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Expensive ‘Mansions’ that are hardly lived in! – Bunmi Sofola

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For years, Ralph’s father was at his throat to send money home so he could complete the modernization of the family house. “I came from a very small village in one of the South Western states,” explained Ralph. “Before I went to the U.S. on a sort of sabbatical, I’d already bought myself a plot of land in Lagos. I made sure I had a bungalow erected on it to establish ownership.

“As luck would have it, my sabbatical turned into an opportunity to get into an IT partnership with an American professional colleague, and I decided to stay until I could make enough money to build the type of house I would love on the remaining space on my plot. But would my father allow me to rest?

Love

Every phone call of his was regaled with the type of houses that my friends whom I grew up together in the village with, were erecting for their fathers. I pictured my village. As at the time I was leaving, it had neither electricity nor potable water. So what was the point in all those houses suddenly sprouting up everywhere?

“Dad assured me there was now electricity. Water was also no problem, so I grudgingly sent some money…. He kept on asking for more to build an edifice that he said I would be proud of when I finally come home to bury him. I told him he should use the money to enjoy what was left of his life, but he wouldn’t listen. My siblings would love a decent place to come back to whenever they visited and his two other wives needed more space, he argued.

“Eventually, he got what he wanted, leaving me in peace to plan for my own future. I’d already lost my mum before I travelled and when one of my dad’s two wives died, I decided to pay him a visit in the village. True to his words,there were some modern houses here and there. One was so massive I wondered what madness could possess a man to erect such an intricate structure on a wasteland like the village? When I got to our old house, I gasped. Dad hadn’t touched it. Instead, he’d acquired a bigger plot of land to erect a story building that looked like an abandoned colonial house.

“The building consisted of four flats. After the usual back-slapping pleasantries, dad took me round the house. His own flat was naturally the front none up the stairs. The one next to it was my dead mother’s and her children, the two flats downstairs were for the two wives and their children.

It was all I could not do to start laughing. All my siblings were out of the village and some of them must have contributed to making dad happy by building him this house. But what exactly would happen to it when he eventually-pegged? Later, I asked him what he intended to do with the old family house.

“Nothing,” he said. “If you have no use for it, I told him, “why don’t you sell it off and use the money for yourself?”

“Who would buy it, and for how much?” he wanted to know. “Look around you and see all the family houses you once knew. They are all heaps of their old selves. Apart from it being a taboo to sell your ancestral home, prices of plots of land in this part are not particularly encouraging. So, most of us prefer to leave the family houses to disintegrate. But they ‘ll still be around for you to point your finger at!”

When I later went round the sleepy village, I discovered that most of these modern buildings were locked up, making them look like abandoned properties. The ones that weren’t locked up had very old villagers living in them and they looked more like old people’s homes than family houses. You have to rattle the gates real hard for any of them to shuffle to the door. As they peer curiously at you, you quickly start a long introduction of who you are by giving your family history. Some of them eventually realise who you are whilst a lot have become senile.

“The mucky smell inside the houses make you wonder how quickly most of us forget that a house is not a home until it’s lived in. It then dawned on me that most of the houses must have been built through the cajoling influence of parents who do not want to be beaten by the Jones. What happens to the houses after they must have gone is none of their problems!”

 

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