Living in a compound in contemporary Nigeria

Image credit: Mitula Homes

Most African countries operate within a community system which means everyone living as one big extended family.  However, with the rise of modernity and widespread migration from the rural to the urban, this communal lifestyle has changed rapidly. For most people who grew up in Nigeria in the 80s and 90s,  some of your fondest childhood memories will include playing with other kids in your compound - getting involved in games such as 'catch me if you can', 'tag', 'freeze' and 'jumping the loop in squares drawn on the sand'.  If you are able to decipher the 'Englishcised' version of these games with no trouble, then rest assured you truly lived in the best of times. Back to the premise - with the increase in crimes and other sinister acts going on around, it's no wonder that many people stay aloof in their compounds or neighbourhoods. But is this really the best approach? As long as you have not 'arrived' yet to have your own detached duplex or personal bungalow, you will have to live in a compound with others. The following ideas will guide you on how best to live in a compound in Nigeria.

1. Mind your business but be mindful of others
There's nothing as irritating as nosy neighbours, - the ones that choose to tie their washing lines behind your bedroom window so they can be privy to your conversations, choosing the oddest of time to retrieve their sun dried clothes. Or the ones who will come knocking on your door to ask for a stick of matches or salt, not out of need but just for a chance to poke their heads into your house and lead the conversation into more private areas such as why that young man has not visited in a while - is he even your brother or husband? Because of similar examples along this line, many have rightly decided to mind their business and keep off from any contact with their neighbours. But you should consider one day in the dead of the night when you need an urgent ride to the hospital, or when someone is attacking you in your house or someone comes to harass you in your home, you will need the people in your compound during such times. Achieve a middle ground, be nice to your neighbours but have a boundary. Let anyone overstepping be cautioned.

2. Avoid romantic relationships
Never say never is a thing. So, you might just find love in your compound. However, such a relationship will be wrought with a lot hiccups. From serious ones such as neighbours tearing you apart to silly ones such as whose house to spend the night until one person decides they are wasting their rent and you move in together, cohabiting and speed-racing your relationship. You may end up stuck at the cohabitation level or you may rush into marriage and suddenly realise you do not really know your spouse because you have never seen then beyond the compound relations. In the event of a breakup, your compound will be the store of hurtful memories that may linger and slow down your healing. So, try and keep your heart safe in a Nigerian compound.

3. Don't share your prepaid meters
The coming of prepaid meters have improved the power sector giving consumers more control over pricing and electricity consumption. However, prepaid meters were not made with joint use in mind. It is best you get a personal meter which you can take along even when you move out. You will save yourself shouting matches over who is cooking beans with an electric cooker or the one who sells ice blocks for a living and owns a big freezer zapping the power units. Prepaid meters are still the best choices over the analogue ones that come with outrageous monthly charges that can be still be a source of argument when shared.

4. Keep your personal activities personal
Just because you pay rent does not mean 'enjoying' yourself at the expense of others. Don't watch 'Aye ma le, ibosi' movies into the dead of the night with your volume cranked to the highest. You may worship Tupac even though he has been dead for years, but not everyone has a fancy for listening to your crackly voices miming the raps even as you murder the lyrics. Respect yourself young man or lady, remember your gadgets and your voices are not auto-set on loud. You can keep it all under control.

Image credit: 6HP

5. Clear demarcation of duties
Living in a compound means having some shared responsibilities which may not be included in your rent. This can include paying for security, cleaners and refuse disposal. If they had been rotating sweeping the compound before your arrival and you know nothing would make you touch a broom whether by reason of your dislike for the chore or having a busy schedule, let the others know about your alternative arrangement for such a task.  You can pay someone to do it for you or even suggest a change in the system by encouraging everyone to contribute money towards permanently employing someone However, don't be eager to act as the money-keeper for any compound projects - no matter how transparent you are in your dealings,  someone will go away with the thought of you 'eating' their money. Your reputation may be torched far away from your compound.

Care to share your experiences with living in a Nigerian compound? Drop your comments below.

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