In his new book, ‘The House My Father Built’, Adewale Maja-Pearce reveals some factors limiting Nigeria’s social and economic growth, CHUX OHAI writes
Writer, essayist and literary critic, Adewale Maja-Pearce, has just published a memoir titled The House My Father Built, a sequel to In my Father’s Country: A Nigerian Journey, which was originally published in 1987.
Coming close to another general election, The House My Father Built highlights a personal struggle by Maja-Pearce to assert his ‘Nigerianness’, especially among a few individuals whose actions have given him an inroad, as he claims in an interview with our correspondent, into some “unwholesome characteristics” of the average Nigerian.
The author could not have chosen a more auspicious time to publish the book, which attempts to critically interrogate as well as provide an insight into the understanding of a variety of contemporary Nigerian character types and their impact on the social, economic and political development of the country.
He speaks of the central character in this true life drama, Prince, with a mixture of admiration and loathing.
In a way, the entire narrative seems to revolve around this person, whom the writer describes as a failed politician and free-loading thug. Yet Maja-Pearce attributes some positive qualities to him. “He was a very articulate person and educated. He was fluent in three or four Nigerian languages. He spoke Hausa, Yoruba and Edo. He understood how the world works,” he says.
Also claiming that he met this man just before the transition to civil rule programme initiated by the last military regime in the country ushered in the present democracy in 1999, the writer continues, “Prince was supposed to be working for a man, who was running for governor of Lagos in 1999. But, obviously, there was a back room deal whereby the man would step down for Senator Bola Tinubu and then get ‘settled’ for cooperating.
“The man had founded a political party, which he ran from a nondescript three-bedroom flat on this street. He had employed Prince to work for him. But all that the latter did was hang around the so-called office all day. He was not even getting paid by his boss. Somehow, we got along together. He was a nice fellow to have around in those days. He was intelligent and painstaking.”
Unfortunately, with time, Prince proved to be highly flawed and two times as unreliable as the corrupt policemen and judicial officers, as well as common criminals that collectively haunt the writer’s world.
Noting that Prince represented everything he disliked in Nigeria that was stalling the country’s progress at every turn, Maja-Pearce says, “For him, everything that went wrong was somebody else’s fault. Right from the beginning, he interested me as a political type. I am not a politician, but intellectually I like to follow politics. I like writing about politics and meeting these political types.
“He seemed to me to be an archetype who always wanted something for nothing; often felt that the world owed him a lot; stood on the fact that he was a man of a certain age and background and took it for granted that other people should work for him.
“Prince would take anything you gave him and then, give you nothing in return. He was irresponsible. I recall that he used to apply for the American lottery visa, not because he wanted to go to live in American. His motive was to win the lottery and sell it. He was a complete 419 fraudster.
“After a while, I realised that the reason why Nigeria is failing as a country is because his type are the ones at the helms of the affairs of government. They love too much power and do what they like; they are greedy and have no conscience. They like to oppress other people.”
Apart from Prince, other people inhabit this engaging allegory on the Nigerian psyche, such as Joke, an unrepentant dupe who took pleasure in ripping off the writer whenever she had the opportunity. He describes her as a female version of Prince.
There was the fraudulent and belligerent Alhaji, who once challenged Maja-Pearce’s claims to ownership of the same house that his father had willed him.
As the author recalls, Alhaji was actually a top ranking civil servant who managed to get himself dismissed for fraud.
Also, Ngozi – the first tenant to be forcefully evicted from the house – is, no doubt, a character study in impunity. She was living in the author’s house, with her brother – who was an Internet scam artist – and son without paying rent. When confronted with the fact that she had to quit, she resorted to open intimidation through her highly placed contacts in government. Eventually she lost out.
People like Prince, Joke, Ngozi and Alhaji, Maja-Pearce notes, populate the “downside of Nigeria” in sharp contrast to many others who are hard-working and law abiding, yet poorly remunerated.
He believes that the reason why nothing seems to work in Nigeria is because the people in power are stealing its resources and by implication, encouraging a lot of people, especially the youth, to take to crime in order to survive.
Maja-Pearce was a key player in this shocking narrative – one of the reasons why he deliberately set out to present it as a memoir instead of a novel. Although he admits to making use of an unbearably harsh law on electric meters, enacted by a certain military regime in the past, he has no regrets whatsoever. It was purely a matter of necessity.
“I simply wanted to tell the truth about what I did and to prove that I am the innocent actor in the entire episode,” he says.