Mansions and slums

Development in Nigeria is narrowly focused “brick, mortar and tarmac” constructions with imported technology gadgets thrown in, which is broadly appreciated by the masses and bragged about by the “developers”. Livelihoods, human development, life protection, life preservation and other aspects of developments in Nigeria are yet to kick-in as development objectives or indicators. Furthermore, the brick, mortar and tarmac constructions often have been elevated to mythical and unspoken dimensions as development achievements. Such thinking is a habitual turn of mind which has not evolved beyond pre-Independence expectations of development in developing nation ever-pregnant with hope.

A friend of mine, Myke Akpati (handle: @Mmyti) tweeted the idea above on the 28th of August 2015. The idea is quite like a picture in that it tells a story of a thousand words, at least, to those who can identify with his keen observation. It might be the uncovering of one of the many ‘the more you look the less you see’ opaque myths in Nigeria. Brick, mortar and tarmac development myths can be made transparent if there is a will as Akpati would later say.

It is a thoroughly amazing observation worthy of a proper ‘definitive travelogue’ of settlements of semi-urban and rural Niger Delta and other regions of Southern Nigeria, it clearly provides the most visible evidence of the “wealthy-poverty divide” dynamic in the country. You would find most villages and small towns have a one or a few very grand mansions built in these areas while the rest of the settlement is haphazardly populated with hundreds of mud houses and scores of substandard shacks constructed with concrete blocks and often without ceilings (boards) to insulate residents and tenants from the excesses of harsh equatorial climate conditions. These settlement are “Solo Mansion Communities” (SMCs).

Both the mighty and the small indigenous to these SMCs will perennially consider the highest form of development in their settlement to be the “town hall” which the residents have often contributed a lot of their hard earned incomes to build; in fact, they are routinely the product of “self-help community projects” with no support from the public or private sector. Any contribution donations are from the owners of the Mansions to buy security and patronage not fund development; they do stick out so obviously. The despairing community is sold development project on the myth that if they can build a decent town hall, big politicians can be invited to regularly to see the dreadful plight of their settlement and as such have a “political incentives” to bring development to the people in question, at least to win their votes at election time. Well, at election time political ricism is what wins their vote.

There might also be a primary school and more rarely a high school located within the boundaries of the SMCs, again built and run mostly as a result of communal self-help projects, sometimes with a little bit of help from the government. Such a town or village would in past decades have celebrated the construction of a modern tarred road running through or by it or the sinking of boreholes [which is less value] to provide it with potable water. The value of potable water is always underestimated by residents even educated ones; rain water or river water or well water will suffice. These days there are no such prospects of good roads made for SMCs in the country anymore unless by chance; new roads reach SMCs by chance and not design or demand. The Ministries of Works at federal, state and local government levels have become highly lucrative rent-seeking and rent-offering black holes that steeply favour public servant interests over public interests.

The Solo Mansion (or few mansions) in the town or village in rural or semi-urban Southern Nigeria is exclusively owned by top government officials, politicians and their clients who have diverted monies strictly intended for the development of infrastructure in these “home” communities they hail from into their personal coffers to use as they please; value-subtracting conspicuous consumption at its worst and most vulgar. The Solo Mansion and other Mansions thus become monumental symbols of corruption and its consequences in Nigeria; the grandiose lifestyles of Big Thieves that de-civilise an already weakened Nigeria and the wretched lives of the Typical Peasant and Average Person who as a result cannot be respond to their condition in a civilised manner. Ironically, it is the Typical Peasant that represents Nigeria, not the Average man, not the Big Thief. Such is the tragic reality and ontology of the African. The least in Africa is the most visible, not the highest.

These Solo Mansions are opulence personified and contrast greatly with wretchedness of their hapless neighbours and surroundings. The Mansions have three or four big generators (well-rotated for service) to ensure there is 24 hours supply of electricity daily [if the occupants are at home away from the big cities]; it has its own borehole (sometimes with very fine water filters) ensuring a constant supply of potable water even in heavily polluted areas; it is built to prevent its high fence compound from the flooding associated with the riverine terrain of the Niger Delta; it has a swimming pool since the rivers around the corner are too polluted by oil spills. The Mansion owners as a rule use jeeps manufactured to motor rough terrain that is characteristic of the roads that lead to and from the SMCs. The Mansion is an ‘oasis of civilization and high culture’ located in an expanse of underdevelopment and under-civilisation.

The SMCs’ residents unfortunately are completely subjected to lives devoid of electricity supplies, access to clean water, access to recreational facilities or even sustainable livelihoods. These perpetual conditions deprives and disempowers the rural and semi-urban Nigerian immeasurably; his or her opportunities are similar to those available in the 18th Century in the second decade of the 21st Century. The loss of livelihoods and the lack of capacity to create new more modern ones in rural areas is more responsible for rural-urban migration than any other factor. The age old excuse for such unnecessary underdevelopment in the Niger Delta is that the terrain is too “wet”, “swampy”, “un-reclaimable” to build upon and thus used to irresponsibly deny the region essential and possible hard ground development. If a Solo Mansion built by a reputable foreign construction company like Julius Berger is always possible in such “forbidding terrain” when the property belongs to a corrupt public servant or his clients, why is it then not possible to build infrastructure and public goods that would serve the public as is necessary?

As a contrast, we constantly see Lagos State reclaiming land at prohibitive costs from the Atlantic Ocean, yes the Atlantic Ocean, for hard land developments financed with money derived from the so-called wet, swampy and un-reclaimable areas of Nigeria. We can call such activities the dividends of unfair “federal politics”. Lagos State does not have Solo Mansion Communities just because its lands are urban or pre-urban, never rural even if they are rural. Furthermore, the urban miracle of Abuja and the Federal Capital Territory, dead land transformed in to late modern urban splendour where the Mansion is the norm, achieved with revenues from the so-called wet, swampy and un-reclaimable areas. The curse of rural or the semi-urban is a nasty one, apologies, the dreadful governance of rural or the semi-urban in Southern Nigeria is scandalous and there is not indication this will change within this Century.

The Big Men that are from Solo Mansion Communities and own the Mansion are more to blame than anyone one else for the sore wealthy-poverty dynamic in rural Southern Nigeria and no one should forget the peculiar fact even if many have made them their heroes. This worship of the chief plunderer [the chief under-developer or chief de-civiliser] of their communities by the very sons and daughters of the soil is not only tragic, but backward and despicable. This is why the radical ones resent the blame of their plight on the Fulani man, they are wide-eyed enough that the blame begins at home with respect to local development but how strong or significant is their voice? Federal projects are another thing altogether though.

The questions as such arise. Why is there so much agnotology about the “Solo Mansion” within and without the hapless “Communities” in Nigeria? Why are “Solo Mansions” not considered as development in the “community”, but “town halls” are? Will these [Solo] Mansions one day become the targets of rural and semi-urban anger-cum-liberation from the exploitation and de-civilisation the by their thieving owners?

Please, I need help with the answers.

Grimot Nane

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