Habitat Day and the Nation’s Housing Challenge, By Jerome-Mario Utomi




Jerome Utomi

The information in the public domain about UN-Habitat celebration is that every October, the United Nation and partners organize a month of activities, events and discussions on urban sustainability. The purpose is to reflect on the state of our towns and cities, and on the basic right to adequate shelter. It is also intended to remind the world that we all have the power and the responsibility to shape the future of our cities and towns. World Habitat Day was established in 1985 by the United Nations General Assembly through Resolution 40/202, and was first celebrated in 1986.

This year’s Global Observance of World Habitat Day 2020, which had as theme; Housing For All: A better Urban Future, was co-hosted by UN-Habitat and the Government of Indonesia.

However, like every new invention which comes with opportunities and challenges, while the world is  in agreement that it provided nations opportunity to look back in order to productively look forward, stakeholders in Nigeria are essentially not happy that the awareness created by such event has proved inefficient for successive administration to solve the nation’s protracted housing challenge in such a way that meets the need of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own housing needs.

As observed by a report, housing policies of the Federal Government dates back to the Colonial period. The policy centered on provision of quarters for expatriate staff and for selected indigenous staff in some specialized occupations like railways, police, education etc. This period saw the establishment of Government Reservation Areas (GRA) as well as a few African Quarters and has been aptly described as the era of “housing reservations. ~No efforts were made by the government to build houses either for sale or rent to the general public and little was done to order the growth of settlements outside the GRA.

Today, the situation says something more.                                                                                

Despite the global recognition of shelter as one of the most basic human needs and has a profound impact on the health, welfare, social attitudes and economic productivity of the individual and also one of the best indications of a person’s standard of living and of his or her place in society, successive governments in the country continue to hold the old, unitary and narrow view about housing devoid of vision that goes beyond ideology to experiment and informed decision based on what works.

Again, despite global acceptance by a good number of nations that adequate housing is a human right and desirable to address other problems facing the world, successive leaderships did not, and the present is not taking historic and concrete steps that will strengthen our understanding, expand the frontiers of housing inclusiveness and deepen our bound via review of the foundational housing principles that drives our action, and also address a few matters arising from land policies. Instead, they still feel that Government has no responsibility to do something about the problem of inadequate housing in the country.

While some administrations believed that the masses would be better left to their own devices and the impulse of the market, others aggravated the housing challenge via adoption of forced eviction without recourse to Sustainable Development Goals 2030 provisions which emphasises on Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities.

Tragically unique is that on one side, Nigeria’s housing sector is in complete crisis, on the other hand is that the country has a very bad history of forced eviction.

To illustrate the above beginning with the second concern, between July and September 2000, in Abuja, the Nigeria Federal Capital Territory (FCT), over 50,000 residents, according a report, were displaced from their homes for many years without alternative accommodation as a result of FG’s thoughtless restoration of the Abuja master plan. And a similar occurrence in Rainbow Town, Abonima Wharf and Njemanze waterfront, Port-Harcourt, the Rivers state capital, under Governor Peter Odili, where an estimated number of over 100,000 people lost their homes and business offices in a similar style.

But if these reported cases on eviction (Abuja and Port Harcourt) present a challenge that of Lagos, Nigeria’s largest urban area, where about 70% of the total population or 2 out of every 3 residents (World Bank 2917) live in informal housing, is a crisis.

Regrettably, this sad narrative about Lagos started in July 1990, when Raji Rasaki in his capacity as Military Governor of Lagos State and Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB) as Military President for yet to be identified reasons destroyed Maroko. Seven days from the day it was announced on radio was all it took the military government to pull down the whole of Maroko. Over 300,000 people that inhabited Maroko then lost their homes to that experience. Since that date, not only has the terms (demolition/forced eviction) become a very strong leadership instrument in the state, but, between 2003 and 2015 partly or wholly, fallen under the bulldozers of the Lagos state Government; Makoko community, Yaba, Ijora East and Ijora Badiya, PURA-NPA Bar Beach, Ikota Housing Estate, Ogudu Ori-Oke, Mosafejo in Oshodi, Agric-Owutu communities, Agelogo-Mile 12, and some communities along Mile 2 Okokomaiko to mention but a few. 

Nonetheless, with the recent appointment of Senator Gbenga Ashafa, as Managing Director, of the Federal Housing Authority (FHA), an experienced land administrator, it may not be wrong to argue that the present administration may in many ways have a sincere desire to move the nation’s housing sector forward. As he (Ashafa) according to media report, during an introductory meeting with the FHA management and staff, assured Nigerians that President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration will do everything necessary to address the issue of housing problems in the country while adding that he was ready to take his new responsibility with vigour and to the utmost benefit of Nigerians.

While celebrating this tentative feat, the question may be asked; how does the Federal Government hope to address Nigeria’s housing sector when according to reports coordination and communication between federal and state governments seems lacking? When Landlord-Tenant relations are loosely governed and laws that should regulate and protect the right to housing are not enforced? Where there is no social housing and homelessness is escalating, with no emergency housing options for those in acute need?

As the nation ponders on the above, there are reasons to underline some truths they (Federal Government) urgently need to acknowledge.

First is that Nigeria’s developmental arrest is attributable to the nation’s exemplary neglect of the housing sector. And for meaningful development to be recorded there must be an aggressive social housing in the country. This must be seen as a national project, a sincere and a fundamental undertaking aimed at realistically examining and genuinely resolving, long standing impediments to housing cohesion and harmonious development.

Most important is the need to recognize that stakeholders are worried about the legal framework for land administration, especially the Land Use Act (LUA), says a report is exacerbating the pressures on the housing sector. The manner in which the LUA has been used has resulted in severe consequences for the enjoyment of the right to housing. The LUA vests State Governors with significant management and administrative powers. Governors can grant rights of occupancy and also revoke them based on an “overriding “public purpose”. It makes land title registration cumbersome and extremely onerous to perfect.

Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Cordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social And Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA).

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