Solo Mansion Communities in Nigeria
Development in Nigeria is a narrow focus on brick, mortar and tarmac constructions with imported technology gadgets thrown in. The masses appreciate and brag about by the developers. Livelihoods, human development, life protection, and life preservation. These and other aspects of developments in Nigeria are yet to kick-in as development objectives or indicators.
Furthermore, the brick, mortar and tarmac constructions the residents often elevate to mythical and unspoken dimensions as development achievements. Such thinking is a habitual turn of mind. It has not evolved beyond pre-Independence expectations of development in developing nation ever-pregnant with hope.
A friend of mine, Myke Akpati (Twitter handle: @Mmyti) tweeted the idea above on the 28th of August 2015. The idea is quite like a picture because 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 are transparent if there is a will, as Akpati would later say.
It is a thorough and amazing observation worthy of a proper ‘definitive travelogue’ of settlements of semi-urban and rural Niger Delta and other regions of Southern Nigeria. It evidences 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. At the same time, the rest of the settlement sprawls with hundreds of mud houses. And scores of substandard shacks constructed with concrete blocks. Often without ceilings (boards) to insulate residents and tenants from the excesses of harsh equatorial climate conditions. These settlements are Solo Mansion Communities (SMCs).
Both the mighty and the small, indigenous to these SMCs will always consider the highest form of development in their settlement to be the Town hall. Surprisingly, the residents often have to contribute a lot of their small incomes to build it. They are routine products 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 stick out as so obvious. They sell the despairing community development project on the myth that if they can build a decent town hall. So they can invite prominent politicians to see the dreadful plight of their settlement. And have “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 wins their vote.
There might also be a primary school and, more rare is a high school within the boundaries of the SMCs. Again, they built and run as a result of communal self-help projects. Sometimes with a little of help from the government. Such a town or village would, in past decades, celebrate 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. Residents, even educated ones, always underestimated the value of potable water; rainwater or river water or well water will suffice.
These days there are no such prospects of motorable roads made for SMCs in the country anymore, unless by chance. New roads reach SMCs by chance and not by design or demand. The Ministries of Works at federal, state and local government levels have become lucrative rent-seeking and rent-offering black holes. They favour public servant interests over public interests.
The Solo Mansions (or few mansions) in the town or village in rural or semi-urban Southern Nigeria are the exclusive residences of top government officials, politicians and their clients. People who divert monies the government intends for the of infrastructure development in these home communities. The places they hail from. The monies go into their personal coffers to use as they please. Such is value-subtracting conspicuous consumption at its worst and most vulgar.
The Solo Mansion and other Mansions thus become great symbols for corruption and its consequences in Nigeria. The grandiose lifestyles of Big Thieves that decivilise an already weakened Nigeria and the wretched lives of the Typical Peasant and Average Person are the result. These unfortunate folks cannot respond to their condition in a civilised manner. Who will listen to them?
Nevertheless, it is an ironic representation of a Typical Peasant in 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 much with the wretchedness of their hapless neighbours and surroundings. The Mansions have three or four big generators on rotation for service). This is to ensure there is 24 hours supply of electricity daily. This only happens if the owners are at home away from the big cities. Even in areas with heavy pollution, it has a constant supply of water thanks to its borehole and water filters. The high fenced compound is prone to flooding from the riverine terrain. And has a functional swimming pool. Yet, oil spills too polluted the rivers around the corner.
The Mansion owners, as a rule, use jeeps. Vehicle manufactured for rough motor terrain that is characteristic of the roads that lead to and from the SMCs. Mansions are a ‘oasis of civilisation and high culture’ within locations of an expanse of underdevelopment and under-civilisation.
The SMCs’ residents are subject to lives devoid of electricity, access to clean water, access to recreational facilities or even sustainable livelihoods. These consequences of perpetual conditions deprive and disempower the rural and semi-urban Nigerian are immeasurable. His or her opportunities are like those available in the 18th century. Or in the second decade of the 21st century. Losing 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 never changes. It is that the terrain is too wet, swampy or un-reclaimable to build with engineering. Such is thus an enduring and irresponsible excuse to deny the region’s essential and solid ground development.
If a Solo Mansion built by a reputable foreign construction company like Julius Berger, it is always possible in such “forbidding terrain.” But only 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, many will complain, we ever see Lagos State reclaiming land at prohibitive costs from the Atlantic Ocean. Yes, the Atlantic Ocean, for solid land developments financed with money derived from the wet, swampy and un-reclaimable areas of Nigeria. They will further complain, 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 saw dead land transform into late modern urban splendour. There the Mansion is the norm, achieved with revenues from the wet, swampy and un-reclaimable areas.
The curse of rural or the semi-urban is nasty, apologies. The poor governance of rural or the semi-urban in Southern Nigeria is scandalous. And there is no sign this will change within this century.
The Big Men that are from Solo Mansion Communities and own the Mansion. They are more to blame than anyone one elsewhere for the sore wealthy-poverty dynamic in rural Southern Nigeria. 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.
Such is but backward and despicable. It is why the radical ones resent the blame for their plight on the Fulani man. They are wide-eyed enough to know that the responsibility begins at home concerning local development. But how loud or significant is their voice? Federal projects are another thing altogether, though.
The inquiries have to arise. Why is there so much ignorance 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 decivilisation they suffer by their thieving owners?
Please, I need help with the answers.