By Muyiwa Adetiba
The burial of my mother last year, put a closure to many things; too many to enumerate. I knew for example, that my trips to Ilesha, that ancient town with so many fond memories for me, would virtually cease. She had lately been the major reason I made those trips and in the last few years, I drove straight to her home, went out with her to places or people she wanted me to visit, and back to base I came. So, after the small reception we had for her, my senior brother and I decided to take a nostalgic trip to certain places in town.
We had many places of interest but had limitations of time and geography – we were not sure if we could find our way to some of the places without a chaperon and we didn’t want any. We wanted to roam, but we didn’t want to be lost either – except in nostalgia and childhood memories. We saw the old church at Iloro which has long been a Cathedral and the building besides it which had served as a Sunday School in my time.
We saw my old primary school, St John – the best that Ilesha had to offer (even if I say so myself). On our way to the famous Ilesha Grammar School, we saw the ancestral homes of some of the renowned indigenes. Some, as expected, had fallen into disrepair. (Oh, the vanity of life).I saw those monuments with mixed feelings. It’s hard to describe the feeling you get when you think you might be seeing some places for the last time. It is a feeling of wistfulness and incredible sadness.
When we got to the house where we lived before I went to college, I asked the driver to stop. I wanted to walk the street. I wanted to feel the ground. I wanted to touch with my eyes at least, those places I had touched in the past with my hands and feet. I looked around for the public tap where we used to fetch water; that central rendezvous where a lot scuffles and fun took place, but couldn’t locate it.It had either been overtaken by development or my geography had gone awry. But the old house was there, only not as majestic as it used to look. It was one of two storey buildings with a large compound that housed many tenants. My parents lived there for seven years before they built their home. The dishes which were embedded on the external walls and which were seen as a sign of wealth in those glory days had gone. Time and circumstances had effected a change. The low fence on which we used to play in the evenings was still there, much lower than what was locked in my mind over the years. I wanted to enter the house to see the courtyard where we played barefooted and the places where we collected rain water. But I lacked courage. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to reveal myself to the new inhabitants. After all, it had been decades; almost six of them.
Irrespective of size, homes were built in those days with cultural imperatives and family peculiarities in mind. If you had a large family with more than one wife, your home would reflect that fact were you to build one. In other words, a home was a house customised, with or without luxury, with or without appurtenances. It reflected your needs while respecting the prevailing culture. Sometimes, people pulled labour together to build homes in turns. These days, developers do that. They make arrangements with land owners to build affordable apartments.
The aim is to provide homes for those who might not otherwise have been able to afford them. It should be a win-win situation if the developers were sincere because they serve a social need while making money in the process. Unfortunately, many of them are not sincere. Many are in fact dubious. Many are the tales of woe from people who have been taken in by these dubious developers. Many deliver so far behind schedule that those who buy ‘off plan’ may find themselves plunged into debt.
Even the completed ones are not always what they promise. The adverts look so inviting. The 3D pictures look very beautiful. But it is another classic case of all that glitters not being gold. In many instances, the materials used are of the cheaper variety. I know people who have had to spend fortunes trying to repair leakages in un-seeming places, re-wire their apartments because some of the wires were leading nowhere, or even change roofs and pipes. The simple truth is that many of these developers do not build apartments they can feel proud to live in themselves and to that extent, they can be described as frauds. They build shelters and not homes.
Many of our politicians are like these developers because they are not planning on building a country they want to live in which explains where their ‘real investments’ are. Just as the developers promise to make luxury apartments from remote settlements, our politicians promise to develop oasis out of the dessert. Their promises are very glib because they know the problems of the community – whether it is pipe-borne water, or roads or a community hospital. And like developers, either they do not deliver at all once they assume power, or they deliver with cheap materials that will not last. How many times have we heard about fixing the refineries, fixing education, providing uninterrupted electricity supply, arresting medical tourism? The list is endless. But they do pretty little beyond the cosmetic because Nigeria is a mere geographical space for them to plunder and not to develop. Nigeria is not home to them.
We need to be more radical going forward. Anybody who wants to rule us as President or Governor must give up his foreign homes as well as his foreign accounts. He must be prepared not to travel abroad for any medical treatment throughout his tenure. His children must not enjoy foreign education while in office or must be brought home to Nigerian universities if already abroad. And anybody who has governed a State for eight years but still finds himself going abroad for medical treatment or finds living abroad more convenient for whatever reason should no longer aspire for a public office.
It is obvious he did not help build a Nigeria that would meet his needs. Anybody who cannot develop his little corner cannot develop a larger space. All those former governors jostling for the Presidency including those whose names were mentioned in the Panama Papers, must be asked what they did for their people beyond exploiting them. We need people who will make Nigeria a place to live in, not a place to be exploited. We need to build homes not cemeteries. We need enduring institutions our children can come to with nostalgia after their foreign sojourn. Like I had seeing my childhood home.
By Muyiwa Adetiba