Allen Avenue is one of the popular streets in Lagos. Find out what goes down when it is night time.
There are no records on the history of Allen Avenue, Ikeja. There is no record on who commissioned the road and in what year.
What we know about Allen Avenue is what everyone one knows- it is one of the most famous roads in Lagos city. Located in the city’s capital Ikeja, Allen Avenue is a commercial strip of coal tar.
There are 20 bank branches on Allen Avenue. During the day, you can find men on both sides of the avenue trying to coerce you to convert your foreign currency into Naira or vice-versa. Allen Avenue is choked with boutiques, shops, companies and fast food joints. It is business non-stop.
The first time I heard about Allen Avenue was in 1996 when trendsetting rapper Weird MC dropped her single ‘Allen Avenue’. The song made the avenue a Nigerian pop culture hallmark. Pyramid Nightclub owned by actress Ibinabo Fiberesima was situated on Allen Avenue.
As a grew older I learnt of Allen Avenue’s darker and seedier reputation. When the sun went down and the sky became dark, the commercial hub became a piece of tarmac for ladies of the night to sell their fleshly goods.
In the 90s down to the mid-00s, Allen Avenue was notorious for prostitution. It’s one of Lagos’ red light districts. In the dead of the night, men with flashy cars would drive slow on Allen Avenue so that they could easily pick their lady for the night.
Allen Avenue is a different place at night. Having worked there for years and partially lived there for some time, I decided to document the nightlife on Allen Avenue.
This avenue is special. If you are coming from Alausa or Ikeja you see a huge roundabout which also happens to be a garden with a huge statue of legendary Nigerian politician Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
Further down, a statue of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti is about to be unveiled. This is a timely dedication to the god of Afrobeat as people all over the world are in Felabration mode.
Allen Avenue starts from the franchise fast food joint Tantalizers. A few feet away is the famous University of Suya. Hundreds of people come here daily (night and day) to get slices of the hot, peppery suya.
The University of Suya has been on Allen Avenue for at least two decades. Before it used to be a wooden shack but with increased patronage, it transformed into a more business-like establishment.
At the popular suya joint, men who trade in pirated Hollywood DVDs entice you to buy one of the movies in their stock. You will be shocked to find out they have the latest releases such as ‘The Dark Tower’, 'Kingsman 2: The Golden Circle’, and ‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’.
I decided to test the DVD seller if he had ‘Blade Runner 2049’. “I no get that one,” he said sadly. As I was about to leave he quickly called me back and said: “my second get the film wey you want.”
His friend, a chubby bootleg DVD merchant went through his stock but could not find the sequel to the Ridley Scott classic. With Nollywood churning out better movies regularly, Nigerians are still hungry for Hollywood blockbusters.
At the University of Suya stand, a lady was eagerly waiting for me to go through the pirated DVD stock so that she could buy some.
Opposite the University of Suya, is Alade Market or what used to be left of it. The popular market was demolished by the Lagos state government in July 2017, to make way for a more modern version. The Ambode led government has been on a task to make Lagos a shiny megacity.
Now, the ghost of Alade market is home to drunk men who empty their bladders and serves as a free board for employers looking for cheap labour. Work hasn't started on the new Alade market once home to bureau de change businessmen.
Allen Avenue operates with dual lanes. On this night, the street lights are fully functioning and the numerous bank branches are well lit. The blinking lights from the ATMs call unto you to withdraw some of your money for a night of pleasure and fun.
Allen Avenue has more than its fair share of carnal pleasure. The popular avenue is host to one strip club. There are neon signs that direct you to two other strips clubs off Allen Avenue.
One of the strip clubs off Allen Avenue is Unique Gentlemen's Club. With N2,000 on Fridays and Saturdays or N1,000 on Sundays-Thursdays, you are granted entry into a cave of pleasure and sin.
Unique Gentlemen’s Club was one of the strip clubs shut down by the Lagos state government in 2009. It was later re-opened after it had gotten the appropriate license.
Another strip club off Allen Avenue was formerly known as Wall Street Pub. The establishment has changed names so many times that it is hard to keep up. It’s latest name is a rip-off of the popular King of Diamonds strip club in Miami, Florida.
The only strip club technically on Allen Avenue is Didoz VIP Lounge. It operates like every other strip club around. A gate fee grants you access to semi-nude or nude women willing to give lap dances.
The entrance of Didoz VIP Lounge is quite active with several young men selling Indomie and a suya spot. This is where I decided to buy my suya. The queue at the University of Suya was a bit much. The suya seller at Didoz was quick at his job, slicing suya into brown and hot pieces. Also, I could also strike an easy conversation with him while he was at work.
Me- Oga how market?
Adamu- E dey o. How much suya?
Me- Gimme two hundred suya.
Adamu - OK.
Me- You no go give me make I taste.
Adamu hands me a piece of suya to eat while he served me up. In my quick chat with him, he told me he has been on Allen for six years now.
“This suya business no bad. E dey move and we dey use am do other things. For weekends people dey come well, well. And some of the customers for club dey come chop sometime.”
This man with his gap-toothed smile was happy at doing his job. When others are in the comfort of their beds, he is up, selling suya to club hoppers.
After I ate my suya, I walked further. Some popular landmarks on Allen Avenue have gone. Mr Biggs which has been here since forever has gone. Its replacement is a new, not known, fast food joint.
I remember when father used to take me and my siblings to the Mr Biggs on Allen Avenue. It was during the Abacha era when the middle class was almost extinct. It was at a period he had no job but he still managed to gather up some money to take us out on some weekends. The memories of those weekends still exist but Mr Biggs on Allen is no more.
KFC on Allen Avenue has also closed shop. In February 2017, many KFC outlets in Lagos were shut down to the economic recession. The outlet on Allen Avenue was also affected.
At this time of the night, all the fast food spots are closed but food is not a problem at this time of the night. Suya sellers to Indomie sellers are up all night to serve people who love to roam around at this time of the day.
Allen Avenue doesn’t sleep. It is open for business any day of the time. It depends on which type of business you want. Chances are that if you are on Allen Avenue at night, your business is most likely either illegal or freaky.
Diana (obviously not her real name) had stood at a particular spot for close to 40 minutes. A few cars have slowed down around her but I guess the transactions weren't worth her while.
Diana had on black shorts and a black top that emphasized her boobs. The cold of the night got to her and she had no choice to light up a cigarette to keep herself warm. I walked up to her after some minutes and she gave me the standard asewo line.
“Fine boy. How far?”
I struck up a conversation with her and in a few minutes, we were gisting about why she is in this hustle.
“Na condition make me start to dey stand for road. Which job dey. That’s why I am hustling on the streets.” Further, into our conversation, she would reveal that she is from Ebonyi state. She moved to Lagos a few years ago to become a prostitute.
“5 thousand na for short time. If na all night that one na different matter” she says crudely when asked about the price of her services. She talked about all the bonus features of her service. All of them are R18.
I asked her about the police and their raids. “Those ones...dem dey patrol once in a while. Any girl dem catch na dem sabi. Me I sharp so dey no fit see me catch. God forbid I no go enter their cell.”
The next question was just about to come out of my lips when the sound of a siren pierced the night. I swear Diana moved faster than a Jamaican Olympian. She dashed into a dark corner and hid there.
Someone once told me something. He said if you hear the police coming don’t run, just stand still. Trigger happy policemen are quick to shoot at people who run. So, that’s how I stood on the spot and watched the police van pass.
After they were gone, Diana came out from hiding. This time she was less interested in talking. She hadn’t hooked a costumer yet. She dispersed me with street vulgarity. I walked away and stood in front of Best Western Hotel (now locked up due to legal issues.)
An old man presumably in his 50s walked up to Diana and a few seconds. After they talked for a bit, they moved to one of the many banks on Allen Avenue. I saw the old man give the security guard of the bank some money. The money is a gate fee. Some of these security men rent the premises of where they work to prostitutes and their customers.
After I saw Diana and her customer disappear into the bank premises, I walked down to the new Mama Cass which is almost at the end of Allen Avenue.
Truth be told, there are not many prostitutes on Allen Avenue. These days all you get are a handful of cold and bored sex workers. Circa 2006, the number of prostitutes on Allen started to reduce. In 2017, it would be hard to see 20 on any given night.
There is a reason for this. The red light district market has moved. As you get closer towards Opebi, you will notice a slight increase in prostitutes standing on the road. When you hit the GTB fountain at Opebi roundabout, the number of prostitutes triple.
Opebi is the new red light district but that is another expose for another day.
I take a Keke Marwa back to the Allen Avenue junction. On my way home I soak up the sights of Allen Avenue once again. It surely is one of the interesting places in Lagos. Even at 3 am in the morning you can hear cars still speeding on the Avenue. Suya sellers are still up feeding the hungry and restless. Prostitutes hoping for a better tomorrow standing for her next client.
Allen Avenue is Lagos. It never sleeps. It is all about the money. It is gritty. It is home to the hustler. A stroll through Allen Avenue at night is something you should try.
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