The Most Dangerous House in Lagos -Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
A do-gooder told his landlord that any tenant who sends the police after the owner of the house “is capable of killing you.” This selfsame Tenant Do-Good not only called the police on the landlord but capped it all up by hiring assassins to kill him. He had tried to deploy juju to finish off the landlord only to confess much later that the landlord survived his diabolical attack because: “You walk with God.” That’s the summary of the larger-than-life-and-death story of a never-do-well tenant who was fond of saying: “Move by faith and not by sight.” I know the entire story because I was involved.
Back in the early 1990s I was in London, England, and I was in constant touch with Adewale Maja-Pearce who was the Africa Editor of the magazine Index on Censorship. I used to visit Adewale at his office in Highbury, London, close to the former stadium of Arsenal Football Club. One blurry noonday when Adewale took me out to drink iat the bar by the stadium, I found out that some noisy fans of Celtic Football Club of Scotland who had travelled with their team to London ostensibly to watch a match with Arsenal FC never cared to enter into the stadium but spent the entire day drinking until the match ended – and some of them had passed out in the last stage of booze called “Comatose” by Ayi Kwei Armah in his novel The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born. Little wonder then that Scottish soccer fans like to address themselves as “orrible ooligans!” It was while drinking in the bar that Adewale told me that his father had willed a house to him in Surulere, Lagos, and he also mentioned one human rights lawyer in Lagos whom he wanted to give some funds sourced from a foreign foundation. It was the human rights lawyer that Adewale eventually entrusted to take up the matter of the house that his father had built in Lagos. When eventually Adewale touched down in Lagos he found out that the lawyer he trusted had done next-to-nothing on the house matter.
As Adewale writes in the just released reprint of his 2014 book, The House My Father Built, published by Kachifo Limited under its Farafina Kamsi imprint, “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.” Adewale learnt his lessons the hard way thusly: “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 be, how rancorous and tiring, how absurd and humiliating.”
The tenants Adewale had to do battle with were ill-assorted: “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…”
Let’s get to the next tenant: “Ngozi, a light-skinned Igbo woman in her mid-30s, lived with her two brothers, one of whom later turned out to be her son; the other a scam artist who spent most of his time at one of the many cyber cafes springing up all over the city.”
I once accompanied Adewale into Ngozi’s sitting room where we met a famous police commissioner eating hot pepper-soup. It is written in the book: “Where the Alhaji was mischievous, she was haughty.” Her eviction is the stuff of Nollywood as narrated in Adewales’s The House My Father Built.
The third musketeer of a tenant “Pepsi was not only a poor man, but also an ineffectual one, by no means the same thing.” Pepsi died a year after his eviction, killed by a runaway bus at Ojuelegba.
The real McCoy of the book and house was the unemployed potbellied fellow called Prince who helped Adewale to facilitate all the evictions while living rent-free. Prince could handle any duty perfectly except help himself. He was, for instance, the self-appointed leader of our delegation when Adewale was undertaking the traditional protocols of marrying his personable wife, the celebrated artist Juliet Ezenwa.
Prince could not pay his rent and plotted to indict Adewale only to paradoxically get himself incarcerated in Ikoyi prison. He tried juju. He failed. He tried assassination. He failed. Then Prince died. As Ralph Ellison wrote in his novel Invisible Man, “The end was in the beginning,”