HOUSING DEBACLE: Agony of Homeless Nigerians In Slums, Under Bridges

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HOUSING DEBACLE: Agony of Homeless Nigerians In Slums, Under Bridges

Across the country, low-income earners are still in a quagmire, regarding their own houses. This may be the reason stakeholders are worried that despite government claims of formulating policies to provide shelter for an appreciable percentage of the citizenry, there are no indicators to justify the claims.

The mortgage institutions in the country, according to findings by ISIOMA MADIKE, in this report are also largely inactive

Madam Onyeka Nkemakonam is a widow. She lived in a mini-flat apartment at 5, Lagos Street, off Akilo Road, Agege, Lagos, with her family for close to six years. She lost her husband, sometime in 2021. After the burial rites of her husband and the mandatory mourning period, Nkemakonam returned to Lagos with her four children, to face new challenges of life without the breadwinner. Her landlord, sensing that it could be difficult for her to continue with the payment of rent, decided to issue a quit notice to her.

She pleaded for time, which she thought the landlord had consented to. But she was wrong. Unknown to Nkemakonam, her landlord had a different game plan. The man, according to what later played out, might have decided to test the signed tenancy law in the state. He ejected her, along with other tenants with the aid of thugs, a few months after.

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One of the tenants, Christopher Johnson, a commercial bus driver, who raised the alarm, said he was at Obalende when someone called to inform him that thugs and fake policemen were at his residence in an apparent move to eject all the tenants in the bungalow building. “I had to abandon what I was doing at Obalende Park and rushed home. I met other tenants outside the house, their properties and mine had already been vandalised by the thugs,” Johnson recalled.

According to him, items lost to the hoodlums were clothes, telephone hand- set, laptop, a travelling bag and N70,000 cash he had been saving to rent another apartment. Other tenants in the house also claimed to have lost sums of money ranging from N50,000 to N90,000 to the invaders. Nkemakonam said the N250,000 donated to her to complete her husband’s building at Sango Ota area of Ogun State, during the burial of her husband, was also stolen.

The total money lost to the thugs was over N360,000, according to claims the tenants made at the Police station, where the matter was reported. Narrating her ordeal to Saturday Telegraph, Nkemakonam said she was in the room when the thugs rushed in, threatening to break her head with a hammer after which they bundled her out of the room. “They claimed they were from court with an instruction to eject us.

The landlord had been on the run since then,” she recounted amid tears. Like Nkemakonam, many Nigerians, especially those living in the cities, have one tale of woe or the other to tell about their ordeal in the hands of landlords. Many people have had terrible experiences in the hands of landlords whose power seems to be growing unchecked. And since shelter is one of the basic necessities of life, many are determined to acquire this essential need.

It has thus become a major concern for both individuals and the governments in the country. In fact, the scorecard of any government in the country has, more often, been assessed on its ability to provide housing for its populace. Shelter, indeed, is very important and obligatory in human living. It is imperative for every human being to have a home. But, is this plausible in Nigeria’s giving the outlook of the housing deficit facing the country at present?

Not too long ago, Nigeria was reported to have an estimated 28 million housing units’ needs to effectively plug its deficit in that sector and to provide adequately for the population. To achieve that, it was also reported that an estimated sum of N21 trillion is required to fill this shortfall. In 1991, the country’s housing deficit was said to be at seven million, which rose to 12 million in 2007; 14 million in 2010, and 20 million units in 2018.

One of the first experts to react to this ugly picture in the housing sector is the Managing Director, Legrande Properties Development Company Limited, Babajide Durojaiye. He doubles as the developer of Alexandra Courts Coastal City. Durojaiye was quoted to have said that the astronomical rise in cost of building materials by over 300 per cent has not helped matters in the production of cheap housing units.

If the trend continues, he had predicted, prices of building materials will hit between 500 and 1000 per cent increase in the market by 2027. To address the situation, he called for the intervention of the government to lower the prices of building materials. He also expressed fear about the proliferation of the property market with fake finishing materials, which he said would require the intervention of the government to enforce standards and ensure that only qualneed for the intervention of the government in the cost of building materials.

Prices of building materials are getting out of the hands of developers. We now have a 200 to 300 percentage increase. “By 2027, it will hit a 500 to 1000 percentage increase. So, where are the masses going to stay? There is a need to crash the price of these materials.” Just like Durojaiye, many are also wondering where the masses will live if something is not done and urgent too as the individual financial capacity often hinders the purchasing power, hence, the prevalence of house rent in Nigeria.

This may be the reason why most landlords take advantage of this and see themselves as ‘mini gods’. They believe they have power, which can quickly change the livelihood of any person negatively. Nevertheless, many of the home occupiers in Nigeria today are largely tenants, who pay for accommodation monthly or yearly. And, the uncontrollable rise in the country’s population, particularly in urban areas, has resulted in an unimaginable demand for housing.

The overall cases of landlord palaver over the years are alarming and mind boggling. Most of the landlords today, who hitherto were tenants, do not care about the laws or rules guiding landlords and tenants relationship. The thinking is that the house belongs to them and they are free to make their decisions anytime. Though the government at various levels had come up with difficult landlord/tenancy laws, they have only achieved very little in address- ing the problem.

In Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, for instance, only the well-to-do can afford to rent an apartment in the metropolis as the costs appear not to be for small salary earners. Judith Nmakwe, a civil servant said: “The rate of accommodation in this city has assumed an alarming dimension; you cannot see a beginner, I mean someone who is trying to start life, settle down in Abuja. A room apartment at the boys’ quarters is what most people can afford here.”

There are other views. According to Ade Adebayo, another resident of the city, FCT is not meant for everybody to settle. “You cannot compare Abuja with other places in the country. This is the capital of Nigeria and it’s no dwelling place for every Tom, Dick and Harry. However, not all houses are expensive; it depends on the area you choose to live in. Many settle on the outskirts where rent is quite reasonable,” he said. But, Lagos and Abuja are not isolated cases.

In Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, Bidemi Babatope, narrated her ordeal in the hands of her 58-year-old landlord. She had earlier paid for two years’ house rent, but after a year of occupancy, the landlord demanded that she pay more. Reason: Because other landlords had increased their rent. Babatope declined such demand and referred the landlord to his tenancy agreement, which they both signed.

That was not enough to dissuade the shylock landlord as he refused to acknowledge his agreement. The consequence was that Babatope was given a seven-day quit notice to vacate the room. “He gave me the notice on a Saturday, the following Monday, he started knocking on my door early in the morning, telling me that someone had paid for my room and that I should move out in two days’ time.

“Though I had been busy looking for a room before then, I couldn’t get one. In fact, I was not financially buoyant enough to do much running around or guarantee a decent house since the man said he won’t return my money until I move out. “As I was praying the next day, I noticed a carpenter was working on my roof, I thought it was a usual change of a leak in the roof but again, I remembered that my room was not in need of repairs.

“As I dashed out to find out what was going on, the landlord said he was removing my roof so that I would know that I had overstayed my welcome in the house. Unfortunately for me, rain fell that day and most of my properties were destroyed,” Babatope recounted. However, building experts see housing as an economic product over which an average investor wants profits.

It is, perhaps, for this reason that the Lagos State government passed a tenancy law a few years ago. It was targeted at making life comfortable for its citizenry and safeguarding the low income earners in the state. The law, however, threw up endless debate among major stakeholders in the real estate industry. Its provisions made it unlawful for a landlord or his agent to demand or receive rent in excess of six months from a sitting tenant.

With the law, it becomes illegal for any landlord to receive more than a year rent from a new tenant otherwise he will be made to pay N100,00 or sentenced to three years imprisonment. Similarly, it will also be unlawful for a tenant to offer to pay more than a year’s rent, even though it allows for the two parties involved (landlord and tenant) to sign a tenancy agreement.

But, as plausible as the law may seem, most landlords, stakeholders and property developers had and are still arguing that such would never achieve its purpose. According to them, the Nigerian society has failed to provide sufficient housing facilities for the people. It is argued that the problem of insufficient accommodation should be tackled first before promulgating such laws.

The general case of landlords make the Nigerian housing situation looks like a lawless one as they do not care about what the law says concerning their actions and inactions. An Abuja-based Estate Surveyor and Valuer, Ahmed Shehu Dogon-Daji, said that even when rent control laws are available they cannot be implemented because of the refusal of grants to fund research on local building materials through the Nigerian Building Roads Research Institute (NBRRI).

He also pointed to the refusal of the government to bring the price of cement down because of interest or romance with some manufacturers. Also, the MD, Urban Shelter Ltd, Musa Aliyu, admitted that though the courts are there, absence of rent control laws tend to make all landlords abuse the situation. As it stands today, many Nigerians still rest their heads under the bridge in the dark hour.

Such people, who cannot afford a house rent, are left to sleep in the cold at night, exposing themselves not only to the vagaries of the weather but other dangers. Less privileged tenants also live in uncompleted buildings. These kinds of people are exposed to hazards both at night and day. There are others too, who often consider themselves lucky but live in the slum where all forms of inhuman activities abound.

They inhabit the slum because they cannot afford the cost of a decent accommodation. The efforts of the Federal Government, particularly the National Assembly and state Assemblies to propose rent control legislation have met with unrealistic fantasy. This is as a result of the failed situation on the supply side of the real estate market and the failure of the existing and subsisting rent control legislation and home ownership schemes to address the problem of housing in Nigeria.

There are those who also believe that housing generally has not ranked high on the scale of priorities for social spending by successive administrations in the country. This may be the reason efforts at providing low-cost housing have been minimal, despite the creation of the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN) in 1977, as shanty towns and slums are common sights in urban areas leading to overcrowding.

It has been estimated that about 85 percent of the urban population live in single rooms often with four to six people per room, making living conditions very dehumanising. Former MD, FMBN, Gimba Ya’u-Kumo, had earlier noted that lack of a robust mortgage financing system in Nigeria had made the rate of home ownership in the country one of the lowest in Africa. Ya’u-Kumo said that mortgage credits accounted for less than five per cent of total lending portfolio of Nigerian banks and just about 13.5 percent of mortgage lending by Primary Mortgage Banks (PMBs).

According to him, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) supervision report 2008 revealed that 90 per cent of housing developments in Nigeria were self-financed through personal savings for periods upwards of 10 years. He said that housing not only satisfied the basic human need for shelter, but a key component of economic growth and development. Ya’u-Kumo also pointed out that provision of housing was not only a key driver of economic development, but that it formed a substantial part of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of most developed countries.

He said: “The supply gap for low and medium income groups is huge, reaching a crisis level in some cities in the country. This is heightened by the rapid urbanisation of the population.” In his contribution, Prof. A.O. Olo- tuah of the school of Environmental Technology, Federal University of Technology, Akure, said: “The Nigerian housing is fraught with a plethora of problems, especially for low-income earners, who incidentally constitute the majority of the population. Fundamental to this is the lack of access to housing finance by this segment of the society.”

In Nigeria, like in many other developing nations of the world, housing problems are multidimensional. The problems of population explosion, continuous influx of people from rural to the urban centres, and lack of basic infrastructure required for good standard of living have compounded housing problems over the years. Access to this basic need by the poor, who constitute the largest percentage of the world’s population, has remained a mirage, which needs to be critically addressed.

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Source: NewtelegraphNG

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