LOUD WHISPERS: Your Neighbour’s Keeper

When I was growing up on Soyinka Street in Fadeyi, Lagos, we had all kinds of neighbours. My parents had just returned from England, and we lived in a building that had four flats, one of the ‘poshest’ properties on the street. Our flat was the top one in front, facing the street, so we always got to see what was going on around us. There were the good, the bad and the ugly. There were some nice people who always had a kind word and a smile. There were the predator Uncles who leered and had a strange look in their eyes whenever they looked at you. There was no shortage of drama or scandals on the street.  

The married seamstress who was having an affair with a mechanic, and the ‘equipment’ of the mechanic refused to return to base after an illicit session. Fortunately, a group of neighbours, some Northern herbs/tea makers/suya sellers on the street gave him something to help return his whatever to normal. There was the house next door to ours that had several families living there, most of them related since it was a family compound. One day there was a commotion, and the two wives of one of the family members rained abuse on one another and spilled each other’s ‘secrets’. One of the wives was in the habit of bathing naked at the crossroads in the middle of the night to attract good fortune for her business. The other wife was accused of having a secret lover.

Their husband stood there quietly while other neighbours tried to calm down the warring women. You would have thought that these earth-shattering revelations would have been enough to get the two women sent packing for peace to reign. They never left and peace never reigned, and the neighbours dutifully showed up for every outbreak of hostilities. A few months later, you would see both women pregnant going about their business till the next war, and the delighted neighbours would gather to celebrate the new arrivals.

 In the flat below ours, there was a couple who had lived there ever since the man of the house was going around on a motorcycle. He was an Engineer and he got a good job at one of the top construction companies in Lagos. His fortunes changed and so did his lifestyle. He could afford cars and then the fact that he and his wife did not have children yet began to bother him, so he started to explore other possibilities. The more adventurous the man got, the more depressed his wife became and she began to look much older than her age. He eventually found another wife, who already had three children from a previous marriage, so her fertility was not in doubt. She promptly got pregnant and had a baby girl. You can imagine the state of mind of the first wife at this point. My mother summoned her and started to coach her – well we did not have words like that then, but that is what it was.

My mother taught her how to value herself, focus on her physical and emotional well-being and stop going around looking exactly how she felt on the inside. My mother would often tell us, ‘Never go around in a way people will ask you ‘se ko si’ (is there anything wrong?). It is something I have never forgotten. Guess what? The first wife eventually got pregnant and she had a boy. The celebration and the joy of the women on our street was a wonder to behold.

Last week there was a video in circulation about one Barrister Ekere Ebong from Abia State who beat his wife and stripped her down to her underwear, then threw her into the streets. Concerned neighbours gathered round and tried to appeal to him to stop, but of course his royal majesty refused to get off his high horse. His wife was bleeding profusely. While one of the neighbours started recording what was happening, others ran to get the poor woman a wrapper. The man has since been arrested for domestic violence. Back in the day when neighbours would troop out to wade into a matter, there were no phones to record anything.

The first time I discovered, to my shock, that men had pubic hair too was when a thief was beaten on our street and stripped naked. If it was today, images of the unfortunate fellow would have been all over the place.

Barrister Ebong’s neighbours sounded fed up with the man. According to them, he had been beating his wife for ‘the past four years’. It was probably not the first time their peace had been disturbed by this so-called Barrister, but this was the last straw – kicking out a virtually naked woman into the streets. I applaud the neighbours of Barrister Ebong for coming to the aid of Mrs Ebong and giving her a physical as well as figurative wrapper. The footage of what transpired is graphic enough for Mrs Ebong to get the justice she deserves, that is if she is not pressurised into dropping the charges. Ideally, under the Violence Against Persons Prohibition law (2015) which Akwa Ibom State has domesticated, the case is between Barrister Ebong and the State, not his wife, she will however be required as a witness.

Women will continue to suffer and even die until we take our laws and protection mechanisms seriously. Having vigilant and supportive neighbours is key to this, because without active community engagement, it is difficult to keep vulnerable persons safe. Shortly after this domestic violence case, there was the discovery of a serial kidnapper of children in Abia State. One of the young victims managed to escape and alert a group of local youth who descended on the one-room shack where at least six other children where found, all huddled on a bed with bread in their hands to keep them quiet. Again, responsible neighbours to the rescue.

As a little girl on Soyinka Street, my mother used to send me round to some of our neighbours on Christmas day with dishes of Jollof Rice and fried meat. The neighbours would pray for my parents and give me a three pence coin that we used to call ‘Toro’. The tradition of celebrating Christmas Day by sending food to neighbours is something my mother has held on to tenaciously years after moving away from Soyinka Street to our own house and long after my father passed away. I have just sent off the last batch of items on the long list my mother sends to me every December. On December 25th, there will be a knock on the door of our neighbours and a gift from my mother on behalf of our family. Many of us do not know our neighbours or do not want to have anything to do with them, it depends on where we live. However, in matters of life and death, having people nearby who can rise to the occasion is critical.

It could be a fire, robbery, assault, kidnapping, flooding or any other situation that demands we prove our humanity. You do not have to like your neighbours and they do not need to be your friends. Simply make sure you are not enemies, your life could depend on it. In this festive season, reach out to your neighbours if you are able to do so. A Christmas hamper, gift for their children, an invitation to lunch, anything you can afford. I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Policy Advocate and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com

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One Response to LOUD WHISPERS: Your Neighbour’s Keeper

  1. Adegbola Opeyemi December 29, 2023 at 8:48 am

    Well articulated ma

    Reply

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