At two specific points in the course of the last three weeks, I was asked to accompany someone on a house-hunting mission. That a man had to accompany a woman on the mission to look for a house is itself a travesty of sorts; is there any reason why a fully grown woman, needing a house, should not be able to take a trip around a particular area and make discreet enquiries about agents to speak to in the search for vacant apartments? But no, a man has to go with her, to give her the illusion of respectability and responsibility. It matters not that the aforesaid man will not contribute one red cent to the money the woman is going to cough out to pay for the house; there sha has to be a man in the picture, for the illusion of responsibility to be complete. So we were directed, this woman and I, to a house where we met this elderly man, Baba agent.
Baba is a shrunken, surly man, with a look on his face that suggests you want to cheat him and he knows, but can do nothing about it because he is poor and disadvantaged. He queries us abpout the kind of house we seek, and then takes us nearby to a two storey house that has either seen better days, or hopes to see them. At first glance it is uncertain whether the house is dilapidated or merely uncompleted. He takes us through the rooms, to a sitting room that he boasts is so large it can hold ten million safe from whistle blowers. The joke sounds lame and tasteless to me: no one who has money worth hiding will approach a hovel like this, except to buy it and break it down. I quickly plug one ear with my ever present earphones and pretend to be examining the paint critically while the wack humor fades. Concluding our tour of the house that we will not be having anything to do with in the forseeable future, we head back downstairs, and he goes back to the perch we met him at. He announces the house to be four hundred thousand naira, and my eyes widen in shock.
Four hundred k for a dilapidated house in a run-down border town that lagos has forgotten and ogun will have nothing to do with? Who is this man’s dealer biko? He insists that with our money, they will repair the staircase, buy a tank, repair the pumping machine, and buy pipes that will carry the water up from the well and down from the tank.
We haggle politely about the cost, settling at three hundred, which does not include his fees. Our eye contact is significant; the talk is just to humour him, and to pretend at politeness. We thank him, and make polite enquiries about any other vacant houses in the area. Baba grins, a sly wolfish grin, which makes his already sullen features seem more discomfiting, and tells us that he is the Baba of all the agents in the area, that no house goes vacant without his knowledge. Mentally I’m throwing up my hands and walking away, while physically I’m standing there, twirling one of my earphones in my hand, waiting for my companion to finish so we can take our leave. We thank him, and as we turns to leave, he calls us back.
Who are we, and what do we do?
I stand there fidgeting, wondering what bearing that has on anything. He then drawa himself up to his full height, a full head shorter than me, and introduces himself as Pastor something or other.
Alarm: when someone, in a bid to wheedle information out of you, hides behind the pastor alias, please, do not budge. He then went on to tell us that he was a retired SS officer. I told him I was a civil servant, after all, to be able to write, or to read what is written, you need a certain levl of civility, and if I write for civil society groups and civilians to read, I can rightly claim to be performing a service, and that makes me a civil servant. Argue with your Lamborghini. You don’t have? Biko, keep quiet.
That is not the gist. I passed through that area just yesterday, and I saw the house Baba agent showed us. There were curtains at the windows, signifying that it had been moved into, but that was all. No fixed staircase, no pipes, no tank, and no paint.
Just help me thank God we were delivered from that kind of house. He has probably used his old age, pastoral anointing and SS credentials to silence the occupants, who will be wondering why the staircase at the back is still a death trap and the water hasn’t started flowing.
That was the story of Me and Baba Agent.