From any of Ibadan's numerous hills, rusted metal roofs, jammed side by side, cover the city almost to the top of perpendicular slopes, where they break into a ragged line.

Ibadan undulates as far as one can see, the skyline dominated by the 24-story Cocoa Building or the massive and pillared city hall squat on top of Mapo Hill.

Residents used to boast that Ibadan was the largest city in sub-Saharan Africa, but since there has been no acceptable census in Nigeria since the 1960s, some Nigerians argue that the capital, Lagos, now exceeds Ibadan in population. No one is sure how many people are crushed into that sultry port city 150 miles south of here.

Yoruba traditions and Yoruba historian Kemi Morgan both assert that rolling Ibadan, with its steep hills and a once-thick surrounding forest, was ideal for the 16th century warrior, Lagelu, who first settled here, and the myriad of soldiers who flocked to the city during the 19th century Yoruba civil wars.

Every March, says Oyo State Gov. Bola Ige, the city has "a wild celebration" in honor of the city's deity, the hill goddess Atage Olomu Oru. cShe sheltered Lagelu four centuries ago on the Okebadan Hill when enemy soldiers were pursuing him.

But for all its size and prominence, the city that is swelling with job seekers and merchants suffered until three years ago from a lack of an accredited, traditional Yoruba political leader sanctified by a connection to Oduduwa, the founder of Ile-Ife, the ancient city-state that the Yorubans consider their spiritual birthplace. Oduduwa is considered the father of all Yorubas.

Throughout the 19th century, the city had a balogun, or military governor, as its head. This century, seeking a little civilian respectability, it created its own king, or oba, with the title olubadan of Ibadan. All major Yoruba cities have obas, and it was more than a little embarassing for Ibadan not to have one.

But the olubadan was not allowed to wear the prestigious beaded crown of an oba that signified direct descent from Oduduwa.

Under the Oyo State military governor, Maj. Gen. David Jemibewon, the present olubadan, Daniel Akinbiyi, was granted the right to wear a beaded crown in 1977. So now, Ibadan is a whole Yoruba city.

Jemibewon left something else for the residents of Ibadan to remember him by -- a $4.5 million elevated highway running from the governor's house to the governor's office, a three-minute drive.

"They were crazy," the state's new civilian governor said about the way his Army predecessors spent money.

Ibadan does boast Nigeria's first university, a rambling five-square-mile campus founded in 1948. The campus, on the city's northern edge, is so large that buses shuttle its 10,000 students from dormitories to classroom buildings.

An African studies professor, Yaya Abubakar, who was also a student here, said, "Some of us never go into Ibadan except to go through it on the way somewhere else."

The school has several movie houses, a drama theater, a very good bookstore, two supermarkets, a car garage and a farm.

Abubakar was profusely apologetic to a visitor for missing a scheduled meeting, saying he was held up because a cow had died in his driveway.

"I couldn't get away for nine hours trying to get someone to get that cow out from in front of my house," he explained.