Over the next few weeks I will be running extracts from my new book, The House My Father Built, which has just been published by Farafina under their Kamsi imprint.
The book itself, a memoir about how I returned to Nigeria to possess my possession, is a follow-up to my earlier travelogue, In My Father's Country, published in 1987.
The third part of the projected trilogy, A Farewell to My Father's Country, will be published anon (but hopefully not with so long a gap).
'I hadn’t expected anything from my father’s will and was surprised when I discovered that he had left my siblings and me a block of four flats – one each for my mother’s children – in a decent area of Lagos. The property itself was initially tied up in a trust fund whose terms were only satisfied when I was in a position to return to the country in a meaningful way. I was forty then, ten years exactly after my first journey back following my father’s death, and lucky enough to be working as Africa editor of Index on Censorship, a Cold War journal whose mission was to bring the light of democracy to the dark places of the earth, first behind the Iron Curtain and then elsewhere. I was lucky, also, that Nigeria was caught up in a crisis, by which I mean a crisis within the larger one that has been the nation’s lot since independence in 1960. Elections had been organised after many years of military rule, but were annulled before the counting was over in order that the military might continue. At the same time, apartheid was coming to an end in South Africa, leaving what we are pleased to call the ‘giant of Africa’ fully exposed in all its wanton corruption. It was easy enough to convince a foreign foundation to underwrite my extended trips to Lagos.
'Two of the flats, along with the annex at the back, were still occupied by tenants who had refused my earlier offer of a year rent-free to help them move so I put a friend in one to keep an eye on things during my prolonged absences and settled into the other as I prepared to do battle. I had no idea at the time how fierce and long-drawn out it would turn out to be, how rancorous and tiring, how absurd and humiliating.
'The most combative – outwardly at least – was the Yoruba Alhaji in the front flat downstairs, a squat, thick-set man in his early fifties with red lips, bandy legs and a white skull cap. He thought me amusing when I politely knocked on his door and told him that he had to go in a year’s time, but that it wasn’t personal. In the event, it took me six years to be rid of him, only ending, neatly enough, with the hasty transition to democracy, which the by now hapless military was forced to organise in order to save what remained of its – and the country’s – dismal reputation.
'Because the Alhaji had rented directly from my father when the place was newly built twenty years earlier, it was obvious at once that he regarded me as something of an interloper. He was also my senior in age so that, in his eyes, I was doubly done, Nigeria being a gerontocracy in the interests of ‘African tradition’ – a useful concept to invoke whenever anyone tried to suggest the desirability of ‘Western’ notions of freedom of expression, equality before the law and other such inconveniences. He fought dirty and encouraged the other two to stand their ground alongside him, but it was partly my own doing that the case dragged for so long. The arrangement I had with the magazine meant that I could only manage two months in Lagos at one time. This meant, in turn, taking long adjournments, but then I was the only one who wanted a quick resolution in what I had assumed would be an open- and-shut case.
'The more drawn-out the case the more money I would have to part with, which suited not only whichever lawyer I happened to be using at the time (and I went through a number of them) but also the court clerk, the fellow who helped with the photocopying (always so many papers) and even the old man under the spreading almond tree in the front as though for all the world it was his office, which in a way it was. At each sitting, I would arrive at the court at nine sharp, only to see the Alhaji emerge from the magistrate’s chambers and drive off with his trademark smirk that betrayed what I thought a pointless triumphalism. Two or three hours later, my case would finally be called. The magistrate would bark at my lawyer over some infraction or other and then bring down his gavel to the spontaneous refrain, ‘As the court pleases’. I found this increasingly irritating as we fixed yet another date some months later, while the assembled lawyers on the front benches looked at me with a mixture of pity and defensiveness that I not think badly of this Third World charade that was an accurate reflection of the shenanigans being played out in the larger political arena.'
To be continued.
Adewale Maja-Pearce is the author of several books, including Loyalties
and Other Stories, In My Father's Country, How many miles to Babylon?, A
Mask Dancing, Who's Afraid of Wole Soyinka?, From Khaki to Agbada,
Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa and Other Essays, A Peculiar Tragedy, and
Counting the Cost, as well as the 1998 and 1999 annual reports on human
rights violations in Nigeria. He also edited The Heinemann Book of African
Poetry in English, Wole Soyinka: An Appraisal, Christopher Okigbo:
Collected Poems, The New Gong Book of New Nigerian Short Stories,
and Dream Chasers.
Click here to see Maja-Pearce's amazon.com page: http://www.amazon.com/Adewale-Maja-Pearce/e/B001HPKIOU