by Tola Adenle
Photo Credit: Depo Adenle, November 2011
I first noticed them in the 90s, crude signs written right on the walls of houses big and small or on wooden boards nailed to the properties. For the most part, though, these were all properties in the not-that-nice parts of town although I won’t be pressed into naming areas in Ibadan, Abeokuta, Osogbo, Akure … and even Lagos where I have seen the bizarre signs:
This House is not for sale!
This House not for sale. Beware of 419!
Of course, ’419′, as it is now well-known around the world, is the Criminal Code Number in Nigeria’s law books that deals with the issues of scam artistis who collect “advance fees” from unsuspecting but often equally-greedy foreigners who have hopes of getting huge returns.
A huge unfinished government building belonging to the most hated parastatal in Nigeria (power “generator”, NEPA, or whatever other names it’s known by) carried the un-dignifying “THIS PROPERTY IS NOT FOR SALE” for quite a while. It’s possible it’s still there or it could have been painted over but it would show because the building is right on the Secretariat/University of Ibadan Road. I haven’t checked it in quite a while and this is ironic as it sits about 2-minute walk to the building photographed for this story.
In Nigeria, my home is Ibadan, and while these signs were very common in many parts of town, there was none at Bodija, Iyaganku, Agodi, Jericho GRAs – all nice areas of the ancient city and all places where I do move around. Not any more.
The picture here is at New Bodija, Ibadan where it’s used as a commercial building. It is a modern building and very well-constructed and while it can use a good paint job, and even though the part shown in the photograph may not do justice to that description, it fits in well with many of the buildings around it as most of Old and New Bodija have been turned into commerical areas these last several years.
Why would a property that is NOT for sale need to be advertised?
Well, a notorious scam artist and 419-star once reportedly sold a Moslem Praying Ground at Ibadan to some non-Nigerians for tons of money and while the con artist finally got arrested, it did fascinate , in a surreal way, how the couple of non-Nigerians the guy supposedly drove in a huge limo to Agodi Praying Ground could conceive it a property for sale. The praying Ground is PRIME property, alright, and with very mature trees located in a bustling part of the city. It is fenced round and from my experience, it is hardly possible to drive by the place without some people like Alasalatu women present for one event or another.
How, in the world therefore, could anyone – foreigner or whatever, non-Moslem or not, believe that those several ACRES, an oasis right next to the hustle and bustle of Iwo Road mega-commercial activities, be up for sale? What kind of documents did the notorious scam artist show these definitely fraudulent non-Nigerians as evidence of right to transfer the huge portion of real property? Were those non-Nigerians fronts for a rich sucker and so were not really bothered whether the property was genuine or not? The worst anyone could probably conjecture on seeing the Agodi Praying Ground is to think it is a government public grounds used as a park or such.
Houses belonging to individuals have been reportedly sold by non-owners in a country that may loom large in conspicuous consumption of the best in imported home furnishings from the best manufacturers around the world but a country that remains very primitive in the things that modern societies take for granted. In 2011 Nigeria, a piece of land can be – and has been – sold to more than one buyer while a person can build a multi-million Naira home on which he owes millions to suppliers and artisans/tradesmen. Those owed money may never get paid even if the property-owner decides to sell: there is no state agency standing guard, waiting to ensure people owed money on a property are paid before the debtor/seller takes a profit.
Nigerians generate their own power (there are generating sets that cost $50); dig water wells – or boreholea for the rich – organize security through neighborhood watches, etcetera. Vigilante justice often reigns. What does the police do? Well, men of the Force are on highways in full force in their unique uniforms which has pants of many pockets like those worn by hip hop artists or young kids for keeping bribes openly extorted from motorists
Could a scam artist get away with selling somebody’s property? Of course he can as has reportedly happened and worse, the real owner may not get it back by going to court. Why? Nigeria’s judiciary has been in the news these last few years and it’s not been the positive kind of news. Corruption has made the judiciary an institution of ridicule and shame among Nigerians.
With this kind of frontier environment, and with Nigerian governments having never really bothered about legislation that would bring the real estate field to modern times through legislation, Nigerians who have long gotten used to being their own EVERYTHING, have apparently come to a pointin which they must announce to the world that their properties are NOT for sale.
So when next you are in Nigeria and see a property with a sign announcing THIS HOUSE IS NOT FOR SALE, the copy-writer did not mistakenly put the negative word in, and do, cut Nigeria some slack: the owner knows no other way to ensure he keeps what he spent a lot of money to acquire.