridor beside the sitting room; rowing the playground swing in a place I later learnt was Blessing Nursery School, and dozing off, while sitting on the swing which was in motion; stumbling twice per minute while being walked to the nursery school on the days when I did not want to attend; these and more are my favourite memories of Ile-Ife, but most curious was the answer, “I want to be a Policeman when I grow up” which I always gave when asked about my future ambition. The people of Ile-Ife that I remember were all sane, even the policemen.
Sule was not sane. I met Sule in the early nineties after we moved from Bashorun area where we first lived in Ibadan into the white duplex on Salimonu Street in New Bodija. Sule had full, dirty, unkempt brown-black hair, which looked like a used mop head. His clothes were worn, several at a time, all dirty, smelly and torn. He wore a pair of shoes that were once white, and often held them in his hands. Sule was a mad man. He was a very mad man. He roamed the many streets in New Bodija estate, shuttling between Salimonu Street which was actually a crescent, the streets behind Sonbeam Preparatory School towards Ashi area. He always answered with a grunt, “ugghnn” if he heard a greeting. He even sometimes smiled. Being friendly enough for his status, Sule prepared his own meals and even occasionally offered food to passers-by who also sometimes gave him dirty five or ten naira notes which he used to purchase cigarette sticks from Mama Taiwo’s store beside the Indian, Mr. Sivasubramaniam’s house. I saw Sule almost every day, greeted him often and sat with him once. If I had any regret about my relationship with Sule, it would be that I never shook his hand, even though he stretched it out on two occasions when my brother and I walked to our father’s church through the uncompleted bungalow where Sule typically passed the cold nights.
Gbati Mama preferred an uncompleted duplex. Her stature reminded me of our former neighbor, Uncle Emma’s, orange-colored 5kg gas cylinder but her smell reminded me of locust beans which Yoruba’s call iru. Like the biblical Melchizedek, it could have been correct to assume that Gbati Mama had no father or mother. Unlike Melchizedek however, even though we did not know her beginning, we knew when her misdeeds came to an end. She also roamed the streets of Bodija daily, dressed in native Ankara material with a headgear. She walked back and forth on the same street several times as though she forgot something and was going back for it, then she changed her mind to continue the trip. As though with premeditation, Gbati Mama would walk up to a passer-by and slap the person hard on the cheek before continuing her trip. Gbati Mama was a slapstress, hence the name “gba eti”, which was coined for her since no one knew her name. The first time victim always expressed shock, not knowing why a stranger slapped him or her in a public place, while other passers-by would immediately apologize on Gbati Mama’s behalf and entreat the victim to kindly ignore the lunatic lady. This act continued till Gbati Mama slapped an unkind and impatient young man who volunteered to assist Gbati Mama with a pseudo factory reset of her mind. He rallied eight friends, identified the uncompleted duplex where Gbati Mama lodged, invaded the place on a sunny Saturday afternoon and beat Gbati Mama to a pulp. A visibly injured Gbati Mama was back on the streets two days later and never again after then did I see her in the environment, but many others I saw until I relocated, this time on my own to Lagos.
Lagos had its fair share of incomplete minds, corrupted brain cells and stark lunatics, but as public opinion suggests, a large fraction of the population in Lagos is genetically characterized by “craze”, and this dilutes the attention to be given to actual lunatics.
As though corresponding with the claim of being the largest city in West Africa, Ibadan is arguably littered with the largest volume and range of lunatics in West Africa. From the entry points at Challenge and Iwo road, through the metropolis at Oluyole, Bodija or Dugbe, to the exits at Moniya or Apata, the concentration of lunatics in Ibadan reminds the Bible reader of the plague of locusts in the story of Egypt and Goshen. I remember being shown “omo ijoba”, a lunatic who wore many layers of clothes and sat daily at a roundabout in Housing area of Old Bodija. I remember the old woman at Jericho area, who I was told, had occupied the spot since the 1980s. I also remember the mad man with thick brown hair who sat beneath the street light at Sango just before the turning towards the Ibadan Polytechnic. I even remember the insane woman who smiled and waved at passers-by around Ojoo area, and the evident confusion on the faces of pedestrians who were unsure if they were indeed being greeted. Olubisi Aina, another popular mad woman who became healed and regained consciousness after being hit by a car in a serious accident around Sanyo area in December 2012, also readily comes to mind.
The seemingly exciting tale of lunatics in Ibadan however becomes acerbic when I remember the newspaper reports in 2013 of a lunatic who was caught with 15 human tongues; the frightening reports of a 15-year-old student who was manhandled and raped by a mad man around Agbowo area; newspaper reports of a mad woman who gave birth to a baby on Lagos-Ibadan expressway; the voluptuous lunatic lady who walked in the middle of the highway at 7am on a Sunday morning, stark naked, causing drivers caught by surprise to swerve into each other, resulting in a fatal accident; the story of the lunatic who was raped by two men around Sanyo area, allegedly for ritual purposes; reports of a pastor who became insane while trying to pray for a mad man at Oke-Ado; among many other such stories. These stories bring many questions to a scared citizen’s mind.
Why are there so many of them in Ibadan? Who feeds them? Are people not to die if they do not eat or eat well for many days? Who protects these people? Who protects us from these people? Who defends these people? Who defends us from these people? Are they dangerous? Should their families be asked to take them off the streets? Which toilet facilities do they use? Would medical attention solve some of their defects? Can their family members be found? Should the government rehabilitate them? Should they be the responsibility of the state or federal government? Can they even be rehabilitated? Too many unanswered questions, but through it all, I have a personal fear. If they are all kept in a rehabilitation center, would Gbati Mama not injure Sule too soon?