THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT

This house is obviously Nigeria and this is my version of its history for the first 22 years of its existence. Even then it was clear to me that there was a peculiar strain of bad leadership that always seem to bubble to the top in Nigeria. If only I could see the future to our present-day jubilee celebrations almost four decades later. All the problems enumerated metaphorical and real have increased tenfold as well as the population of the tenants. In the intervening four decades, the house has been the predatory grip of the Military-Political Complex-the State Capture of politicians of all stripes still pillaging the house. Today, the house still stands, but barely and I think there is a clear consensus that the house has to be comprehensively repaired or rebuilt. Enjoy.

The cracks on the walls have been there for some time now. And it has been visible to most of us. But we have chosen to ignore them. Maybe, if we ignored them, they might just go … or perhaps they are just superficial cracks in the plaster not requiring too much repair… or attention.
But with the passing of each day, and the numerous cracks yawning ever so wider, it’s now obvious, even to the most casual observer, that these cracks run deep… structurally deep. And nothing short of major structural repair and reinforcement can save the house. No cosmetics renovations, no minor refurbishments, and no superficial wall plastering will cover them … only a major overhaul will do.
You see, this house has taken a lot of battering from the inside, and from the elements. It has been abused, neglected, vandalised and ill-maintained over the years by previous tenants. And now all those years of negligence have exerted their toll – the roof is leaking badly, the floorboards are rotting, the doors are squeaky, the balustrades shaky, the plumbing in disrepair, electricity fixtures unsafe, the paintwork peeling and the whole building convulsing before any slight breeze.
How long the building will last is only a matter of time. But the funny thing is, from the outside, save for the unkempt garden, the rickety gate, the broken-down fence, the windows hanging limply on one hinge, the whole building still looks relatively safe and habitable.
But safe it is not, and habitable -barely. A sad outcome for a house that is barely twenty-two years… and showed so much promise when it was first built. But what has happened to the house that Jack built? And why is it in such a disgraceful state? To find an answer, we must go back some twenty-one odd years to 1960 when its first tenants moved in.
I remember them as if it were yesterday – a motley crowd of rotund politicians who were largely tickled by the novelty of a new house. The house wasn’t as sophisticated as it is now, but it was functional, and it was home. But as soon as the novelty wore off, they got down to business – the business of gross mismanagement.
They quietly pilfered, and the more they pilfered, the more brazen they got, and the more brazen they got, the more insensitive they became – insensitive to the muffled wailing of a house in great distress. They were around for about six years. But in those six years, they had managed to generate so much distrust and suspicion among the occupants of the house, that it must have been a relief to the house when they were kicked out… never minding the mess they left behind.
The year 1966 was a rough one for the house. It was racked by a power tussle, and after the dust had settled, its new tenant emerged: a handsome but naïve young man. He moved into a house racked by internecine strife, brothers were killing brothers, and the whole house threatened to collapse… shaking violently right down to its very foundation. But it held, and in 1970, all was calm. Now was the time to rally round and repair the damage of the previous three years. The repairs commenced briskly, but somewhere along the line, the occupants forgot about rehabilitation and concentrated on having a good time and stealing anything that wasn’t bolted down.
Their numerous champagne parties, and a lot of ostentatious display and expenditure of wealth… a new Olympic-size swimming pool was built in the backyard; numerous foreign guests were invited to come wine and dine… all on the house course. And the house never enjoyed one moment of quiet – life was one big party. As expected, with so many people trooping in and out, day and night, and with very little housekeeping, the house was a mess. But who cares? If the walls are smeared with grime, if the floorboards are rotting, if the carpets are threadbare, if the plumbing doesn’t work … who cares when there is a juju band outside blaring its discordant tune, and so much naira to be sprayed.
The years ’70 to ’75 were just an orgy, with everybody indulging his or her hedonic instincts. But the party ended rather abruptly, the music was stopped midway, and a chubby-faced young man made his entrance. Whatever happened to the handsome naïve tenant? Well, he politely made his exit. This new man (tenant) tried to mop up the rubbish left behind by the previous tenant and his friends. He kicked out quite a number of stubborn guests who refused to accept that the ball was over. It was difficult, considering the state and the size of the house, but six months later, he expired under spectacular circumstances. Now his friend was the tenant.
This corpulent man with shifty eyes carried on the spring-cleaning for a couple of months and then fizzled out. Then under the guise of cleaning up, proceeded with numerous friends to remove anything and everything that was moveable – light bulbs, doorknobs and even the kitchen sink! And having plundered the house, they retired quietly, handing over the keys to a bespectacled and mild-mannered man.
The house is now in a deplorable state, and it needs very intensive repair work. The new tenant has his heart in the right place, but his friends are his worst enemies. I know he’s genuinely interested in the house, but he won’t get anything done unless he rids himself of his corrupt and filthy friends. They will continue to pillage until they are physically thrown out.
Let’s hope that the house can still be saved, but if all else fails, he can put the house up for sale… and we all emigrate to Ghana.
P.S. the last person to leave the house, please put off the lights!
The Punch,
Saturday, April 17, 1982

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