I have a very interesting relationship with this book. I bought the first copy that I owned about 8 years ago. Since then, I have purchased 3 more copies, yet this is the first time I have read it. The first time I bought it I was intrigued by the premise: Nigerians are not big on memoir writing (that was one reason why I found I For Don Blow But I Too Dey Press Phone very refreshing) and even when they do, it is often an egotistical trip in which they flaunt (or exaggerate) their achievements and lace it with vague details of the process to their assumed success. The uniqueness of The House My Father Built was the specificity of the context and subject. The 2nd time I bought it was because I was book browsing in a bookshop while waiting for a meal in a restaurant, ran out of options and picked it up because I just forgot that I already owned a copy. The 3rd time, I knew I had it at home but I liked the new cover. It was very colourful so I bought it and ended up with 3 copies on the shelves. The 4th and final time was also because a newer cover had been published. I bought it and finally gave out the other 3 copies and finally, this year, I read it.
The House My Father Built is a harrowing tale that is infused with wit, honesty, self-depreciation and a good dose of introspection. It is a tale that details the author’s protracted pursuit of reclaiming a house that has been willed to him by his late father. The time period is between 1993 and 1999. The house was inhabited by a motley of interesting characters. The book is not just a picture of the rental sector that caters for the average working-class Nigerian but the whole tale is a microcosm of the Nigerian state – a place where lawlessness thrives and one where reclaiming what is lawfully yours is not as straightforward as it should be. The House My Father Built is one endless cycle of excursions between police stations, police holding cells and courthouses. At some points, it is difficult to keep track of who is suing who and which party is the complainant and which is the defendant in a police visit. The fact that the lawful owner of the house has to incorporate the services of a local tout (Prince) to the point that the tout has to move in with him, in order to evict non-paying tenants is an indictment on the system.
While the book tries to stick to the subject and largely succeeds, one is left wondering if the author would have gotten himself mixed up with the shady characters he ended up with if the system worked. It is worrying how in a bid to enforce his rights, one can end up using extrajudicial means and mixing up with shady characters. It is a slippery slope that led to the author turning an eye to Prince’s paedophile tendencies. He did not approve of his questionable behaviour but turned a blind eye to it all because the perpetrator is useful to him in aspects that he should be irrelevant in if the state was functional. In all, The House My Father Built is a decent read that paints a sad picture of the Nigerian polity and shows hoa a lack of proper law enforcement impacts everyday life.