Nigerians and the “BQ” Mentality

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A client had wanted to buy a flat at the 1004 Estates recently and I took him out on inspection at the estate. He would not buy because the flats have no BQ! Another was to buy a duplex house at Lekki but declined because it has only one room BQ. All these reminded me of another client who wanted to buy a house in Central London.His request was for a 3 or 4 Bedroom House with 2 Rooms BQ! I tried to explain to him that houses in London do not usually have BQs but he would not understand!Nigerians have become so accustomed to having BQs that they will want to have it even in London or New York.

So what is a BQ and what is the origin? The word BQ is an abbreviation for “Boys Quarters” or Servants Quarters as it now houses “house maids” as well as “house boys”. It is one of the colonial creations in Africa!You will not find it in the UK or the USA. Our colonial masters who lived in exclusive areas called GRAS. (Government Reservation Areas); needed the services of Nigerians as cooks or stewards; but would not live in the same house with the black man! Therefore a separate building, usually built at a distance from the main house, is put up at a corner at the far rear end of the plot to accommodate the black man. He would be called by a call bell to come to the main house whenever his services were needed.Sometimes he has his own entrance by which he could go in and out of the BQ without going through the main compound.

On independence, our black brothers who took over from the colonial masters inherited these houses and continued with the practice.Hence when such people wanted to build their own houses even outside the GRA, they insisted that the design must have a BQ. This is how gradually BQ became a permanent and usual part of our design of houses! Consequently, every house even in the villages must have a BQ otherwise, it is not complete. Talk to a typical Nigerian about a house not having a BQ, his answer is where will the house maid, the driver, the cook, the steward, etc, stay if you do not have a BQ? But what is wrong in these people staying inside the house with us? Unlike the white man who would not live with a black man under the same roof, why can’t we do away with this colonial mentality and treat domestic servants as brothers and sisters?

Again this matter is one of the fall outs of our housing policies. Why must the domestic servants live with you in the first instance?The answer is simple.The rich or big man who requires the services of these people live in areas very far from any accommodation that the poor can afford! For example, where in Ikoyi, Victoria Island or Lekki can they get accommodation near their bosses if there are no BQs?For this reason, a lot of these people are finding it difficult to retain their drivers unless they are ready to pay through their noses. Why, because most of the drivers have to live too far away resulting in spending too much as transportation and other inconveniences like getting home too late and still have to leave home too early in the mornings! If our housing estates had been planned in such a way that the rich and the poor can exist side by side, this problem could have been avoided! Then these necessary hands could live in their houses and come and work in their Ogas house and go back home to their own families.

Even till today, our housing estates are still planned as if the low income do not matter.Whereas our own lives are not complete without them! They not only serve us in the houses, they also serve in our offices as office attendants, clerks, cleaners and guards.Some of them live too far away from their work places so much that half of their salaries is spent on transportation!In addition, because of the long and tortuous transportation, they get to work already exhausted having jumped from one bus to another.

You do not expect such person to give his best at work. There is also no concentration in the few hours before closing.He is anxious to leave early and the thought of the trauma he will go through on the way home is a source of serious distraction!You do not expect any concentration at work during those hours! Even in the new city ofAbuja, there is no provision for the low income! Asokoro, Maitama, Wuse and Garki are exclusively for the rich! The poor is therefore forced to live in the satellite villages which are far away with no train services or any good bus service as you will find elsewhere. This is why a BQ is a necessity in all houses in those areas.
There is therefore the need to review our housing estate plans to take into account these challenges. The rich cannot exist without the poor as they depend on them for services which are essential to their good living. We can only do without BQs when we address the housing needs of the poor along with that of the rich.

The problem is even becoming more serious with the policy of the Federal Government in the last twelve years to leave housing entirely in the hands of the private sector! We all know that housing for the poor or low income is not a profitable venture and therefore not attractive to the private sector that is profit driven. They have therefore concentrated on building for the rich only to the detriment of the poor! President Goodluck Jonathan must therefore address this area by giving a small part of his heart to finding solution to the problems of housing for poor in this society.

Chief Kola Akomolede Chairman,

Faculty of Housing, NIESV.

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