By Muyiwa Adetiba
Around noon on Thursday, March 6, the main building of Nigeria’s premier club, the Ikoyi Club 1938, was without electricity. It was the first time I would notice that in the almost four decades that I have been a member of this elite club.
But I confess that I have not been much of a member in the last 20 years with my best attendance not being more than ten a year. I have expected a flurry of activities from concerned staff but was surprised when the staff and even members who were around, acted as if nothing was untoward. This suggested to me, that it was not the first time, or the second, or the third…….
Now, I don’t know which surprised me more; the absence of light, or the attitude of those around towards that fact. One thing you do not expect from a club or hotel worth its name is the absence of electricity. These are places where you expect to be pampered. These are places of escape. And Ikoyi club, Nigeria’s elite club with its history and traditions, is more than worthy of its name.
I joined the club when it was being largely managed by expatriates and the first Nigerian General Manager, Prince Adediran, was just coming in. I am not one to be unduly sentimental of the past and cling to the notion of ‘the good old days’. But there are in fact, a lot of good things to remember about Ikoyi Club in the 70s. It was, despite the fact there were many good cinema theatres in Lagos then, my first destination of choice for movies. It was also a place to have a first class lunch at a good price whenever I found myself on the island. We used to boast of its chapman, club sandwich and salad. Above all, we also used to feel proud of its ambience. Now ambience, like aura or sex appeal, is intangible. In this case, it was a combination of the staff, both local and foreign, the membership mix, the architecture, the lawns and landscapes, and the open space. Especially the open space. The few buildings that existed then were dotted between greens and woods, making the sometimes scented evening air enchanting and alluring.
It is a misnomer to say a club is shrinking when its growth has been this exponential. The current members are more than ten times what they were when I first joined the club. With this unfortunately, comes the possibility of charlatans and people of low character finding themselves in a club of this stature. The squash section where I used to play with the late Prince Adediran had just one court—or was it two? Now it boasts of about ten, with a well equipped gym to boot. We can say the same of the lawn tennis section and indeed every other section. What all these mean is that we have more structures, more concrete, to accommodate the many interests of a growing population. What all these mean is that we have less space and yes, less ambience. Hence, in my mind, it has ‘shrunk’ from what it was in the 70s. It has also ‘shrunk’ into different clubs in my mind, through the fact that every section has almost become a mini club in its self sufficiency. You could use the club every day and not ‘bump’ into another regular user from another section. It wasn’t like that in the past when we had just one viewing centre for example.
Nothing exemplifies this shrinking feeling than the parking lot. Time was when you could park easily at any time of the day. Then it became more difficult at particular periods and you had to sometimes drive slowly for a while before you could get a space to slot in your car. Then it got to a point when you were constantly being forced to park on the street in front of the club. Now there is no space, even there anymore! This is one reason, perhaps, that has not made me use the club as often as I would have wanted to.
But the tendency to shrink space and erect more concrete is not peculiar to Ikoyi Club alone. It is a national malady; just look around you. What happened to Ikoyi Park where people used to hunt wild animals in the 60s and 70s? What happened to the Love Garden that was near the Onikan Stadium? They have all been shrunk by concrete. Yet I am aware of hectares of wooded land in South East London that had deliberately been left undeveloped for decades. Is Lagos more pressed for land than London?
I am told that my late mother- in- law learnt how to drive inside her compound in Ikoyi. Today, those Ikoyi compounds have shrunk. They now accommodate two or maybe three other houses.
I went house hunting with a friend to Oniru, Victoria Island last month and was surprised to see an 18 flat structure on a thousand, three hundred square meter space. Where will the children play? Most estates along Lekki- Epe express way are built around the notion of more concrete, less space. I compare this with the estates I saw in Ghana which had space as well as beautiful landscapes and I wonder at our concept of modern living.
Back to Ikoyi Club which is obviously facing the pressure of more demand for membership; can the club satisfy the growing demand by giving birth to another top club along the Lekki-Epe expressway where a vast middle and upper middle class people are setting up abode?
That, or the cessation of new members, is what the founding fathers would have done rather than shrink the club further by putting more pressure on its facilities. A club like Ikoyi Club, should never be dark at noon.